30 November 2005, Volume 8, Number 47
MINISTERIAL REJECTION BELIES EMERGENCE OF NEW ELITE. The Iranian parliament rejected President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's third nominee to head the Petroleum Ministry on 23 November, leaving the ministry responsible for the main source of Iranian revenues leaderless and signaling the difficulties facing Ahmadinejad's administration.
Ahmadinejad should not be counted out, however, since his electoral victory and virtually all the other appointments he has made indicate the rise of a new elite in Iranian affairs. This new elite is the second revolutionary generation -- people in their forties and fifties whose formative experience was the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. The first generation consists of individuals now in their sixties and seventies, who identify closely with the anti-monarchic struggle and who moved into positions of power after the 1978-79 revolution.
Out of the 261 parliamentarians who were present at the 23 November session, 77 cast votes in favor of the nominee, Seyyed Mohsen Tasaloti, state radio reported. The remaining votes were 139 against and 38 abstentions. During the debate that preceded the vote, objections were raised to Tasaloti's perceived lack of experience and professional expertise, and there were questions about his personal life. Legislators complained that Tasaloti did not believe in the existence of a petroleum mafia -- which is supposedly responsible for corruption -- and he did not have a program for combating this phenomenon. They also raised allegations that Tasaloti backed the reformist Mustafa Moin in the 2005 presidential race, although Ahmadinejad rejected those concerns, saying, "We believe that elections are free and by secret ballot, and we don't have the right to make someone's vote the criterion for assessing them."
A Rising Tide
The parliament rejected Ahmadinejad's first nominee as petroleum minister, Ali Saidlu, in August on the basis of inexperience. At the same time, it also rejected nominees for three other cabinet posts. The next Petroleum Ministry nominee, Sadeq Mahsuli, withdrew his name on 9 November, the day the legislators were scheduled to vote on him. Ahmadinejad nominated Tasaloti in a 15 November letter to parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel.
Born in Kashan in 1954 and educated as an architect, Tasaloti is director of the engineering design, construction, and building foundation of the National Petrochemical Industrial Company. He also serves as general manager for the Mahshahr Special Economic Energy Zone in Khuzestan Province, which, according to Fars News Agency, is home to several petrochemical units.
Four days after Tasaloti's nomination, parliamentary Energy Committee Chairman Kamal Daneshyar said the legislature was investigating allegations that Tasaloti has dual citizenship and that his daughter is a British citizen, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Daneshyar said that Tasaloti's opponents were campaigning against him in earnest, and he declined to speculate on the outcome of the vote of confidence.
Tasaloti met with some 50 members of parliament late on 20 November, Mehr News Agency reported the next day. Before Tasaloti began fielding questions, conservative legislator Seyyed Ali Riaz headed off questions about whether Tasaloti holds dual citizenship by citing the parliamentary research center's determination that the nominee has no such dual status. Riaz said Tasaloti subsequently answered queries about his personal life, ethics, technical skills, and managerial experience. Riaz called the answers satisfactory and said the conservatives did not want the ministry run by a caretaker any longer.
Another legislator, Reza Talai-Nik of Bahar and Kabudarahang, said Tasaloti did not give appropriate answers, Mehr reported. The reformist Nureddin Pirmoazen of Ardabil said the legislative minority would not interfere with the approval process because it did not believe the current government could solve the country's problems. He said the cabinet should be complete as soon as possible so the Ahmadinejad administration's shortcomings could not be blamed on the reformists.
One day before the vote of confidence on Tasaloti was to take place, the 31-member central council of the conservative parliamentary majority faction failed to back him at a session to review his nomination, Fars News Agency reported on 22 November. The conservative faction designated parliamentary speaker Haddad-Adel, deputy speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar, Tehran representative Ahmad Tavakoli, and Mashhad's Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Faker to discuss the situation with President Ahmadinejad. Seyyed Jalal Yahyazadeh, who represents Taft and Meybod, said that the Intelligence and Security Ministry must investigate allegations that Tasaloti has a U.S. Green Card, Fars News Agency reported.
Creation Of A New Elite
Ahmadinejad appeared to recognize the need for him to lobby on behalf of his nominee. The president canceled a planned trip to Tunis to address the World Summit on the Information Society conference, Kuwait News Agency reported on 15 November, citing "Kayhan" newspaper. The newspaper attributed the change in travel plans to the deteriorating health of the president's father. Ahmadinejad then canceled a 23 November visit to Ilam Province, Fars News Agency reported the previous day, although it provided no explanation.
Clearly, Ahmadinejad's presence did not suffice. Parliamentary speaker Haddad-Adel said on 23 November that Ahmadinejad would have been wise to consult with the legislature, although he is not obliged to do so, state radio and the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Haddad-Adel said it is almost unprecedented not to have a cabinet minister three months after the president was sworn in, adding that Article 135 of the constitution says no ministry should be headed by a caretaker for longer than three months. He said the Guardians Council and Expediency Council will have to decide how to proceed.
Ahmadinejad's efforts to effect wide-ranging personnel changes throughout the state apparatus have not been well received. At a conference in Tehran the previous week, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani accused Ahmadinejad of undermining public confidence in the accomplishments of the revolution. Moreover, some political observers in Iran consider Ahmadinejad's cabinet members to be nonentities with few achievements to their names -- people of limited competence who were selected on the basis of connections and a shared background with the president. Some of the perceived commonalities are education, service in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and a connection with ultra-orthodox religious figures and institutions.
Even though the president is experiencing a great deal of trouble with the Petroleum Ministry portfolio, he has effected changes in almost all first- and second-tier management positions. His interventions have affected the diplomatic corps, provincial governorships, and state banking institutions. Ahmadinejad is also in the process of redistributing wealth to the periphery. Dismissing him and the second revolutionary generation that he represents is thus unwise, since he is essentially creating a new elite in Iran. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN STOCK EXCHANGE GETS NEW CHIEF. The Iranian stock market has been troubled since the election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and the market index has fallen precipitously (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 October 2005). Recent changes in the exchange's leadership may not reverse that trend.
Iranian state radio on 19 November announced the resignation of Hussein Abdeh-Tabrizi, head of the Tehran Stock Exchange. Managing-board chief Heidar Mostakhdemin-Husseini said Abdeh-Tabrizi submitted his resignation in September and was asked to stay on until legislation on bonds was clarified. Mostakhdemin-Husseini said Mohammad Nahavandian is the preferred candidate to head the exchange. Later the same day, state television announced that Nahavandian, who heads the national center for globalization studies and who served previously as deputy commerce minister, has been selected as the new head of the Tehran Stock Exchange.
However, it appears that Nahavandian, who was in Tunis when the announcement of his appointment was made, was not consulted. Upon his return to Tehran, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 20 November, Nahavandian said in a letter to Mostakhdemin-Husseini that he was not interested in the job because of other commitments.
No time was wasted finding a new candidate. The exchange's board of directors endorsed the appointment of Ali Salehabadi, a 27-year-old with a doctorate in economics, as the new secretary-general of the Tehran Stock Exchange, Iranian state television reported on 21 November. He teaches financial management and engineering at Tehran University. Salehabadi's dissertation at Imam Sadeq University was on the topic of "establishing a stock-index futures market" with an emphasis on "jurisprudence and the necessities of the capital market." He has also written on "speculation in the stock market from the Islamic perspective" and the "Islamic justification for derivative instruments." Adnkronos International's website (http://www.adnki.com) suggests that Salehabadi worked for the Imam Khomeini Foundation and was chosen because he holds radical economic views. (Bill Samii)
KURDS RIOT IN NORTHWEST. A riot broke out in the predominantly Kurdish city of Mahabad on 20 November after police reportedly shot and killed a local youth, Radio Farda reported. Kurdish reporter Sohrab Sharifi told Radio Farda that a police car was set alight in the wake of the shooting. Security personnel made numerous arrests, Sharifi said, but the exact number is unknown. Sharifi added that there are differing accounts of the shooting. Some reports suggest the youth was caught with smuggled goods, Sharifi said, and this would not be the first time a smuggler has been shot. The northwestern part of Iran is relatively underdeveloped and some locals earn a living through smuggling. Sharifi said there is a heavy security presence in Mahabad since the riot, there is martial law, and occasional shooting can be heard. (Bill Samii)
IRAQI PRESIDENT VISITS IRAN. President Jalal Talabani arrived in Tehran on 21 November for a three-day visit, Radio Farda and other news services reported. Talabani told Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki that he has come to thank Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other Iranian officials for their years of support, IRNA reported, and to expand cooperation in the cultural, economic, and political fields.
Middle East expert Alireza Nurizadeh told Radio Farda that Talabani has come to reassure the Iranians that Iraqi territory will not used as the base for any attack against them. Nurizadeh added that Talabani is there as the representative of all Iraqis, not just Kurds.
Hassan Fathi, a journalist based in Tehran, had another explanation. He told RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari: "First, Talabani wants to use the friendship with Iran for the benefits of his own faction, the Kurds. He wants to use Iran�s weight during the elections and other developments. His second goal is that he wants to use the Iranian influence over Iraqi groups who are against the current situation so that that he can bring order and calm in Iraq and bring an end to the differences."
Security issues appear to have been the main motivation, as Talabani's visit came on the heels of his security advisor's. Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i was in Tehran on 17 November, Iranian state television reported. He and Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, signed a memorandum of understanding dealing with counterterrorism, counternarcotics, and enhanced security to facilitate pilgrimage traffic. On 18 November, Larijani told state television that the most important part of the memorandum relates to the pilgrims. Larijani said enhanced cultural, economic, and political cooperation will contribute to security in Iraq.
According to msnbc.com on 21 November, al-Rubay'i emphasized that the Iranians must stop interfering in Iraq, and he criticized Iran for contributing to unrest by backing Shi'ite militias. Both countries agreed, in the memorandum, to refrain from support for groups that cause problems. The Iraqis said of the Iranians as they headed home, "They're obsessed with the Americans. They're really obsessed."
Indications of this so-called obsession were apparent in the Iranians' on-the-record pronouncements. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a 21 November cabinet meeting that Iran backs Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity, IRNA reported. "We think that the occupying powers are after their political and material gains and they have no incentive to defend the interests of Iraqi political and ethnic groups," Ahmadinejad said. "They are not concerned about shedding blood of innocent people in Iraq."
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met Talabani on 22 November, IRNA reported. Khamenei said Iran is proud of Iraq's progress and independence and the potential for cooperation is unlimited. Khamenei predicted that the United States and United Kingdom will withdraw from Iraq with a bitter taste in their mouths. Khamenei denounced perceived U.S. efforts to damage Iran-Iraq relations and said, "Attempts of certain elements to satisfy the U.S. are doomed, because Iraq and its neighbors will remain in the region forever, but, U.S. presence there is temporary."
Talabani also met judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi on 22 November, IRNA reported. Shahrudi was adamant that Iraq take into account an Iranian indictment against ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 October 2005). Talabani reportedly pledged his cooperation. Hashemi-Shahrudi called for attention to "cultural and moral issues" and added, "The Iraqi youth [should] be guarded against the influence of the Western culture." (Bill Samii)
CZECHS REBUFF IRANIAN LEGISLATORS. Jiri Otcenasek, an official at the Iranian Embassy in Prague, said on 22 November that a visit by Iranian legislators to the Czech capital has been postponed, CTK news agency reported. Otcenasek said the "official position" is that the visit was "canceled" so the Iranian legislators would not miss a vote, but he did not specify the subject of the vote. CTK reported that it had obtained information that the Iranians actually canceled their visit because senior politicians -- apart from their counterparts from the Czech lower house -- did not plan to meet with them. The Iranians unsuccessfully sought meetings with Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and other politicians, according to CTK. (Bill Samii)
KOCHARIAN SENDS MESSAGE TO AHMADINEJAD. Artashes Tumanian, who heads the Armenian presidential administration, conveyed a message from President Robert Kocharian to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on 16 November in Tehran, Arminfo reported. Ahmadinejad told his guest that Iran is interested in Armenian gas and electric projects and cooperation in other economic fields, IRNA reported. Completion of the pipeline is scheduled for 2007. Also in Tehran on 16 November, Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian signed a contract with the Iranian Export Promotion Bank for the financing of an Iran-Armenia natural gas pipeline, IRNA reported. Movsisian noted that Iran is his country's second biggest gas supplier, and he mentioned 13 joint energy projects. Some members of the Armenian delegation visited the Aras Economic Zone in Jolfa on 14 November. (Bill Samii)
IRAN AND SYRIA EMPHASIZE SOLIDARITY. Meeting on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq in Cairo, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki and Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara on 19 November emphasized their countries' unity against foreign pressure, IRNA reported the next day. They also discussed the UN report by Detlev Mehlis about the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Syria is accused by many of being behind that incident. Al-Shara said Damascus will continue to cooperate with the United Nations. One day earlier, President Ahmadinejad and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad discussed regional developments by telephone, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)
IRAN ALLEGEDLY SUPPLIES HIZBALLAH WITH ROCKETS. Israel's deputy chief of mission in Washington, Jeremy Issacharoff, said on 17 November that Iran has supplied Lebanese Hizballah with 10,000 rockets that have a 68 mile range, AP reported. He said the rockets are deployed mostly in southern Lebanon and are aimed at Israel. (Bill Samii)
IAEA REPORT GETS MIXED RECEPTION IN IRAN. Iran has provided limited cooperation with efforts to investigate its nuclear program, according to a report released on 18 November by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei. "Full transparency is indispensable and overdue," he wrote, according to the "Los Angeles Times" on 19 November. "The agency has been frustrated in its effort to obtain documentation, answers to questions and access to scientists and sensitive sites," the newspaper added. El-Baradei's report refers specifically to the Lavizan-Shian military site, which was razed in 2004. An anonymous "senior source close to the IAEA" said the agency would like to test equipment used at that site, according to the "Los Angeles Times."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 20 November expressed disappointment in el-Baradei's report because it does not end the agency's interest in Iran's nuclear program, state television reported. Assefi also said this most recent report proves that the governing board's 24 September resolution on Iran was "invalid." The IAEA's request to visit Lavizan-Shian or other military sites will be considered if that request complies with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Safeguards Agreement, Assefi said, suggesting Tehran would interpret strictly any calls for inspections.
Iranian parliamentarian Alaedin Borujerdi, who serves on the national security and foreign policy committee, on 20 November described the IAEA report as more positive than previous ones, ISNA reported. He said referral to the Security Council is unlikely unless the United States pressures Europe.
The legislature ratified a bill on 20 November that compels the government to resume all suspended nuclear activities should the IAEA refer the country's nuclear case to the UN Security Council, Mehr News Agency reported. One hundred eighty-three of the 197 legislators present at the session voted in favor of the bill, while 10 opposed it and three abstained. (Bill Samii)
REFORMIST PARTY DENOUNCES CURRENT NUCLEAR POLICY. Mohsen Armin, spokesman for the reformist Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, said on 22 November that the party discussed the nuclear issue at its latest meeting, ISNA reported. Reformists were criticized for purportedly fearing the United States when they advocated signing the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a confidence-building measure three years ago, he said. Nevertheless, the reformist government went ahead with this and precluded the international community's reaching an anti-Iranian consensus. Moreover, he continued, Iran took advantage of U.S.-European differences and began negotiations with the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom). The current administration's "adventurous policy" has brought Europe and the United States together and elicited a hostile resolution from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Armin added. Armin predicted that Washington will not push for a resolution at the upcoming IAEA meeting because it is working on building a consensus with Russia and China. The Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, Armin said, discourages using the nuclear issue in factional disputes and encourages emphasizing the national interest. Armin said his organization calls for a reversion to the previous national policy. (Bill Samii)
EXPERTS QUESTION LATEST U.S. CHARGES ON IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM. The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is scheduled to discuss the Iranian nuclear program again on 24 November. The governors will meet amid new assertions by U.S. officials that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons, although Tehran maintains that its nuclear program is peaceful.
The latest IAEA meeting comes two months after the board issued a resolution that criticized Iran for not cooperating with the agency sufficiently. That resolution noted that "after 2 1/2 years of intensive inspections and investigation" the IAEA believes "Iran's full transparency is indispensable and overdue." It also hinted at the possibility of referring Iran to the UN Security Council.
In the run-up to this week's meeting, there are renewed allegations that the Iranian nuclear program is not intended solely for energy production, as Tehran contends. The "New York Times" reported on 13 November that information purportedly found on an Iranian laptop computer secured by a U.S. intelligence agency reveals a "long effort to design a nuclear warhead." The newspaper goes on to charge that the information on the laptop is evidence that Iran is trying to design a "compact warhead" for use on the 1,300-kilometer-range Shahab-3 missile. Senior U.S. intelligence officials reportedly described this information in a meeting with IAEA officials in Vienna in July.
Tehran rejected the "New York Times" report. "This is a worthless attempt to fabricate a scenario," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 13 November, according to state television. "We don't use laptops to carry out our confidential work. [The report] caused amusement at the Foreign Ministry." Supreme National Security Council official Javad Vaidi said allegations like this appear before every governing board meeting, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 17 November.
Although many outside experts are suspicious about the ultimate purpose of Iran's nuclear program, some have questioned the validity of these specific allegations and worry that they distract attention from other concerns about the program.
David Albright, a nuclear expert at the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, DC, told Radio Farda that the "New York Times" report misstates the significance of the information discussed by the U.S. officials. "There is nothing in the document that says nuclear, nuclear warhead or anything like that," Albright said.
Albright said the warhead's payload is described as a "round object that is set off by certain type of electrical equipment that is typical for what's used in a nuclear weapon," adding that the warhead is set to go off at an altitude that is consistent with a nuclear weapon. "It looks like a reentry vehicle for a nuclear weapon," Albright said, "but it doesn't say that and there is nothing in the document that really would say this is a smoking gun, that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon design and this is part of a decision to build nuclear weapon."
"I think the story of the 'New York Times' has a very big mistake in it and it confuses the reentry-vehicle work with nuclear-warhead work," Albright said. Some of the other shortcomings he sees are that one cannot tell if any concrete work has been done on the warhead, and the reentry vehicle is not of very high quality.
Albright added that information on the computer covers 2001-03, so one does not know what has happened in the last couple of years. He noted that the reentry vehicle that was seen in a Shahab-3 test flight in 2004 was of greater sophistication than the one described in the documents. Albright told Radio Farda that it is not at all certain that the reentry vehicle being designed is for a nuclear weapon. Albright expressed his misgivings about the report in a letter to the "New York Times."
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace associate Miriam Rajkumar, who is a coauthor of the book "Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats," also expressed significant skepticism about the information described in "The New York Times" report and about the source of that information in an interview with Radio Farda.
Rajkumar said there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence that raises suspicions about the Iranian nuclear program. "The very fact that they are even working on a Shahab missile means that they want to keep it operational," she said. "It all fits into what we already know and that is that at very least Iran is trying to keep its nuclear-weapon option open."
Both Albright and Rajkumar recalled Washington's assertions about an Iraqi nuclear-weapons program in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom and the subsequent failure to find any evidence of such a program. They expressed concern that similar claims about Iran are surfacing.
The effectiveness of the U.S. effort to persuade IAEA officials of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons will be revealed after the 24 November meeting. The IAEA governors are also likely to be concerned by the continuing lack of Iranian cooperation with the agency. In a report distributed to the governing board on 18 November, IAEA Director-General Mohammad El-Baradei wrote that "Iran's full transparency is indispensable and overdue," AFP reported. Moreover, Iran is converting another batch of uranium at its facility in Isfahan, even though the IAEA's 24 September resolution specifically called for a halt to all such activities. (Bill Samii, Fatemeh Aman)