23 February 2004, Volume 7, Number 8
PRELIMINARY ELECTION RESULTS START TO COME IN. Different branches of the Iranian government are providing conflicting numbers for voter turnout in Iran's 20 February parliamentary elections. According to the conservative-affiliated state television on 22 February, turnout was 60 percent overall and approximately 50 percent in Tehran. The pro-reform Interior Ministry's press office announced on 22 February that a total of 23,438,030 votes were cast, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. With 46,351,032 eligible voters, according to the Interior Ministry, this put overall voter turnout at 50.57 percent. 2,764,923 people voted in Tehran, putting turnout there at 33.77 percent.
Mustafa Tajzadeh of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, which had boycotted the elections, said in a 21 February press conference that less than 30 percent of Tehran voters participated in the elections, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. He said, "according to the statistics we have received, yesterday, approximately 1.7 million people, out of a total of 6 million eligible voters in Tehran, took part in the elections."
ILNA provided information on turnout in other provinces on 22 February: 57.73 percent in Fars Province; 55.59 percent in Khuzestan Province; 51.08 percent in Hamedan Province; 41.62 percent in Isfahan Province; 55.98 per cent in East Azerbaijan Province; and 42.79 percent in Mazandaran Province. There will be a second round of voting in 36 constituencies, Fars News Agency reported on 22 February.
Tehran Supervisory Board chief Ahmad Azimizadeh said on 21 February that 2.3 million people -- more than 30 percent of the capital's eligible voters -- went to the polls the previous day, ILNA reported. The top nine candidates were identified by ILNA as Gholamali Haddad-Adel, Ahmad Tavakoli, Hasan Ghafuri-Fard, Amir Reza Khadem, Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, Seyyed Mehdi Tabatabai, Hussein Mozaffar, Ali Abbaspur, and Danesh Jafari.
Later in the same day, state radio reported some changes in that order. In 31st place was Karrubi, Ghafuri-Fard in 32nd, Ansari in 33rd, and Abbaspur in 37th. Two female incumbents, Soheila Jelodarzadeh and Jamileh Kadivar, were in 35th and 36th places respectively.
Forty-two incumbent parliamentarians were re-elected in the 139 constituencies where votes have been counted, Fars News Agency reported on 21 February. ILNA reported on 22 February that 60 incumbents were re-elected.
With results in 160 constituencies tabulated, only one woman, Mehrangiz Morovati of Khalkhal, Ardabil Province, had won enough votes to enter the legislature, IRNA reported. That result has not been confirmed yet. The Interior Ministry said just three women have enough votes to enter the second round of voting -- Shahla Mir Galu Bayat from Saveh in Tehran Province, Hajar Tahriri Nik-Sefat from Rasht in Gilan Province, and Ashraf Javaheri from Arak and Komijan in Markazi Province. A date for the second round has not been set yet.
The Interior Ministry announced on 19 February that 1,179 candidates had withdrawn from the elections, ISNA reported. The Interior Ministry announced on 18 February that 12 parliamentarians have announced their withdrawals, IRNA reported. Tehran lawmakers Shamseddin Vahhabi, Fatimeh Rakei, and Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur all bowed out of the race, while Armenian representatives Jorkik Abramian and Levon Davidian also said they will not run. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN RAMPS UP VOTER PARTICIPATION. The Iranian government's efforts to stage-manage the results of the 20 February parliamentary election took many forms in addition to strictly controlling who could stand as a candidate for parliamentary office.
The government has tried to make voter participation seem higher than it really was by manipulating voting statistics. The Guardians Council declared that there are 43 million eligible voters according to "Kayhan" on 19 February, whereas the Interior Ministry said that there are 46,351,032 eligible voters, the Interior Ministry website reported on 20 February (http://www.moi.ir/).
The election headquarters kept polling places open until 22:00 local time, a full four hours after the originally announced closing time. According to state television on 20 February, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari allowed this on the basis of requests from polling stations. And IRNA said, "Earlier commentaries by certain Western media that the turnout would be low now seem totally unrealistic with reports that several constituencies have run out of ballots and that some provincial governors have asked the polling closing hour to be extended." The state news agency referred to requests for more ballots and polling hour extensions from election officials in East Azerbaijan, Khuzestan, Kurdistan, Semnan, Tehran, and Yazd Provinces.
"Few polling stations in Tehran, the capital city of 12 million people, attracted more than a steady trickle," the London-based "Financial Times" reported on 21 February, "though turnout was reportedly better in some smaller towns and in the countryside." Voters queued outside a mosque in east Tehran's Nabavat Square for film crews, but the daily cited locals as saying that the "voters" were not locals and were brought in for the cameras. "Some government employees said they had been ordered to vote and needed their identity cards stamped," the British daily added.
Elections are sometimes preceded by reports about the existence of duplicate identification cards, which people must present to vote. With duplicate cards, individuals can vote more than once. Those who weren't residents of Tehran reportedly were given these ID cards so they could vote in the capital. Four years ago, the government stated that people who have forged ID cards, ID cards of dead people, and ID cards that do not belong to them could turn in the cards with no questions asked.
Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi on 18 February dismissed reports about the existence of 2 million extra cards, IRNA reported, and he added that disseminating such rumors is a prosecutable crime. State Registry official Abdullah Ansari denied in the 17 February "Iran" that a large number of new cards were issued recently. (Bill Samii)
ROCK THE VOTE. In the run-up to the 20 February parliamentary elections, Iranian broadcast media carried a great deal of election-related reporting at the expense of news on the 18 February train crash in Nishabur, which claimed the lives of hundreds of people and injured hundreds of others (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 February 2004).
On 19 February, news programs mainly carried interviews with citizens who expressed great eagerness to vote. Officials and political organizations urged people to vote in broadcast interviews.
Interestingly, reformist newspapers also encouraged people to vote, albeit for "independent" candidates and as a way of retaliating against the Guardians Council's rejection of prospective reformist candidates. The conservative newspapers discouraged people from voting for reformist candidates by criticizing their religious credentials and accusing them of cooperating with foreigners.
The day after the elections, state radio and television praised voters for performing their national and religious duty. One program cited the Expediency Council as describing the elections as a "national epic [that] is a suitable response to the enemies, in particular America, and their plots and psychological warfare against the elections."
Conservative print media on 21 February predicted that the high voter turnout would counter adverse international news reports. "Jomhuri-yi Islami" referred to "gigantic participation," and "Siyasat-i Ruz" declared, "Once again the Iranian people have defied the predictions of foreigners." (Bill Samii)
TOP IRANIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS IMPORTANCE OF ELECTIONS. After casting his ballot on 20 February, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told state television that this is a particularly important election for Iran. He explained, "I feel that these elections are even more important [than others], since you can see how those who fight the Islamic revolution and Iran, are trying to prevent the people from going to the polling booths."
Khamenei provided a more detailed explanation in his 13 February sermon, which was broadcast by state radio. Elections are important because public participation is a demonstration of popular support for the revolution, he said. "If people participate, as they have done in the past, then nothing can be done to the system." Iran's enemies might interpret a poor turnout as indicative of differences between the people and the system, he said. "They might then try to interfere in our domestic affairs and pave the way for their domination of the country. They might try to once again sink their claws into our country. That is why they are closely watching the elections."
The election of the actual legislators is important, too, Khamenei said in his 13 February sermon. These individuals will determine the country's fate for the next four years, he said. Khamenei added that the parliament supervises the government.
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's 16 February speech about the elections, which was broadcast by state television, was more noteworthy. He encouraged voters to participate because this would strengthen the relationship between them and the government, and it would reduce external threats to the country.
But Khatami went on to say that supervising elections (one of the roles assigned to the Guardians Council) means that people's rights should not be violated and privileges should not be used as a means to power. He voiced concern that "domination" would replace "supervision," and he said that the election bill he had introduced in 2002 was meant to preclude such an occurrence.
The current course of events, Khatami said, has displeased many people. This should not cause apathy, and people should vote. He continued, "with some forbearance, they can elect the candidates closer to their own views. At the same time, if they are not able to send to the parliament the candidate that they desire, at least with their participation [in the election] they will not allow those who they dislike to go to the parliament."
Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi criticized the Guardians Council's supervisory role in elections and called for changes in the country's election law at a 16 February news conference, IRNA reported. Karrubi said a large number of people are allowed to apply for candidacy and get involved in election-related activities only to be disqualified later, sometimes for no good reason. He claimed that when the Guardians Council was created, it was only supposed to ensure the compatibility of legislation with Islam, but the wording of the constitution was vague in key places and allowed the council to interpret the constitution as it wished.
In terms of vetting candidates for office, Karrubi said, the council initially made sure that wrongly disqualified people were allowed to stand as candidates. A more interventionist tendency became apparent in 1990, Karrubi claimed, and the council has displayed its political inclination from the 1992 parliamentary elections onward.
Karrubi told a 16 February meeting of clerics in Tehran that the massive disqualifications of prospective candidates for the parliamentary elections should not discourage voters, because the revolution did not come about easily, IRNA reported. He said massive public participation in the elections is important and the holding of elections will have a positive impact on the country's politics, economy, and security. In light of regional events in the last four years, he said, the mere presence of the people is a display of power. Karrubi warned that propaganda from overseas is trying to discourage the public. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN NOBEL LAUREATE SAYS SHE WON'T VOTE. Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who won the 2003 Nobel Prize for Peace, said in a 17 February interview with Radio Farda that she will not vote in the 20 February parliamentary elections. "I believe we should vote for people whom we know fully and whom we trust, and because among the candidates who have been qualified I don't know anybody," Ebadi said. "Even if I was in Tehran, I would not vote, because I don't like to vote for people whom I don't know, whose [political] lines and inclinations I am not familiar with and thus, unintentionally, take some path while I don't know where it would lead." (Bill Samii)
PAPERS CLOSED FOR PUBLISHING LEGISLATORS' APPEAL TO SUPREME LEADER. Some 100 members of parliament on 17 February sent an unsigned letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in which they complained about the Guardians Council's vetting of prospective candidates and asked if he was actually behind the rejections (http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/story/2004/02/040217_mps_letter_to_leader.shtml). The letter said that the people's most important right, the right to vote and to stand for office, is being taken away, and it added that greater public participation in elections strengthens society and the country.
The Tehran prosecutor's office late on 18 February ordered the closure of "Yas-i No" and "Sharq" daily newspapers, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Journalist Issa Saharkhiz explained that the dailies were closed because they violated a Supreme National Security Council ban on publishing the legislators' critical letter to the supreme leader, Reuters reported. Saharkhiz said the order was conveyed to local media orally on 17 February.
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani on 20 February denied that the body has ever issued an order imposing a ban on any newspapers, ISNA reported. "Of course," he added, "a few years ago, it did make certain decisions with regard to the media and it did define a kind of framework for them." (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN BAHAIS RELEASED AFTER 15 YEARS IN JAIL. Bihnam Mithaqi and Kayvan Khalajabadi, two members of the Bahai faith, were released from prison after serving almost 15 years on charges related to their religious beliefs, according to a 17 February press release from the Bahais of the United States office of public information (http://www.wfn.org/2004/02/msg00131.html). Imprisoned on 29 April 1989 for associating with Bahai institutions, they were initially sentenced to eight years imprisonment but then the sentences were reduced to three years and 50 lashes. They appealed again, and in April 1991 they were sentenced to death; this sentence was confirmed in February 1996. In February 2001, the judiciary chief reportedly reduced the sentences to 15 years and set a release date of February 2004.
According to the press release, Zabiullah Mihrami is the only remaining Bahai known to be imprisoned for his religious beliefs; he was arrested in September 1995.
The "San Francisco Chronicle" reported on 4 December 2003 that Iranian Bahais face "unending persecution at the hands of the Shiite religious regime." (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN POLICE LAUNCH WEB-BASED PROJECT. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said in his 9 February message on the launch of the "Police 10+" service that the police are one of the most important institutions in the establishment of order and public security, IRNA reported. The police public relations department announced the launch of "Police 10+" on 31 January and said it would be in operation in Tehran and 10 out of the country's 28 provinces, according to IRNA.
Some of the services available through "Police 10+" include issuing papers that show a job seeker is not subject to criminal charges, issuing job permits, issuing license plates and drivers' licenses, and renewing passports. This Internet-based service is connected with improvements in the police department's communications network that began two years ago, and it is meant to contribute to decentralization, reduce government involvement in public affairs, improve people's access to public services, and make it easier to deal with the array of police services. More information on "Police 10+" is available at http://www.police.ir. (Bill Samii)
IRANIANS PARTICIPATE IN KABUL DRUG-CONTROL CONFERENCE. Ali Hashemi, chief of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ), arrived in Kabul on 7 February to participate in the 8-9 February International Conference on Counternarcotics, IRNA reported, joining counternarcotics officials from some 50 countries (for more on this event, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 February 2004). In describing the importance of the event, UN Organization for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said in a press release that the war on drugs will contribute to the war on terror, because there is "mounting evidence of drug money being used to finance criminal activities, including terrorism" (http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/WO0402/S00051.htm).
Hashemi met with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah on 8 February, Kabul television reported. Abdullah noted Iran's contribution to his country's war on drugs and expressed the hope that the international community's success in this endeavor will lead to the complete eradication of narcotics cultivation in Afghanistan. Hashemi responded that Iran hopes to increase its cooperation with Afghanistan.
Eliminating Afghan opium cultivation is very important to Iran. Afghanistan is the world's leading opium producer and Iran leads the world in seizures of opiates (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/global_illicit_drug_trends.html; and http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/afghanistan_opium_survey_2003.pdf). As the amount of opium cultivated in Afghanistan increases, so too does the Iranian confiscation rate.
In Hamedan on 7 February, police counternarcotics chief Colonel Mehdi Aboui said the 162 tons of drugs seized in Iran since March is 24 percent more than in the same period one year earlier, IRNA reported. The impurity rate has climbed from 60 percent two years ago to 90 percent this year, Aboui added, but he did not explain this phenomenon.
Ali Asqar Qolipur, the director of planning at the DCHQ, also said that the seizure rate had increased, and in a statistical breakdown he mentioned heroin, morphine, opium, hashish, and other narcotics, "Sharq" reported on 18 January. Qolipur added that seizures of synthetic drugs had climbed as well. "In the first six months of 1382 [21 March-22 September 2003], some 262,822 narcotic pills and ampoules have been seized, which shows an increase of 34 percent compared to the total of this type of drugs discovered and confiscated in the same period 1381 [last year]."
Officials say that an estimated 2 million Iranians abuse drugs. Heroin injection is believed to be responsible for the rising HIV/AIDS rate among the prison population. The Iranian Coroners Organization said on 14 February that 1,039 people had died of drug-related causes in the third quarter of the year that started on 21 March 2003, IRNA reported.
Tehran has long emphasized supply interdiction and a law enforcement approach to its drug abuse problem. The border with Afghanistan is lined with static defenses, and Iranian police and armed forces are active against the traffickers. Aboui said in a 28 January speech in Karaj that 30 police officers have been killed since March 2003, IRNA reported. Battling drug trafficking costs Iran more than $2 billion a year, Aboui said.
The Iranian security forces use sniffer dogs to detect the drugs. Colonel Issa Muhseni, the police official in charge of training sniffer dogs, said on 28 January that in the last three years there have been 551 successful sniffer dog missions, IRNA reported.
Supply intervention is difficult at the best of times, and Afghanistan's long borders with its neighbors, over which drugs must pass to reach European markets, pose additional difficulties. "If you go and check the frontier posts out," UNODC's Maria Costa said in the 1 February issue of "La Repubblica, "you will usually find 3,000 truck drivers anxious to cross over, 3,000 prostitutes, three policemen, and a dog." He said that "widespread corruption and trading requirements" make getting a heroin consignment from Afghanistan to Amsterdam a simple process. Costa noted the efforts of "Iran, for example, which has built concrete barriers along its western border and, according to Teheran, has lost 3,300 soldiers and police officers in the attempt to curb full-blown military raids by the Afghan traffickers."
Maria Costa implied that drug traffickers use the same facilities employed by Tehran to circumvent embargoes against it. "But behind those lads who are risking their lives on the frontier, there is the massive machinery built up by Iran for getting round the embargo. The traffickers implicated in it can easily hide 100 kilos of heroin in a batch of spare parts, for example."
Tehran recently changed its counternarcotics strategy and now dedicates more money than before to demand reduction, rather than supply intervention (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 January 2004). (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN, KAZAKH, TAJIK, CHINESE OFFICIALS DISCUSS COUNTERNARCOTICS COOPERATION. Kazakhstan's Interior Minister Zautbek Turisbekov and Iranian ambassador to Almaty Morteza Safari on 15 February held a meeting that focused on the war on drugs, terrorism, and organized crime, IRNA reported. Turisbekov reportedly said that his country would like to learn more about Iran's drug control policies.
The deputy head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ), Mujtaba Jabal-Ameli, met with his Tajik counterpart, Uktam Toshmatov, in Tehran on 8 February. The two officials emphasized the need for more regional cooperation on stemming the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan, Iranian state radio reported from Mashhad. They also called for more vigorous implementation of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed when President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami visited Dushanbe in April 2002. That MOU called for information exchanges, counternarcotics cooperation, and controlling drug production in Afghanistan.
DCHQ chief Ali Hashemi met with Van Chuan Rong, the vice-secretary of China's National Commission for Drug Control, on 4 February in Tehran, IRNA reported. Hashemi expressed the hope that the two sides would sign a counternarcotics MOU. The Chinese official noted that both countries have a major interest in fighting drug trafficking, because they both share borders with Afghanistan. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN HOSTS D-8 SUMMIT. The fourth summit meeting of the Developing-8 (D-8) countries began in Tehran on 17 February. The creation of the D-8 -- which currently comprises Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey -- was announced at the 15 June 1997 Summit of Heads of State/Government in Istanbul. The D-8's objectives, according to the D-8 website (http://www.d8net.org), include improving members' positions in the global economy, trade diversification, enhanced participation in international decision-making, and improved living standards.
The summit meeting was preceded on 16 February by the seventh meeting of D-8 foreign ministers, at which Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said member states must coordinate their positions on economic issues on a regular basis, IRNA reported. Kharrazi added that there must be greater private- and public sector cooperation between member countries. According to IRNA, Kharrazi said D-8 members should form a common market, IRNA reported. Ali Naqi Khamoushi, the head of Iran's Chamber of Commerce, Industries, and Mines, told a 14 February session of the trade assembly of chambers of commerce that D-8 member states should sign a free-trade agreement, IRNA reported.
These Iranian calls for greater economic cooperation are indicative of the D-8's failure to achieve its goals. Piruz Mujtahedzadeh, a professor of geopolitics at Tehran's Tarbiat Mudariss University and chairman of the London-based Urosevic Research Foundation, told RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari that cooperation between D-8 members is difficult because of their assorted political and economic backgrounds and strengths.
Geography may prevent the creation of the common market Kharrazi spoke of. "These countries do not have any geographical contiguity. They are separate pieces of land scattered all over the world, and it's not clear how these eight countries are going to form a sort of common market to promote economic development among themselves," Mujtahedzadeh said. "You don't know what it's all about -- is it a political gathering, or is it an economic gathering? In either case, the necessary ingredient is missing, and that is the geographical contiguity."
Fereidun Khavand, a professor of international economic relations at the University of Rene Descartes in Paris, told RFE/RL's Esfandiari that the varying levels of economic development among D-8 members also makes progress difficult. "Among these countries you have Malaysia, which is one of the most developed and advanced countries in southeast Asia. You have Turkey, which is considered one of the advanced countries of the Islamic world. On the other hand, you have countries like Iran and Nigeria, whose main income is from oil; and countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, who, despite some changes in recent years, have not been able to improve living conditions," Khavand said. Khavand added that many D-8 members have a greater interest in economic ties with countries outside the group.
The summit's final declaration was issued on 18 February, according to IRNA. Summit spokesman Mohammad Hussein Adeli said the summit participants agreed that dialogue could help overcome international crises. They also said that the World Trade Organization should consider the problems of developing countries, and they called for an end to discrimination in deciding on countries' accession to the WTO (Iranian accession was rejected recently).
Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi arrived in Tehran on 17 February to participate in the summit, and they met separately with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, IRNA reported.
Sukarnoputri also met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 19 February, IRNA reported. Both officials called for an expansion in bilateral relations and cooperation. Khamenei added that Muslims have been the target of U.S. and Israeli propaganda since 11 September 2001. He continued, "Of course, the U.S. and Israel are the world's biggest terrorist states but Muslim states should expand ties, close their ranks and promote cooperation to face negative propaganda and hostility to the world of Islam." Sukarnoputri reportedly agreed that Muslims are being insulted. She advised, "Muslim states should get further united to counter hostile propaganda." (Bill Samii)
EGYPTIAN SUMMIT PRESENCE UNDERLINES TENSIONS. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Mahir and Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi met on the sidelines of the D-8 summit in Tehran, IRNA reported on 17 February, to discuss developments in bilateral relations, events in Iraq, and Middle East peace.
Coming at a time of warming relations between Tehran and Cairo, this meeting was preceded by speculation that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak might attend and meet with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami. But from Cairo's perspective, some serious obstacles remain to be overcome before its relations with Iran can improve.
Egypt's "Al-Ahram al-Arabi" weekly reported on 7 February that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry asked Tehran to delay a visit by Kharrazi to Cairo during which the resumption of normal political and diplomatic relations would be announced. Cairo is reportedly unhappy with Tehran's refusal to extradite Egyptian Al-Qaeda members, such as Sayf al-Adel. It is for the same reason, according to the weekly, that President Mubarak is not going to Iran.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 14 February described the "Al-Ahram al-Arabi" report as baseless, IRNA reported. "A trip of the Iranian foreign minister to Egypt is not on the agenda of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Assefi said.
"Al-Ahram al-Arabi" also reported that the status of the Tehran street named after Khalid Eslamboli, President Anwar Sadat's assassin, continues to hinder the resumption of ties. The Tehran municipal council changed the name to Intifada Street, but the street still has a mural of the actual incident.
Cairo's "Rose al-Yusuf" newspaper on 7 February reported that the resumption of relations is also complicated by the confusing political situation in Iran. Some Iranians want relations between Tehran and Cairo to improve, while others do not want an improvement. The article said the situation in Iran is so complicated that the country "seems like a bird with two wings flapping in opposite directions and even if one wing proved to be stronger than the other, it would not be able to keep the bird in the air for long." Changing the street name but leaving up the mural, it said, is an incomplete and ineffective solution. (Bill Samii)
HARD-LINE CLERIC CALLS U.S. TIES 'TREASON.' Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi claimed during a recent seminar organized by the Khorasan Province Basij at the Imam's Mosque in Mashhad that reformists intend to establish relations with the United States, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 7 February. "This action is treason against the people and the country," he added. Mesbah-Yazdi also criticized the current parliament as an embarrassment and warned that if the current situation continues, "we have to hold a funeral for Islam in this country because no one will mention the name of Islam again" by the time the eighth parliament begins in 2008. (Bill Samii)
IRAN-U.S. WRESTLING DIPLOMACY CONTINUES. A team of male U.S. wrestlers arrived in Tehran on 16 February in order to participate in the Takhti Cup tournament, IRNA reported. The 19-20 February tournament will be held at Tehran's Azadi Sports Complex and features freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. The U.S. team is led by 2000 Olympic silver medalist Sammie Henson, who won a gold medal at the 1998 World Freestyle Championships in Tehran, according to USAWrestling (http://www.themat.com/pressbox/pressdetail.asp?aid=9206).
U.S. wrestlers participated in the Takhti Cup in 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003, and they also participated in the 1998 World Freestyle Championships when they were held in Iran. U.S. participation in the February 1998 Takhti tournament, especially after it rejected 1995 and 1996 invitations, led to speculation that U.S.-Iran "wrestling diplomacy" would recreate U.S.-China "ping-pong diplomacy" of the 1970s. That process hit a bump when Iranian wrestlers coming to an April 1998 tournament in Oklahoma were detained at Chicago's O'Hare Airport for several hours for fingerprinting and photographs.
The Takhti tournament ended on 20 February with Iran in first place, IRNA reported. Iran's 159 wrestlers earned six gold, six silver, and seven bronze medals. Russia came in second and Turkey placed third. The United States ended up in seventh place. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN HOSTS CONFERENCE ON PERSIAN GULF. The two-day 14th International Conference on the Persian Gulf began in Tehran on 17 February, with the audience hearing speeches by President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami (read out by a Foreign Ministry official), Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, Iranian news agencies reported. Researchers from 25 countries participated in the event.
Khatami said the Persian Gulf is passing through one of its most difficult periods because of the "unilateral policies" employed by unnamed "big powers," IRNA reported. Khatami called for the foreign forces occupying Iraq to leave the country.
Kharrazi said regional powers should promote and define regional security jointly, and he called for greater regional economic cooperation, IRNA reported. He expressed the hope that cooperation and confidence building among regional states might lead to the departure of foreign forces in the Persian Gulf. Kharrazi described the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq as, in IRNA's words, "the most obvious example of the failure of U.S. policies in the Middle East."
Shamkhani said unilateralism leads to regional instability and that Iran is trying to ensure that "unilateralism is only a transition stage," ISNA reported. Shamkhani also called for greater regional cooperation. (Bill Samii)
IRAN ENCOURAGES IRAQ-BASED MUJAHEDIN TO RETURN. Iraqi Governing Council member Muhsin Abd-al-Hamid met on 17 February with an unnamed individual identified only as "the Iranian ambassador to Iraq" (Iran is represented in Iraq by charge d'affaires Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, who was appointed in December 2003; he previously served as consul-general in Herat) and said Iran is ready to receive members of the armed opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) after they receive pardons, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Voice of the Mujahedin reported.
German Federal Border Police arrested 11 suspected MKO members at Frankfurt's Rhein-Main Airport, IRNA reported on 17 February, citing the daily "Die Tageszeitung." The individuals had arrived from Amman, and the authorities confiscated their passports. The 11 face deportation hearings and, according to the report, another 11 MKO members might have their asylums revoked.
The U.S. State Department views the Iraq-based MKO as a foreign terrorist organization and, since President George W. Bush declared "the end of combat operations" in Iraq on 1 May 2003, Washington has been at something of a loss over how to deal with its personnel. Tehran has offered an amnesty to lower-ranking MKO members. (Bill Samii)