29 August 2005, Volume
A SLIMMED-DOWN CABINET GETS TO WORK.
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad chaired the first session of his new cabinet on 25 August in Mashhad at the shrine of Imam Reza, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. "We have come to such a holy place to be inspired before rendering services to the nation," Ahmadinejad told journalists at the Mashhad airport before the meeting.
It seems a good time for inspiration, considering that one day earlier the conservative-dominated legislature rejected four of the 21 people he had nominated for cabinet seats. The legislature's rejection of the four men is yet another sign of the cleavages within the hard-line movement.
And The Winners Are...
There were 284 members of parliament present at the 24 August session, and each nominee had to secure a minimum of 143 votes to win approval. The four who failed to win enough votes are: Alireza Ali-Ahmadi (Cooperatives Ministry), Ali Akbar Ashari (Education and Training Ministry), Mehdi Hashemi (Welfare and Social Security Ministry), and Ali Saidlu (Oil Ministry). Ahmadinejad has three months to submit new names, and he has already appointed caretakers at the Cooperatives and Welfare ministries.
The new cabinet members who were approved by parliament are: Commerce Minister Masud Mir-Kazemi; Communications and Information Technology Minister Mohammad Suleimani; Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar; Economy and Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Jafari; Energy Minister Parviz Fattah; Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki; Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Minister Kamran Baqeri-Lankarani; Housing and Urban Development Minister Mohammad Saidi-Kia; Industries and Mines Minister Ali-Reza Tahmasbi; Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei; Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi; Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Mohammad-Hussein Safar-Harandi; Justice Minister Jamal Karimi-Rad; Labor and Social Affairs Minister Mohammad Jahromi; Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mohammad-Mehdi Zahedi; and Transportation Minister Mohammad Rahmati;
Five ministers have served in or worked for the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and three others have a background in security institutions. This is yet another sign of the rightward drift of Iranian politics.
A Rough Experience
The rejections are a clear message from the legislature to the executive branch that it will not be a rubber stamp. Ahmadinejad submitted the names of prospective ministers on 14 August. The legislature began its debate on 21 August, after Ahmadinejad spoke on behalf of the nominees and introduced his government's program.
It was clear from the time he submitted the names that it would not be a trouble-free process.
Saidlu is considered an ally of Ahmadinejad, but the rejection of his bid to head the Oil Ministry was not unexpected, mainly because of his lack of experience in this sector. Parliamentary debate over Saidlu got ugly on 24 August, with one legislator asking how Saidlu earned a doctorate at an American university at the same time that he was serving as Tehran's deputy mayor, Mehr News Agency reported. Saidlu admitted that he earned his degree at Hartford University, an institution that offers online degrees.
The nominee for interior minister, Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi, came in for a grilling at the legislature on 24 August, although he eventually secured 153 votes, with 90 against and 31 abstentions.
Conservative legislator Imad Afruq noted that Purmohammadi was a deputy minister of intelligence and security in the mid- and late 1990s when the ministry had a reputation for repressing the domestic and expatriate opposition, state television reported. Afruq said the things that happened at the ministry are indefensible, and he asked if there were no other choices. "Was there no one else with his record, but without this past among our clergy or non-clergy? Do we have no one else?" In light of this record, Afruq asked, what would Purmohammadi do to guarantee people's rights? Afruq also demanded to know how Purmohammadi would deal with the country's ethnic problems, adding that although there is no systematic discrimination in Iran, Kurds feel discriminated against.
Tehran representative Elias Naderan expressed concern that a person with Purmohammadi's background could turn Iran into a police state, Mehr News Agency reported. How can somebody with this background establish a rapport with the public, he asked.
Appointees Could Be Influential
Other executive-branch officials are appointed without parliamentary confirmation. Some of these appointments appear to be straightforward payoffs for support during the presidential race, but they also shed some light on the connection of the Ahmadinejad administration with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and its affiliated Basij Resistance Force. For example, Ahmadinejad appointed a "Hojatoleslam [first name not given] Moslehi" as his adviser for theological and cleric affairs on 15 August, IRNA reported. This is probably Hojatoleslam Heidar Moslehi, the supreme leader's representative to the Basij Resistance Force, and the appointment is possibly his payoff for the Basij's decisive role in Ahmadinejad's victory.
Ahmadinejad also appointed Gholam Hussein Elham as his chief of staff on 15 August, ILNA reported. Elham is a member of the Guardians Council, and he also is its spokesman. The council is tasked with supervising elections, and it also faced accusations from unsuccessful candidates in the June presidential election. So this appointment could be a payoff, too. Yet Elham also has a connection with the Basij and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) -- he reportedly performed special missions as a Basiji during the last two years of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, and from 1980-84 he was a prosecutor with the IRGC's courts.
The appointment that will have the biggest impact on Iran's relationship with the international community is that of Ali Larijani, the new secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. He has the lead on the issue of the country's nuclear program, and he is likely to overshadow the new foreign minister. Larijani and Ahmadinejad have already indicated that they have little interest in mollifying international concerns. (Bill Samii)REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS GET NEW LEADERS.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Brigadier General Ali-Reza Zahedi as the new commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) air force on 25 August, IRNA reported. He succeeds Brigadier General Ahmad Kazemi.
Five days earlier, Kazemi was selected to head the IRGC's ground forces, IRNA reported. Kazemi succeeds Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari-Najafabadi.
Jafari is going to establish the new IRGC strategic studies institute. During the ceremony marking Kazemi's new appointment, IRGC commander Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi said establishment of the new think tank shows the supreme leader's foresight, Mehr News Agency reported. (Bill Samii)PARAMILITARIES TO GET POLICE POWERS.
Supreme Leader Khamenei visited the Tehran headquarters of the Basij Resistance Force, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, on 24 August, IRNA and state television reported. He said the resistance of the Basij and the Iranian nation against the United States is a guarantee of regional stability and added: "Right now the Americans are using political and cultural instruments and their puppets to metamorphose the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran and change its identity. However, they will suffer their most severe defeat in this field by the Basij youth." Khamenei said Basij members come from all walks of life and from all ethnic groups.
Some members of the Basij could be authorized to have police powers soon, Tehran deputy prosecutor Mahmud Salarkia and prospective Justice Minister Jamal Karimirad told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on 20 August. This does not apply to all Basij personnel and only those who get the appropriate training as judicial officers (zabet-i qazai) will have the power to make arrests.
Salarkia said the Basijis encounter all kinds of crimes as they perform their duties. One of these crimes is violating the Islamic dress code, he said, adding, "How could we condone anyone whose reckless behavior or action promotes decadence and undermines societal values?"
Karimirad also seemed very concerned about women's appearance. "Crimes that take place in the presence of the officers, such as improper observance of the Islamic dress code, are regarded as crimes and must be dealt with in accordance with the law," he said. "The officers would be trained to deal with this crime and instructed in the proper procedures."
At a meeting with members of the Basij summer program called the Velayat Project, IRGC commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi said he hopes the election of a committed and revolutionary national management will help the country's progress and development, "Kayhan" reported on 13 August. He warned, "Some political groups are trying to undermine and weaken the new government or increase the people's expectations." (Bill Samii)TENSIONS INCREASE ALONG IRAN'S NORTHWESTERN BORDER.
West Azerbaijan Province Governor-General Jamshid Ansari has said that the number of Iranian troops stationed along Iran's western border has increased in the past two weeks as a result of a confrontation with a Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) affiliate called the Kurdistan Independent Life Party (PJAK), "Ozgur Politika" reported on 23 August.
Referring to recent incidents of unrest among Kurds in the Iranian northwest, an Iraqi Kurdish newspaper, "Jamawar," reported on 23 August that a Kurdish uprising is spreading in Iran. The newspaper added that two leaders of the Worker Communist Party of Iran, Abdullah Darabi and Majid Husseini, returned to their country recently because they expect the regime's downfall and are ready to lead a popular movement. "Jamawar" reported on 22 August that fighting between PJAK and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps is intensifying.
Mustafa Mawludi, a member of the political bureau of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (http://www.pdk-iran.org), said in an interview that appeared in the 22 August "Jamawar" that Kurds throughout the northwest are concerned about current events and have voiced their displeasure. However, he went on to say, this is not going to turn into some sort of revolutionary movement. "But to think that like the mass processions of 1978-79 in Iran it would lead to a revolution or like the events of 1991 in Iraqi Kurdistan it would lead to people's uprising, we believe this is not the case. The uprising is only taking place in [Iranian] Kurdistan areas and is not supported by other Iranian regions. Unfortunately, it would not develop into a revolution or general uprising."
Ahmad Eskandari, an expert on Kurdish affairs, discussed ethnic unrest in northwestern Iran in an 18 August interview with Radio Farda. He said he has specific information that the Iranian security forces intentionally initiated incidents in Saqqez so they could shoot at people. Eskandari said President Ahmadinejad and some of his proposed cabinet ministers have experience in the predominantly Kurdish provinces and that experience is based on repression of the locals. More than 500 people have been arrested, Eskandari said, but local citizens only want peace and calm. A number of those who have been released have broken limbs, and they describe terrible abuse while in confinement. Eskandari noted that it is the anniversary of 29 Mordad 1358 (August 1979), when Revolutionary Guards attacked Kurds who were demanding their rights. (Bill Samii)NO LETUP IN SOUTHEASTERN INSECURITY.
Nine Iranian security officers and a Baluchi tribesman were killed in a 22 August shootout in a Pakistani town called Nokandi, the "Daily Times" of Lahore reported on 23 August. The incident reportedly began when the Iranians crossed the border in pursuit of tribesmen they believed had abducted their colleague. The Iranians attacked the Yaqoub Bazaar in the town of Bahu Kalat, and nine of them were killed in the ensuing firefight.
An armed Sunni group purportedly led by Abdulmalik Baluchi claimed in early July to have beheaded an Iranian security agent, and there were indications that they were in Iran's southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July 2005).
General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, chief of Iran's national police force, said during a late-July visit to the southeastern city of Zahedan that efforts to improve security in that part of the country are being redoubled, "Iran" reported on 28 July. He noted that security in Sistan va Baluchistan Province is more problematic than in other parts of the country. He attributed the situation to long borders, transborder issues, "plots and machinations hatched from outside the borders, and the support extended by the world powers to those who upset security."
The parliamentary representative from the southeastern city of Zabol, Abolqasem Mokhtari, is critical of security activities in the region. He said the police cannot cope with the violence and banditry there, and they are among the victims, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 7 July. He speculated that somebody provides the bandits with information on the whereabouts of police personnel, who are then ambushed. (Bill Samii)TEHRAN OFFERS TO FUND REGIONAL COUNTERNARCOTICS EFFORTS IN AFGHANISTAN.
Addressing the United Nations Security Council on 23 August, Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Javad Zarif said the United States and United Kingdom are not doing enough to combat narcotics cultivation and trafficking in Afghanistan, according to Iranian state radio's Dari-language broadcast from Mashhad the next day. He called for strengthening Afghanistan's central government and police force as the best ways to deal with the issue.
According to RFE/RL, furthermore, Zarif said Iran is worried about the increase in opium production. "While certain efforts by the government of Afghanistan have resulted in the reduction of opium cultivation in some regions traditionally famous for opium producing, it is beyond comprehension why at the same time opium production should increase in areas bordering my country, especially in the Farah Province," he said. "It is a development that arouses our grave concern."
Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan Mohammad Reza Bahrami met with Afghan Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi on 23 August and announced Tehran's willingness to pay the salaries of personnel at regional offices of the Counternarcotics Ministry, Radio Afghanistan reported. According to a 22 August press release from the Afghan Interior Ministry, operations that day in Nimroz Province by an Afghan special narcotics force were intended to disrupt trafficking routes into Iran. (Bill Samii)IRANIAN RELEASED FROM GUANTANAMO.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 23 August that an Iranian released from captivity at Guantanamo Bay was mistreated, IRNA reported. He claimed that Mohammad Anvarkord was detained by U.S. personnel after entering Afghanistan illegally and that at Guantanamo Bay he was "mistreated and exposed to extensive psychological pressure." Assefi added, "The inhuman behavior of the prison keepers, in violation of human rights, caused psychological disorder for him, so that he needs to be recuperated and treated."
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on 23 August in Washington that other former detainees have made similar allegations, Reuters reported. "The people who are in charge of these facilities at the [U.S.] Department of Defense are trained to respect the rights of all the detainees down there in accordance with international obligations and they are particularly sensitive to the fact that many of these detainees practice Islam," McCormack added. (Bill Samii)IMPRISONED ATTORNEY INCOMMUNICADO.
Sakineh Soltani, the mother of imprisoned attorney Abdolfattah Soltani, said it has been more than 23 days since she last saw her son, Radio Farda reported on 23 August. Soltani, who was arrested on 30 July, is representing the defendants in a nuclear-espionage case (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 December 2004). She said she has been without a breadwinner (presumably, she is a widow) for four years and is dependent on her son. She asked whether this is proper in an Islamic country and why her child is being treated this way. Soltani said she, her daughter-in-law, and her grandchildren have visited Evin prison many times but are always told that Soltani is not there. She said she has one other son, but he is older, has retired, and has six children, so he cannot help her. Only Abdolfattah helps her, she said. (Bill Samii)DISSIDENT JOURNALIST ON ROAD TO RECOVERY.
Cyrus Tabesh, an official at Tehran's Milad Hospital, said on 20 August that dissident journalist Akbar Ganji has been transferred from the intensive-care unit to the general ward, IRNA reported. Ganji reportedly ended his hunger strike, which continued for more than 70 days, on 16 August. Tabesh said Ganji is cooperating with physicians and consuming the prescribed diet, and his condition has improved.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has sent a letter to President Ahmadinejad requesting Ganji's unconditional release, AP reported on 19 August, citing an anonymous UN official.
Masumeh Shafii, Ganji's wife, confirmed in a 22 August interview with Radio Farda that her husband has ended his hunger strike. Shafii saw her husband on 21 August for the first time in three weeks. She said he was in the Milad Hospital's intensive-care unit for three weeks, but now he is consuming a prescribed diet and his health has improved.
Reporters Without Borders welcomed Ganji's release in a 22 August statement, before adding, "Nonetheless, the fight to obtain his release continues and we strongly hope that his perseverance will not result in his being kept in prison until he completes his sentence." (Bill Samii)PUBLIC HEALTH SECTOR WINS INTERNATIONAL PRAISE DURING CHOLERA OUTBREAK.
Iran is seeking international assistance in dealing with an outbreak of cholera that has already killed at least 10 people. And while the World Health Organization (WHO) has praised the Iranian public health sector's response, some Iranian newspapers have been more critical.
Dr. Mahmud Sorush, an official with Iran's Ministry of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education, said on 22 August that 56 new cases of cholera were reported the previous day, ISNA reported, bringing the national total to 810. He added that 10 people had died of the disease since a rash of cases began in July.
On 21 August, the ministry had suggested that it managed to bring the outbreak under control, although it expressed concern that infections could surge again in the south of the country. In fact, the outbreak has spread rapidly. As of 24 August, there were more than 1,000 reported cases.
How Cholera Spreads
Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by bacterial infection of the intestine. People can get cholera by drinking water or eating food that is contaminated with the cholera bacterium, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. When there is an epidemic, the source of the contamination is often an infected person's feces. The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequately treated sewage and drinking water.
In the Iranian case, the cholera outbreak has been attributed to several sources. A Health Ministry official identified by state radio only as "Dr. Akbari" said on 5 August that illegal immigrants from Pakistan who have settled near Qom are carriers of the bacteria, state radio reported. Regarding the spread of cholera around Tehran, the capital, Akbari said this can be traced to the consumption of unwashed vegetables. "Therefore, I cannot stress enough the importance of thoroughly disinfecting vegetables," Akbari added. "The easiest way is to use high water pressure to wash vegetables. Then add a spoonful of bleach to them and let it sit for a minute before washing them again."
Dr. Mobasher Sheikh, the WHO representative in Iran, confirmed in a 15 August interview with Radio Farda that although the outbreak was initially attributed to immigrants and pilgrims from Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is now believed to be connected with other factors, such as unwashed vegetables.
The Health Ministry recently banned the sale of green vegetables for two months. According to AFP on 18 August, this has cost farmers a minimum of $55.5 million. President Ahmadinejad has ordered the Agriculture Jihad Ministry to compensate vegetable farmers whose livelihoods are adversely affected by the produce ban, IRNA reported on 22 August. The national police force is taking action against peddlers of contaminated foods, "Iran Daily" reported on 23 August.
Tehran has reached out to the international community for help in preventing the spread of the disease. Dr. Claire-Lise Chaignat, head of the WHO's Global Task Force on Cholera Control, told Radio Farda on 15 August: "We have been informed by our WHO representative that there is an outbreak going on in Iran. We had an official request from the Ministry of Health asking for support from WHO to provide support for the investigation of this outbreak."
Chaignat said the WHO is taking measures to stop the spread of the disease. "What we have to do to stop an outbreak is to ensure that the water resource is safe and not contaminated and that we provide health education to the population," Chaignat said. "Because once we have it in the environment, it is there and it is a question of the behavior of the community in order to stop the spread." Chaignat told Radio Farda that the WHO sent an epidemiologist to Iran and that person is working with the Health Ministry.
WHO officials said Iran is dealing with the cholera outbreak in a praiseworthy manner. Chaignat pointed out that cholera can come to a country at any time, and she praised Iran for detecting the disease quickly. "In fact, because Iran has a good surveillance system, the country could identify the first cases as soon as they occurred," Chaignat said. "And that's why their alert system in fact functions very well, and that's why we have been aware they are quickly [dealing with] the outbreak going on in Iran. This is because of a good infrastructure in Iran."
Iran's quick reaction to the outbreak has prevented a much greater problem, Chaignat added. "I think that Iran has taken the measure that is needed to take immediately and that is probably why there has not been a bigger outbreak so far," she said.
Sheikh also praised the public health sector's response. "They have a fairly good system of water and sanitation and they are sort of running [a] fairly competent campaign for awareness in the media," Sheikh said in his 15 August interview with Radio Farda. "It is very likely to be controlled in coming days."
Sheikh described some of the steps being taken by the WHO and the Health Ministry to confront the cholera outbreak. "We are working very closely with the national authorities in strengthening the surveillance system, for early detection and help creating awareness to the general public."
Sheikh told Radio Farda on 24 August that the WHO epidemiologist looked into the functioning of the surveillance system in an effort to determine the major sources of the infection and ways to limit its spread. The epidemiologist was impressed with the way Iranian authorities are handling the situation and with their initial responses, according to Radio Farda.
While international agencies that must work with Tehran are praising the Iranian government's efforts, the Iranian press is less enthusiastic. Commentator Rauf Pishdar wrote in "Etemad" on 22 August that the government is withholding the truth on the cholera outbreak. Officials initially denied that there was a problem, and after there were too many patients for the denials to work, they only revealed part of the truth. "The result was that a larger number of people fell ill and a few people died," according to the commentary. Pishdar wrote that in an article he wrote in the 1980s, he described the excessive use of chemicals on vegetables in southern Tehran. Officials denied these allegations on state radio and television, but a subsequent scholarly report noted that students in that area got sick after consuming vegetables from that part of Tehran that were treated with raw sewage. Pishdar argued that this reflects a regular pattern of obfuscation.
Another newspaper noted that the outbreak harms Iran's international reputation." The cholera epidemic is spreading across the country...an epidemic not only gives rise to a human disaster, but also mars our international reputations," "Iran Daily" commented on 18 August. "The spread of cholera in the 21st century informs the international community that the Iranian government and health system are inefficient. This is what the world already thinks about Afghanistan." (Bill Samii, Fatemeh Aman)IRAN IMPORTS WHEAT DESPITE CLAIMS OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY.
Fazlollah Safi-Khani, deputy manager of Iran's Wheat Self-Sufficiency Program, said on 24 August that in the March-June period Iran imported approximately 63,000 tons of wheat, iranmania.com reported, citing ISNA. The wheat was imported as animal feed but some was diverted to bakeries, he said. On 16 November 2004, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami participated in a ceremony commemorating Iran's becoming self-sufficient in wheat production, IRNA reported at the time (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 December 2004). On 1 January 2005, Khatami told a gathering of exemplary farmers that the government is proud of its performance on farming issues within the context of the Third Five-Year Development Plan (March 2000-05), IRNA reported. He referred to self-sufficiency in wheat production and predicted that the sugar sector will become similarly self-sufficient in the near future. (Bill Samii)TEHRAN SUSPENDS ACTIVITIES OF TWO ENERGY COMPANIES.
An unnamed official from the National Iranian Oil Company announced on 22 August that the activities of two energy companies are being suspended in connection with allegations of bribery and corruption, state television reported. The two companies are Halliburton and Oriental Oil Kish. Halliburton announced that it was withdrawing from Iranian activities in spring 2005 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 February and 30 March 2005). The Oriental Oil case may be part of a politically motivated anticorruption drive, as there is speculation in Iran that the company is being targeted for its connections to the family of Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. (Bill Samii)SECURITY CHIEF GETS SEND-OFF.
Ali Larijani, the new secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said during the 21 August ceremony honoring his predecessor that Iran will announce its new nuclear initiatives soon, ISNA reported on 22 August.
Larijani succeeds Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, who will stay with the council as the supreme leader's representative. Many luminaries, including Expediency Council Chairman Hashemi-Rafsanjani and former President Khatami, attended the event, "Iran" reported on 22 August. Hashemi-Rafsanjani expressed regret that Rohani did not retain this position. He said the council must be above politics or factional concerns. Rohani will begin work at the Center for Strategic Research, a think tank connected with Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
Turning to nuclear activities, Rohani said on 22 August that Iran will negotiate with the EU and resume activities at the nuclear facility in Natanz. (Bill Samii)TEHRAN SEEKS NEW NUCLEAR INTERLOCUTORS.
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani arrived in Vienna on 26 August and met with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei. They met behind closed doors, but according to Reuters the meeting probably represents Tehran's effort to preclude the European Union referring it to the UN Security Council. IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told Radio Farda, "It was a constructive meeting and, by all account, Mr. Larijani demonstrated a commitment to working closely with the IAEA to resolve these outstanding issues."
Among the "outstanding issues" described by Fleming: "In particular, there [are] still question marks surrounding a seven-year period, between a time when Iran received an advanced centrifuge design and when it, seven years later, reported to start work on it. There are many questions about what happened during those seven years." Fleming added, "There are still some lingering questions about the [enriched-uranium] contamination [on nuclear equipment in Iran], although the 3 September report will provide some new results and analysis on that subject and will show that we are making some progress there."
El-Baradei is scheduled to make a presentation on the Iranian nuclear program to the IAEA board of governors on 3 September.
Larijani also played for time, saying that Tehran will offer a counterproposal to the EU in "about a month." The Ahmadinejad administration rejected the offer the EU made in early August, and on 23 August the French Foreign Ministry announced that talks with Iran that were scheduled for 31 August have been cancelled (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 August 2005). The European decision to cancel the talks was triggered by Iran's insistence on resuming activities at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility.
The new Third World emphasis of the Ahmadinejad administration's foreign policy was apparent on 25 August, when Larijani said, "We welcome talks with all member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency board of directors, be it European countries or members of the Non-Aligned Movement," state radio reported. Larijani claimed that many IAEA member states -- including nonaligned countries and European countries other than France, Germany, and the United Kingdom -- said the countries negotiating with Iran do not represent the IAEA board of governors, the EU, or the UN.
Another Supreme National Security Council official, Ali Aqamohammadi, said on 25 August that the framework for the Iran-EU talks remains in place, but a new framework will be devised to include other countries, state radio reported. He added that the involvement of the newly approved ministers of foreign affairs and of intelligence and security will bring a new sense of purpose to deliberations that will begin next week. Aqamohammadi said the council will present its findings to the supreme leader for final approval.
Supreme National Security Council official Hussein Musavian said in Tehran on 24 August that Iran will not resume negotiations with the EU on any demands that are in excess of previous agreements, Mehr News Agency reported. Nevertheless, he added that Iran does not oppose more negotiations. (Bill Samii)BETTER TRANSPARENCY MIGHT BOOST INTERNATIONAL CONFIDENCE.
The Iranian resumption of operations at its uranium-conversion facility in Isfahan in early August ends what Tehran has always referred to as its "temporary" suspension of nuclear activities. With this development Iran appears headed for a showdown with the international community. In a series of interviews with Radio Farda, experts on the issue discussed Iran's pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle.
Professor Mohammad Sahimi, chairman of the department of chemical engineering at the University of Southern California (USC), is a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization devoted to preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He told Radio Farda this week that the nuclear issue can be addressed from two perspectives: the economic, scientific, and technological aspect on one hand, and the political aspect on the other.
"Economically and technologically, Iran does need nuclear reactors and the use of nuclear energy," Sahimi concluded. "There is no doubt about it."
Sahimi acknowledged that Iran has vast oil and gas reserves. However, he went on to say, it still needs alternative energy sources. He said it "completely makes sense" for Iran to use oil and gas as its main source of income and to develop its petrochemical industry. He added that it is Iran's right, as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), to master the complete nuclear fuel cycle. As long as the country does not violate the NPT, it retains that right.
But does Iran actually need the complete nuclear fuel cycle now or in the next few years? "No, we don't," Sahimi answered. The only reactor in Iran right now is the one being built by Russia in Bushehr. That is scheduled to go on line in 2006, and Russia has guaranteed a 10-year fuel supply for that. Therefore, the processing and preparation of fuel in Iran is unnecessary for another decade and would only pit Iran against the international community and create problems for it, Sahimi said.
The Political Problem
Bruno Pellaud, former IAEA deputy director-general for safeguards, told Radio Farda that he is not worried about the legitimacy of the nuclear fuel cycle. He suggested that many people are "worried about the track record of various governments, various officials in the Iranian government in the last 10-15 years." These officials did not declare activities that should have been declared, he said. "This is a matter of concern and needs to be recognized by the Iranian authorities as well."
Echoing this theme, USC's Sahimi noted that many officials in Europe and the United States do not trust the Iranian leadership. The problem, he continued, is that the Iranian political system is not democratic, whereas democracy contributes to transparency. "If we did have a democratic system in Iran which was completely transparent, where the decision-making process was not shrouded in secrecy and it was clear who calls the shots in deciding what aspect of nuclear energy to pursue, then we wouldn't worry about Iran's nuclear energy program," Sahimi continued.
"But the fact is that Iran's political system is not transparent, is not democratic -- although there may be some aspects of limited democracy in it, but not fully democratic -- therefore the international community and in particular the Western European countries and the United States look at it suspiciously." Iran's 25 years of adventurous foreign policy, he added, contributes to this distrust.
Nobody worries about India's nuclear weapons, Sahimi went on to say, because the country has a democratic political system and its decision-making process is "completely transparent." He paraphrased Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who told him recently, "nuclear bombs in the hands of a democratic system and a democratic country are a benign thing."
Sahimi suggested that the nuclear issue and democratic development could be linked. He said, "for example, if five years from now, Iran's political system is completely transparent and democratic, then Iran can start its complete nuclear fuel cycle."
Too Much Politics?
The Iranian nuclear issue has become excessively politicized, according to Najmedin Meshkati, an associate professor of civil/environmental engineering and associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at USC. He expressed concern in an interview with Radio Farda that Iranians are insisting on the complete nuclear fuel cycle and are ignoring the safety of their future nuclear facilities. Meshkati suggested that Iran should welcome the possibility of U.S. support for its access to a safer nuclear reactor in exchange for the fuel cycle. (Bill Samii, Fatemeh Aman)