14 March 2005, Volume 8, Number 11
IRAN AND EU-3 PURSUE TALKS, ISSUE REMAINS URANIUM ENRICHMENT. Iranian and European negotiators met in Geneva from 8 to 11 March for what proved to be inconclusive talks intended to deter Iran from producing fuel for its nuclear program, as Europe and the United States seemingly reached an understanding that Iran should face the UN Security Council if it refuses to renounce activities like uranium enrichment, a key part of the fuel production process with both civilian and military applications.
The latest talks "deadlocked on the issue of enrichment," an anonymous Western diplomat told Reuters on 7 March in Vienna, the seat of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran insists enrichment is a legal right. "Both sides have strongly held positions on this difficult issue, which remains at the core of negotiations," a document released by Britain, France and Germany (the EU-3) stated on 11 March, AP reported.
According to the AP report, the EU-3 warned in the document, addressed to the European Union presidency, that "we shall have no choice but to support referring Iran's...program to the...Security Council," unless enrichment and related activities are scrapped. The statement was part of a deal with the United States, which has agreed to incentives for Iran in return for a firm European position on Security Council referral, according to news agencies.
The incentives, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Reuters on 11 March, are that "[the United States] will lift our objections to an Iranian application to the [World Trade Organization], and...are prepared to [end] an objection to the licensing of spare parts for Iranian commercial aircraft." She was confirming similar statements unidentified U.S. officials made earlier to AP. The move, Rice said, demonstrated U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to "actively support the EU-3 negotiations" with Iran, Reuters reported.
Recent Iranian statements do not indicate that it might welcome such a deal. On 5 March, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani said in Tehran that Iran will not abandon uranium enrichment, accusing Western states of bearing Iran "ill-will" and undermining nonproliferation rules, international media reported. "The issue of suspension [is] temporary, so our talks with Europe cannot take too long," Rohani said after a nuclear technology seminar. He said that, for Iran, only "international regulations" like the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and its Additional Protocol on stricter controls can govern international relations and nonproliferation, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 6 March.
"America and certain Westerners are weakening, not strengthening the NPT," Rohani said, going on to say that Iran wants no confrontation with Western states -- but if that happens, "they will lose out." If "our case is referred to the Security Council, we shall end the Additional Protocol and begin enrichment," Rohani said. Iran has suspended enrichment for the duration of its talks, which began last December. The United States has favored a tough stance with Iran, including Security Council referral, which might lead to punitive sanctions for the violation of nonproliferation rules.
Rohani said in Anzali, northern Iran, on 8 March that Iran will stick with plans for nuclear-generated electricity, and the United States "should not scare and worry the world" over Iranian intentions, ISNA reported the same day. Iran, he said, "not only does not need an atomic bomb, it has no intention of fighting any country. We [want] to defend our national interests," he said. "Our logic is the logic of defense: not attack. Should we not access advanced technologies with that logic?" he asked. "Oil will end one day." Iran's parliament is currently considering legislation that would allow the construction of up to 20 nuclear power plants, ISNA reported him as saying.
Another Supreme National Security Council member, Hussein Musavian, has said that calls for a cessation of enrichment violate the November 2004 deal with the EU-3 (See "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 November 2004), and could spell the "death" of talks. He told ISNA on 8 March that Iran is only negotiating over enrichment because it wants to proceed with this key activity in an environment of "international peace and confidence."
Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani expressed in Tehran on 6 March Iran's dissatisfaction with talks, saying, "If our rightful expectations are not met, then...we shall not have the same situation as before," IRNA reported the same day. Rafsanjani said most Iranians are unhappy with the suspension, and that it should last no longer than six months from December. So far after three months, he said, the negotiations have made no "palpable progress."
Musavian said on 6 March that the Europeans have been hesitant in making offers of economic or political cooperation because they were not sure they could honor pledges without U.S. support, IRNA reported the same day. That, he said, "strengthens the need for American cooperation." But the U.S. shift toward backing Europe on 11 March seemed to have boosted a common Western position against Iran, rather than giving Iran greater room for maneuver. (Vahid Sepehri)
PAKISTANI SCIENTIST SUPPLIED CENTRIFUGES TO IRAN. Iran obtained nuclear centrifuges from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist who developed his country's nuclear program, but also ran an international black market in nuclear technology parts, news agencies reported on 10 March, citing Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. This is the first public admission that Khan supplied Iran not just with designs, but centrifuges, which can enrich uranium in civilian fuel or bomb-making processes. Ahmed said his government had nothing to do with the sales. His statements confirm previous, discreet admissions to the same effect made by Iranian and Pakistani officials to the IAEA, AP reported, citing "diplomats close to" the IAEA. Khan, who reportedly offered to sell Iran nuclear technology in 1987, would know if the "Iranians wanted nuclear weapons," as the United States has alleged, a "Western diplomat" close to the IAEA in Vienna told Reuters on 10 March. But Pakistan will not let the IAEA speak to Khan, and Iran insists its program is being developed strictly to generate electricity.
Meanwhile, an identified Iranian diplomat hiding in an unknown location claimed that Iran will seek to divert spent nuclear fuel from the plant is it building in Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf, to make bombs beginning in 2006, Radio Farda reported on 7 March, citing the German magazine "Der Stern." Iranian officials often claim that reports they say are intended to scare public opinion suspiciously emerge at sensitive junctures in their negotiations with the West. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS BALKANS, VENEZUELA. President Mohammad Khatami arrived in Croatia on 7 March to meet with President Stipe Mesic, on the first part of a trip that also included stops in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Venezuela, news agencies reported. Khatami, accompanied by a high-ranking delegation, stayed for two days, during which the two states signed accords on economic, scientific, and cultural cooperation, AFP reported on 7 March. The presidents later spoke to the press. Mesic expressed support for Europe's nuclear negotiations with Iran, and said he believed Iran is negotiating "in good faith," IRNA reported. Khatami commented on Balkan and Middle East affairs, hoping for stability in the Middle East "based on justice" and satisfaction of the demands of the "oppressed and forgotten" Palestinians. He said that the 30 January elections in Iraq showed "political growth," and expressed hope that foreign troops will leave, and the United Nations and international community will help pacify and rebuild Iraq.
Khatami went on to Bosnia-Herzegovina on 8 March, and discussed cultural and economic cooperation with Bosnian officials, IRNA reported the same day. He told the current chairman of the Bosnian presidency, Borislav Paravac, that Iran is ready to provide Bosnia with help and advice in building dams and hydroelectric power stations, IRNA reported on 8 March. The two countries signed four cooperation documents during the visit, IRNA reported on 10 March.
Before leaving, Khatami criticized U.S. "double standards" on nuclear proliferation, as well as its pressures against Iran's nuclear program, during an interview with Bosnian television, as reported by ISNA on 11 March. Israel, he said, has "the world's greatest nuclear arsenal" nearby, and the United States not only does not object, but "backs this expansionist and oppressive government," ISNA added.
Khatami went on to Caracas, Venezuela, where he signed cooperation documents relating to oil, taxation, and banking, and for the construction of housing, a cement factory, and a tractor-manufacturing plant in Venezuela, globovision.com reported on 11 March. He was decorated by President Hugo Chavez, who said Iran has "every right" to develop nuclear energy "as other countries have done," globovision.com added. (Vahid Sepehri)
DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER GOES TO DAMASCUS. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Azizi arrived in Damascus on 8 March and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on 9 March, IRNA reported. According to the report, Azizi conveyed an oral message on regional developments from President Khatami. Azizi reportedly told al-Assad on 9 March that Khatami believes U.S. pressures on Syria and regional states would resolve "the Middle East problem to [Israel's] advantage," IRNA reported.
In Tehran on 9 March, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi rejected earlier remarks by U.S. President Bush expressing concern about terrorism, the lack of freedom in Iran, and the country's nuclear activities, IRNA reported. Bush had called on Iran's government to "listen to [Iranians] who long for their liberty" in an 8 March speech to the National Defense University, posted on the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/03/20050308-3.html). In the same speech, Bush said that Iran and Syria have a long history of support for terrorism. Assefi dismissed the remarks as "disseminating lies," and said the United States supports the "state terrorism" of Israel, IRNA reported. He said Bush should stop abusing terms like "terrorism" and "democracy," and "stop following the racist ideas" of the Israelis. He said the United States should also respect the wish of Iranians to utilize peaceful nuclear energy, IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRAQ REOPENS FRONTIER POST. Iraq has reopened its border to Iranian pilgrims, who may enter through Mehran at the frontier, iribnews.ir reported on 7 March, citing an unidentified deputy governor of the western Ilam Province. The border was shut for Iraq's general election. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN WORKERS, STUDENTS RESTLESS. Students in Isfahan, central Iran, disrupted a campaign speech by Mustafa Moin, an aspirant in the presidential election set for June, forcing him to curtail his remarks and leave, Radio Farda reported on 7 March. Moin, a former education minister, is favored by the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front and Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization.
Members of the Islamic Association of Isfahan Universities and Medical Faculties, an umbrella student group, reportedly sang and shouted slogans against Moin as he spoke, and waved placards denouncing the now stagnant reforms initiated in 1997 by President Khatami. The placards instead displayed calls for a referendum on Iran's form of government, a recent demand made by some Iranians (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 March 2005). The student group had issued two previous statements telling Moin not to come, saying in one that the presidential elections will be "neither genuine nor free," but rather a means of "ridiculing the intelligence" of Iranians, Radio Farda reported. Prospective presidential candidates must be approved by the Guardians Council, a vetting and supervisory body, before they can run for public office.
On 9 March, an unspecified number of workers scuffled with police in Tehran after gathering outside the Labor Ministry to demand unpaid wages, Radio Farda reported on 10 March. The workers are employees of a plastics manufacturer and have not been paid for four months, it added. Also, secondary-school teachers from six Tehran districts were pursuing a strike begun on 5 March to protest against low wages and alleged wage inequalities between teachers and other civil servants, with some teachers protesting outside parliament on 9 March, Radio Farda and "Iran" reported on 10 March. Separately, In Ilam, western Iran, employees of a meat factory held a three-week strike and sit-in to protest six months of unpaid wages, Radio Farda and Iranian agencies reported on 10 March.
Iranian workers have meanwhile appointed a committee to lobby for the rights of workers to form free labor associations, Radio Farda reported on 8 March. The committee recently issued a statement signed by 5,000 workers, addressed to the Labor Ministry and the International Labor Organization (ILO), stating that it does not recognize agreements signed between the Iranian government and the ILO because Iranian workers had no independent representatives at the talks. The government has not made good on its pledge to implement ILO protocols governing the formation of independent labor unions, Radio Farda reported. Iranian workers have criticized official unions as being too close to the government, and some workers have already written to the government asking permission to engage in union activities. Iranian workers can currently form unions following rules set by the Labor Ministry. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN JUDICIARY CHIEF SUGGESTS DAILIES STAY OPEN... Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said in Tehran on 9 March that judiciary departments have been asked not to close down newspapers "as far as possible," though he added no formal directive has been issued in that regard, IRNA reported the same day. His comment followed a similar 28 February statement by the Tehran judiciary chief, Abbas Ali Alizadeh, indicating an informal relaxation of press restrictions (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 March 2005).
Iran has seen dozens of reformist papers closed in the past five years. Shahrudi told the press after a weekly meeting with members of the public that the judiciary has instructed departments to take action against specific persons -- like the author of an allegedly offending article -- rather than publications, IRNA reported. "The press can be a strong factor in preventing corruption among officials," he said.
Separately, Shahrudi said the judiciary is currently processing "700 to 800" corruption dossiers relating to state officials. But he said one should not expect the highest officials to be prosecuted for the corruption of their subordinates. These offenses, he said, are usually the work of "junior administrators," IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
...AS HIGH COURT LIFTS BAN ON REFORMIST DAILY. A branch of Iran's Supreme Court has lifted the ban on a reformist daily closed six years ago, IRNA and Radio Farda reported on 9 March, citing Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, an editor of the banned daily "Neshat" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 and 13 September 1999). "Branch 35 of the State Supreme Court has rescinded the rulings of the primary and appeal courts issued four years ago" against "Neshat," IRNA quoted Shamsolvaezin as saying. He said that the paper is free to publish again, though that would likely not happen before the presidential election set for June. He said he did not want the daily's reopening to coincide with the election campaign and related issues, Radio Farda reported.
Shamsolvaezin said that he, along with colleagues Latif Safari and Emadedin Baqi, who were jailed for press activities relating to the daily's closure, want the judiciary to compensate them for "moral and material damages," and sentencing judge Said Mortazavi dismissed and disciplined. "We went to jail for 19 months [each]...because of his ruling," Shamsolvaezin told Radio Farda." (Vahid Sepehri)
APPEALS COURT ORDERS DISSIDENT FREED... An appeals court ordered that dissident Hashem Aghajari -- once sentenced to death for apostasy, then jailed for statements allegedly insulting to Iran's ruling clergy, and released on bail in July -- be freed, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on 10 March, citing Aghajari's lawyer Saleh Nikbakht (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July and 9 August 2004). Nikbakht said on 9 March that the court accepted only the profanities charge against Aghajari, for which he has already served the 23-month jail sentence given him, Radio Farda reported. The appeals court also threw out rulings by lower courts depriving Aghajari of "civil rights" for five years, including the rights to teach and publish articles.
Nikbakht said that Aghajari, whose case sparked a political uproar, will keep a lower profile and return to teaching. He has already received work offers from several academic institutions, Radio Farda quoted Nikbakht as saying. (Vahid Sepehri)
...BUT PROVINCIAL COURT JAILS 200 FOR POSTELECTION RIOT. The revolutionary court in the southern town of Izeh jailed some 200 local people who protested violently against the results of Iran's controversial parliamentary polls in February 2004, Radio Farda reported on 6 March (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 March 2004). Conservatives won control of parliament in those elections, but nationwide voter turnout was low and thousands of hopefuls, including many reformers, were barred from standing as candidates. The court sentenced defendants to 10 to 15 years in jail, and exiled an unknown number for 30 years to other parts of Iran, after they were convicted of rioting and damaging public property, Radio Farda reported, citing Mohammad Hussein Ahmadpur, a defendant from Izeh. Ahmadpur has appealed his sentence, and claimed he was not in Izeh when the riots happened. In February 2004, he said, as "the government was delaying [results], people came out and burned banks and government offices, and caused destruction." But this court, he said, had sentenced the innocent and guilty alike. (Vahid Sepehri)
FORMER IRANIAN PRESIDENT NOT SURE IF HE WILL RUN AGAIN. Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in Gorgan, northern Iran, on 9 March that he is unsure if he will run in the presidential election set for June, but insisted he wants to serve the country "as long as I live," news agencies reported. "I am not trying to play politics in my positions regarding the elections, but have not yet reached a conclusion," ISNA quoted him as saying. Rafsanjani was president twice before 1997, but failed to win a seat for Tehran in parliamentary elections in 2000. Iran's clergy, he added, should "practice what we preach," though he said it is "rude" to suggest clerics constitute a new ruling class, IRNA and Radio Farda reported.
Meanwhile, Ebrahim Yazdi, a former foreign minister now turned dissident, announced in Tehran on 8 March that he will run for the presidency, if approved by electoral authorities, "Sharq" reported on 9 March. Yazdi is secretary-general of the Iran Freedom Movement, a liberal group the government does not formally recognize as a party. Election supervisors have previously rejected his candidacy several times. (Vahid Sepehri)
RIGHTS BODY TAKING MUNICIPALITY TO COURT. The Society of Defenders of Human Rights (Kanun-e Modafe'an-e Hoquq-e Bashar) is taking the Isfahan municipality in central Iran to court for building a high-rise tower block next to a 17th-century complex of buildings considered a World Heritage site by UNESCO, Radio Farda reported on 6 March. The municipality is hastening construction, despite complaints by Iranians and UNESCO, and two court orders to stop the building, society member Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Radio Farda. He said the judge who had ordered the construction stopped has been replaced by a judge who overturned his ruling. Dadkhah said the action -- being taken against municipal authorities, the provincial governor's office, and the provincial prosecutor-general -- "will certainly get somewhere, though it may take time." The building would have to be reduced by three stories, he said.
Separately, Harvard University experts are to visit Iran in May or June to study antiquities in Golestan Province, near the border with Turkmenistan, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 6 March. The university has signed an agreement with the state heritage organization, it added. (Vahid Sepehri)