24 May 2005, Volume 8, Number 20
TWO IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES REINSTATED. In a 24 May letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Guardians Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati stated that the candidacies for the 17 June presidential election of two individuals -- former Minister of Education and Training Mustafa Moin and Vice President for Physical Training Mohsen Mehralizadeh -- have been reinstated, state radio reported. Khamenei instructed the council in a 23 May letter to reconsider the applications of Moin and Mehralizadeh, ISNA, IRNA, and Radio Farda reported. 1,014 people applied to be candidates, but on 22 May the council identified only six people eligible to run for the post -- only one of whom is backed by reformists. Khamenei stepped in following a request from Speaker of Parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel. Khamenei had also asked the Guardians Council to reconsider the disqualification of 44 percent (3,533 out of 8,145) of the candidates for the parliamentary election one year earlier, but the council only reinstated 1,160 of them. The six originally approved as candidates are: Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad; the supreme leader's adviser, Ali Ardeshir-Larijani; Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai; former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf; reformist former Parliament Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi; and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. (Bill Samii)
IRAN, EU HEADING FOR CRISIS NUCLEAR TALKS. Iranian and European negotiators are to meet in Europe this week to discuss Iran's controversial nuclear program and avoid a crisis following Iran's stated bid in early May to renew sensitive, fuel production-related activities. Neither side seems optimistic on the outcome of talks, set for 23, 24, or 25 May.
Iranian officials have said in recent weeks that Iran is determined to resume activities relating to the conversion of uranium ore to a gas in a conversion plant at Isfahan, central Iran, alarming Western states about a process that could, in later stages, allow Iran to enrich that gas and use it for nuclear bombs. Iran says it wants to produce fuel to generate electricity, and that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which it has signed, allows it to.
On 8 May, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said Iran would begin the conversion activities in Isfahan "soon, and it will be announced when and in which sectors," ISNA reported. He said his "understanding" is that "the activities may" lead to the production of uranium hexafluoride (UF-4), the gas enriched in centrifuges for either civilian energy purposes or possible use in bombs. But on 10 May, he said in Tehran that "while talks continue, we shall respect the suspension of nuclear activities," ISNA reported.
Other officials have confirmed his statement: Mohammad Saidi, a deputy director of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said in Tehran on 9 May that the activities would resume "in the next few days," according to news agencies. He said if the EU does not consider Iran's recent proposals -- which include a limited conversion and enrichment program, ostensibly under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- "we shall take a decision for that stage, which will certainly be to restart enrichment."
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Tehran on 8 May that the resumption of such activities is not "unfeasible," but "these are decisions that will be taken, and we are waiting...to see how we must act on them," ISNA reported that day. As if to prove its ability to resume conversion activities fast, Saidi told AP on 9 May that Iran converted 37 tons of uranium ore into UF-4 gas last November, before the Paris accord that led to the temporary suspension of conversion and related activities before talks with the EU. Saidi's announcement is seen as an indication of Iran's familiarity with the fuel production cycle.
"We have reached the stage where we would like to start the early stages of...enrichment," Kharrazi said on 8 May. "That shows we will not wait, so it all depends on when and where we will begin, so as not to waste time," he said. Iran wants to enrich uranium "to 3.5 percent," he said, adding that this is for civilian-fuel production. The "objective guarantees" Western states want -- that prove Iran's program is strictly civilian -- could "never" take the form of a "full cessation of enrichment," he said. Iran, he added, proposes instead the ratification and implementation of the NPT Additional Protocol, Iranian laws banning nuclear weapons production, cooperation with Europe, and a definition of "the limits of enrichment...because enrichment to 3.5 percent is only used for fuel," ISNA reported.
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, said in Tehran on 12 May that Iran is determined to renew its activities, in spite of the threat of UN sanctions for any NPT violation, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9-12 May 2005). In a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak, he said Iran "must" restart unspecified activities "in the near future," but the "conditions and timing" of the resumption are being discussed.
But amid increasing signs of a EU-U.S. consensus over Iran, Rohani received a letter on 12 May, signed by EU foreign ministers and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, proposing ministerial-level talks in Europe from 23 May.
Perhaps in response to that, Iran said it would postpone its undated, but seemingly imminent activities, to talk: Rohani told Mehr News Agency on 15 May that Iran is talking "because we favor talks in principle, and have no problem postponing the start of our activities for a few days." Iran's decision to resume some activities, he said, "stands," and there could be no more long-term talks without them. He told Reuters in Tehran on 18 May that it could postpone conversion activities for a few weeks, though its decision remains "irreversible." The Iranian decision, he added, should not pose a problem, as Iran is not proceeding with the stage after conversion, namely to enrich the gas obtained from conversion to levels that could have potential military uses, Reuters reported.
Rohani is to meet EU foreign ministers this week, with some uncertainty over the dates and venue. On 19 May, diplomat Hussein Musavian said in Tehran that Iranian and EU "experts" must first meet on 23 May in Europe to find a "mutually acceptable" basis for further talks before EU foreign ministers and Iran's top negotiator can meet on 24 May, AFP reported the same day. Reuters cited unnamed European diplomats as saying in Vienna on 21 May that talks would probably, but not certainly, take place in Geneva on 25 May. (Vahid Sepehri)
PROSPECTS UNCERTAIN FOR 'FRAGILE' TALKS... Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi has described the coming talks as Europe's "last chance," ISNA reported on 15 May. French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, meanwhile, told AP in Avallon, France on 21 May that the coming talks are "very fragile." Barnier said they are to include a wide set of issues, including technical cooperation with Iran and its desire for membership in the World Trade Organization, AP reported. He warned that the "Iranians know every well the consequences if the [Paris] accord is not respected," but have "much to win," if talks succeed.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was hoping on 16 May for a "formula" that would "both safeguard our rights and remove their concern," ISNA reported that day. Reuters cited unnamed European diplomats as saying on 21 May that one proposed solution might have been to have Russia supply Iran's future power stations with enriched uranium. Supreme National Security Council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi said that day that Iran has not considered such a proposal yet, Reuters reported.
Iranian diplomat Sirus Nasseri said in Tehran on 17 May that he thought the chances of an agreement are "not great" and that the EU seems unable to free itself of pressures arising from "extremists" in the U.S. government, AFP reported the same day. He said Iran has "no problems" with the "Europeans...but, when it comes to making a decision, problems arise because they want to coordinate themselves with the Americans," AFP reported. He said that, with an agreement on recent Iranian proposals -- including a limited uranium-enrichment program -- "we could come to an understanding on the date of this resumption." (Vahid Sepehri)
...BUT EU, U.S. TALK TOUGH. Officials from the United States and the EU have voiced their concerns over Iranian intentions to resume sensitive activities. Acting U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in Washington on 9 May that there would be "consequences" if Iran implements its threat to renew sensitive nuclear activities, according to the State Department website (http://www.state.gov). Casey told the press that any resumption of "uranium conversion or testing or production, or any other aspects of its program" would constitute a breach of the Paris accord, the framework for Iran's November 2004 suspension pledge. On 16 May, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher elaborated on the consequences: if Iran resumes "enrichment and conversion activities," an option "is definitely to go to the [UN] Security Council," he told a Washington press briefing.
Unnamed British officials said on 9 May that if Iran violates the Paris accord, the EU-3 (France, Germany, Great Britain) "would not be able to continue our negotiations with them," ft.com reported on 10 May. Iran, according to an unnamed official, is "fully aware of the implications" of implementing its "statement of intent," ft.com added. In Moscow on 10 May, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said if talks with Iran break down, Iran's dossier will go directly to the IAEA, AFP reported.
On 12 May, the EU-3 sent Rohani a letter in Tehran warning of "consequences," if Iran renews "conversion activities," AFP cited an unnamed EU diplomat as saying. The letter -- signed by EU foreign ministers and Solana -- proposed talks, which are due next week, Reuters reported on 12 May.
But "if Iran breaches its undertaking and obligations," Europe will "certainly" support its referral to the UN Security Council with possible sanctions to follow, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London on 12 May, AP reported that day. Blair said "nobody is talking about invasions of Iran," and every effort would be made to ensure that the current "diplomatic process" works. He added there are "a lot of processes" for Western states to pursue before reaching a deadlock or referring the issue to the Security Council.
On 17 May, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told a press conference in Washington that Europe and the United States are united in their efforts to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, and there will no trans-Atlantic "split" reminiscent of the war in Iraq, Reuters reported the same day. Rice said U.S. backing for EU negotiations means "we've come to a united approach in dealing with Iran," Reuters reported. She said the talks will "give Iran a chance to do what Iran needs to do." But the EU-3 and the United States are "agreed on the action...we reluctantly but necessarily have to take," if the talks fail, Straw said.
In spite of expressions of alarm, Reuters quoted an unnamed diplomat close to the IAEA in Vienna as saying on 12 May that Iran is unlikely to resume sensitive activities before the 17 June presidential vote.
Separately, Iranian and EU diplomats met in Brussels on 17 May to pursue two-year-long talks on a comprehensive trade and cooperation agreement between Iran and the EU, IRNA reported. The talks began in June 2003, faltered due to concerns over Iran's nuclear activities, and restarted in December 2004, after the November 2004 Paris accord, IRNA added. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN OFFICIALS REPEAT, FUEL PRODUCTION IS A 'RIGHT.' Iranian officials insist everything they are doing concerning uranium enrichment is legitimate or legal within the bounds of the NPT, and Iran does not fear a referral to UN bodies like the IAEA or the Security Council. Mohammad Saidi told IRNA on the sidelines of a Tehran conference on 9 May that nuclear fuel production "is our right, and to...abandon it is to forego a right an international treaty has given" Iran. He said "the Europeans have found no juridical basis for a suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran, and the time for that [suspension] is...over and confidence-building is done."
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 9 May that resuming "part" of Isfahan's activities is Iran's "natural right," and the solution to Western concerns about shady activities is "the continuation of negotiations based on mutual confidence-building measures and respect for Iran's legitimate right," IRNA reported the same day. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 10 May that the nuclear dossier is not "political or factional," and whoever is elected president on 17 June "will not forgo the country's rights."
The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aqazadeh, dismissed on 11 May in Tehran any threat of referral to the Security Council as "nothing but media propaganda," AFP reported. He said "there is no legal basis" for such a move. Assefi echoed Aqazadeh's assessment on 15 May: there is "no legal reason" for a Security Council referral, he said, and threats of referral are "worn out and useless," ISNA reported that day. Aqazadeh said in Tehran on 19 May that Iranians would rather suffer UN sanctions than give up the nuclear program, AP reported that day.
On 11 May, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani said "no government in Iran" could "overlook" nuclear energy, Fars News Agency reported the same day. Rohani said that the fact that Iran has not attacked any country "for the past 300 years" should be the basis for international trust, farsnews.com reported. On 12 May, he told Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak that Iran would not submit to force, and its activities are legal according to the NPT, AFP reported. If Iran "cannot exercise its rights within [the NPT], it will no longer have respect for this treaty," he said.
President Mohammad Khatami said in Tehran on 12 May that Iran "will not by any means move" to make nuclear bombs, "but at the same time, it will absolutely not forgo its legal, moral and logical right" to access nuclear technology, IRNA reported the same day. He said in a meeting with the Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi that he hoped the current "uncertainty" created by "our European friends" would be resolved, and talks should not become a pretext "to delay the results of Iran's [nuclear] activities, and effectively deprive us of... peaceful nuclear technology," IRNA reported that day.
Kharrazi said on 17 May in Tehran that, if "our rights are not assured, we have already taken our decision," ISNA reported. And State Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told Reuters in Tehran on 19 May that the nuclear program is a "legitimate right" Iran cherishes as it would its own territory. (Vahid Sepehri)
PARLIAMENT APPROVES NUCLEAR PROGRAM. Parliament voted on 15 May to approve a bill for "attaining peaceful nuclear technology," news agencies reported the same day. The single-clause bill urges the government to act "within the framework of the [NPT] and international laws," and use domestic and foreign means to assure the country's access to "peaceful nuclear technology, including the provision of the fuel cycle for 20,000 megawatts of nuclear electricity," ISNA reported. The government must also ensure that IAEA fulfills its obligations to Iran as an NPT signatory, ISNA stated. The bill becomes law once approved by the Guardians Council, which verifies that bills are constitutional.
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani said in Tehran on 15 May that "anything ratified in [parliament]...and ultimately approved by the Guardians Council...is...binding...and the government will implement it," Mehr News Agency reported. Rohani described the bill as reflecting "our national will," as all Iranians want "the implementation of [Iran's] legal rights."
The Iranian Foreign Ministry has meanwhile submitted a draft bill to the government, to be sent later for ratification by parliament, formalizing Iran's acceptance of the NPT Additional Protocol, which allows closer checks of its nuclear installations, AFP reported ministry spokesman Assefi as saying in Tehran on 9 May. (Vahid Sepehri)
OFFICIAL TO U.S. SENATE: IRAN IS TROUBLE... U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 19 May that the United States continues to be concerned by "the Iranian regime's threatening and often irresponsible behavior," including its quest for nuclear bombs, support for terrorists, "abysmal" rights record, and meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan, Reuters and the State Department website reported. Burns said Iranian government policies "directly threaten U.S. interests in the region and beyond," the State Department website reported. Iranian elections, he said, constitute "a veneer" to cover a "perverted process" of restricted voting under the "oppressive oversight" of supervisory bodies. More importantly, he said, Iran's "desire to acquire" nuclear bombs threatens U.S. "peace and security." The litany of unreported activities by Iran "goes on and on," he said, indicating "the...pillars of a clandestine...weapons...program." He added "we see no sign" that Iran might forego its "active" bomb program, and it has shown this by "repeated brinkmanship" during talks with the EU. "Let there be no misunderstanding in Tehran. The international community stands united: Iran must not be permitted to develop the capacity to build or deliver a nuclear weapon," he said (http://www.state.gov/p/2005/46528.htm).
Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Tbilisi on 10 May that the United States has "no intention of using military force in Iran," even if the "world" needs to deal with Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, the State Department website reported (www.state.gov). She said the U.S. has "many, many" concerns over what the U.S. considers Iranian support for terrorism "in the Palestinian territories, in Lebanon," and elsewhere, and "we all as a world need to deal with Iran." She added that her country supports current EU negotiations with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, designed to "get Iran to live up to its international obligations." Rice said she is confident Iran "will not be immune" to "the changes going on in the world." People around the world are demanding freedom, she said, and Iranians "want to be part of the international community." (Vahid Sepehri)
...THE ANTIPATHY SEEMS MUTUAL. Supreme National Security Council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi said in Tehran on 19 May that the controversy over Iran's nuclear program is part of ongoing U.S. efforts to "interfere in our country's affairs," ISNA reported the same day. "Intervention and sowing discord in Iran are nothing new," he said, and "Western leaders have been considering such plots for years." The U.S. has "done everything" to thwart Iranian interests, "tie [its] hands down" and ensure Iran "could do nothing," but it has "fortunately failed." Afghanistan and Iraq are beyond U.S. "control," and Al-Qaeda activities "have multiplied" in spite of U.S. efforts, showing its "weakness," he said. Iran's nuclear program "can be even more important than" the 17 June presidential elections, and "our nuclear dossier will not come down so easily," he said.
Separately, State Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a hopeful in the 17 June presidential polls, told Reuters on 19 May that he would help better Iran-U.S. ties if elected president, but the U.S. must take the first steps.
In Tehran on 10 May, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Yahya Rahim Safavi said "the Americans are not a source of concern to us," and Iran is "the decisive power" in the Middle East, ISNA reported. He told India's ambassador in Tehran, Krishan Chander Singh, that in the future there will be many centers of power in the world, and that Iran will be a component of one of them: Asia. (Vahid Sepehri)
SUPREME LEADER SAYS 'ENEMY' IS SOWING DISCORD IN IRAN. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told students in the southeastern Iranian city of Kerman on 9 May that "the enemy" is plotting to exacerbate political divisions in Iran, and "create a split and divide the governing body," ISNA reported the same day.
The "enemy's project," he said, is to create a confrontation between two "opposing ideologies" within the Iranian power structure, but he denied that an unspecified "faction" will soon monopolize power with help from the state. He said if such a theory "means the system wants to hand the country over to a single faction, that is entirely wrong," adding that the coexistence of two factions "loyal to the constitution" is welcome. Reformers fear conservatives may gain full control of the state if a boycott by disenchanted Iranian voters brings a conservative candidate to office in June presidential elections.
Khamenei also denounced "200 years" of Western development as a failure that has produced "fascism, communism, and liberalism" that have, in turn, provoked "countless crimes," ISNA reported. He said "capitalists" control Western media, and added that there is no "real democracy" in the West. He warned young Iranians that emulating Western culture would be "a great mistake that brings no promise of a bright future." (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN AGENTS STOP WRITERS' MEETING; WORKER DISAPPEARS. Iran's Intelligence Ministry stopped members of the Iran Writers Association (Kanun-e Nevisandegan-e Iran) from meeting at a private Tehran residence on 3 May to prepare for the group's general assembly, Radio Farda reported on 8 May.
"They sent someone from the Intelligence Ministry" to the home of Simin Behbahani, the writer who was to host the meeting, member Ali Ashraf Darvishian told Radio Farda. "The reason [they gave] was, 'Your lives are in danger and we cannot assure the security of the meeting,'" he said.
Separately, a worker at a state car-manufacturing plant has been arrested, apparently for protesting against work conditions, and is being held at an unknown location, Radio Farda reported on 8 May, citing a colleague. Parviz Salarvand, a worker at Iran Khodro, was arrested on 12 April after joining protests against temporary work contracts. He was not formally charged, and friends and family do not where he is, Majid Tamjidi, a labor activist, told Radio Farda. This has prompted the concern of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), as stated on its website (www.icftu.org) on 12 May. The ICFTU deplored Salarvand's arrest and disappearance, his allegedly "brutal" interrogation in the factory basement, and the fact that he "has not been heard from for 25 days." (Vahid Sepehri)
NGO CONCERNED BY VIOLENCE ON IRANIAN WORKERS. The ICFTU also asked Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on 12 May to order an inquiry into another reported violation, an attack in Tehran on 9 May on a meeting of bus-company union activists. The assault was carried out by 300 members of a state-affiliated trade union, the Workers' House, and others from the Vahed bus firm, ICFTU stated. They reportedly stormed the meeting place as state security agents watched and filmed their attack; one assailant attacked and nearly severed the tongue of Mansur Ossanlu, a founding member of the bus firm's trade union, the ICFTU stated on 12 May. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN SUPREME COURT ACQUITS JAILED POLLSTER. Iran's Supreme Court has dismissed espionage charges against pollster and reformist journalist Abbas Abdi, who was jailed in 2003 after being convicted of selling state secrets to the United States, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 14 May (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 February 2003).
Abdi was acquitted -- of charges of engaging in propaganda against Iran and selling confidential information to an enemy state -- because the court found the United States is not legally an enemy despite poor bilateral relations, the daily cited Abdi's lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, as saying on 13 May. He said on 14 May that if the sentencing judge is shown to have erred or broken the law in the case, the judiciary must compensate Abdi and his family for "numerous problems and hardships" they have suffered in the past 30 months, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 15 May.
The lawyer for Abdi's colleague, Hussein Qazian, said on 14 May that he, too, should have his case processed, as he was jailed on the same charges, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 15 May. Mohammad Sharif said there "is no legal justification" for the legal limbo affecting Qazian, who remains in jail, the daily reported.
The Supreme Court decision prompted an objection from the Tehran chief prosecutor, Said Mortazavi, who reportedly challenged Abdi's acquittal, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 16 May. Mortazavi has objected in writing to the judiciary chief, who has referred his protest to a Supreme Court department for consideration, "Aftab-i Yazd" added, citing Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad. Mortazavi was the judge who initially sentenced Abdi to jail (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 January and 10 February 2003). (Vahid Sepehri)
WILL VIOLENCE PUNCTUATE IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION? Large-scale electoral violence is not a defining trait of Iranian elections, but violent incidents do occur, and they have chiefly targeted reformers. The culprits are usually rowdy men who disrupt electoral gatherings. Sometimes they beat attendees -- and the speaker, if they are sufficiently determined -- in incidents that spread fear and cause injuries rather than deaths. And, despite threats from officials to take action, the perpetrators often go unpunished, strengthening an impression that the political thugs enjoy discreet support from elements within the political establishment.
There is to be no formal campaigning for the 17 June presidential polls until 27 May, when hopefuls approved by the Guardians Council -- the electoral supervisory body -- can officially campaign as candidates. But some possible candidates have already been speaking to crowds around the country, and incidents have occurred at some of those gatherings. The two main incidents have affected Mehdi Karrubi, a leading reformist hopeful. On 7 May, a group of some 100 people disrupted his speech at a mosque in Zanjan, in northwestern Iran, and sought to attack Karrubi himself, "Sharq" reported on 8 May. Witnesses said the group arrived "in two buses" and sat in the front row "near Karrubi's position." When Karrubi spoke about a promise he made earlier to pay adult Iranians a minimum monthly stipend if he is elected president, "they rose together" and shouted that he was lying, before attacking the podium, "Sharq" added. Karrubi was led out with the help of aides and attendants, the daily reported.
On 6 May, as Karrubi addressed a crowd in Qom, south of Tehran, 20 to 30 people reportedly "acting in an organized way," pushed their way to the front and began shouting and chanting, the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 7 May. Karrubi let them onto the podium "so they could speak, if they had something to say." A verbal exchange ensued, though the meeting later continued. As Karrubi left the rally, "they chanted provocative slogans...and kicked and hit the bus carrying Karrubi's supporters," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. There have been other similar incidents.
On 11 May, Ebrahim Yazdi, the head of a liberal group often targeted for harassment, had to abandon a meeting with members of the public at a press fair in Tehran after an unspecified disruption by "some of his opponents," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day.
On 22 April, presidential hopeful Akbar Alami reportedly abandoned his speech at the Muhaqqiq Ardebili University in northwestern Iran when some audience members began to fight, though an aide later denied the report, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 25 April, citing ILNA.
On 18 April, students protested outside the provincial governor's office in the western town of Shahr-i Kurd because a student was earlier beaten "by non-students," at a gathering addressed by conservative candidate Ali Larijani, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 20 April, citing ILNA. Unknown assailants struck the student when he queried Larijani about his record as the former head of state television and radio, the daily stated.
On 7 March, students interrupted a speech at Isfahan University by the reformist candidate Mustafa Moin, objecting to some of his earlier decisions as higher education minister, IRNA reported that day. Some of these incidents are protests by Iranians not used to finding themselves so physically close to those they see and hear about and who claim to speak on their behalf. Appearances by such people provide the public with a chance to give them a piece of their mind. Others incidents, like the one that happened with Karrubi, are planned acts of intimidation.
Mindful of the past, reformers are concerned about a repetition of threatening tactics when campaigning starts. Mohammad Reza Khatami of the reformist Participation Party warned on 13 May that "the agents of authoritarianism" have "plans for the disruption of Moin and Karrubi's programs, and this...has occurred in several places," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 14 May. Rasul Montajabnia, a Karrubi ally, told ILNA on 14 May that disruptions of Karrubi's meetings illustrate a "feeling of fear" among "authoritarians." Former legislator Fazel Amir-Jahani told the Fars news agency on 10 May that "Karrubi's victory in the elections means an end to the activities of rogue groups, which is why these groups are already concerned and trying to disrupt" his gatherings. "They know Karrubi will prevent underground groups...[from] coming to power," he said.
Aside from violence, Mohammad Reza Khatami was concerned on 13 May about the future "conduct" of the Guardians Council, whose strict vetting of hopefuls barred thousands, including allies of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, from running in the 2004 parliamentary polls. Reformers might argue that the vetting process is the first line of conservative defense in elections: those the Guardians Council cannot reasonably bar may then have to be reminded -- with some pushing and shoving if need be -- that they are not welcome in the corridors of power.
Conservatives generally fail to mention electoral violence as a problem, if they acknowledge its existence at all, unlike Khatami-appointed Interior Minister Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari. He said in Tehran on 13 May that "people who disrupt electoral meetings will be dealt with as rioters," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 14 May. "We shall deal with these people," and "those who do not tolerate other people's ideas," he said. The police, he said, have "primary responsibility" for assuring electoral security. He clearly hopes that the police, who sometimes hesitate to act forcefully with people thought to have friends in high places, will implement the letter of the law.
Police chief Ali Abdullahi said on 24 April that "we shall have no problems assuring the security of elections," ILNA reported that day. The judiciary, which some consider a conservative-dominated body, has not specifically mentioned violence as one of the "electoral offenses" it has vowed to combat. It seems more concerned with vote counting, a task performed by the Interior Ministry. Deputy judiciary chief Amir Abbas Sohrab-Beig said in Tehran on 13 May that the judiciary has opened offices nationwide to "swiftly" deal with unspecified offenses and "safeguard...the accuracy and health" of votes, ILNA reported the same day. On 17 May, he said that the judiciary is "impartial," and obligated to "guard the people's vote," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 May.
When campaigning starts, the scope of violence may depend on who will run for the presidency and whether or not voters will be galvanized -- as they were in 1997 -- into going out and supporting their candidate. If they do, and if some conservatives feel threatened by the prospect of a reformist president who might become an institutional headache for four years, then the rowdy men may return to play their part. (Vahid Sepehri)
CASPIAN SEA WORKING GROUP MEETS IN TEHRAN. The Caspian Sea Working Group, including representatives of littoral states seeking a legal regime for the lake, held its 17th meeting in Tehran on 16 and 17 May, ISNA and IRNA reported.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari told ISNA on 16 May that such talks constitute "a long process," and the current session would address the "important subject" of dividing the sea's resources. He said on 16 May that Iran opposes a "militarized" Caspian or a pipeline across it. It has discussed with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan its claim to 20 percent of the sea, based on its interpretation of international laws, and "we have more or less reached some good results," ISNA quoted him as saying.
In a speech to open the meeting, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Iran hopes the various rounds of talks will produce a regime governing all activities and use of resources in the sea, bring states together to tackle environmental problems, terrorism, and organized crime, but also ensure the exclusion of outside states from Caspian affairs, ISNA reported.
On 17 May, Safari told ISNA that, in various sessions, littoral states have agreed on "75 to 80 percent" of the accords that could form a treaty, "though...the difficult part" remains." He said the latest round yielded "good results" on topics like a preamble for a treaty, definitions, fishing rights, and shipping, ISNA reported. Participants also discussed a confidence-building agreement to fight common threats like organized crime, contraband, and terrorism, Safari said. The five littoral states intend to put into practice the agreement they have to protect the sea's natural environment. The next Working Group session is to be held in Baku at an unspecified date. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRAN, AZERBAIJAN IMPROVE DEFENSE COOPERATION. The defense ministers of Iran and Azerbaijan, Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani and Colonel General Safar Abiev, respectively, signed a defense agreement in Tehran on 16 May intended to boost cooperation on defense, joint research, training, and to enhance regional stability, IRNA reported the same day.
The agreement, Shamkhani told a press conference after the signing, is "neither against a third country nor influenced by a third country," IRNA reported. Abiev denied, in turn, that Azerbaijan will allow unspecified enemies of Iran to establish a "military base" on its territory, IRNA reported. Shamkhani said Iran and Azerbaijan already have an agreement disallowing the use of their territory by hostile forces to launch an attack on either country, and "Azerbaijan has shown so far that it feels bound to implement" it. Abiev said he visited Iranian arms factories and "saw the production...of modern weapons." Iran is "especially making modern, high-quality weapons in the electronics sector," he said. Shamkhani said he is satisfied with Iran's improved cooperation with regional states and its "technical capability, scientific potential, and trained workforce" in the defense sector, IRNA added. (Vahid Sepehri)
JUDICIARY SAYS SLAIN JOURNALIST'S CASE REMAINS OPEN. Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad said in Tehran on 17 May that the dossier of Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi, who was killed in state custody in Tehran in June 2003, remains open and will be reexamined on 25 July, Radio Farda reported on 17 May.
The announcement comes a day after a court examined the case on video for an hour without reaching a conclusion (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14, 21, 28 July and 4 August 2003). Lawyers for the family of Kazemi rejected the initial acquittal -- due to insufficient evidence -- of the only defendant charged with her killing, and want a court to summon two key witnesses, Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi, who may have participated in her interrogation, and Health Minister Masud Pezeshkian, who saw her corpse, Radio Farda reported.
Canada, which is angered by Iran's handling of the case, stated on 17 May that it will restrict its contacts with Iran to three subjects: the Kazemi case, "Iran's human rights record, and...nuclear nonproliferation," AFP reported, citing Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew. No "visits or exchanges by Iranian officials to Canada will be permitted, nor will Canadian officials engage with Iran, except relating to these issues," Pettigrew said, AFP reported.
Karimi-Rad said in Tehran on 21 May that Canada should be patient, nor rush to criticize Iran's handling of the case before it is reexamined on 25 July, AP reported the same day. He said Iran would not bow to pressure, and Canadian haste was creating "tensions," and "tensions will not expedite justice," AP reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN POLITICIANS CHANGE THEIR VOCABULARY, SLOWLY. The discourse of Iranian politicians has diversified since the 1979 revolution. The language of revolutionary struggle has come to include the terminology of civic rights, rule of law, and open government, as some politicians have sought to respond to growing demands by Iranians for more liberties and less meddling in their lives.
Those who have adapted, the reformers, reflect in their discourse an increasing acceptance of the principles of competitive politics and accountability.
The conservatives, who largely opposed the now defunct process of "political development" pursued by President Mohammad Khatami after his 1997 election, face a challenge in stating their views without alienating the people. While they say they stand for "principles" or "fundamental" values, hence a claim to be "fundamentalist," only some conservatives state those principles in public without compunction. With presidential elections due in June, and an increasing concern at widespread voter apathy, others have sought a more statesmanlike discourse, mixing generalizations, revolutionary rhetoric, and the vocabulary of participatory politics.
The outspoken among the conservatives include prominent clerics like ayatollahs Ahmad Jannati, secretary of the Guardians Council, the body that confirms the legality of elections and legislation; Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi; and Mohammad Yazdi, the former judiciary chief.
Jannati said on 4 February in Tehran that the next president must obey the supreme leader. That is "a red line," and "no joke." Nobody "should think he will become president and just form a cabinet and government," he said. Iranians "should not vote for just anyone," even if "anyone" is approved by the Guardians Council, Fars reported him as saying on 7 February. His bluntness stands out beside the consensual tone of many Iranian public figures.
The language of conservatives often reveals a world view filled with danger, sinister plots, and subterfuge. Great Britain, Jannati said on 4 February, is "the father of the great Satan, unequalled in its foxy nature," ISNA reported. Mesbah-Yazdi warned electoral supervisors in Qom on 4 February to watch out for "domestic devils" undermining religion in Iran. They probably come from "the jungles of Brazil," ISNA reported him as saying. There are hidden traitors, he said, and "interestingly, some of them wear turbans and are presidential candidates." The Guardians Council, he said, must not approve hopefuls "who have devoted a lifetime to treachery and abuse in the system," IRNA reported. Some observers believe he may have been alluding to Mehdi Karrubi, a former parliamentary speaker likely to be the main reformist candidate in June. "Unfortunately," Mesbah-Yazdi said, presidential hopefuls "do not mention Islam, but are looking to see what people want."
Uphold religion, conservatives say, and feed the people. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said in Bam, in southeastern Iran on 3 May, that job creation must be one of the next government's "most essential tasks," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 4 May. He urged officials not to "distract people with useless political and factional issues" that have "no effect on [their] real lives." The targets, he said, are "discrimination" and "corruption." Discrimination is often mentioned, but many in Iran would argue forcefully over who is discriminating against whom.
Factions and party politics are suspect: conservatives maintain Iranians are tired of "factional squabbles," their "real" concerns being money and jobs. Ali Larijani, a presidential hopeful, said on 1 February in Esfahan that legislators could resolve the economic problems of Iranians if they "do not become overpoliticized [siasat-zadeh] nor engage in political games [siasi-bazi]," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day.
Mohsen Rezai, another conservative presidential aspirant, implied on 31 January that the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini would have disapproved of factions. There "has been a certain deviation from the Imam's path," IRNA reported him as saying. Khomeini "had an extraordinary belief in the people [and believed] politics should be centered on people, but...factions have taken the people's place." Iran, he said, is now a "monarchy of factions." Forget reforms and functioning institutions: here is a vision of a system where the people and their leader are in touch, or would be if not for politicians.
Conservatives have recently mentioned "democracy" when objecting to Larijani's hasty selection by the Coordination Council of Revolutionary Forces, an umbrella group of conservatives, as the main "fundamentalist" candidate. Some have compared its deliberations to a conclave of cardinals. They say they are looking for the "white smoke," in the form of a candidate that satisfies most conservatives.
The conservatives express concern for the "system" (nezam) which, alongside the "revolution," has become a transcendent value requiring the resilient loyalty of generations of Iranians. The prosecutor-general, Qorban Ali Dorri-Najafabadi, said on 20 February that public participation in "revolutionary arenas," like voting, would be a great act of virtue, Fars News Agency reported.
Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 10 March that without unity, "we have betrayed the revolution," IRNA reported.
References to "the people" also help gauge the conservative political vision. They like to see Iranians as a revolutionary mass acting collectively, ready to heed their leaders' calls to "slap" or "punch" Iran's enemies in the face, as Ayatollah Khamenei likes to say, or just vote. Alaeddin Borujerdi, a legislator, told IRNA on 21 February that voter turnout at the presidential polls should "break the enemy," and "give [George W.] Bush a slap in the mouth for saying there is little popular support in" Iran.
This differs with the more quotidian discourse of some reformers. Moving along an imaginary line from conservatives to traditionalist reformers or the former Left, to more liberal reformers currently on the fringes of power and on to members of the public, the language simplifies.
Instead of "the people," reformers use "civil" (madani), "civic" (shahrvandi), or civic rights. Hussein Ansari-Rad, a member of the sixth parliament, urged on 31 January for greater respect for "public wishes and the enjoyment by citizens of all legal rights," ILNA reported. Rajabali Mazrui, a former member of parliament, said on 2 May in Tehran that conservative control of all government branches after June would threaten "the interests of citizens," ILNA reported that day. He urged people to vote, to forward "the transition to democracy." This contrasts with legislator Mohammad Mehdi Purfatemi's remark on 4 May that mass voter turnout would "stop the nonsense and threats uttered by the enemies of the system," IRNA reported that day.
Plain language is to be found in the readers' messages column in "Aftab-i Yazd," which has given the public a precarious outlet for anonymous expression. A reader asked in the 13 February issue why there is "so much insistence on people [voting]," when Jannati has told them not to vote for just anyone. "Leave the people alone. You control the government...so just carry on as you please," the reader said. Another complained in the 15 February issue that "some of these gentlemen" think they are "people's representatives and executive agents." Another cited on 22 February rejects a politician's assertion that "the silent majority is assessing [presidential] candidates." Not at all, says the reader, "the silent majority knows [the candidates] and will not be voting." Another said there is backwardness and poverty in Iran, because "certain officials, instead of serving the people, like to play with words."
Whatever it is that Iranians lack, it is not a way with words. (Vahid Sepehri)