1 March 2005, Volume 8, Number 9
IRANIANS CONTEND WITH STRONG EARTHQUAKE. Soon after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit southeastern Kerman Province at 0555 on 22 February, Iranian officials confirmed the death of some 220 people. The head of the Relief and Rescue Organization at the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Bijan Daftari, spoke to RFE/RL just a few hours after the quake and speculated that there would not be a dramatic increase in the number of casualties. �The size of the area is not very large, the population residing in this area doesn�t exceed 25,000 people and for sure all of them have not been directly affected [by the quake]," Daftari said. "But, in any case, [the number of casualties] could increase a bit but it will not all of a sudden rise to a [very big] number."
Officials said there was no major damage to the big cities in the region, but severe damage was reported in nearby villages where many houses were totally destroyed. Most houses in the villages are built from mud and brick and collapse easily under the force of an earthquake. The epicenter was near the city of Zarand, and its governor, Javad Rashidi, told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) that six villages in the area suffered 90 percent damage.
The powerful quake was also felt in some of the cities in the region. A resident in Kerman told Radio Farda that the quake caused fear among Kerman residents who spent the early morning hours outside their houses. �Kerman was shaken by the quake to a degree that all people left their houses, fortunately the tremors woke up the people and because of the bitter experience they had with [the city of] Bam everyone went outside and stayed out for quite some time.� The December 2003 earthquake that destroyed Bam killed tens of thousands of people.
The Red Crescent�s Daftari told RFE/RL that rescue and relief workers were dispatched to the area shortly after the quake occurred. �About 40 rescue teams from Zarand and Kerman were sent to the area, support teams were also dispatched from Red Crescent Societies in Hormozgan, Yazd, Isfahan, Qom, and Zahedan and right now we are busy coordinating to get three airplanes in order to send more aid to the area.�
Bad roads, bad weather, and landslides hindered access to some of the more remote villages. By the evening of 22 February, officials were saying the death toll was nearing 550, ISNA reported.
Residents and the national media reacted angrily to what they perceived as an inadequate government response. Reuters reported on 23 February that demonstrating quake victims attacked visiting Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari's convoy, and aid workers noted that the relief effort was slow.
"The repeated lack of coordination in aid and rescue services" was criticized by "Aftab-i Yazd" on 23 February. The daily noted, "Nobody can prevent earthquakes, but human beings can respond to the casualties and damage done by earthquakes." The daily asked why, more than one year after the Bam earthquake, new standards for earthquake resistant buildings are not in use. The daily suggested that in the coming days there will be reports about the weak buildings that will demonstrate that there is "no systematic program to make buildings resistant as the only way to prevent casualties."
A "Sharq" editorial said people learn from adversity. Iranians have studied earthquakes and called for changes, such as new building codes, since the 1960s, but officials have not done enough. The editorial said this most recent earthquake is a reminder not to forget post-Bam proposals.
"Iran," the official Islamic Republic News Agency's daily newspaper, reported on 24 February that survivors demonstrated in front of the governorate in Zarand. They were reportedly protesting insufficient tents, which is important given the cold and rainy conditions in the area. Provincial governor Mohammad Ali Karimi pledged that distribution of tents, blankets, and lights would be complete before the end of the day. The "Christian Science Monitor" reported on 24 February that survivors continued to express their anger.
"Iran" also reported that truckloads of rice, cots, and blankets, as well as medical teams, came from the provinces of Khorasan Razavi and Chahar Mahal va Bakhtiari. Musavi-Lari said during a visit to the area that 700 billion rials (about $8.75 million) have been earmarked for reconstruction. Personnel from international agencies based in Bam -- such as Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF -- also came to the region, the "Christian Science Monitor" reported on 24 February. The American daily reported that Iranian military personnel were flown in for rescue operations.
Discussing fatalities, Kerman Province coroner Masud Ghadi-Pasha said the majority died of suffocation rather than head injuries, "Iran" reported. This indicates that they were buried when mud-brick buildings collapsed around them. Even though Iran is among the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, experts say most of the country�s buildings are not resistant to earthquakes due to the use of poor construction materials and the lack of adherence to building codes.
Kerman Province Governor Karimi said on 25 February that the death toll is 602, Reuters reported.
While touring the region on 27 February, President Mohammad Khatami said the death toll is 612 and almost 1,500 people were injured, Xinhua news agency reported. (Golnaz Esfandiari, Bill Samii)
ABUNDANCE OF FACTIONS AND CANDIDATES COULD LEAD TO TWO-ROUND ELECTION... With only four months before Iran's next presidential election, it still is not clear who will compete in the race. Five men have said they want to be the main conservative candidate and one of them has said he would even run as an independent; two men have announced their interest in being the reformist candidate; and a couple of others have expressed an interest in competing but seem to have no significant support. A few more names are mentioned as possible candidates, but these individuals have not made a commitment yet. This plethora of candidates and the accompanying indecision has led to speculation that there will be no clear victor on election day (17 June), and there will be a second round to determine the next president.
An Internet poll of 28,470 people over a 15-day period identified 24 possible candidates, the Baztab website reported on 20 January. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who has not declared his candidacy yet, was the top candidate, earning 17.2 percent of the votes cast, and the reformists' Mustafa Moin followed him with 14.9 percent. Baztab noted that several of the named individuals have said they will not be candidates. A report in the 27 January "Farhang-i Ashti" identified 16 candidates. (Bill Samii)
...RIGHT-WING FACTIONS... The abundance of candidates reflects the large number of political factions. This includes the traditional right; new or extremist right (osulgarayan); moderate or practical right (amalgarayan); the traditional left; and the new left, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 27 January. The traditional right currently favors the candidacy of Supreme Leader's adviser Ali-Akbar Velayati. The new right has five choices -- Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, Supreme Leader's adviser Ali Larijani, police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli. The moderate right has only one choice, Supreme National Security Council secretary Hassan Rohani.
Velayati has said that he will withdraw if Hashemi-Rafsanjani enters the race, and this raises the question of where the traditional right will shift its support. "Farhang-i Ashti" asserted that the traditional right is likely to side with the moderate right in order to offset the rise of the new or extremist right.
Yet there are more divisions between the conservatives, according to "Farhang-i Ashti." These are "temporary inclinations" that will disappear after the election. The independent right is symbolized by Mohsen Rezai. Two other candidates are described as "market-heaters," meaning that they are not serious candidates, and their presence is only intended to generate interest in the election. The "market-heating right" candidate ("rast-i bazar garmkon") is Reza Zavarei. Normally he would be considered a traditionalist, but the main conservative body, the Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, does not back him. "Farhang-i Ashti" describes Zavarei as the least important candidate. The newspaper adds that candidates of the "market-heating left" ("rast-i bazar garmkon") are the head of Iran's Physical Education Organization, Vice President Mohsen Mehralizadeh, and Mardom Salari party leader Mustafa Kavakebian.
Amir Mohebbian, an editor for the conservative "Resalat" newspaper, believes there is a three-way split within the conservative camp but uses slightly different labels. Mohebbian says the traditionalist right consists of older and more experienced right-wingers who prefer a revolutionary foreign policy, "Etemad" reported on 16 February. The fundamentalist (osulgara) right wing, he said, does not believe in reform and advocates continuous revolution. The modernist right wing (jarian-i noandish) believes in the goals and ideals of the revolution, but it advocates achieving them through a reformist process. Modernists oppose a state of perpetual anxiety to maintain revolutionary fervor.
Mohebbian goes on to say that the fundamentalists have misinterpreted the failure of the reformist 2nd of Khordad movement. The reformists failed because they did not deliver economic development. This does not mean, as the fundamentalists believe, that people are willing to forsake political freedom for economic well-being. The modernists believe that people are interested in economic development but they have not given up on political reform.
An earlier classification of the conservative groupings appeared in "The Washington Post" on 29 November. The most puritanical group is the "ideological conservatives" or Kayhanis, whose views appear in the "Kayhan" newspaper and which take a tough stance on dealing with the outside world. The most influential group is the "new right," or neoconservatives, who dominated the February 2004 parliamentary polls and whose platform mixes theocracy and modernism. This religiously conservative grouping calls for competent government and job creation through a stronger private sector. While going along with the EU nuclear stance, it is tougher when it comes to reengaging the U.S. According to "The Washington Post," Larijani and Velayati are neoconservatives.
The "pragmatic conservatives" are connected with the Moderation and Development Party and the Executives of Construction Party and are flexible on foreign policy issues, "The Washington Post" reports. Hashemi-Rafsanjani is a member of this camp. "Traditional conservatives," such as Shi'a clerics in Qom and many bazaar merchants, tend to be less involved in political affairs than the other groups. (Bill Samii)
...AND NEW CONFIGURATIONS. Two men have expressed an interest in being the candidate for the left-wing, which is still reeling from the drubbing it received in the 2003 municipal council elections and the 2004 parliamentary elections. But if Hashemi-Rafsanjani enters the race it is likely to upset Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi and Mustafa Moin's plans. Meanwhile, many lesser-known parties are creating new factions.
The 15-party Islamic Iran Popular Front was created on 21 February, ISNA reported. The head of the front's coordination council, Mohtashami-Pur, announced that the front backs the candidacies of Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Karrubi, and Rezai.
The 20-party Front for Consensus in Islamic Iran announced on 18 January that it backs Rezai's candidacy, Mehr News Agency reported. Amir Hussein Marvi, a member of the front's central council, said most members are young people and teenagers, and he said they are frustrated with the constant political disputes.
The Mardom Salari party's Kavakebian announced the creation of the 14-party Front for Consolidation of Democracy on 7 January, ISNA reported. He noted that none of the front's members are involved with the current government and are therefore not responsible for the current state of affairs. The front does not include groups that are viewed as opposition groups by other countries and legal opposition groups domestically, he said, because their candidates will never be allowed to run for office. Other members of the front, according to the ISNA report, include the National Harmony Party, the organization for Defending the National Interests of Iran, and the Society of Tomorrow's Iran.
There are about 100 licensed political organizations in Iran. Most of them stir into action around election time, and afterwards they are not very active. All the indications are that this is what is taking place now. As election day nears, there probably will be greater consolidation and a winnowing of the political field. Given the current plethora of prospective candidates, an editorial in the 8 February "Aftab-i Yazd" suggested that no candidate will win outright in the first round of voting. (Bill Samii)
RADIO FARDA ON DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS -- CALL FOR A REFERENDUM: THREE PERSPECTIVES ON AN INITIATIVE FOR DIALOGUE BETWEEN IRANIANS INSIDE AND OUTSIDE IRAN. Radio Farda's weekly roundtable examined the nationwide call for a referendum in Iran with its guests, Dr. Mashallah Ajudani, a researcher and head of the Iranian Studies library in London; Majid Darabeigi, a jurist and political activist in Frankfurt; and Mohsen Nezhad, a political activist and Iran expert based in California. They discussed the theme as opponents and supporters of the scheme.
Amir Armin (Radio Farda): The Call for a Referendum has emerged as an initiative to promote dialogue in Iranian society, both inside and outside Iran. The principal aim of the call was not, as one of the signatories, Dr. Mohammad Maleki said, to gather enough signatures with which to remove the government of the Islamic Republic. The aim at first was to start a dialogue that would forge solidarity, though the result of the initiative would be to obligate the Islamic Republic to hold a referendum supervised by the United Nations and international observers, and draft a new constitution based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The call has also had its opponents, who have objected to its timing and shortcomings... I asked Dr. Ajudani, a supporter of the referendum, to explain the current state of the Call for a Referendum:
Dr. Mashallah Ajudani: Unfortunately, the call for a referendum has been subject to mistaken and incorrect interpretations. There have also been criticisms of a fundamental nature, which are more promising. That is because the basis of this whole debate is that when we speak of a dialogue, [we mean that] the people should engage in a continuous debate and through ongoing criticism, successfully develop a democratic institution.
But I would like to explain further the point on which there has been a misunderstanding, which is that the basis of this call is very clear, in my opinion. Those who started this initiative drafted a page-long text, consisting of five or so paragraphs, and the basis was that their thoughts were focused on this referendum. They found a formula, and thought if that formula could turn into a national demand and national slogan around which Iranians could unite, they could, with that crucial slogan, change Iran's regime by peaceful means. We could thus leave the environment of the Islamic and enter a democratic environment. And their basic demands were that the constitution that would be written or these people were asking for, be based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They were not calling for changes to the [present] constitution, or the amendment of some of its contents; the statement clearly asked for a new constitution, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to be attained through a referendum supervised by people around the world. So I think some of these interpretations have been those of particular groups or perspectives, and discrepant with the call itself. More likely they wanted to create confusion, and had an interest in confusing the matter.
Others, however, had more systematic criticisms. Certain friends were asking why the call for a referendum had not mentioned the separation of religion and government, or the rights of Iranian ethnic groups. I believe there should be a response to such criticisms and they must be resolved, and I am certain they will be. A more complete statement will discuss these issues and other demands the movement in our country has made in the past few years. The basis was that these demands have somehow been expressed in various forms in the moral document that is a part of humanity's cultural heritage, namely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When you draft a constitution based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its basic principles will include the freedom of worship and religion.
A far more important point in my opinion, as one of those who has supported and signed this call, is that the initiative has no patrons, which means it can be the initiative of all Iranians and all political currents in Iran. By participating and criticizing the initiative, they can help sanitize the political atmosphere in Iranian society, and help a democratic wish emerge in a systematic manner, free from various contaminations. I think they should contribute to the growth of this new historical initiative and the text of the call for referendum through participation and continuous criticism.
Majid Darabeigi: I agree entirely with Mr. Ajudani's comments on some of the ambiguities. But it is not the case that people have provoked ambiguities on the text: it actually contains ambiguities.
The first point is, we have to see what impact the pursuit or implementation of a tactic has on society. Sometimes the tactic does not represent a step forward but takes us back four steps. Firstly, the circumstances in which the statement and call came out were not favorable conditions. We cannot compare conditions this year with those of five years ago, when the sixth parliamentary elections were held or with those of presidential elections two years later. At one point in the Iranian social environment, at least a part of the Iranian governing system was moving along the path of reforms. But the pro-reform part of government has effectively been deposed, or has retreated, or was unable to pursue its program. If a movement were to come along and turn this half-hearted program of government reforms into a national demand, then it would certainly fall behind the movement, and have no role in the movement of society.
The first point I note in the statement is that it has no delineations. If they did not know, and were only calling for a referendum in their statement, one might then overlook certain matters. But when they make no distinctions between themselves and the monarchists, the result of the referendum will be either monarchy or Islamic Republic. They could have had an alternative in the form of a choice between a secular republic and federalism in Iran, or a republic based on Islam. We should firstly have made clear that separation of government from religion should have included a separation from monarchy. The statement secondly mentions territorial integrity. The fact is that a very basic problem we have in this system as in the previous system is the suppression of nations. Peoples have been oppressed. Nobody could deny the 25-year struggle of the Kurdish people against the Islamic Republic, or the respective struggles over 100 years of the peoples of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan against monarchical injustice. If these do not receive a fitting answer today, when will this merely imitative item provide an answer? In my opinion, the authors of the statement, and I do not doubt the goodwill of some of them, should at least have contemplated the choice of a federal republic, so the oppressed nations would welcome this and come and sign. They would have said, if there is no possibility of determining our destinies apart, at least there is federalism.
More importantly one should not equate democracy with the parliamentary system. Democracy includes certain fundamental aspects in a society. In addition to ending the suppression of nations and decentralization, one must resolve the problem of social classes. While workers and employees lack certain specifics, and are not assured of the right of association or freedom to form unions and professional associations, we cannot see a democratic perspective in our constitution. We see many countries today that seem to be parliamentary democracies, [like] our neighbors Turkey and Pakistan, but are not democratic. While these democratic principles are not established in a society, one cannot speak of democracy. Furthermore I would say regarding human rights, when people speak of human rights, but omit to discuss with it issues of the provision of people's livelihoods and the future of their livelihoods, then human rights become a sacred value for looters and exploiters. The sanctity of property rights within human rights, for example, is an approbation of the looting carried out by the agents and associates of the imperial regime or today by Islamic agents and those currently in power. If certain human rights will not permit Iranians to regain their stolen assets, then those human rights are instruments like the ones used by other states.
The other point on which I have a very firm position is my opposition to any and all forms of foreign intervention. Our experience with Iraq next door is that foreign intervention will provoke disasters far worse than the presence of the Islamic Republic. The authors of this text seem to have contemplated the possibility of foreign intervention, paving the way for those who wish to extract concessions from the Islamic Republic and those thinking of a much higher level of compromise. So we must absolutely avoid giving anyone any pretexts. If a nation of 70 million does not have the competence to overturn its government, then it would be better if foreign powers did not do that.
Mohsen Nezhad: I find there is only one point in all of Mr. Darabeigi's comments that I can approve, and that is the problem of territorial integrity. I have a problem with that. I believe that if instead of that they had mentioned independence, it would have been considerably more comprehensible and correct. But I don't think it is so important, because the issue of human rights itself meets the relevant expectations, and I don't think there are any ambiguities in that respect. The ambiguities are that, as our friend Dr. Ajudani said, if there is nobody to run this, all those who are in politics can state their views, and pursue this or that line or agenda on a parallel basis. But I think our problem is one that goes back in history, and past dictatorships have created certain conditions. For example, if the  revolution did not succeed, it was because of previous dictatorships and the pressures exerted on the people. Different ideas could not take shape, and the revolution effectively became the transition from one dictatorial tradition to another.
Conditions are now gradually changing, allowing us to move from tradition to modernity, and you can see how all those wedded to various schools of thought are closing ranks against this transition. While these traditionalists may start with due regard for the value of human life, they eventually move toward an ideology, and their ideologies surpass people, and they engage in debates, very theoretical debates that are for themselves. Mr. Darabeigi's remarks have nothing to do with a referendum. When you look at these ideologists, from right-wing ideologists to extreme monarchists to traditional leftists, they ask why their ideas have not been cited: well just come and give your views on what we have said. This is even more the case with the ideologists of the Islamic Republic. The more these friends believe in their ideologies, the more firmly they resist change and insist on their own views.
When we speak of a referendum, everybody must take part and give their views. In fact its importance is that it should oblige everyone to come forward and set out their views, be clear and speak as frankly as possible. One of the characteristics of modernity is that we should hear the views of others, understand them, and then answer them if we disagree. There has been no talk here of having elections or a referendum on an Islamic Republic or a monarchy. That is what friends like Mr. Darabeigi have said. Firstly, a dialogue has been proposed. That dialogue should involve the masses and the people. And we know that material force can only be countered with material force. But if this idea becomes a generalized concept, then it will become a mass-based force. That is a step forward. But there are friends who always try and take a position against any initiative, instead of taking it forward or constructing policies. Thus they say that this [call for referendum] is effectively an invitation to foreign intervention. Nowhere has this been mentioned. I think anyone can state their views and pursue them. In the groups formed in this respect, many of our friends with steadfast views tried to oppose the republican current.
Now in another phase, many republicans are joining the referendum initiative and trying to pursue a more mass-based struggle, but even some of them seem unable to come to terms with a greater, more generalized movement. It is this group that has led friends to state their own ideas and object to the matters not raised, instead of dealing with the text, the contents and essence of this call. If the referendum were to be based on the people of Iran stating what they think of my opinion, then that is not a referendum. A referendum means everyone stating their views, all views being heard, and everyone voting. A referendum coming and saying it is either this or that is no referendum. That would be like 12 Farvardin 58 [Spring 1979], which the republicans chose as the day to say no to the Islamic Republic.
I think this is a very good and progressive initiative, and paves the way so we do not have to follow the regime and its actions and merely respond to those. Now for the second time in the Islamic Republic's history, a step forward has been taken, and the Islamic Republic people have to respond to that. From what we see the debate and these discussions have become generalized. I think it is gradually becoming a material force, and the only result will be that the Islamic regime will go and take all the steps leading to the wishes of our friend Mr. Darabeigi, but it has to start this way.
Amir Armin: I asked Dr. Ajudani that if I had understood correctly, Mr. Darabeigi's view seemed to be that this is not the right time for a referendum, and half-hearted reforms are probably not good either, so it would be better to maintain the status quo, waiting for the movement to gain strength.
Dr. Mashallah Ajudani: I think this friend of ours Majid Darabeigi has said things that have nothing to do with the call for referendum. Because I think the call is perfectly clear and calls for a democratic government based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a government to be formed on the basis of the votes of the majority of Iranians. If a government were to be formed democratically with the votes of the majority, and based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and construct a new constitution, that is not in any way a case of reforms from inside the system.
For the first time we have gone to the people of Iran and because we believe that the sovereign right belongs to the people, we believe the Iranian people must decide at the ballot boxes which form of government it wants, what type of constitution it must write. This in reality provides an axis of coordination for all political currents, otherwise if I too were to write a constitution tomorrow, and could state my views, then yes, I would mention issues of social justice, or ethnic groups, or women, and this is all in the statement.
It is amazing that the statement has openly declared this government to have deprived the Iranian people of its sovereign right through religious despotism, or violated the people's rights with the legal and political contradictions and inequalities it has created among the people, and then you say that this declaration and call for a referendum is coming out of the remains of reforms. I am surprised. That is simply not the case, and I am certain that none of the signatories want a military attack on Iran or interference by other countries.
The statement says that if there is a referendum, in order to prevent the Islamic Republic cheating, it should be under the supervision of international bodies. These international bodies would [monitor] their journalists, their parliamentarians, human rights bodies, democracy groups and foundations. They had close to 12,000 people observing the elections in Ukraine. So the point on the royalists surprises me, and is simply irrelevant. A call is national when all people can take part, whatever their opinions. Royalists can participate, leftists can participate, as can secular republicans, or non-secularists. When we speak of a national project, it means it includes all political and ideological strands, and it is not a case of us, or one group trying to impose certain views. That is why the initiative is called a national call for referendum, and the meaning of national is clear in this case. It means that all groups and organizations can take part, whatever their opinions, and forward a democratic project in Iran.
Majid Darabeigi: I imagine that our dear friends have a problem with the definition of a referendum. A referendum differs from free elections. A referendum is about saying yes or no. In the most optimistic scenario, it is about choosing one of two or three alternatives, and it is not the case that various people can present their opinions in a referendum. It means people coming in at one of these phases. Optimistically we might say there are four phases. So it is not about this or that opinion winning a majority of votes.
Secondly, Mr. Ajudani spoke of the majority. The majority is a relative concept and a matter of credibility. In a country like Russia, they are presently reducing Chechnya to a wasteland; ask the Russians, they constitute 90 percent, versus 10 percent. These majorities are relative and a matter of credibility. Looking at it like that, then we can go on forever striking at ethnic minorities everywhere, like in Spain. Democracy is not just a matter of a 51 percent majority. You have to consider certain rights for society, and human rights are not enough. Look at the European Union. One country out of 15 countries has the right of veto today, and tomorrow when they will be 25, three countries will have the right of veto. So, to speak bluntly of territorial integrity today without regard for the rights of ethnic minorities, of Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Baluchis and Turkomans is to create a problem right now. You have to begin arguing now that this is an injustice.
Elsewhere our friend says that this is a traditional debate. In my opinion, it is not a matter of who is engaged in a modern debate, but which perspective or program we are contemplating for the future. Do we want economic liberalism, or do we care for the mass of hungry bellies that exist below the poverty line? If one is to defend the hungry, then I intend to remain traditional as long as I live.
Mohsen Nezhad: We are talking about a referendum and yes, people are supposed to say yes or no, but it is not clear yet what they are to approve or reject. Everyone must become involved and state what their yes or no consists of, and what they should say.
But our dear friend, instead of talking about a referendum or call for a referendum, speaks about the entire world so he does not have to explain the heart of the matter. The point is, if someone supports the poor and toiling masses, then he should come forward and say so, take part in the dialogue and do his best to increase his weight. Throwing dust in people's eyes and saying that the referendum is what we say it is, it supports the monarchy or America, or an American attack or liberal democracy, is merely to redefine the subject to preserve our own essence.
Mr. Darabeigi has also spoken of the timing of the referendum. A slogan has been repeated for almost 26 years now, and they keep saying its turn will come tomorrow, and that is the slogan of regime change. If this had been mentioned in the past 26 years and had turned into a dialogue at this level, then I think our friends would still be discussing its timing. The issue is that certain friends basically always have a problem with the means that lead to a goal. They consider the aim to be everything, and the means nothing. That is the point traditionalists struggle with. (translation by Vahid Sepehri)
BUSH VOICES CONCERNS ABOUT IRAN. Most news agencies predicted that Iran would be a major topic of discussion during U.S. President George W. Bush's current trip to Europe, and the American leader fulfilled these expectations in a 21 February speech in Brussels, according to a transcript on newyorktimes.com. Bush said, "For the sake of peace, the Iranian regime must end its support for terrorism and must not develop nuclear weapons." Regarding a possible military solution to the Iranian problem, Bush said "no option can be taken permanently off the table," adding however that he prefers diplomacy instead: "We're working closely with Britain, France and Germany as they oppose Iran's nuclear ambitions and as they insist that Tehran comply with international law.�
Bush also addressed his hope for democratic reforms in Iran, a subject he raised previously in his State of the Union Address. "We also look for Iran to finally deliver on promised reform," he said. "The time has arrived for the Iranian regime to listen to the Iranian people and respect their rights and join in the movement toward liberty that is taking place all around them."
A 21 February commentary on Iranian state television dismissed Bush's speech. It suggested that Bush's concern about human rights in Iran is hypocritical: "Without making any reference to the killings of the Afghan and the Iraqi people and their barbaric crimes in Guantanamo Bay and Abu-Ghraib prisons, the American president referred to the presence of the American military in these two countries as examples of bringing people freedom and democracy and called on the countries situated to the west of the Middle East to establish this sort of democracy in their countries."
Tehran television accused Bush of ignorance about the Iranian people: "[Bush] repeated the US allegations and threats against Iran and talked about the voice and the will of the Iranian people. When it comes to his talks about the voice of the Iranian people it seems that no one knows what Bush is referring to, except himself." The commentary said Bush is continuing the policies of his predecessors, and this will result in failure.
In his meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Aziz on 23 February, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran rejects the Western view that Tehran should not benefit from nuclear technology while other countries benefit from that technology. If there is concern over the possibility of nuclear weapons, Khamenei said, then Iran does not trust the West because it utilized depleted-uranium ammunition in Iraq.
Khamenei also criticized the United States for what he sees as its double standard on terrorism, state radio reported. He said, "Terrorism is a dangerous and infectious phenomenon which must be fought but the claims made by the Americans are not acceptable to us because they discriminate and practice double standards. They support the terrorist actions of the Zionists and some terrorist groups." (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN PROLIFERATION CENTRAL TO BUSH-PUTIN SUMMIT. "We agreed that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon," President George W. Bush said in Bratislava on 24 February after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Reuters reported. "I appreciate Vladimir's understanding on that issue. We had a very constructive dialogue on how to achieve that common goal."
It was apparent even before Bush's trip to Europe that the proliferation danger posed by Iran would be a major topic of discussion. But in light of Russia's extensive involvement in the Iranian nuclear program, any efforts to persuade Moscow to disengage are likely to fail. And while nuclear cooperation could be the most important aspect of Iran's relationship with Russia, that relationship is multifaceted and complex.
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby said in 16 February testimony to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that Russia bears some responsibility for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, not least in the case of Iran. Jacoby charged that Iran wants a nuclear-weapon capability because it wants to become the "dominant regional power" and it wants to deter a possible U.S. or Israeli attack. "We judge Iran is devoting significant resources to its weapons of mass destruction [WMD] and ballistic-missile programs," Jacoby alleged, adding that Iran will be able to produce nuclear weapons "early in the next decade." Jacoby also predicted that Iran would be able to manufacture an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015 and that it would either develop or import a land-attack cruise missile within a decade.
President Bush discussed the importance of diplomacy in resolving the proliferation problem in a series of 18 February interviews with European television stations, according to the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs website (http://usinfo.state.gov). He told France's TV3 that France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States must work together to convince Iran that they do not want it to have a nuclear weapon, and they must work together to make other countries aware of this stance. "I think President Putin understands that the Iranians shouldn't have [a nuclear] weapon. I'm convinced, again, if the Iranians hear us loud and clear, without any wavering, that they will make the rational decision."
As a presumably rational decision-maker, one must assume that Putin is reluctant to see Iran develop a nuclear-weapons capacity. Nevertheless, according to the DIA's Jacoby, the Russian government or Russian entities "sell WMD and missile technologies for revenue and diplomatic influence" and "[continue] to support missile programs and civil nuclear projects in... Iran." Jacoby added that "some of the civil nuclear projects can have weapons applications."
Russia is heavily involved in building a nuclear power plant in the southwestern Iranian city of Bushehr. The Bushehr project is worth approximately $800 million to Russia, and Russia also will profit from the provision of fresh fuel and the reprocessing of spent fuel. The Iranian nuclear sector also is a source of employment for Russian scientists and technicians, and Russian universities train Iranian specialists.
From the Iranian perspective, the relationship with Russia is important in at least five ways. First, Russia is willing to cooperate openly with the Iranian nuclear program. For all Iran's claims of self-sufficiency and indigenous know-how, Iran still depends on overt and covert foreign assistance. Tehran has expressed an interest in having Russia build more reactors. Second, Russia serves as a counterbalance to the United States, which Iran regards as an enemy, and Europe, which Iran sees as a lukewarm ally. Tehran depends on Moscow's vote in international forums like the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors. Third, Tehran sees itself and Russia as the two major Caspian Sea powers. Iran is adamant that it is entitled to 20 percent of that sea's resources, although it has less than 14 percent of the shoreline. Although the other littoral states have entered bilateral agreements regarding the Caspian Sea, Iran has not done so.
Fourth, Russia is a vibrant market for Iranian goods and a reliable trading partner. This is particularly important for the Iranian military, which is equipped with Russian aircraft, submarines, tanks, and other equipment. Russian firms are involved in the Iranian energy sector, too. Finally, Russia is a source of expertise in other, more exotic areas, including Iran's desire to have a satellite. The two sides signed a $132 million contract for the design, testing, and launch of the Zohreh satellite on 30 January.
But Tehran is willing to pressure Moscow, and it is no coincidence that Rohani's visit to Moscow preceded the Bush-Putin summit. Rohani twisted the screws a bit after his trip to Moscow, saying on 19 February, "We expect Russians to be one step ahead of Europeans, but they always follow the dominant trend in the IAEA Board of Governors," ISNA reported.
International concern about Tehran's nuclear ambitions is reasonable and sensible. Given Russia's extensive interest in the nuclear program, however, it is unlikely to disengage. And given Iran's extensive interests in the relationship with Russia, it is in a good position to exert pressure. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN CONSIDERS U.S. INVOLVEMENT IN NEGOTIATIONS. President Bush said on 24 February that he and European leaders are "on the same page" on the issue of not letting Iran develop nuclear weapons. Bush said he would consider European efforts to persuade Iran to forsake some nuclear activities. "I was listening very carefully to the different ideas on negotiating strategies," Bush said. "I'm going to go back and think about the suggestions I've heard and the ways forward."
Tehran seems unenthusiastic about this prospect, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi saying in Tehran on 24 February, "Iran sees no reason for America to interfere in Iran-Europe negotiations," state radio reported. He accused the U.S. of "trying to insinuate that Europe is incapable of conducting nuclear negotiations with Iran."
On the other hand, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said in Berlin on 25 February, "We would welcome help from the U.S.," Bloomberg reported. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Rohani were discussing possible concessions if Tehran forsook some of its nuclear activities. "Both sides are convinced that dynamism must be injected into the discussions," Rohani said. (Bill Samii)