Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iran Report: October 12, 2005

12 October 2005, Volume 8, Number 40

SYSTEMIC CHANGES COULD WEAKEN ELECTED OFFICIALS, BALANCE GOVERNMENT. The formal decision-making apparatus in the Iranian government has undergone a significant change in the last few days. This change, which gives the unelected Expediency Council supervisory powers over the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, has been met with criticism from members of parliament. This development reduces the power of elected officials, but it could also reflect an attempt to restore balance to a system heavily dominated by younger hard-liners.

Enhanced Council Powers

Mohsen Rezai, secretary of the Expediency Council, was quoted on 2 October by "Sharq" -- as well as "Aftab-i Yazd," "Etemad," "Farhang-i Ashti," and "Hemayat" -- as saying that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently approved the council's oversight of the system's policies. In other words, he said, the council will supervise the three branches of government and report on their performance to the supreme leader.

Rezai said Khamenei wanted the council to perform this function some eight years earlier, but the necessary laws did not exist. About one year ago the council began work on the required statute, under which the heads of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches must comply with whatever the Expediency Council says. Khamenei signed off on this about two months ago, according to Rezai.

"Sharq" cited Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani as saying previously that the supreme leader can delegate some of his responsibilities to others (per Article 110 of the constitution), and Rezai said this is what is taking place. Rezai referred specifically to oversight of the system's general policies, the fourth economic-development plan, and the 20-year plan.

This appears to be a significant enhancement of the Expediency Council's powers. When the council was created in February 1988, its primary purpose was to adjudicate in disputes over legislation between the Guardians Council and the parliament. Soon after its creation, it began to frame legislation -- something that ended only after 100 parliamentarians complained to the supreme leader. According to Article 112 of the Iranian Constitution, the council advises the supreme leader, and he consults with it when he wants to revise the constitution.

Fourth Branch?

Some members of parliament were quick to criticize the granting of new powers to the Expediency Council. Tabriz parliamentary representative Akbar Alami warned against making the council a fourth branch of government, "Etemad" and "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 3 October. Alami said the legislature has the lead in national affairs. He cited Articles 6, 56, and 62, which say, respectively, that national affairs must be administered on the basis of elections; the people exercise sovereignty based on the separation of powers; and the people's representatives are elected directly by secret ballot. Alami also cited Articles 71 and 76, which say the legislature can establish laws and the legislature has the right to examine and investigate national affairs. Alami referred to Article 90, which states that an individual can forward a complaint about one of the branches of government to the legislature, and the legislature must investigate this complaint.

On the basis of the constitution, therefore, only the legislature can supervise the legislature, Alami said. "If this process continues, the principle of national sovereignty and its representation through the parliament will be exposed to serious danger," he said.

Another legislator, Reza Talai-Nik of Bahar and Kabudarahang, said that Article 110 only applies to supervision over the system's macro-policies, "Etemad" reported. "It is the responsibility of the Expediency Council to decide to what extent the country is moving within the context of the macro-policies of the system and evaluating those policies," he explained. "However, this does not mean supervision over executive affairs. Supervising the executive affairs is part of the responsibilities of the legislative power."

Vehicle For Influence

The Expediency Council, which Hashemi-Rafsanjani has chaired for approximately 15 years, is a vehicle for his political influence and power. But some observers believe that Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khamenei are political competitors, and that Khamenei threw his weight behind Hashemi-Rafsanjani's adversary in the June presidential race. This most recent development argues against this interpretation of power relationships in Iran. Nor is this the first time Khamenei has granted significant power to the Expediency Council. In August 2001, for example, Khamenei had the Expediency Council determine the circumstances under which President Mohammad Khatami could be inaugurated.

Perhaps the greater significance of the Expediency Council's new powers is that it is another case in which an unelected institution has been given power over elected ones. Moreover, it could reflect an effort to restore some sort of balance to the country's politics, in which hard-liners have come to dominate the executive and legislative branches. (Bill Samii)

ARMED FORCES HOLD MANEUVERS IN NORTHWEST. More than 15,000 members of Iran's regular armed forces participated in the Joshan exercises in northwestern Iran that began on 30 September, Fars News Agency reported. Participants in the three-day exercises in West Azerbaijan and East Azerbaijan provinces included electronic-warfare, helicopter, artillery, and engineering units, as well as air-force bombers. Brigadier General Bakhtiari, whom Fars described as the spokesman for the exercises, said their aim was to improve combat readiness and help assess officers and noncommissioned officers. Bakhtiari said before the exercises began that deployment capabilities, speed and mobility, and irregular-warfare training would also be tested. (Bill Samii)

WOMEN TO DRIVE SCOOTERS AGAIN IN TEHRAN. Mohsen Ansari, head of the Tehran traffic police, said on 4 October that Iranian women will be allowed to drive motor scooters soon and can apply for permits, Radio Farda reported. In contrast with their Saudi Arabian counterparts, Radio Farda reported, Iranian women are allowed to drive automobiles. Women have not been allowed to drive motor scooters since the 1979 Islamic Revolution until the present because of the possibility that their "curves" might be exposed while doing so, but since approximately 1991 their presence on motorcycles or bicycles as passengers has been tolerated. Women's motorcycling classes were initiated in Iran three years ago, Radio Farda reported, but they were closed by the country's leadership. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN AMONG WORST PLACES TO LIVE. In a survey of 127 major international cities, Tehran was rated one of the worst places to live, Radio Farda reported on 4 October. With a 52 percent rating from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), most aspects of living in Tehran are described as "severely restricted." The EIU survey considered more than 40 factors in five categories -- "stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure." The Canadian city of Vancouver was the best place to live, and cities in Australia, North America, and Western Europe topped the list. Cities in the Middle East and Africa were the worst places to live. Tehran was at the top of the 10 worst, scoring higher than Douala, Cameroon; Harare, Zimbabwe; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Lagos, Nigeria; Karachi, Pakistan; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Algiers, Algeria; and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. (Bill Samii)

JOURNALIST COMPLAINS OF SHOOT-TO-KILL POLICY. Journalist Amir Abbas Fakhravar, who has been on prison furlough since June, recently discussed the possibility of being sent back to prison, Radio Farda reported on 4 October. He told Radio Farda that after the June presidential election he and several friends decided they would not return to prison. He said his sister recently went to court to deal with the case of her imprisoned husband, Mehrdad Heidarpur, and the officials there informed her that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and the Basij have been authorized to shoot Fakhravar if he tries to elude them. (Bill Samii)

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS DEMAND LAWYER'S FREEDOM. Radio Farda reported on 3 October that several Iranian and international human rights organizations are demanding the release of jailed lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, who was detained some two months ago and is in solitary confinement in Evin prison. Attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Radio Farda that Soltani has not been allowed to meet with his lawyers, in contravention of the law. Dadkhah added that, as far as he knows, Soltani was allowed to see his family the previous week. The human rights groups believe that Soltani's prolonged detention is connected with the case of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian photojournalist who was beaten to death at Evin in summer 2003 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14, 21, and 28 July 2003). (Bill Samii)

THREE KURDISH JOURNALISTS INDICTED IN IRAN. The public prosecutor in the city of Sanandaj has issued indictments for three Iranian-Kurdish journalists who are in detention, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on 3 October. Attorney Abbas Jamali said the warrants for Ejlal Qavami, Said Saedi, and Roya Tolui refer them to the Revolutionary Court. Jamali said his clients -- Qavami and Saedi -- have been detained for 60 days already, and they are accused of acting against national security. (Bill Samii)

STOCK EXCHANGE HAS LONG-TERM DIFFICULTIES. Iranian commentators have recently referred to a "crisis" on the Tehran Stock Exchange. The slump is particularly evident because the market's key index (Tepix) rose by nearly 80 percent between March 2001 and April 2003, while the indices of exchanges in Frankfurt, London, New York, Paris, and Tokyo tumbled by 40-70 percent. The gains in Iranian securities had continued until recently, too, culminating in a tripling of the key Tehran index in the period from 2001 to May 2005.

The downturn has been attributed to uncertainty over the future based on the nuclear question, as well as to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's seemingly negative attitude toward the stock market. These factors might disappear or be resolved, but at least one economist has noted that the Iranian stock exchange suffers from deeply entrenched problems. These will be more difficult to resolve.

A Slow Start

The Tehran Stock Exchange began dealing in the shares of a few private banks and companies, as well as treasury bonds and state-backed securities, in 1968. By the 1979 Islamic Revolution, 105 firms were listed on the exchange. That number fell to 56 after the revolution, as private banks were nationalized and enterprises belonging to the royal family were expropriated. Islamic regulations against interest payments, Marxist hostility to capitalist institutions, and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War all stifled activity on the stock exchange, economist Jahangir Amuzegar wrote in "Middle East Economic Survey" in May.

The exchange enjoyed a brief surge from 1994 through 1997 before tapering off. When the annual money supply increased and there was a mild recession in other prospective areas of investment, Amuzegar explains, there was a "meteoric boom." The Privatization Agency's initial public offerings (IPOs) contributed to this. From March 1999 to March 2003, the Tepix catapulted from 2,206 to 11,400, and trading increased from 1.7 billion shares to 7.9 billion shares. The exchange hit a high of 13,836 in December 2004.

Indeed, the market was so heated that in August 2003, the head of the stock exchange forbade any price increases for a two-week period.

New Concerns

In late September and early October, many observers expressed concerns over the state of the Iranian market. Hussein Abdeh-Tabrizi, secretary-general of the stock exchange, hinted at a crisis, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 5 October. Abdeh-Tabrizi said uncertainty over the nuclear issue undermines investor confidence. He also said the government and the exchange are trying to determine how to support the stock market, and he added that offering shares in state enterprises is one way to motivate prospective investors.

Moderation and Progress Party Secretary-General Mohammad Baqer Nobakht argued that problems in the stock market are connected with an unclear economic future, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 5 October. The government should stop repeating slogans and offer a solution, Nobakht urged.

In the 2 October legislative session, Lahijan representative Iraj Nadimi, rapporteur of the parliamentary Economic Committee, called on the economy minister to explore the political roots of the stock-market slump and take action, "Resalat" reported on 3 October. Nadimi said previously that the legislature would look into the causes of the market crisis in the coming fortnight, "Iran" newspaper reported on 1 October. "At the present, the Iranian stock market is facing some serious problems, and if the reasons for this situation are not identified and tackled, its consequences will certainly inflict harm on the country's economy," Nadimi said.

The 1 October report in "Iran" newspaper noted that the Tepix had fallen almost 400 points in the previous two weeks. The paper added that the head of the exchange, deputy Finance and Economic Affairs Minister Tahmasb Mazaheri, and other officials had met to discuss ways to restore normalcy to the market. Participants in the meeting attributed the situation to "psychological factors" and concern over the nuclear issue. They called for greater attention and sensitivity to the issue by the government, they decided to ask major shareholders to try to prop up purchases, and they considered asking banks to offer incentives to purchasers of stocks.

Seeking A Government Commitment

An editorial in "Sharq" newspaper on 29 September warned that if the current pattern continues, the Tepix will be 26 percent lower than its high point in December 2004. "Sharq" said the trend in the stock exchange can be reversed "only if the new government displays an open and strong commitment to open economy by moving toward privatization, [and] supporting investment." The editorial also recommended eliminating corruption and encouraging investment. The government must prove its interest in "genuine reforms" rather than "repeating the past," the paper argued.

The English-language "Iran News" reported on 27 September that the Iranian stock market was undergoing "one of the most serious crises in its entire existence...[in the form of] a continuous slump ever since last June's presidential election." The newspaper reported that many investors are pulling out. "Iran News" attributed the situation to the reasons described elsewhere: uncertainty, concern over government plans, and the nuclear issue. The daily added that investor confidence was further undermined by Economy Minister Davud Danesh-Jafari's failure to attend a monthly meeting of the exchange's high council.

But the impact of Ahmadinejad's victory was being felt just days after the election, in the face of reports that he had compared the stock market unfavorably with gambling. His representatives and state media said Ahmadinejad actually favors the capital market and wants to expand it. And the president-elect himself said he supported using the stock market to encourage investment.

Deep-Seated Problems

Uncertainty over the nuclear issue persists. Moreover, this question continues to adversely affect Iran's relations with the international community. These factors are likely to continue to have a negative impact on investor confidence and the Tehran Stock Exchange. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, could implement economic policies that restore people's willingness to invest in the market. This is not a certainty, however, as the president's recent comments indicate that he does not fully embrace the role of an independent exchange. When he discussed economic affairs and the stock market on 5 October, Ahmadinejad said market fluctuations can be controlled because 80 percent of the issues belong to state entities, state television reported.

More deeply entrenched factors suggest the stock exchange has a risky future. Amuzegar writes in "Middle East Economic Survey" that the exchange's governance structure makes it a "virtual appendage of the state" -- its top decision-makers are government officials or government appointees. Eighty percent of its market value is owned by state organizations or parastatal institutions, such as the foundations (bonyad). The exchange is small -- of the 680,000 companies registered in the country, only 420 are listed on the exchange. One hundred of those companies are totally inactive, Amuzegar points out, and fewer than 200 are traded regularly.

There is a "perpetual imbalance between demand for shares and their supply," Amuzegar continues, and there is "insufficient liquidity." Furthermore, Western standards of transparency, enforcement, self-regulation, and disclosure are absent. There is no equivalent of a Securities and Exchange Commission that can enforce rules or standards of accountability. On top of that, share prices are susceptible to manipulation by speculators and others with insider information or various forms of influence.

Finally, foreign participation remains "fairly limited." Foreigners are allowed to buy just 10 percent of any listed company, and principal, dividends, and capital gains can only be repatriated after thee years. (Bill Samii)

IRAN MIGHT RUN OUT OF OIL IN 90 YEARS. A conference on the Iranian nuclear program, "Iran in the 21st Century: Energy and Security," took place in Madrid on 3 October, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Morteza Alviri, Iran's ambassador to Spain and the former mayor of Tehran, said the conference is a good opportunity for the improvement of bilateral ties.

Speaking at the same event, Deputy Petroleum Minister Hadi Nejad-Husseinian said Iran's oil reserves could be exhausted in 90 years, IRNA reported. Nejad-Husseinian said Iran's oil reserves stand at 137 billion barrels and its natural-gas reserves at 29 trillion cubic meters. He said the Middle East will become the world's biggest supplier of energy, and that is why "the ruling neo-conservatives in the U.S." want to dominate the region. That also explains U.S. hostility to Iran, he said. He expressed the hope that Europe will be a more active player in the Iranian energy sector.

Speaking at the same event, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali-Reza Moayeri said Iran will continue with its nuclear program, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

U.S. REITERATES CONCERN FOR IRAN'S PURSUIT OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS. U.S. State Department spokesman Scott McCormack said at a 4 October press briefing that Iran must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, Radio Farda reported. McCormack dismissed Tehran's claims that it only seeks the peaceful use of nuclear energy, saying its "objective is to pursue nuclear weapons." (Bill Samii)

U.S. URGES RUSSIA TO HALT NUCLEAR EXCHANGE WITH IRAN. Speaking to the UN General Assembly's Disarmament Committee on 3 October, acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for arms control Stephen Rademaker said that all governments should halt nuclear trade with Iran in light of the resolution adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency on 24 September stressing Tehran's noncompliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, AP and other media reported. "We think it's self-evident, for example, that in the face of such a finding, no government should permit new nuclear transfers to Iran and all ongoing nuclear projects should be frozen," Rademaker said.

Meanwhile, "an informed source within the Kremlin," told RIA-Novosti on 3 October that Russia considers "direct threats or excessive pressure on Iran" to be "inefficient." Moscow is concerned that pressure on Tehran could eventually "push Iran out of the legal frameworks," the source said. It added that if confrontation around the Iranian nuclear program escalates, Russia could suffer more than Iran because its contract "provides jobs to tens of thousands of people and hundreds of enterprises," RIA-Novosti reported. (Victor Yassman)

IRAN OPEN TO RESUMING DISCUSSIONS WITH EU. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in a 5 October assessment of the first 38 days of his presidency that Iran is not opposed to negotiations on the nuclear issue, state television reported. However, he added, Iran will not accept negotiations that are meant to deprive Iranians of their rights. Ahmadinejad said European countries other than the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) have shown an interest in discussing the nuclear issue with Iran, and these proposals are under review. Turning to the country's foreign policy in general, Ahmadinejad said Iranian diplomats defend the country's rights confidently.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 4 October that Iran is willing to resume discussions with the European Union if there are no preconditions, Mehr News Agency reported. He said Iran must see acts of goodwill from the Europeans and they must act like they really want to hold discussions with Tehran.

One day earlier, foreign ministers of the Council of the European Union met and discussed Iran. They fully support the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 24 September resolution, and they urged Iran to implement measures called for by the IAEA, including suspension of all fuel-cycle activities. The council reaffirmed its support for a negotiated solution within the framework of the November 2004 Paris Agreement.

Javier Solana, the European Union's high representative for common foreign and security policy, suggested on 3 October that the EU is prepared to restart talks if Iran complies with calls to halt some nuclear-related activities. "If, taking the international community's view into account, Iran is ready to halt uranium-enrichment work, the EU, for its part, will be ready for a resumption of talks with Tehran," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying. Solana said the UN Security Council should increase the IAEA's powers to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue. "We regard Iran's refusal to carry out its obligations under the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a very serious question, and we want the UN Security Council to widen IAEA's powers to resolve it," Solana said. An EU-Russia summit is scheduled to begin in London on 4 October, and the Iranian nuclear program is reportedly on the agenda.

The day after the IAEA governing board passed a resolution criticizing Iran for its inadequate cooperation and transparency, Iranian legislators called on their government to suspend its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Legislators put the item at the top of the parliamentary agenda, but they are still debating the issue.

Kazem Jalali, rapporteur for the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told state radio on 3 October that some legislators do not believe there is a need for such a bill, because the government's implementation of the Additional Protocol without parliamentary ratification was improper. On 2 October, Jalali told IRNA that the issue was debated extensively. (Bill Samii)

NEW PRESIDENT'S DIPLOMACY SPARKS CONTROVERSY. On the sidelines of a pro-nuclear-power rally in Tehran on 7 October, Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said all the country's officials agree with Tehran's conduct of nuclear negotiations and its general interaction with other countries, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. "With the exception of those who disagree with the Islamic system in principle," Elham added, "there is no disagreement among political parties or groups that conduct their activities within the law and believe in the principle of the Islamic system in Iran." However, the general lack of diplomatic finesse displayed by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his new administration has caught observers by surprise, and the Iranians' actions and comments on the nuclear issue have alienated foreign capitals that previously were positively disposed toward Tehran.

Observers in Iran are expressing concern about this turn of events. On the one hand, the Iranian decision-making apparatus is not closed, so these concerns could have an impact on governmental actions. On the other hand, Ahmadinejad's actions appear to have Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's approval, so anticipation of a reversal may be unrealistic.

Ahmadinejad's Lack Of Finesse

Ahmadinejad's style has been evident since August, when Tehran first rejected a European Union proposal on the nuclear issue. The EU proposal ruled out Iran's enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium, recommended allowing Iran to purchase nuclear fuel and send it elsewhere for disposal, and called for a continuation of Iran's voluntary suspension of uranium-conversion activities. Other aspects of the proposal focused on industrial and technological cooperation, energy issues, and intellectual property rights.

The international community was eager to hear Ahmadinejad's counterproposal when he addressed the UN General Assembly on 17 September. However, rather than moving the negotiations forward, Ahmadinejad aired grievances relating to events that took place more than half a century ago. He also discussed his conspiracy theory about the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and accused the United States of creating and supporting Al-Qaeda. Ahmadinejad called for a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East and expressed concern about "nuclear apartheid." He offered a "serious partnership" with other countries' private and public sectors implementing uranium-enrichment programs. Ahmadinejad was adamant about Iran's intention to master the nuclear-fuel cycle.

One week later, the IAEA governing board issued a resolution calling on Tehran to be more cooperative and transparent, and hinting that referral to the UN Security Council could be next.

In a purported interview that appeared in the 1 October "Khaleej Times" newspaper, based in the United Arab Emirates, Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying that Iran has the right to use nuclear energy peacefully, and the production or use of nuclear weapons is forbidden by Islam. He purportedly stressed that Iran has been cooperating with the IAEA. "But if Iran's case is sent to the Security Council," he was quoted as saying, "we will respond by many ways for example by holding back on oil sales or limiting inspections of our nuclear facilities."

The same day, however, the presidential office rejected the authenticity of the interview, IRNA reported. The presidential office said Ahmadinejad never gave an oral or written interview to the newspaper. "Such a claim is nothing more than a mere fabrication, so we call all domestic media to be aware and show vigilance in dealing with propaganda plots hatched by foreign media," the statement from Ahmadinejad's office said.

Critical Rivals

Ahmadinejad's foreign-policy team -- Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani and Foreign Minister Mustafa Mottaki -- has been unfavorably compared with the intellectual but feckless team assembled by former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami. The latter team included experienced individuals such as Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani. These officials stressed perceived national interests rather than ideology and nationalism when conducting business, therefore conveying the impression that they were rational actors with whom others could do business.

Iranian observers are becoming increasingly aware of the negative impact of Ahmadinejad's actions, and they are criticizing his diplomatic efforts.

Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai told reporters on 1 October that Ahmadinejad's 17 September proposal at the UN was inadvisable and unnecessary, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. "When Iran didn't accept the Europeans' proposal, the latter should have amended it," Rezai said. "There was no need for Iran to make a proposal to the Europeans." Rezai said this might have been a diplomatic mistake, but if the issue is managed well, then "America and Europe will be the main losers if our case is referred to the Security Council."

The chairman of the Expediency Council, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, said in his 30 September sermon at the Tehran Friday prayers that Iran is determined to defend its right to use nuclear technology and it will not be intimidated into surrendering, state radio reported. He said Iran should talk with its opponents -- which he identified as "America, Europe, and others" -- and achieve trust. "I would like to let the [Iranian] managers in this sector know that here you need diplomacy and not slogans," he said. Hashemi-Rafsanjani called for prudence, patience, and wisdom, while avoiding provocations. He said this issue must be resolved while protecting Iran's rights.

Time For 'Crisis Diplomacy'

Criticism from Rezai and Hashemi-Rafsanjani is not altogether unexpected. They were Ahmadinejad's rivals in the presidential election. Rezai may have expected a cabinet post or Supreme National Security Council position in exchange for his stepping out of the presidential race at the last minute. Furthermore, the 49- year-old Ahmadinejad's blunt, confrontational style is very unlike that of the much older and more pragmatic Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

But there has been criticism from other corners as well. Tabriz parliamentary representative Akbar Alami, who serves on the Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said of the Supreme National Security Committee: "People who until very recently did not have any knowledge about the nuclear dossier and did not even know what nuclear energy was have now become high-ranking experts in the nuclear dossier of the Islamic Republic of Iran." He also criticized some of his colleagues in the legislature, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 29 September. He accused some parliamentarians of trying to block discussion of the nuclear issue, saying they are acting on behalf of the Supreme National Security Council.

A commentary in the pro-reform "Sharq" on 2 October noted that Iran is facing an "atmosphere of distrust" in the international arena. The Ahmadinejad administration's eastward-oriented foreign policy has proven to be ineffective in the nuclear case, the daily continued, so "the diplomatic apparatus should understand international realities and distance itself from the Security Council tsunami." The commentary also recommended the creation of a "crisis-diplomacy team."

An editorial in the hard-line "Resalat" daily on 29 September also commented on the needs of the foreign-policy team. It noted that the diplomats need a "guidance council" or a "thinking room" (presumably, a foreign-policy think tank). "Resalat" said diplomats and politicians do not have the time to study the issues they must deal with because of their workloads, while researchers and scholars are somewhat out of touch with the realities of diplomacy. "The establishment of a thinking room can bring the areas of operations and research closer together and create balance and equilibrium and make up for the research shortcomings and weaknesses in the area of foreign policy."

No Obvious Effect

Ahmadinejad has evidently not been touched by such criticism. In a 5 October speech he said Iran is not opposed to negotiations on the nuclear issue, state television reported. But he added that Iran will not accept negotiations that are meant to deprive Iranians of their rights. Ahmadinejad said European countries other than the so-called EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) have shown an interest in discussing the nuclear issue with Iran, and these proposals are under review. Turning to the country's foreign policy in general, Ahmadinejad said Iranian diplomats defend the country's rights confidently.

Iran's current position on the nuclear issue should not be attributed to Ahmadinejad alone. Even before his inauguration Tehran made it clear that all the regime's leaders have a common view on nuclear policy. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad is not the only decision maker on the nuclear issue. Other top officials of the regime -- including Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Rohani -- contribute to the process and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has veto authority over his actions. Finally, Tehran has been fairly forthright for some time on what it sees as its right to master the complete nuclear-fuel cycle. (Bill Samii)

FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS SOUTHERN NEIGHBORS. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki visited Iran's southern Persian Gulf neighbors, regional news agencies reported on 3-5 October. He arrived in Kuwait City on 3 October and was received by Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah. He also met with National Assembly speaker Jasim al-Kharafi.

On 4 October, Mottaki arrived in Manama, Bahrain, and was greeted at the airport by his Bahraini counterpart Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmad bin Muhammad al-Khalifa. He later met with King Hamad Bin Issa al-Khalifa, Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, and Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad bin Mubarak al-Khalifa.

On 5 October, Mottaki arrived in Muscat, Oman, and was greeted by Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi. Mottaki arrived in the city of Al-Ain, which is 140 kilometers from the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi, on the evening of 5 October. The main topic of discussion during all the visits was the nuclear issue, as well as Iraq and Palestine. Qatar was the last stop on the trip.

Mottaki was scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia, but an anonymous Iranian Foreign Ministry official told IRNA on 5 October the trip has been postponed, although he did not give a reason.

Mottaki returned to Tehran on 7 October. At Tehran's Mehrabad Airport, he told reporters he made the trip because President Mahmud Ahmadinejad gives priority to expanding relations with neighboring states, IRNA reported.

Mottaki ascribed cancellation of the Saudi visit, as well as one to Syria, to scheduling problems. He went on to say there was no plan to visit the two countries in the first place. Mottaki said he would visit Riyadh soon. (Bill Samii)

IRAQI PRESIDENT: NO IRANIAN INTERFERENCE. In an RFE/RL interview in Prague on 5 October, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani dismissed the possibility of Iraqi Shi'ite Muslims being loyal to Iran, Radio Farda reported. Talabani said the Shi'ite brethren are Iraqi and Arab, and the Shi'ite "Vatican" is in Al-Najaf and Karbala. From the day Saddam Hussein was deposed, Talabani said, no hostility or interference on the part of Iran has been seen. Turning to the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), an armed Iranian opposition group identified as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, Talabani said the MKO is the only Iranian group that cooperated with Hussein's regime against the Iraqi people, Radio Farda reported. However, he added, the MKO's current situation is not problematic. (Bill Samii)

EXPERTS SAY INFRARED BOMBS USED IN IRAQ CANNOT BE HOMEMADE. The diplomatic row continues between Britain and Iran over British officials' charges that there is a link between Iranian elements or Hizballah with new explosive devices being used by insurgents in Iraq. The sophisticated devices have killed eight British soldiers since July, but Iran has denounced the British allegations of its involvement as a lie. British military experts maintain, however, that only precision-geared military supply factories can produce the "infrared" bombs also supplied by Iran to Hizballah in Lebanon. And, British officials say, the evidence still points towards Iran, despite Tehran�s repeated denials. The experts spoke after British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Iran on 6 October not to interfere in Iraq.

Amyas Godfrey has served in Iraq and heads the U.K. Armed Forces Program at the Royal United Services Institute. He said that it is usually easy for experienced experts on the ground to say which group is capable of what kind of bomb attack, including the type of explosives and packing.

The bombs in question are the "infrared trip-wire" devices capable of piercing heavy armor. They are exactly the sophisticated type that has been used by the Iran-funded Hizballah militias in Lebanon.

"It's a very basic intelligence analysis," Godfrey said. "We know who's been using them before; we know who's supplied them. And that's not any doubt. The worry now is that they've appeared in southern Iraq, being used by insurgents. So, logically, it's looking like these same weapons are being supplied by the same people."

Many other military experts share this view, including Bruce Jones, a security policy adviser to NATO in London. He said a number of intelligence reports as well as the nature of the devices trace the bombs to Iran because of three basic facts.

"They have been used in the area in southern Iraq adjacent to Iran," Jones said. "They are of a type used by Hizballah. And, you do need a pretty sophisticated set-up, both to procure and to adapt these technical components."

The last point appears to matter most, Godfrey agreed. That is: The manufacturing of the components for the bombs is simply beyond any production capacity the insurgents might have at their disposal.

"What we're seeing now, are far more military hardware, and something that requires a manufacturing set-up as in factories," Godfrey said. "It's a large amount of high explosives, a shaped charge, which is quite common in some RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] or in armor-piercing weapons."

Godfrey explained that this high-precision charge melts a hole, for example in the armor plate of a tank, and explodes inside it. This is why it requires a high-quality manufacture, not something that could be done in an insurgent hideout.

Jones stressed that another significant feature -- also far beyond the insurgents' production capability -- is the infrared "trip-wire."

"It's very much the same concept that you have of alarms," Jones said. "An infrared beam goes between two points in a museum, and if that is interrupted, then an alarm goes off."

Godfrey added that the intelligence services have also gathered a lot of evidence from the attacks on British troops. He said he doubts, however, whether -- because of its nature -- the intelligence services would reveal this kind of evidence to the public.

"Looking through intelligence assessments of these eight attacks, they all have links to the Hizballah-type explosives," Godfrey said. "Unless they have other proof, which we won't know about, through their security or their intelligence, all we have now is a likelihood -- i.e., that it is likely that these bombs have come from Iran, because they are the same type that have been used before."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday warned Iran not to interfere in Iraq. Blair said the nature of the bombs being used against British troops "lead us either to Iranian elements or the Hizballah because they are similar to devices used by Hizballah that is funded and supported by Iran."

But Blair stopped short of explicitly accusing Iran of supplying the bombs to Iraqi insurgents. "We cannot be sure of this at the present time," Blair said. (Jan Jun)