19 January 2004, Volume 7, Number 3
GUARDIANS WILL REINSTATE DISQUALIFIED INCUMBENTS. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with members of an election vetting body on 14 January and urged it to reinstate incumbent parliamentarians' right to stand in the forthcoming parliamentary election, state television reported. The Guardians Council had rejected the eligibility of some 80 members of the legislature, and a total of 3,533 out of 8,144 applicants, for a variety of reasons. Khamenei acknowledged that there is time for hearing appeals and the cases should be considered carefully.
Khamenei said that he had sent a message to Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, instructing the council to "authorize the previous status unless there is evidence to the contrary." There should be a presumption of innocence, Khamenei said, rather than a profession of previous uncertainty. "And if you are in doubt, go by the previous decisions made in earlier cases by yourself or others," he said. Khamenei continued, "They were qualified previously, and now, you should qualify them on their previous status. Where there is doubt, base your judgment on authorizing the previous status. This applies to the deputies who had been qualified in the previous terms."
Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani said during the 16 January Friday Prayers that the Guardians Council will yield to Khamenei's instructions to reinstate the candidacy of incumbent parliamentarians, state radio reported. Emami-Kashani, who has served on the council in the past, described the vetting of candidates as a difficult burden. "It is a huge calamity, tragedy, anguish, and burden of responsibility before God should the Guardians Council reject a candidate who is qualified," he said, adding, "It will be another sort of anguish if it were to endorse a person who is not qualified."
Emami-Kashani was less encouraging about the other disqualified applicants for candidacy. The council cannot, he said, "say you are competent to someone who is not competent. Its hands are tied, their hands are tied because of the law." (Bill Samii)
PROTESTING PARLIAMENTARIANS VOICE GUARDED OPTIMISM. In a statement presented on 15 January, parliamentarians participating in a sit-in at the legislature that began four days earlier noted that Supreme Leader Khamenei's instructions to the Guardians Council were "the first positive signs" in the crisis that was triggered by the vetting body's rejection of some 45 percent of prospective candidates for the February parliamentary election, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported.
Yet the next day, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami, as spokesman for the protestors, said it is not clear if the Guardians Council will accept the Supreme Leader's advice, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. He added that the protestors are objecting to the entire vetting process, not just to the disqualification of incumbents, and they will continue their protest until that process is changed. Khatami rejected the possibility of a political compromise and added their main demand is free elections.
President Mohammad Khatami had asked them to end the sit-in during a closed-door session at the legislature on 14 January, ILNA reported. At that meeting, parliamentarian Ahmad Burqani told reporters, Khatami reiterated his stance that the disqualifications were not in line with the law and are not substantiated by evidence. Tehran parliamentary representative Mohsen Armin said on 14 January that he and other participants in the sit-in discussed the president's request and decided not to end their protest, ILNA reported.
Tehran representative Ali Shakuri-Rad announced on 13 January that he and his colleagues will continue their sit-in until 30 January, "which is the day that the Guardians Council will announce its final decision on the disqualified candidates." "The sit-in will continue if the Guardian Council's final decision does not meet the demands of the legislators who have staged the sit-in," Shakuri-Rad added.
One of the incumbent legislators whose prospective candidacy for the upcoming election was rejected is Ahmad Moradi, the representative from Torqabeh and Chenaran (Khorasan Province). Moradi submitted his resignation from parliament during a pre-agenda speech on 14 January, ILNA reported. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN POLICE BRACE FOR UNREST. Ali Talai, an official from the Tehran Governorate-General's Political-Security Affairs Directorate, told ILNA on 15 January that it is illegal for any group to gather in front of the legislature, and added that the Interior Ministry has not issued a permit for such an action. If the student Basij or any seminary students gather there they will be dealt with, Talai said.
Police cordoned off the legislature on 16 January, ILNA reported, and special units took up positions on the approach roads.
This action was triggered by the possibility that the Tehran Friday Prayers congregation would try to confront the protestors at the parliament. According to a 16 January ISNA report, slogans relating to the current controversy were heard. These slogans included, "Feel ashamed hypocrites, let go of the parliament," "Death to looters of the public purse," and "We support the Guardians Council." Some old standards were chanted too, including "Death to America" and "Death to Israel."
Theological students from Qom reportedly invited members of the Friday Prayers congregation in that city to march on the sit-in at the national legislature, ISNA reported on 16 January. Among the slogans chanted at the Qom rally were "Incompetent representatives should be dismissed" and "Guardians Council, say another 'Ya Hussein.'" The more enthusiastic ones flagellated themselves. (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI NOT GOING ANYWHERE. President Khatami said during a 13 January meeting with provincial governors-general in Tehran that the legislature cannot represent just one of society's political tendencies, Iranian state television reported. He said the letter and the spirit of the law must be respected, and "the letter of the law must not be used as a pretext for undermining the spirit of the law."
Turning to the current crisis over the disqualification of prospective candidates for the February parliamentary election, he said, "I believe that the individuals were not disqualified by impartial people." He asked the governors-general to compile lists of the individuals on the executive and supervisory boards, "with their records, positions, responsibilities, and commitment to the revolution, as well as their weak and strong points." Khatami went on to say that this information "must be published for public opinion." That way, he said, the public can decide what kinds of people were on the boards and what their tendencies were.
At the end of his speech Khatami appeared to reject the possibility of isolated resignations. "Abandoning the scene does not mean anything. We either all leave together or all stay together," he said. "We all stay, God willing."
According to an article that appeared in "Etemad" on 13 January, the president threatened to quit as a protest against the rejection of prospective candidates. "I will wait for a week for the situation to get back to normal," Khatami reportedly said. "Otherwise, if it is not possible to hold the elections, I will [resign from] my responsibility."
Khatami's office on 13 January released a statement that rejected his rumored resignation threat, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported the next day. Parliamentarians who are participating in a sit-in at the legislature also rejected the accuracy of the "Etemad" report, Mehr News Agency reported on 13 January. They asked the daily's managing editor to publish the denial. (Bill Samii)
THEOLOGIANS AT ODDS OVER CANDIDATE DISQUALIFICATIONS. A reformist cleric, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Taqi Fazel-Meibodi, said on 14 January that he supports the sit-in at the parliament building and directed severe criticism at the Guardians Council for disqualifying so many prospective candidates for the February parliamentary election, IRNA reported. He expressed his incredulity at the disqualification of incumbents.
Theological instructors and students at Qom's Fayzieh seminary, on the other hand, urged President Mohammad Khatami not to support individuals who, they claimed, are acting against Iran's national interests, IRNA reported. The protestors said the disqualified legislators have not done anything useful during their four years in office and therefore showed no promise for the future. The seminarians also condemned alleged U.S. support for the disqualified incumbents.
Another protest took place in Qom on the evening of 13 January, IRNA reported. A protestor told IRNA that people who oppose the Vilayat-i Faqih (Rule of the Supreme Jurisconsult) and the constitution and who prioritize the West over Islam can never represent the people in the legislature. The protestors urged the Guardians Council not to give in to threats because it had fulfilled its religious obligation in disqualifying some current parliamentarians. The protestors warned the participants in the sit-in that the people's revolutionary patience is limited, and the nation "with the support of almighty God, will cut the hands of the traitors short from the house of the people.'" (Bill Samii)
HARD-LINE POLITICAL ORGANIZATION RENAMED. The hard-line Islamic Coalition Society (Jamiyat-i Motalifih-yi Islami), one of Iran's oldest political groups, held its general assembly on 8 January at Tehran's Al-Zahra Mosque and announced subsequently that its new name is the Islamic Coalition Party (Hizb-i Motalifih-yi Islami), ISNA reported. The meeting marked the organization's 40th anniversary and was attended by members, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari, former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps chief and Oppressed and Disabled Foundation head Mohsen Rafiqdust, former speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri, and other political figures. The Guardians Council approved the candidacy of Habibullah Asgaroladi-Mosalman, the party's secretary-general, for the February parliamentary elections, ISNA reported on 11 January. (Bill Samii)
THE ANTI-REFORM HEADQUARTERS, HARD-LINE WEBSITES, AND PARALLEL ORGANIZATIONS. Conspiracy theories can thrive in a society where public affairs are not transparent and where there is no independent press to serve as a watchdog over the government. In the case of Iran, furthermore, there is the knowledge that, despite the existence of all the accoutrements of democracy -- such as elections -- ultimate decision-making is in the hands of a small elite that answers to itself. Under these circumstances, rumors about "anti-reform headquarters" and "parallel intelligence organizations" thrive, and such rumors are bolstered by anti-reform websites that are the modern equivalent of the "shabnameh" (literally "night letter," a kind of samizdat; on the connection between these publications and the hard-liners, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 January 2001).
One hundred and forty legislators wrote to President Mohammad Khatami recently and urged him to publish a Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) report about "anti-reform" websites, "Sharq" reported on 1 January. This report, which has yet to be published, allegedly identified the people running the websites and their aims.
"Khabar-nameh-yi Gooya" (http://www.gooyaa.com) is one such site, and it provides links to similar sites. It also has links to hard-line political organizations (for example, the Islamic Coalition Party, http:// www.motalefeh.org), newspapers (for example, "Kayhan"), publications (for example, "Loh"), and weblogs (for example, http://adl.persianblog.com). Other connections are with sites glorifying individuals such as Navab Safavi (a.k.a. Mujtaba Mirlohi), who founded the Fadaiyan-i Islam in 1945 (http://www.navvabsafavi.com). This group assassinated anti-Shi'a author Ahmad Kasravi in 1946, Court Minister Abdol Hussein Hazhir in 1949, and Prime Minister Ali Razmara in 1951. Safavi and his deputy, Khalil Tahmasebi, were executed in 1956.
Member of Parliament Davud Suleimani complained that these sites engage in character assassination against reformist political figures, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 4 January, they do so in an "immoral and impolite" way, and they discuss people's "personal affairs." Suleimani pointed out that these websites have replaced newspapers as the vehicles for such attacks. Tehran's Elahe Kulyai added that the sites have attacked Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi.
Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, who represents Tehran, also called on the president and the MOIS to look into this matter and then publicize its findings, "Nasim-i Saba" reported on 8 January. He said the judiciary should follow up on these findings through an "independent and impartial judiciary branch."
Yet these websites could be just the tip of the iceberg.
Reformist parliamentarian Behzad Nabavi had said during the 9 December session of parliament that there is an anti-reformist "headquarters" that was created "months ago on the eve of the election" to attack the parliament, "Sharq" reported on 10 December. According to Nabavi, who is a member of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO), this headquarters circulates "rumors and calumnies through the websites affiliated with the parallel intelligence organizations." Nabavi said that accusations in a previous legislative session that linked him with the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi appeared previously on one of these websites. Nabavi urged President Khatami to reveal the connection between the websites and governmental institutions, their financing through the public purse, and their hidden links, "Sharq" reported.
Qazvin representative Nasser Qavami continued in this vein when he spoke after Nabavi, according to "Sharq." He noted the numerous attacks against reformist figures by hard-line pressure groups and the disruptions of public meetings, and he asked why the president and MOIS do not reveal the identities of these groups and expose the powers supporting them. If the MOIS and the Interior Ministry have not discovered these identities yet, Qavami asked, then should Iranians not be worried about their security?
Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh repeated the claim about the existence of an anti-reform headquarters on 7 January, state television reported the next day. He accused it of psychological warfare against the government. "It has been active for a long time," he continued. "It is known where their sources are, where they are formed, which instruments they use."
Parallel intelligence organizations, which Nabavi linked with the websites and the anti-reform headquarters, are also an issue of concern to the reformists. Their existence was noted in summer 2001, when reformists complained that hard-line parallel intelligence organizations were eavesdropping and tapping telephones, and hard-liners complained about an X Committee that would create crises (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 July 2001). Reformist concern about these institutions resurfaced in summer 2003 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 September 2003).
Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami said on 12 October that the meetings of his Islamic Iran Participation Party were being bugged, "Toseh" reported the next day.
Parliamentarian Mohsen Armin said on 7 November that telephone bugging was going on without the knowledge of the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone, ISNA reported. He said certain power centers are not answerable to anybody else. In his words, "Certain cliques believe they have iron-clad alibis and that they cannot be held accountable by the parliament." This specific problem will not be solved as long as the country's predominant political problem is not solved, Armin said. (Bill Samii)
JUDICIARY ORDERS FILTERING OF PRO-REFORM WEBSITE. Iran's hard-line judiciary last week ordered one of the main pro-reform websites to be filtered, meaning that its contents cannot be viewed inside the country. The Emrooz website (http://www.emrooz.ws/) was originally launched by people close to the reformist camp of the Iranian political establishment. It has become a focal point for views opposed to the country's conservative rulers.
The Iranian press reported last year that a list of 150 other sites facing a ban, including those of U.S. international broadcasters Radio Farda and Voice of America's Persian Service, has been prepared by the government and sent to Internet service providers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 December 2003). Iran's telecommunications minister denies the existence of such a list.
Emrooz defenders say the move against their site is illegal, arguing Iran has no legislation that would limit the use of the Internet. Sina Motallebi, an Iranian journalist and the first author of a weblog (a.k.a. blog) to be jailed for articles published on the web, says Emrooz plays an important role in Iran's political scene. "The Emrooz website has a particular importance among political websites that were created in Iran during the last two years. On one hand, because of the closeness of Emrooz owners with the most progressive branch of reformists within the government, Emrooz covers first-hand and exclusive news. On the other hand, because the owners of the site were not active under a political party and were part of a news organization, they were free from restrictions and redlines imposed on other groups."
Since its launch, Emrooz has been under fire from hard-liners who are dissatisfied with its contents. Motallebi says by banning Emrooz ahead of parliamentary elections in February, the conservatives are attacking one of the last media outlets controlled by the reformists. "Now, because of the importance of the parliamentary election and its political challenges, the action against the Emrooz website can be considered as an attack on one of the last media outlets of this faction."
Motallebi says, however, he does not believe the conservatives can stop the free flow of information through the Internet. "Technical problems will not let them massively ban websites. Right now there are many possibilities for getting around filtering inside Iran. Apart from that, the rapid growth of weblogs will prevent them from stopping the flow of information with banning one or two websites."
In recent years, online diaries have become a popular method of expression in Iran. The more than 20,000 Iranian weblogs cover a wide range of topics, from taboo issues like sex and dating to political developments.
Hussein Derakhshan, a leading Iranian weblog writer, believes the online diaries are the only free media left in Iran. "Weblogs are actually functioning as the only free media right now in Iran. Weblogs are absolutely free. You just need Internet access to simply build your weblog in one or two or three minutes and then you can publish your thoughts to the world."
Motallebi last year spent three weeks in jail for articles he published in his weblog and for interviews with foreign radio stations. He credits a petition circulated over the Internet as playing an important role in his release. He adds that during the time he spent in jail he realized that conservatives are determined to restrict websites with political content critical of the establishment. In his words: "From that time I realized that the conservatives are very concerned about the rise of political content on websites and that they are strongly determined to restrict and stop this movement. They have different ways for doing that such as restricting websites or summoning and even jailing writers."
Some say that given the political nature of many weblogs, any new restrictions on the Internet could eventually affect many different sites. But weblog author Derakhshan argues that since most of the weblogs are not backed by any political group or party, it is unlikely that they will be banned too. "You have to be always worried in Iran, for everything -- even for illogical and irrational things. But I think the government, especially the judiciary, is more concerned about websites that are close to their opponents. Reformists, on the other hand, are very concerned about the websites that are backed by hard-line politicians and groups." (Golnaz Esfandiari)
IRANIAN WOMEN WANT RIGHTS IMPROVEMENTS... During a 10 January meeting with British Ambassador Richard Dalton, the head of the Iranian Center for Women's Participation called for improvements in women's rights and in the portrayal of women in Iran, ISNA reported. Among the issues that Zahra Shojai touched on were battery, poverty, discrimination, illiteracy, and insufficient appreciation for the value of women's work. "We are determined to show a realistic picture of Iranian women to the world," Shojai added, "because we believe that international media and communications do not report all the facts about Iranian women." Shojai said the interaction of Iranian and Western women would be welcome.
According to ISNA, Dalton asked about the status of legislation on Iranian membership of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) -- the Guardians Council rejected that legislation in August 2003 on the grounds that the bill violates Islamic law and the Iranian Constitution (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July, 11 and 18 August, and 1 September 2003). Shojai said the Expediency Council is examining the bill.
Dashtestan parliamentary representative Hamideh Idalat, who heads the legislature's Women's Faction, said in a recent speech at Tehran's Tarbiat Mudariss University that the Iranian Constitution describes equal gender rights but there is much room for improvement, "Iran Daily" reported on 15 December 2003. "Despite these laws, we are still witness to certain gender disparities in areas such as inheritance and blood money." Idalat said. "Based on Article 20," she added, without detailing the document to which she was referring, "when a woman loses her husband, she is heir to only one-third of his possessions and this is a major concern of women today." Idalat said women's rights are violated in employment issues. (Bill Samii)
...AS THEY STAY POLITICALLY ACTIVE. Women serve in the Iranian legislature and are active in some of the country's political organizations. There are some 45 women's nongovernmental organizations (http://www.salamiran.org/Women/NROW/1995/Appendix.html). Now the first women's political party in the Islamic Republic of Iran's history has received a license, ILNA reported on 5 January. Iranian Women's Party Secretary-General Fariba Davudi-Mohajer described the party's objectives as "enlightening public opinion and pursuing the forgotten demands of women." Davudi-Mohajer added that party membership is also open to men and minority women.
Iran has more than 100 licensed political organizations, although fewer than 20 are politically active.
The legislature's Women's Faction met on 8 December 2003, and only 35 out of 120 invitees attended the event, "Resalat" reported on 9 December 2003. According to the hard-line daily newspaper, the event was lively despite the sparse attendance. Zahra Eshraqi, the wife of Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami, criticized the Women's Faction. She said, "Even though my husband is in the parliament and in the government, I do not know what is going on in your committee. I do not know what you are doing." Eshraqi said it would be better to have two industrious female parliamentarians than to have fifty uninformed ones with differing opinions.
Tehran parliamentarian Vahideh Taleqani fired back with both barrels. "If the Women's Faction has not been able to do anything, the main person responsible is your husband...who is not ready to spend even five minutes talking with the female deputies."
Allameh Tabatabai University's Professor Oliai-Zand also criticized the Women's Faction. She said, "It has been four years since you were elected, and you have just now thought of inviting us so that you would be able to gain votes for yourselves." (Bill Samii)
SUPREME LEADER VISITS EARTHQUAKE SITE. On 16 January, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei arrived in Bam, the southeastern city that was devastated by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake on 26 December 2003, to inspect relief operations, IRNA reported. He met with locals to learn more about the conditions and hardships facing them, and he said he would urge officials to speed the city's reconstruction.
Mohammad Mohammadi-Golpayegani, head of the Supreme Leader's Office, said that there are now 41,000 casualties from the earthquake, a number that could yet rise to 45,000, IRNA reported. He told officials involved in relief operations, "You are dealing with some bereaved people who have lost all their dear ones; your sincere assistance to this people, will save you on the day of judgment in the next world." (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN TELLS WASHINGTON TO BUTT OUT. Iranian officials on 14 January denounced recent U.S. government comments about events in their country. State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said on 12 January, "We call upon the Iranian government to disavow attempts by the Guardians Council to shape the outcome of the 20 February parliamentary elections" (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2004/28110pf.htm).
When a journalist suggested that Tehran would object to his statement as interference, Ereli said, "There are measures within the government and within the governmental processes for the government of Iran to invalidate those decisions. So this is something, a procedure, that is provided for in the Iranian Constitution." Ereli added inaccurately that Iran's Justice Ministry could invalidate Guardians Council decisions.
Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said on 14 January, "Despite conspiracies of the enemies, the forthcoming elections for the seventh parliament will be held in full glory, and all of us and the people will take part," state television reported. Responding directly to the U.S. comments, Karrubi said, "I ask the Americans not to interfere in our affairs; stop meddling and mind your own business; we shall continue our reform process and there is no need for them to defend us."
Karrubi also ranted about perceived wrongdoings of the United States against Iran and the benefits of the Islamic revolution. "We abolished the capitulation law [which said that foreign nationals could not be tried in Iran for crimes committed inside the country]...our nation has bitter memories of America's era; our people have not forgotten what happened on 28 Mordad 1332 that toppled their national government [the 19 August 1953 coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mussadiq]; our people have not forgotten that our imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] was forced into exile; our people have not forgotten the massacre of 15 Khordad [5 June 1963, when Iranian troops shot demonstrators]; our people have not forgotten the Shahrivar massacre [8 August 1978, when Iranian troops shot demonstrators]; our people have not forgotten the countless number of Islamic Fadaiyan including Mohammad Bokharai [who assassinated Prime Minister Hassan Ali Mansur in 1965], Seyyed Hussein Fatemi, and dozens, hundreds of others executed by them; those atrocities were committed by a regime that enjoyed America's support."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 14 January that Iran is proud of the "more than 20 free and sound elections" it has held since 1979 and said they are "in line with the consolidation of the system of religious democracy," IRNA reported. Assefi said the Iranian government will protect the rights of candidates and added that political groups do not want and will not tolerate foreign interference.
Prayer leaders from around the country gave sermons in which they lashed out at the United States, according to a 16 January round-up on state television. Typical of the statements were those of Kermanshah's Ayatollah Zarandi, who said, "America believes itself to be the guardian of world people and countries. This is whilst its hands are tainted with the blood of thousands of innocent Iraqi and Afghan women and children." Among these clerics were Ardabil's Hojatoleslam Hasan Ameli, Ilam's Hojatoleslam Lotfi, Semnan's Hojatoleslam Shahcheraqi, Urumieh's Hojatoleslam Hassani, Zahedan Province's Hojatoleslam Suleimani, Ayatollah Ebadi from Mashhad, and Ayatollah Tabatabai from Isfahan. (Bill Samii)
IRAQI SHI'A LEADER VISITS TEHRAN. The Iraqi Governing Council's Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim, who is chairman of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), arrived in Tehran on 15 January and met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, IRNA reported. Khatami reportedly told his guest that the most important activity is to make preparations for Iraqis' active role in creating their desired government; al-Hakim said he hopes for free elections and self-determination. (Bill Samii)
HIZBALLAH REPORTEDLY STEPS UP ACTIVITIES AGAINST ISRAEL. Recent reports from Israeli newspapers add information to the December 2003 statement by Avi Dichter, the director of Israel's Shin Bet domestic-security service, that Iran operates against Israel and Israeli interests through Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the Fatah-Tanzim, through Lebanese Hizballah, and through Israeli Arabs (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 December 2003).
Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Israeli intelligence personnel discussed an Israeli Arab from Al-Tayyibah named Qiyas Ubayd in the 11 January "Haaretz" (he also was discussed in the 13 October 2003 "Maariv" and the 18 September 2003 "Novosti Nedeli"). This individual reportedly went to Lebanon in September 2000 and is believed to be Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's "right-hand man in everything related to recruiting terrorist infrastructures among Israeli Arabs and kidnapping Israeli citizens to Lebanon." He allegedly is also involved with recruiting Israeli Arabs and establishing Hizballah's terrorism and espionage cells.
Under Iranian and Hizballah guidance Qiyas Ubayd allegedly runs Fatah-Tanzim cells in the West Bank. His alleged predecessor in this activity was Fatah leader Munir Miqdah, until the Iranians discovered that Miqdah was keeping some of the money that was supposed to go to the terrorist units.
The provision of weapons from Iran to Hizballah via Syria resumed in the first week of January, according to military affairs correspondent Yo'av Limor on the state-funded Israel Television Channel 1 on 8 January. The shipments were suspended shortly before the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Under the guise of flying humanitarian goods to victims of the Bam earthquake, the Syrian aircraft reportedly returned to Damascus "loaded with weapons." These weapons were unloaded in Syria and transported by truck to Lebanon, according to the report.
IDF Intelligence Branch chief Major General Aharon Ze'evi said that revealing the information about the provision of Iranian arms to Hizballah via earthquake relief aircraft from Syria had endangered Israeli sources, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 13 January. Ze'evi also told a Knesset committee that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's offer to negotiate with Israel has driven a wedge between the Syria-Hizballah and Syria-Iran alliance, the state-funded Voice of Israel and IDF radio reported on 13 January.
Ynet (http://www.ynet.co.il/), the website run by "Yediot Aharonot," reported on 15 January that security forces recently detained three Palestinians affiliated with Fatah who are suspected of transferring funds from Iran and Hizballah for the financing of terrorism. (Bill Samii)
FORMER HIZBALLAH SECRETARY-GENERAL CRITICAL OF IRAN. Former Hizballah Secretary-General Subih Tufaili continues to criticize Iran and the current leadership of the Lebanese organization (for his earlier comments, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 October 2003).
In a 19 November interview with Al-Arabiyah satellite television Tufaili said that Hizballah was established to serve the people and the oppressed, but now it has become a tool serving the Iranian regime. His problem is not with Hizballah, it is with "those who stand behind Hizballah, which is the Iranian leadership."
Tufaili went on to say that he does not agree with the basis of the Iranian theocratic system, Vilayat-i Faqih (Rule of the Supreme Jurisconsult). "First of all, this vilayat-i faqih is illegitimate because there is no evidence for it in the Koran or in the Prophet's sayings and practices." Regardless of disagreement over this issue, Tufaili said that he got along with the Iranians when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led the country. "But after the death of Imam Khomeini, I noticed unreligious orientations in Iran," he said.
"Hizballah has become a guard for Israel's border and [for] Iran Satan's servant in helping America execute its agenda in the region," he said in an interview with "The Daily Star" that was published on 22 December 2003. Tufaili went on to say that Hizballah is not independent and it takes orders from Tehran. "I cannot criticize Hizballah without meaning Iran as well; the Iranian leadership has been and still is responsible for all of Hizballah's decisions on everything since the time we agreed with the late Imam Khomeini to build up the resistance movement." He went on to criticize Iran for allegedly letting itself be used by the United States to invade Afghanistan and for encouraging contacts between the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the United States. (Bill Samii)
PAKISTAN, INDIA, IRAN DISCUSS NATURAL GAS PIPELINE. The Indian cabinet endorsed on 15 January a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Iran that was signed during President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's January 2003 visits to New Delhi, AFP reported. The MOU calls for cooperation in projects dealing with hydrocarbons and petrochemicals and related research and development, exploration, refining, marketing, and transportation.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh arrived in Islamabad on 13 January and met with Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar, IRNA reported. The two reportedly discussed a range of issues, including economic affairs.
M. Abdullah Yusuf, secretary at Pakistan's Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, left for India on 12 January to discuss technical matters relating to the Iran-Pakistan-India natural-gas pipeline, IRNA reported on 13 January. This appears to be the follow-up to a conversation on 5 January between Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Khan said on 6 January that during the previous evening's discussion he reassured Vajpayee that Pakistan has no objections to the construction across its territory of a natural-gas pipeline from Iran to India, IRNA reported. Khan was speaking in Islamabad at the conclusion of the three-day meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (http://www.saarc-sec.org/).
Yusuf had represented his country during 29 and 30 December Iran-Pakistan discussions on the pipeline that were held in Islamabad, while Iranian Deputy Petroleum Minister Hadi Nejad-Husseinian led the Iranian delegation, Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported. Nejad-Husseinian met on 31 December 2003 with Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz and submitted proposals on the provision of gas to Pakistan, the news agency reported. These proposals touched on the supply of bulk gas at the border and the distribution of gas to wholesalers in Pakistan. (Bill Samii)
IRAN-JAPAN OIL DEAL REPORTEDLY GRINDS ON. Japanese Deputy Trade Minister Seiji Murata told a 15 January news conference that talks on developing Iran's Azadegan oil field have stalled, "The Khaleej Times" reported the next day. "The future economic value of the project is a very important point, and I don't think things will go that easily," he said. Murata suggested a third party might have to assess the project's value.
A Japanese newspaper, "Asahi Shimbun," on the other hand, cited anonymous "government sources" as saying Japan and Iran are close to a deal on Azadegan. These sources added that Japan proposed lending Iran more than $1 billion through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. "Sankei Shimbun," another Japanese newspaper, reported on 11 January that, according to an anonymous "Japanese high-ranking government official," there are prospects for concluding the deal in the near future.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi visited Tehran in early January 2004. The Japanese consortium that had exclusive rights to the project backed off from a 30 June 2003 deadline due to concerns about Iranian nuclear activities and the resulting pressure from Washington (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 July 2003). More recently the consortium itself has failed to stay united (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 December 2003). (Bill Samii)
IRAN TO BUILD OIL REFINERY IN INDONESIA. The Iranian ambassador in Jakarta, Shaban Shahidi-Moaddab, met with Indonesian Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Yusgiantoro Purnomo on 15 January and subsequently announced Iran will soon build an oil refinery in the Tuban district of East Java Province, "The Jakarta Post" reported on 16 January. Shahidi-Moaddab said the project would cost $1 billion and will be carried out in cooperation with Indonesia's state oil and gas company, PT Pertamina. The 150,000 barrels of oil a day that the refinery is expected to produce will fulfill Indonesia's domestic needs, the Iranian official said. (Bill Samii)
SOLANA VISIT TO IRAN HIGHLIGHTS EU POLICY DILEMMA. Originally, EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana's two-day visit to Iran was intended to probe Iranian progress on dissipating doubts over its alleged nuclear weapons program. The political crisis that emerged in Iran during Solana's visit, however, complicated debate within the EU over the possible resumption of the "twin-track" dialogue on trade and human rights. Talks were suspended in June pending Iran's agreement to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Protocol. Tehran agreed to sign the NPT after a joint visit in October 2003 by British, German, and French foreign ministers.
A major aspect of Solana's talks in Tehran, however, was the decision by the Guardians Council to reject many prospective candidates from running in February's parliamentary election.
The European Parliament's "rapporteur" (the deputy tasked with compiling thematic reports) for Iran, Michael Gahler, told RFE/RL on 12 January he believes the EU should not rush to restore discussions with the country before the issue is resolved. "If it were that this situation were not solved, if it were that the 80 members of parliament and the hundreds of other candidates were on the day of the election still being banned, I think we should not go on to business as usual. At this stage I think we should also leave some options open, it depends on the current affairs, I would not definitively say what our reaction should be."
Gahler said a group of MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) will be traveling to Tehran in two weeks to assess the situation.
EU officials say there is no consensus within the bloc at this time whether to resume talks with Iran quickly or wait for further concessions. The European Commission appears to be pushing for a flexible approach, arguing that action against weapons of mass destruction -- although top of the EU priority list -- is one of four main goals. The others are the fight against terrorism, Iran's cooperation in the Middle Eastern peace process, and progress on human rights.
Nevertheless, one official told RFE/RL that the commission recognizes that no moves will be made to restore talks before the head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Administration, Muhammad el-Baradei, reports to the body in February on Iran's actual willingness to cooperate on nuclear issues.
The official also suggested that supporters of a tougher line within the EU, led by Britain, point to the conclusions of the last EU foreign ministers' meeting in December 2003, which say cooperation can only be resumed "if there is full international confidence in Iran's adherence to nonproliferation." The official said there is a "spectrum of views" among the member states, with many asking whether Iran "has done enough."
Eberhard Rhein, a senior analyst with the Brussels-based European Policy Center, told RFE/RL on 12 January that he expects EU foreign ministers to play for time at their next meeting in Brussels on 26-27 January, but predicted the eventual decision will be positive.
"They will once again deliberate, they will take stock of the domestic situation, of the international situation, on all these three [the progress Iran has made weapons of mass destruction, the Middle East peace process and human rights] and maybe additional accounts," Rhein said, predicting that there will be no decision before the parliamentary election.
Rhein continued, "If the elections will take place with full democratic representation, and if the Ministry of Interior and [President Mohammad] Khatami impose their will on the judiciary [and other conservative bodies] to restore the initial candidates, then I think the [European] Union will have no choice but to tell the [European] Commission 'go ahead, talk to the Iranians and see whether you can pursue and resolve negotiations.'" He predicted that talks probably will resume before the end of June.
EU officials acknowledge that Iran is in a "delicate situation" internally. One official said it was "no coincidence" that the Iranian climb-down over its nuclear program followed a high-level EU visit to Tehran. The official went on to suggest that forces in Iran in favor of greater cooperation with the West now expect counter-moves from the EU. One important theme at issue here is the assistance promised by the British, French, and German ministers to Iran's civilian nuclear projects. The United States, on the other hand, continues to question the need for any nuclear activity in Iran.
Rhein is convinced the EU will eventually choose to capitalize on the long-term success of its "constructive engagement" with Iran, believing its influence has played an important part in the ascendancy of reform-minded forces in the country who continue to need outside support. Rhein says the EU-Iranian talks, once resumed, will inevitably contain important elements for the EU, putting human rights observance and the rejection of WMD by Iran on a "contractual basis."
Rhein explained, "So, an agreement will be much more in our [EU] interest than the Iranian interest. The agreement does not carry any political, economic, or financial substance; it is a framework, nothing else. Everything can be done, so it's a gesture. It helps the Iranians out of their isolation [and] to say that "we have now formal diplomatic and contractual relations with one of the big players of the world -- the European Union."
Rhein agrees Iran may play a key role in attempts by the EU to emancipate its "common foreign and security policy" further from the United States. Rhein says a continued EU engagement with Iran, if crowned with success, would both bolster the bloc's image and provide an important service to the United States in the region. "Probably the Americans [are] increasingly ambivalent to the European Union. Whenever the European Union scores a success they will see it as rivalry in an area they normally cover for themselves. But on the other hand, they should be happy because if the [EU] goes ahead and scores a success that will allow them to follow suit." (Ahto Lobjakas)