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Iran Report: February 14, 2005

14 February 2005, Volume 8, Number 7

INTELLIGENCE MINISTRY REFORM MAY NOT BE PERMANENT. Iran's Intelligence and Security Ministry earned a reputation for persecuting and killing dissidents in Iran and abroad and for economic corruption in the first 15 years of its existence (1984-99). An apparent purge of the ministry in 1999, after some officials were linked with the serial killings of dissidents, apparently helped to rehabilitate its reputation. As the reformists' eight years in the executive branch wind down, some observers wonder if the reform of the ministry will be reversed.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami met with senior Intelligence and Security Ministry officials on 1 February and expressed his pride and happiness with their performance, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. He noted that the ministry contributes to the public's sense of security, and only spies and traitors need to fear it.

Former Iranian parliamentarian Ahmad Salamatian, who now lives in Paris, told Radio Farda that Khatami is contrasting the ministry's lawful behavior now with its excesses in the past, such the serial killings of dissidents and economic corruption. This also contrasts the current leadership of Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi with that of Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani (1989-97), Salamatian told Radio Farda. The big question, Salamatian said, is will the ministry resume its old ways when the Khatami presidency ends? Will the reforms that Khatami and Yunesi brought about in the ministry remain?

The big change in perceptions of the Intelligence and Security Ministry occurred in 1999, when alleged rogue elements in the ministry were arrested for murdering dissidents and intellectuals. The minister at the time, Hojatoleslam Qorban Ali Dori-Najafabadi, resigned, and many other officials were purged from the organization. The former ministry officials allegedly went on to create parallel intelligence and security bodies that are affiliated with other state institutions, such as the judiciary, or the police's Public Establishments Office (Edareh-yi Amaken Omumi). The Intelligence and Security Ministry, meanwhile, came to be seen as an institution that was apolitical and less corrupt than it had been in the past.

Fighting corruption is a good way to make enemies. Intelligence and Security Minister Yunesi said in December that the prevalence of competing institutions hindered the fight against corruption, "Sharq" reported on 11 December. "The majority of these struggles were carried out as a result of political or factional considerations or even by personal will. They were surrounded by a ballyhoo, and sometimes they got to the point of execution but then the struggle would be stopped abruptly." Yunesi described corruption as a threat to all institutions, including the Intelligence and Security Ministry. He said many of the businesses associated with the ministry had been closed down, although this met with a lot of resistance and resulted in a loss of revenues. Yunesi said the government has compensated for these shortfalls, adding that the ministry is now fighting land speculation, a prevalent form of corruption in which people trade land that actually belongs to the government but which is not accounted for properly.

More recently, Yunesi dismissed the justifications used to close the Imam Khomeini International Airport in spring 2004 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 April and 17 May 2004). Islamic Revolution Guards Corps personnel closed the airport on its first day of operation, on the grounds that a Turkish firm's role in operating the facility posed a security risk. The legislature interpellated Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram after the airport's closure for giving the contract to the Turks, and the legislature is considering scrapping the contract altogether. The airport still is not in use. Yunesi said on 23 January that there are no security concerns, IRNA reported, and he referred to the closure as "a mistake that will be made up for."

There was little Iranian hard-liners could do about these seemingly contrarian views and actions. But after the 2004 parliamentary elections conservative domination of the legislature resumed, and with it came efforts to regain control of the Intelligence and Security Ministry. In November 2004, Ardabil Province parliamentarian Hassan Nowi-Aqdam said the legislature is considering a bill to separate the Intelligence and Security Ministry from the executive branch, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. He said, "The [ministry] has lost its awe and power; the ministry is no longer in control of the security units in various state departments and other ministries; the intelligence material passed to the [ministry] by these units are unreliable; moreover, the security units are more loyal to the departments where they work, instead of being loyal to the [ministry]."

This proposal met with a great deal of resistance. Former Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi warned on 26 November that approval of the bill would eliminate supervision of the Intelligence and Security Ministry, ISNA reported. Retaining its status as a ministry under the executive branch means that it is supervised by the legislature, Abtahi said. He added, "While such decisions are being made parallel intelligence bodies are undermining the activities of the [Intelligence and Security Ministry]." Tabriz parliamentarian Akbar Alami said on 26 November that such a development would turn the Intelligence and Security Ministry into a frightening institution, ISNA reported. He explained that the ministry cannot turn against the people if it is supervised by the elected president and parliament.

After that initial furor, little came of the plan to make the ministry some sort of stand-alone institution. Yet some of the initially informal parallel entities have now become more institutionalized. "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 December that the Department for Social Protection now has a formal charter. Its responsibilities are almost identical to those of the Organization for the Propagation of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice (Amr be Maruf va Nahi az Monker). Its personnel will gather intelligence, an Intelligence and Security Ministry responsibility, and also engage in activities that are normally the responsibility of the police and the Basij.

President Khatami told a boisterous student audience in a 6 December speech that the ministry is "the most trustworthy source of security in your system," state television reported. From a comparative perspective, this may be true. But there is no guarantee that this will continue to be the case if a hard-liner wins the June 2005 presidential election. And even if the ministry continues on its current path, the so-called parallel organizations might well continue on theirs. (Bill Samii)

EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN ADDRESSES INTERNATIONAL, DOMESTIC AFFAIRS. In the past month, Expediency Council Chairman and former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has granted a number of interviews to Iranian media and another to a U.S. newspaper. As he is one of the most powerful and influential individuals in Iran, his remarks on topics such as Iran-U.S. relations and the nuclear issue are always important.

His remarks are even more noteworthy now, as observers wonder whether Hashemi-Rafsanjani plans to run in the June presidential election.

They also provide an interesting study in contrast between comments intended for the Western and those crafted for the Iranian media.

In a 9 February interview with state radio, Hashemi-Rafsanjani said that Western, and especially Washington's, comments about Iran have become more aggressive recently. He went on to dismiss this development, saying it represents "a need for a tangible enemy and [to] introduce that enemy to their nations."

Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 6 February in an exclusive interview with "USA Today" that Tehran is unconcerned over Washington's tough recent statements about Iran. He said the resumption of Iranian-U.S. dialogue should be preceded by an American goodwill gesture, such as the unfreezing of Iranian assets that he estimated to be about $8 billion plus interest. He said he is one of the people who can restore relations between the two countries and indicated that there is no need for continued difficulties. "The mere fact that I am sitting here talking to you is an indication that we have no differences with the American people. This would not happen with an Israeli journalist. We want good relations with the American people. There has to be a dialogue between the governments, but what can one do when your government has always wronged us?"

In a 30 January interview with the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), Hashemi-Rafsanjani's tone was more belligerent. "The Americans continue their hostility against us. They have always thought about bringing us to our knees in some way, but they have always failed." He predicted that the United States will not act against Iran, but if it does, "we can do great things.... They are wounded and they might engage in foolish actions. But ultimately they will be defeated." Hashemi-Rafsanjani said there is nothing new in what Washington is saying, "but I evaluate their policy of hostility to be serious."

Hashemi-Rafsanjani told state radio on 9 February that Iran's willingness to negotiate with Europe about the nuclear issue is a "positive step." "This was a collective step by the system and we all agreed and remain in agreement over the issue," he explained. He also signaled unhappiness with the Europeans, however, saying that they are "not practicing what they said before." He warned that killing time will not be effective.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani sounded a similar note in his interview with "USA Today." "I'm not satisfied with the progress of the work, but I am happy that the talks are going on," he said, adding, "It might have a negative effect if the United States joins."

In his 30 January interview, Hashemi-Rafsanjani expressed confidence that the nuclear issue will be resolved in Iran's favor. He said Iran has the technology to create its own nuclear fuel. Intensified international oversight, he said, is not a problem. "Everything is transparent, and nothing will happen to us," he added. Hashemi-Rafsanjani attributed international concern about the nuclear issue to a continuous desire to humiliate Iran. "We must try to protect our dignity," he said. He went on to say that Iran possesses nuclear technology that it can put into action quickly.

In another interview, which appeared in the 17 January issue of "Sharq" newspaper, Hashemi-Rafsanjani stressed the importance of diplomatic engagement with the West. He said he advocates "ideological realism" and acknowledged that "observing Islam leads to some limitations." Hashemi-Rafsanjani also acknowledged the value of President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's "Dialogue of Civilizations," saying, "Intellectual interaction is an important issue in the life of human beings." He added, "It can be peaceful and solve problems."

On these major foreign policy issues, Hashemi-Rafsanjani sounded a fairly similar tone in all interviews. His interview with "USA Today" focused more on Iranian-U.S. relations, but that was likely a reflection of the interviewer's interests. He was fairly consistent throughout the interviews, although the terminology used with Iranian media was arguably more aggressive. That could have as much to do with the translators as it does with Hashemi-Rafsanjani's intentions, however.

The daily "Aftab-i Yazd" on 9 February criticized Hashemi-Rafsanjani's statement about the possibility of renewing relations with the United States. Is there any point in negotiating with the government that he described as bird-brained, the daily asked. Moreover, it continued, would it not have been easier to resolve differences between the two countries when Hashemi-Rafsanjani was president (1989-97)?

A commentary in the 9 February "Etemad" said using the media to express foreign policy opportunities can have positive results. First, this can eliminate the American public's "Iranian taboo" and demonstrate Tehran's openness, the paper argued. Such a dialogue, it added, shows that a new understanding between the two countries is possible.

Many people wonder whether Hashemi-Rafsanjani intends to be a candidate in Iran's next presidential election, which is scheduled to take place on 17 June.

Five individuals have announced that they want to be the main conservative candidate -- Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad; Ali Larijani, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai; Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli; and another adviser to the supreme leader, Ali Akbar Velayati.

Two individuals have said they would like to be the reformist wing's candidate -- former parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi and former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin. A third person, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani, has been touted as a possible candidate, but he said he will not decide until the end of the Iranian year (20 March).

Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in the 6 January "USA Today" that he has not decided on his candidacy yet and that he would prefer that someone else be the people's preferred candidate. If no other candidate emerges, he said, "I might announce [my candidacy], but we have two or three more months."

He made similar points in the 30 January ISNA interview. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said his candidacy depends on a popular and capable manager coming forward. "Personal capability and support with the vote of the people must exist together," he told the agency. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said his general inclination is against being a candidate because he does not want people to think "the regime is dependent on only a few people." He conceded that it is too early to make his decision and that for this reason he has not thought seriously about a program for running the country. Asked which candidate he would support if he does not run, Hashemi-Rafsanjani said he has not yet made a decision.

Economic affairs were discussed in three of the interviews. Asked by "USA Today" about "the biggest problem facing Iran now," Hashemi-Rafsanjani said there are no major problems. He conceded that unemployment and inflation are "chronic conditions" that must be resolved. He acknowledged the role of subsidies in reducing the cost of living.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani was perhaps more forthcoming about this issue in the ISNA interview. Asked what he would do if elected president, he said, "We must do something for the segment under the poverty line to have a dignified life." He added that such a goal "can be achieved by creating a complete social security and creating employment in the country, without harming economic prosperity."

Hashemi-Rafsanjani bristled when asked if curing Iran's "sick economy" is the only reason for relations with industrial states, "Sharq" reported on 17 January. He said he does not accept that expression, and the problems that existed when he was president were minor. "Please say 'economic difficulties' instead of sick economy," he said. He agreed that the economy's dependence on oil is problematic, but added that "the problem goes away" if there is a good 10-year plan incorporating judicious taxation and if the people and the country's officials are determined.

There was no great difference in Hashemi-Rafsanjani's interviews on most domestic issues, and he was fairly consistent regardless of the interviewer's nationality. Iran suffers from double-digit unemployment and inflation, and he tried to understate the extent of economic problems in his "USA Today" interview. Such an approach could reflect a desire to make the country look good for a predominantly foreign audience. (Bill Samii)

WOMEN'S STATUS WILL IMPROVE DESPITE SHORT-TERM REVERSALS. A United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCHR) rapporteur recently concluded a visit to Iran, and at her final news conference she spoke out against the shortcomings of that country's legal system in terms of gender issues.

The next few years are likely to prove challenging for those who want to change the legal system, but it appears that gender politics are in transition and improvements are likely to emerge in the long run.

The UNHCHR's rapporteur on violence against women, Yakin Erturk, urged the Iranian government on 6 February to approve the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Radio Farda reported.

A proposal that Iran join CEDAW is just one of 33 bills addressing gender issues that were introduced by female legislators in the 6th parliament (2000-04), Ziba Mir-Hosseini wrote in the winter 2004 issue of "Middle East Report" ( The Guardians Council rejected all of them, but 16 became law after being watered down by the Expediency Council. The proposal that Iran join CEDAW -- along with 16 other bills -- is now up to the conservative-dominated 7th parliament, Mir-Hosseini wrote.

Mir-Hosseini went on to suggest that the outlook is not good. Ten of 12 female legislators are members of the Zeinab Society, which is funded by the Supreme Leader's Office. Moreover, these women have criticized their female predecessors for introducing legislation that allegedly went against the teachings of Islam. This criticism included CEDAW.

Erturk met with women's groups, nongovernmental organizations, scholars, the media, and state representatives during her one-week visit to Iran, which began on 30 January.

Giti Purfazel, a lawyer and women's rights activists in Iran, met with Erturk. Purfazel told Radio Farda that the UN official appeared to have a genuine interest in learning about the situation in Iran. She noted that women have fewer legal rights than men and that they face physical violence at home, but there is little they can do about this.

"For example, if a woman goes to court and says, 'I have no feelings toward my husband,' or, 'Because of his abuses at home, I have no feelings for him and want to separate from him,' they will not support this. The woman must really convince the court of this and convincing the court is very difficult." Purfazel said. "A man, because of Law 1133, can divorce his wife at any time. A woman does not have this legal right." Purfazel compared the current legal system with one that existed 1,400 years ago, and she said people cannot live this way. Addressing the issue of polygamy, Purfazel said, "Today's woman cannot think the way a woman thought 200 years ago, 300 years ago, therefore she cannot tolerate a rival wife."

Purfazel also told Radio Farda that Erturk wanted to know about punishments for women, including stoning. Purfazel referred to legal punishments and the physical punishment that women suffer at home. She also noted that the blood money (diyeh) one must pay for killing a woman is half the amount for killing a man. The same principle applies to witnesses. A woman's testimony is only half as valid as a man's. In some cases, Purfazel told Radio Farda, a woman's testimony is ignored if a man's testimony is not available to back it up.

According to Mir-Hosseini in "Middle East Report," women like former Tehran parliamentary representative Fatimeh Haqiqatjoo are struggling to change Iran's "patriarchal society." Iranian women have inherited a "legacy of pain," she wrote, and they yearn for "an elusive freedom." Haqiqatjoo has criticized hard-line excesses in her speeches, condemned the president for not appointing female cabinet members, and urged government ministers to place women in senior positions.

There were 13 women in the 6th parliament, and they were very public figures. Mir-Hosseini argued that they successfully challenged existing parliamentary conventions, such as wearing the all-encompassing chador, sitting in an area that kept them separate from male colleagues, and eating in a curtained off portion of the dining hall.

The next parliamentary elections are not scheduled to take place until spring 2008, and conservative domination of the legislature indicates that the course of gender issues in Iran remains troubled in the short term.

The impetus of the demographic changes that are taking place in the country, however, strongly suggests that the situation will improve in the long run. After all, approximately two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30, and more than half the country's university students are female. If and when they become politically active, these educated and youthful women could seek to effect substantive legal reforms. (Bill Samii)

DISSIDENT CLERIC FREED FROM PRISON. Hojatoleslam Hassan Yussefi-Eshkevari was released from jail on 6 February, relatives told IRNA. The cleric was arrested in August 2000; his seven-year sentence included four years for saying that dress codes for women are unnecessary in Islam, one year for his participation in the spring 2000 conference in Berlin about reform in Iran, and two years for disseminating false information. An appeals court reversed the death sentence. (Bill Samii)

MILITARY OFFICERS DESCRIBE NATIONAL CAPABILITIES. Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani said, in the daily "Sharq" of 7 February, that "since the first day I took the office, I have said that we do not need nuclear arms," IRNA reported. Shamkhani said Iran has signed international nonproliferation treaties and its nuclear sites are open to international inspectors. Shamkhani also said that, before the revolution, Iran depended on foreign advisers and foreign sources, but the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War gave Iran the opportunity to design and produce its own defensive equipment, state radio reported.

In the same article, Deputy Defense Minister Admiral Mohammad Shafii-Rudsari referred to Iran's production of the Shihab-3 and other missiles, as well as tanks and armored personnel carriers. Shafii-Rudsari added that Iran can design and produce all kinds of ships. Brigadier-General Hussein Alai, chairman of the Iranian armed forces' Aviation Industry Organization, said Iran manufactures unmanned aircraft, can make six types of helicopters, and it is trying to build passenger aircraft. (Bill Samii)

IRAN ACCUSES U.S. OF INTERFERENCE IN IRAQI AFFAIRS... Iranian Ambassador to Kuwait Jafar Musavi on 6 February denied that Iran is interfering in Iraqi affairs and charged that the United States is at fault, IRNA reported. "[It is] the United States that is meddling in Iraq's domestic affairs with its occupation. Iran does not even have one military personnel [sic] in Iraq," he said. Musavi did not say how many Iranian intelligence officers are active in Iraq. "Iran's spiritual influence does not mean it is meddling with the country's affairs. We are committed to the principle of noninterference in the domestic affairs of any country," Musavi said. (Bill Samii)

...AS IT REFURBISHES HOLY SITES. Iranian construction efforts in the holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala are continuing, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 20 January. The Imam Ali shrine is located in Al-Najaf. The shrines of Imam Hussein and his brother, Abbas Alamdar, are located in Karbala. Karaj Friday prayer leader and supreme leader's representative Hajj Hussein Shadiman, who heads the office for repairing the holy sites in Iraq, described laying a water pipe on the Karbala road to the holy shrine, which makes this the first time it will have piped water. Now there are fire hydrants and fire-fighting equipment around the shrine, Shadiman added. Other construction projects include a ceremonial hall, as well as a health center. A great deal of work was done on cleaning up the Imam Ali shrine. Shadiman said individuals wanting to aid the construction process can make donations, or if they prefer, the office will design projects for individuals or groups that want to contribute independently. (Bill Samii)

IRAN COMMEMORATES REVOLUTION'S ANNIVERSARY. Tehran and other Iranian cities hosted rallies on 10 February to mark the anniversary of the day in 1979 that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran, international news agencies reported. In Tehran, people carried effigies of U.S. President George W. Bush, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Uncle Sam (see,, and Participants in the Tehran rally issued a resolution accusing Israel of fomenting regional instability, expressing support for the Palestinian people and, in IRNA's words, "saying the Zionist threats stem from the U.S. support for the Israeli crimes." Participants also emphasized what they see as Iran's legitimate right to use nuclear energy. (Bill Samii)

LEBANESE SHI'A LEADERS PRAISE IRAN. Naim Qasem, deputy secretary-general of Lebanese Hizballah, on 10 February congratulated Iran on the 26th anniversary of its Islamic revolution, IRNA reported. He said the revolution is rooted in Islamic values and justice, and movements relying on these factors are invincible.

Lebanese Shi'a spiritual leader Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah said on 6 February that Iran is a target of the U.S. government, the Lebanese National News Agency reported. He called for unity among the Iranian people so they can confront conspiracies, "because the political and security circumstances surrounding Iran at this stage are no less dangerous than those that confronted it immediately after the victory of the revolution." He said Iran will have a bigger regional role in the future. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN LEADERS LEVEL TERRORISM ACCUSATIONS AT UNITED STATES. Alleged Iranian involvement in international terrorism continues to be a major concern for some Western states. Tehran continues to reject such accusations, leveling its own counter-accusations in response.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said, at a 10 February rally in Tehran, that Iran's revolution is the "target of aggression" by Islamic reactionaries and bigots who decapitate hostages and assassinate their opponents, state television reported. It is also falsely invoked, he suggested, by "those who wage war under the pretext of defending freedom, supporting human rights, and fighting terrorism." Superficially, it appears that these two currents -- "one in America and the other in the [Middle] East" -- oppose each other, Khatami said. However, he charged, the United States nurtured the reactionary terrorists and now they are a tool in its hands. The current hue-and-cry over Iran is psychological warfare meant to cover up past failures, Khatami alleged. Iran is ready to defend itself, he added: "Should they dare to attack, Iran will turn into a burning hell for aggressors."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iranian Air Force personnel on 7 February that foreign powers do not oppose dictatorships, Iranian state radio reported. He said the White House has organized terrorist acts, and the CIA "directly or indirectly created and supported" the individuals it now names as notorious terrorists. He accused the United Stated of training and arming the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan so that these organizations could weaken Iran. Khamenei said the United States is hostile to Iran because the Islamic Republic says "no" to Washington's demands. "They expect us to surrender to a global dictatorship," he added. Khamenei accused the United States of wanting to eliminate the Palestinian people and supporting a "mad dog" that attacks every Palestinian. Khamenei predicted that the United States' Middle East policy will fail.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 8 February dismissed British allegations of involvement in terrorism, IRNA reported. "It certainly does sponsor terrorism," Prime Minister Tony Blair told a parliamentary committee about Iran on 8 February, AFP reported. "There's no doubt about that at all." Blair said Iran has an obligation to help bring about Middle East peace.

Assefi charged that Blair's comments reflect the influence of "the Zionist regime" (an Iranian reference to Israel). Assefi claimed that some Western states are terrorist safe-havens and that the United Kingdom supports Israel, which he claimed exemplifies state terrorism. Said Rajai-Khorasani, a former Iranian representative to the United Nations and currently a university professor in Tehran, told Radio Farda that Blair's comments were a mistake. "We have seen this sort of cooperation between Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush before, when they wanted to attack Iraq without any sort of legal remit from the United Nations or even the European Union. It was in such a political atmosphere that Mr. Blair told the British parliament that 'we cannot abandon our confederate.'"

On the third day of a counterterrorism conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, participants tried to focus on practical solutions and avoided touchier issues, such as defining terrorism, Radio Farda reported on 7 February. Among the practical issues that require attention are individuals' economic well being, young people, and the emergence of political Islam. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah also called for the creation of an international counterterrorism center.

An argument between the Iranian and U.S. delegations took place on the sidelines of the event, international news agencies reported. The Iranians took exception to the definition of Hizballah as a terrorist organization, and they reportedly compared the perspectives of the United States and Al-Qaeda. Amir Seyyed Iravani, head of the Iranian delegation, claimed that Iran is the world's biggest victim of terrorism and it has suffered the greatest damage as a result of this phenomenon. Iravani also discussed the connection between international narcotics trafficking, weapons smuggling, and terrorism. Iravani said the "worst form" of terrorism takes place in Palestine. (Bill Samii)

ARMENIAN DEFENSE OFFICIALS VISIT TEHRAN. Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who also serves as secretary of his country's presidential security council, left for Tehran on 7 February, Noyan Tapan reported. Sarkisian and his colleagues were invited by Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani and are scheduled to meet with Mehdi Safari, who heads the Iranian Foreign Ministry's CIS department, and former Iranian Ambassador to Armenia Farhad Koleini. Serzh met regularly with Koleini when Koleini was ambassador in Yerevan.

Sarkisian met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani on 8 February, IRNA reported. Khatami told the visitor that the two countries should work on developing economic cooperation, and he referred to the provision of natural gas. Sarkisian mentioned connection of the two countries' railways. Rohani said the provision of gas and electrical power is important for regional security and economic affairs. Rohani also promoted a direct dialogue between Baku and Yerevan to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Sarkisian ruled out a phased settlement of the issue and called for a grand bargain that would settle all related disputes. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said Iran is willing to mediate in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

The Armenian delegation left Tehran on 9 February. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CRITICAL OF WASHINGTON'S REGIONAL PLANS. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said, in a 7 February interview with Iranian state television, that the White House's Greater Middle East Peace plan represents an effort to destroy the region's Islamic traditions. The plan is also part of an effort to let Israel dominate the region politically and economically, Rohani claimed.

The Greater Middle East Peace Initiative, which encouraged Arab and South Asian governments to democratize, was introduced about one year ago and immediately caused controversy, according to the "Financial Times" of 27 February 2004. Arab observers reportedly criticized the initiative for diminishing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the face of regional resistance, the plan was scaled back by September 2004.

U.S. President George W. Bush referred to the Middle East extensively in his 2 February State of the Union address ( He said the U.S. will continue to work with its regional friends "to promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East." He noted positive developments in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. "To promote peace in the broader Middle East," Bush said, "we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder." He then referred specifically to Iran's purported role as a state sponsor of terrorism. It is not unlikely that this reference is what really annoyed Rohani. (Bill Samii)

IRAN BUYS AUSTRIAN SNIPER RIFLES. Austrian arms manufacturer Steyr-Mannlicher has exported 800 sniper rifles to Iran, ORF television, AFP, and "Wirtshaftblatt" reported on 9 February. The Austrian Interior Ministry issued an export permit for the .50 caliber rifles, which have a 1,500-meter range, and depending on the type of ammunition, can penetrate armored vehicles. "We asked the Iranians to give us a certificate stating that the end user of the weapons would be the Iranian police, who would use it to protect the country's borders and to combat drug trafficking," said Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman Rudolf Golilla, AFP reported. According to "Wirtshaftblatt," the Defense Industries Organization and the Drug Control Headquarters are listed as recipients of the rifles. The former organization is part of the Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ministry. Austria's Social Democrat Party has reportedly asked the foreign minister and the interior minister to come to the legislature to discuss the issue behind closed doors. (Bill Samii)

IRAN'S NUCLEAR SECTOR CAN RECOVER QUICKLY FROM ATTACK. Vice President for Atomic Energy Qolam Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, who heads the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, said in a 6 February interview with state television that Iran can recover fairly quickly from an attack on the Bushehr nuclear facility. There would be economic damage, he acknowledged, but Iran's know-how, designs, and capability would not be damaged. Even the physical damage could be repaired, he said, because of the lessons learned in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

Turning to Iran's mastery of the nuclear-fuel cycle and ability to produce uranium hexafluoride (UF6), Aqazadeh-Khoi said there are only seven or eight factories in the world that can make UF2, UF6, uranium oxide, and uranium metal. He did not mention the location of the Iranian factories. (Bill Samii)

IRAN TALKS TOUGH AHEAD OF NUCLEAR NEGOTIATIONS WITH EUROPE. Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani warned on 6 February of "retaliation" and an acceleration of Tehran's efforts to master nuclear technology if the United States or Israel attacks its atomic facilities. Iran says its enrichment of nuclear material is only for peaceful purposes allowed under its international treaty obligations. But Washington fears that Iran is enriching nuclear material to build nuclear weapons. U.S. officials say all options remain open, but military strikes against Iran are not on Washington's agenda for now. The United States is backing an initiative by European negotiators due to meet with Rohani in Geneva in the second week of February. European diplomats say they want Tehran to suspend all uranium enrichment as a guarantee it is not trying to build nuclear weapons.

Rohani's tough words to the U.S. and Israel follow criticisms by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice against what she called Tehran's "loathed regime of unelected mullahs." Rohani's warnings also follow a suggestion last month by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney that Israel could launch pre-emptive strikes against Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities if it feels threatened by them. Israel, thought to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, has not said it will attack.

Rohani told Reuters on 6 February that Tehran will "definitely have greater motivation" to accelerate the enrichment of nuclear material if Iran is attacked by the United States or Israel: "I do not think America itself will take such a risk because America knows very well that we will strongly answer such an attack. The Americans are very well aware of our capabilities. They know our capabilities for retaliating against such attacks."

Cheney said on 6 February that the United States backs a diplomatic effort by three leading EU states (Britain, France, and Germany) aimed at persuading Iran to abandon nuclear enrichment. But Cheney says Washington is not ruling out a military option in the future or other alternatives to diplomacy.

Rice, on a week-long tour of Europe and the Middle East, has been communicating the same message to leaders in those regions. Speaking in a widely quoted BBC interview that aired on 6 February, Rice said the United States remains focused on diplomatic efforts with Iran: "We believe that this is a time for diplomacy. This is a time to muster our considerable influence -- we the alliance -- our considerable influence, our considerable 'soft power' if you will, to bring great changes in the world."

Analysts say Washington still appears to be far from making a decision on military strikes. That's because the European diplomatic initiative is still underway with a new round of negotiations scheduled to start in Geneva on 8 February.

European diplomats in Vienna say they want Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment programs -- even those for peaceful use of nuclear energy -- as a guarantee that Tehran is not seeking nuclear weapons.

Alex Standish, editor of the London-based weekly journal "Jane's Intelligence Digest," told RFE/RL: "The diplomacy that is going on at the moment from the European Union -- particularly from the United Kingdom, France, Germany -- is to persuade the Iranians that this is not in their interest. And that it makes them a potential target, possibly, for an attack in the future, even if it is not currently on the agenda, from either Israel or the United States." On the other hand, Standish concludes that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the diplomacy over North Korea's nuclear programs have convinced many Iranian officials that the only way to thwart military strikes by Israel or the United States is to become a nuclear-capable country as soon as possible.

U.S. officials and independent experts say that, at its current pace, Iran probably will not be able to produce a nuclear weapon for at least another three years.

Remi Leveau, a professor emeritus at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, notes that the United States has so far refused to be involved in direct negotiations with authorities from Iran's conservative Islamist regime. "Obviously, Iran wants to discuss [these issues] seriously [and] directly with the United States. If there is no direct involvement of the United States in terms of recognition [of Iran and the] prospects of a common vision on the future of the Middle East -- and especially in relationship with Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- the Iranians will just keep talking with the Europeans. But, I think, without really wanting to come to a significant agreement.

In his 6 February interview, Rohani called for "equal negotiations" between Iran and the United States, saying that agreement could be reached with Washington if talks are conducted, in his words, "as two equal countries with equal rights."

Rohani also suggested that any breakdown in its talks in Geneva will be the result of U.S. pressure on the EU diplomats. "Basically, America and Europe, regarding Iran's nuclear issue, have some common aims and some united views. In regard to some other goals, they have different views and think differently. Since the beginning, the Europeans have adopted a policy based on talks and negotiations with Iran. The basis for America's dealing with Iran was threats. But at the same time, we are in talks with the Europeans. And we hope the Americans, by pressuring the Europeans, are not going to destroy the talks and cause their failure."

In Tehran on 7 February, Iranian Vice President and Atomic Energy chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi told Iranian state television that the negotiations with British, French and German diplomats will enter a crucial phase when they begin the next day. Aqazadeh-Khoi said the conclusion of three months of nuclear negotiations is close. But he said European negotiators need to be clearer about their plans. (Ron Synovitz)

TEHRAN COMPLAINS ABOUT U.S.-EU NUCLEAR APPROACH. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani said, in a 10 February speech in the central Iranian city of Yazd, that Europe and the United States are using a "good cop, bad cop" approach in dealing with Iran's nuclear program, IRNA reported. Two days earlier, negotiators from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Iran began closed-door discussions in Geneva. The talks were scheduled to last three days.

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said on 9 February in Mashhad that Tehran will decide if continuing the discussions is worthwhile after it has determined the Europeans' level of commitment, IRNA reported. Rohani also said the United States is trying to make the Iran-EU talks fail, IRNA reported.

In her statements on the issue, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has not conveyed the impression that she wants the Iran-EU talks to fail. She said in Brussels on 9 February, "The Iranians have to be held to their international obligations. We haven't set any timetables. We continue to be in completely close consultation with the Europeans about how it is going, about whether progress is being made." Rice said at a news conference in Paris on 8 February, "The Iranians know precisely what they need to do, and I do want to say we are appreciative of the efforts that the EU-3 are making with the Iranians to give them a path back to the international community because they clearly are engaged in activities that make everyone suspicious about what they are doing."

U.S. President George W. Bush sounded a similar note on 9 February in Washington when he said, "I look forward to going over to Europe to continue discussing this issue [Iran's nuclear program] with our allies. It's important we speak with one voice." He also said, "The Iranians just need to know that the free world is working together to send a very clear message, you know: don't develop a nuclear weapon. And the reason we're sending that message is because Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a very destabilizing force in the world." (Bill Samii)

NORWEGIAN BUSINESSMEN BUCK THE TIDE BY VISITING IRAN. Representatives from 24 Norwegian businesses will accompany Norwegian Interior Minister Borge Brende when he visits Iran in the second week of February, "Aftenposten" reported on 8 February. So far, almost 50 firms have done preliminary studies on working in Iran or are already active there. According to the Norwegian daily, the delegation includes firms involved in shipping, energy, law, and education.

This development occurs as many Western firms are reconsidering their activities in Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 and 7 February 2005). Companies that have decided to forego future business with Iran include BP, Thyssen-Krupp, and General Electric.

The assumption has been that firms are giving in to U.S. pressure, but the 8 February "Wall Street Journal" reports that the business climate in Iran is not very inviting and refers to the legislature's revision of a contract with a Turkish mobile phone company and its intervention in a contract with a Turkish-Austrian consortium to operate the new Imam Khomeini International Airport. (Bill Samii)

IRAN'S NEW AIRPORT TO REOPEN IN APRIL. Roads and Transport Minister Mohammad Rahmati said on 8 February that Imam Khomeini International Airport will be opened in April, IRNA reported. He said the airport will initially have one foreign flight a day, and this amount will gradually increase. Keeping the airport closed is not economical, Rahmati said.

Islamic Revolution Guards Corps personnel closed the airport on its first day of operation in the spring of 2004 on the grounds that a Turkish firm's role in operating the facility posed a security risk (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 April and 17 May 2004). The legislature interpellated Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram after the airport's closure for giving the contract to the Turkish company, and the legislature is considering scrapping the contract altogether, IRNA reported on 23 January. No decisions have been made on who will operate the airport. (Bill Samii)

RADIO FARDA ON DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS. A roundtable discussion on Radio Farda, moderated by Radio Farda broadcaster Mariam Ahmadi, examined the state of political prisoners under two regimes with participants Reza Moini of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Dr. Nemat Ahmadi, a jurist and lawyer in Tehran, former political prisoner Majid Derabeigi and Dr. Mohammad Maleki, a former head of Tehran University. Audio and a Persian transcript of the roundtable, titled "Political Prisoners and Political Offences: Experts Examine the State of Political Prisoners under Two Regimes," can be found on the Radio Farda website at

Mariam Ahmadi (MA): 22 Bahman 1357 [11 February 1979] is recorded in history as the date of the victory of the Iranian revolution. Like other revolutions, that revolution had its slogans, which in the days leading to 22 Bahman were distilled into three principal demands for independence, freedom and an Islamic Republic, but which had previously included, in the marches and demonstrations of autumn 1978, calls for social justice and an end to corruption. There was talk of the freedom of speech, a free press and the release of political prisoners. Indeed, demonstrators' demands for the release of political prisoners became reality before the 11 February victory of the revolution. People went to prisons with flowers, pastry and cakes and opened their gates. How long did that freedom last? What happened to the promises to turn prisons into museums; what indeed has become of the idea of political prisoners and political offences in Iran's political culture? Reza Moini of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said:

Reza Moini (RM): Political prisoners have been an issue in our society for more than six decades. Going back, we see that prisons in the modern sense were instituted from about 1300 [1920s], naturally giving rise to the issue of political prisoners. Specifically the law known as the black law, passed in 1310 [1921] under Reza Khan, provides the basis for the present-day law utilized by the Islamic Republic, as the law dealing with internal and external countersecurity offences. Article 498 of that law essentially seeks to disperse or prevent the formation of any group, and fight organized movements in Iran. The political prison has gained in scope at every historical stage.

MA: How many political prisoners did we have in the years from 1977 to 1979, and which political groups did they belong to?

RM: Sadly there has been little work in Iran on figures and statistics in that regard, and from what I have seen I can say that the figures they have given indicate a group of political prisoners numbering between 2,500 and 3,000 for those years. These were mostly concentrated in Tehran, in the Qasr prison, and then the Evin prison. From late 56 [late 1977 to early 1978], and as a result of American pressures for greater liberties, a number of prisoners were released, but the very issue of political prisoners was one mentioned by the opposition both inside and outside the country.

MA: I asked Dr. Nemat Ahmadi, a jurist and lawyer in Tehran, what he thought of the erstwhile revolutionary slogan, "The Political Prisoner Must be Freed," 26 years after the revolution. Ahmadi said:

Nehmat Ahmadi (NA): The people they arrest, who are famous political figures, like Mr. Ezzatollah Sahabi or Mr. [Nasser] Zarafshan are political personalities. Their actions are political, and these people remain in prison on charges all society and people know are political in nature. But adding insult to injury, judiciary officials state that as political offences have not yet been defined, we cannot consider these people political offenders for now. I think that at the very least, we have moved backward.

MA: But was there a definition of political offenses under the Shah?

NA: Unfortunately we did not have one then either. The difference then was that we had military courts separate from the judicial system, and the people they said had acted against national security were tried in military courts. Reviews and appeals were appealed to the highest ranking person in the country.

MA: I asked Majid Darabeigi, who was a prisoner in both regimes, why he was sent to jail:

Majid Derabeigi (MD): We were a group of students under the Shah, involved more in democracy activities, in various areas, and did political or professional related work. Because of that, one or two of our friends were denounced for another reason, and they were tortured, and that led to our being tortured so we would admit to acting against the state. Because we did not respond to that charge, they made other charges against us, like taking part in student demonstrations and reading banned books. I was given a three-year jail sentence in a court, though that was reduced to one year as I had did not have a criminal record. The second time, under the Islamic Republic, somebody reported me and I was arrested, and they grabbed me firmly in the street and accused me of being a member of some organization. As I denied being a member or supporter of that organization, I was for about 16 to 17 months subjected to interrogation and torture intended to extract some form of information from me. They did obtain a lot of information from me, and one of my accusers then was this Mr. Said Hajjarian, who is now one of the reformist leaders inside the governing system. He went to the place where I worked and compiled a little dossier for me, to the effect that I was engaged in propaganda against the Islamic Republic. I will not go into details as they are peripheral to the issue.

MA: One of the demands of political prisoners these days is a separation and categorization of political prisoners. I asked Nemat Ahmadi about the categorization of political prisoners under the Shah.

NA: We had independent wings in those years. There was an unwritten law and unwritten method whereby for example, Wing Three of the Qasr prison was for political detainees. Political prisoners were familiar figures in those days. Ayatollah [Hussein Ali] Montazeri was a prisoner, Ayatollah [Mahmud] Taleqani was a prisoner, so was Mr. [Akbar] Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The [present supreme] leader [Ali Khamenei] was a prisoner. There was a very large range of student prisoners, a large group of Marxists, the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, and [left-wing] Fadai guerrillas had supporters, and they were well-known for their factional affiliations. There was a certain order in prisons at the time, and the former regime kept these groups in particular wings, and it was rare to bring people into public prisons. When they did take political prisoners into public wings as a punishment, that created a lot of trouble. People found it unacceptable that some young or elderly people or clerics should go to jail, and when this happened, it always backfired, and even the ordinary prisoners realized that these were good people and could not be offenders. After the revolution, Evin became the place for keeping prisoners from [political] groups and the like, and after 76 [1997-98] when effectively lawyers began to visit prisons, there were less dissident prisoners. The difference was that communications, radio and television, and newspapers broadcast their voices to a wide audience inside the country and abroad. Today, as soon as there is a hunger strike for example, most news agencies find out about it, whereas in the past we see how Mrs. Ashraf Dehqani, who was sentenced to die, escaped prison without the foreign media reporting it.

MA: Although political offences were not defined in the Pahlavi period, military courts would investigate charges of a political nature.

NA: Now Article 5 of the Law on the Formation of the Public and Revolutionary Courts has given the task of categorization to the revolutionary court, which deals with security and related offences. But we see many cases like those of Abbas Abdi and Akbar Ganji who did not have dossiers with the revolutionary court, but were taken to ordinary courts that dealt with their cases.

MD: In certain respects you could not compare prison under the Shah with the Islamic Republic, because the composition of prison in each period changes. There was a time when only political opponents were in prison under the Shah. In the Islamic Republic, at one time there was a mass of mostly youngsters under 20 in prison. Times changed and there was a very high concentration of detainees in prison in the Islamic Republic, and we did not have that concentration under the Shah. The same goes for the various forms of torture. Both regimes used harsh, exhaustive tortures, but when the atmosphere improved, they would turn to psychological torments. For example we may compare the prisons of the Islamic Republic to the last years of the Shah, when police bodies had penetrated everywhere and if they caught someone, they caught them with plenty of evidence. Physical torture under the Shah was much harsher than in the Islamic Republic, but the psychological torments of the Islamic Republic are far worse, and the unsuitable prison conditions.

MA: I ask Reza Moini what happened to the prisoners who were released at the outset of the revolution:

RM: Naturally, after the revolution many former prisoners became the principal organizers in the political scene until the suppression of that sector when they were arrested generally and in large numbers. I would make an essential observation about these arrests, as an example for society today and tomorrow, which is that some of those prisoners who were now in government became torturers in the Evin prison. Their names are numerous and there are many types among them. Some of the best known include the Evin prison butcher Mr. [Asadollah] Lajevardi, and then there are the types who were occasional interrogators, like Mr. Karbaschi the former Tehran mayor. He has admitted in his writings that they would sometimes call him and he would go to Evin and speak to former political prisoners and guide them, as it were. The bitter question remains, how could prisoners turn to torturers? Among the prisoners of the Shah who were well-known and were later executed under the Islamic Republic, we can cite Shokrollah Paknezhad, Ali Shokuhi, Alireza Tashayyod, Mehran Shahabeddin, Enayat Sultanzadeh, Said Sultanpur and Manuchehr Sarhadi.

MA: Ayatollah Khomeini said, in a speech at the Behesht-i Zahra [cemetery], that graveyards had flourished under the Shah, in an allusion to the execution of political prisoners. Dr. Mohammad Maleki, a former head of Tehran University and member of a welcoming committee for Ayatollah Khomeini [returning from Paris] in 1979, said:

Mohammad Maleki: Yes, he said that the Shah came and made sure cemeteries flourished, because the Shah had martyred a number of dissidents and tortured them, and they said these things because of goings-on in prisons. Our generation perhaps never imagined that the events of the 60s [1980s] would happen in Iran, that the horrific event of 67 [1988] would happen in Iran where thousands of men and women were martyred, so that not only was there no more room for bodies in other parts of the Behesht-i Zahra, but they had to go elsewhere, the old Tehran cemetery they called Kufr Abad [City of Lies] and other particular names I do not wish to repeat, and throw the youngsters and bury them with bulldozers. That is when we saw who really made the cemeteries prosper, more than the Shah, and who destroyed the country. (Translation by Vahid Sepehri)