5 April 2004, Volume 7, Number 13
PARLIAMENT AWAITS ADDITIONAL-PROTOCOL-ACCESSION BILL. The Iranian parliament resumed work after the Norouz recess on 4 April. Shortly before it went on break, parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said that the legislature is ready to start debating ratification of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). However, Karrubi added, the executive branch must submit the bill to the legislative branch, and it has not done so yet, "Mardom Salari" reported on 14 March. Karrubi added, "But I do believe that the government will hand the bill to the parliament when it feels that it is expedient to do so." He added that the parliament is "completely ready" to review the bill.
Given the results of the 20 February elections, the current, outgoing parliament is more likely to have a positive take on the Additional Protocol than the one that will be sworn-in in late May.
Ahvaz parliamentary representative Mohammad Kianush-Rad, who serves on the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the executive branch tries to leave other state institutions uninformed about controversial projects, "Nasim-i Saba" reported on 17 March. He went on to say that the parliament has a questioning-and-supervisory function and it can therefore cause problems for such projects. It would be best, therefore, if the government keeps the parliament informed. Kianush-Rad said that the committee was not fully apprised on the Additional Protocol and it therefore had to do its own research.
Kianush-Rad said that the legislators understand that the production of weapons of mass destruction would not only be uneconomical, but would also not contribute to the country's national security, "Nasim-i Saba" reported. The legislators therefore decided it would be better to concentrate on economic development. He added that the parliamentarians openly and clearly advocated Iran's signing the Additional Protocol.
Tehran's Elahe Kulyai also serves on the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee. At the 14 March legislative session, she demanded that Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani answer the legislature's questions about nuclear developments, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. She said that Rohani had reported to the Expediency Council about this issue and the legislature should be informed, too.
Kulyai concurred with Kianush-Rad about the legislature's supervisory role, "Nasim-i Saba" reported on 11 March. She complained that officials involved with the nuclear issue were asked to answer the committee's question but they failed to do so satisfactorily. Due to this lack of information, Kulyai said, the nuclear issue has been beyond the legislature's purview and decision making related to the issue has not involved the parliament. Everything related to the nuclear issue is concentrated in the Supreme National Security Council, but the parliament is supposed to supervise and ask questions about Iran's nuclear activities.
Kulyai added that the situation was different with the previous parliament (1996-2000). During that time government officials, the legislators on the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, members of related committees, the Supreme National Security Council, and the military held common views. The legislature is out of the loop now, and information reached it only after being published by the international media.
The incoming conservative parliament is not likely to make such uncomfortable demands. In fact, a number of deputies-elect have criticized Tehran's cooperation and its decision to accede to the Additional Protocol.
One of the leading conservatives, sitting Tehran representative Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, said, "Iran's signature should be conditional on a positive attitude by the [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)]. The government and parliament must examine the Additional Protocol seriously...joining the Additional Protocol must not be a one-sided affair," "Etemad" reported on 23 August 2003. "If the IAEA fulfills its obligations, then [parliamentarians] can explain to the people why it would be justified to sign the Additional Protocol," he added.
Former "student" hostage taker and Ambassador to Syria Hussein Sheikholeslam said, "Suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran is an imposed demand by the U.S. and Europe," according to the Islamic Iran Developers Council website on 28 February (http://www.abadgaran.ir). He continued: "The best way to confront this bullying is resistance...because the NPT and Additional Protocol do not rule out production of nuclear fuel for nuclear power plants. Therefore, suspension of uranium enrichment is an imposition of Western demands and is fundamentally unacceptable."
Referring to the Additional Protocol, Sheikholeslam said: "Unfortunately the sixth parliament not only did not help the government on the issue of the Additional Protocol but pressured the government to yield to European demands. It pressed for the signing of the Additional Protocol. This was a mistake, which eventually led to signing of the Additional Protocol and suspension of uranium enrichment. Iran is not obligated to abide by the Additional Protocol before its ratification by the parliament." Sheikholeslam concluded: "Americans are greedy in nature. They will not give up until they destroy us." (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN'S NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES CAUSE INTERNATIONAL CONCERN. Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi announced on 28 March that the uranium-processing plant in Isfahan will begin producing uranium hexafluoride, uranium metal, and uranium oxide 20 days after the end of the testing phase, which has already begun, state radio reported. These are primary compounds in the nuclear fuel cycle, he said. (Uranium hexafluoride can be used as feedstock in centrifuge enrichment, and uranium metal can be used for laser enrichment.)
Aqazadeh-Khoi said that uranium processing is not subject to any previous agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming confirmed this, dpa reported.
Aqazadeh-Khoi said that Iran's Supreme National Security Council has given instructions for the construction of uranium-enrichment centrifuges to be suspended, state radio reported. He added that Iran voluntarily expanded the suspension to include the production of components and assembly of nuclear installations.
Aqazadeh-Khoi described this as a measure to gain the IAEA's trust, according to state radio. He said, "Let the world know that Iran is doing this voluntarily to win greater trust in the world." "Iran is making this unilateral decision in the expectation that Iran's nuclear dossier will be taken off the IAEA's agenda," he added.
Iran's behavior has not earned it the trust it seeks from anyone.
A 31 March statement from the governments of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom discouraged Iran from its announced intention of producing uranium hexafluoride, metal uranium, and uranium oxide, news agencies reported. According to the statement, "This announcement sends the wrong signal about Iranian willingness to implement a suspension of nuclear enrichment-related activities," the "Financial Times" reported on 1 April. It added: "It will make it more difficult for Iran to restore international confidence in its activities. Iran must explain its announcement and its intentions," Reuters reported on 31 March. Foreign ministers from the EU "Big Three" had visited Tehran in October and made concessions -- including provision of easier access to modern technology and supplies -- in exchange for Tehran's promise to suspend uranium enrichment and cooperate with the IAEA (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003).
Moreover, an internal IAEA report notes that inspectors' earlier visits were stage-managed, Reuters reported on 31 March. "The agency's visit [in January 2004] was 'managed' by the Iranians in the sense that the inspectors were not permitted to take pictures with IAEA cameras or use their own electronic equipment," the IAEA document said. Anonymous Western diplomats also told Reuters that new intelligence indicates that Iran has a secret uranium-enrichment program that could produce fuel for an atomic bomb. There is suspicion that enrichment activities have been relocated from Natanz, a site that IAEA inspectors currently in Iran are expected to visit. "We've got lot of intelligence about small enrichment plants [in Iran] for some months, going back to the November [IAEA] board meeting," a Western diplomat said.
Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Piruz Husseini told Reuters that such allegations are "baseless" and reflect efforts to destroy Iran-IAEA cooperation.
Husseini also rejected European expressions of concern about his country's nuclear intentions and maintained that Iran is committed to cooperating with Europe, Reuters reported on 1 April. Husseini said, "It's a totally separate issue from our commitment to the suspension of uranium enrichment," adding that Tehran would talk with the EU "Big Three" about their criticism in the coming days.
Parliamentarian-elect Ahmad Tavakoli from Tehran was more outspoken in his 1 April reaction to the Europeans' criticism, dpa reported. Tavakoli said the Europeans' statements show that they, as well as the United States, want to deprive Iran of the right to peaceful nuclear pursuits. He added that the activities at Isfahan are purely for research and the IAEA is aware of them.
Meanwhile, an anonymous U.S. official said the administration of President George W. Bush suspects that Iran has "dispersed" its uranium-enrichment program to small and hard-to-detect sites, the "Financial Times" reported on 2 April. These facilities are distinct from the large one at Natanz and are run by the military, Washington believes. (Bill Samii)
SUPREME LEADER'S REPRESENTATIVE HOPES ISRAELIS WILL KILL EACH OTHER. Representing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a 28 March memorial ceremony in Tehran for Hamas leader Shaykh Ahmad Yassin, who was assassinated on 22 March by Israeli forces, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Hassan Akhtari said that he hopes the Palestinians will destroy Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. He said this would result in a civil war in which the Israelis would kill each other. Akhtari predicted that the killing of Yassin will unite Palestinian organizations. Also in attendance were parliamentary speaker Karrubi, Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei, and other local and foreign dignitaries, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)
WASHINGTON EXPOSED IRANIAN SPIES. As a reaction to the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers housing facility in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. service members, the U.S. government in 1997 revealed the identities of Iranian intelligence officers to governments worldwide, "USA Today" reported on 30 March, citing an anonymous "high-level U.S. official and a former top official who was serving at the time of the operation." Many Iranian spies were exposed in Operation Sapphire, and some of them were expelled from the countries in which they were stationed. Iranian targeting of Americans subsequently ended.
Iranian Ambassador to the UN Mohammad Javad Zarif told "USA Today," "Iran has never been involved in any terrorism, including terrorism against the United States."
Former U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Louis Freeh and former FBI counterterrorism chief Dale Watson testified in a U.S. federal court in December 2003 that two Iranian government security agencies and senior Iranian officials were responsible for the Khobar Towers bombing, and Iran is referred to almost 40 times in the June 2001 indictment relating to the bombing (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 June 2001 and 8 December 2003). (Bill Samii)
U.S. LIFTS SANCTIONS ON SOME COMPANIES SUPPLYING IRAN, APPLIES THEM TO OTHERS. The U.S. government on 1 April lifted sanctions against several Russian companies accused of illegally providing weapons-related technological assistance to Iran during the 1990s, the BBC and lenta.ru reported on 2 April. Among the companies affected were Grafit, the Energotekhnika Research and Construction Institute, Evropalas-2000, and the Volskii Mechanics Plant. Sanctions against the companies were put in place in 1998 and 1999.
Sanctions remain in place against several other Russian enterprises, including KBP Tula.
U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton told the House International Relations Committee on 30 March that Washington soon will announce sanctions on 13 businesses it believes are supplying Iran with weapons technology, the "Financial Times" reported on 31 March. "Companies around the world have a choice: trade in WMD [weapons-of-mass-destruction] materials with proliferators, or trade with the United States, but not both," Bolton said.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli announced on 2 April the application of sanctions against companies and individuals for allegedly supplying Iran with equipment and expertise that could be used in making nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, RFE/RL reported. "Pursuant to the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, the United States imposed penalties on 13 companies that engaged in providing prohibited items to Iran. Those companies include five Chinese, two Macedonian, two Russian and one of -- one from Belarus, one from North Korea, one from Taiwan, and one from the United Arab Emirates."
The next day, parliamentarian Hassan Qashqavi denounced the imposition of sanctions, IRNA reported. "Iran regards the U.S. charges against its nuclear program as a baseless accusation. The United States has made the Iranian nuclear program a tool for its propaganda campaign," he added. (Rob Coalson, Bill Samii)
TEHRAN LEVELS ACCUSATIONS AGAINST U.S. AFTER UZBEK ATTACKS. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami in a 30 March message to his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov offered his condolences for the 28-29 March bombings in Bukhara and Tashkent, IRNA reported, and condemned all acts of violence and terror. Commentaries on Iranian state radio's external broadcasts have focused less on the bombings than on leveling accusations against the United States, with messages in different languages tailored for their intended audiences.
The first incident was a bomb blast in the home of a militant or militant sympathizer in Bukhara on 28 March that reportedly killed 10 people. Three militiamen were killed in two separate attacks in Tashkent on the night of 28-29 March. And on 29 March in Tashkent, three militiamen and one child were killed in two bombings. Uzbek Prosecutor-General Rashid Qodirov announced in a 29 March news conference in Tashkent that 19 people were killed and 26 wounded as a result of the bombings and attacks on 28 and 29 March, adding that four suspected suicide bombers were among those killed, AP reported.
"There are hidden interests behind such terrorist operations," according to a 30 March English-language commentary on Iranian state radio. The commentary said the bombings would give the United States a pretext for its military presence in Uzbekistan and Central Asia. An indication that the United States wants to take advantage of the situation, according to the commentary, is that "the United States was among the first countries to condemn the Tashkent blast." It added, "the United States might take advantage of the situation to bring its tanks closer to Russia." "At international level too, the United States might declare Muslims [to be responsible and] behind these operations; and thus continue to advance its anti-Islamic policies," the commentary concluded.
As it did in the English-language commentary, Iranian state radio's Persian-language broadcast from Mashhad also accused the United States of using the events in Uzbekistan as a justification for its military presence in Central Asia. In an added flair for its Persian-speaking audience, which is mainly in Afghanistan, it also said that the incidents would be a pretext for a U.S. presence in South Asia, adding that the U.S. military presence in Uzbekistan contributes to insecurity there. In another change in the commentary, Iranian state radio's Persian-language broadcast said that the incidents in Uzbekistan would move Washington and Moscow closer together in their fight against terrorism.
Iranian state radio was more consistent in accusing the United States of opposing Islam. "It can also be predicted at international level that the U.S. may blame the recent terrorist acts in Uzbekistan on Muslims in order to stress that there is a connection between terrorism and Islam and to implement its anti-Islamic plans," Iranian state radio claimed. (Liz Fuller, Bill Samii, Daniel Kimmage)
TEHRAN COMMENTS ON AL-FALLUJAH KILLINGS. A commentary on Iranian state radio on 2 April about the recent brutal killing of U.S. civilians in the Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah leveled new accusations against the United States. In that 31 March incident, four U.S. civilians were shot and burned in their cars; their bodies were then mutilated and dragged through the streets; and finally, two of the corpses were suspended from a bridge. Tehran radio said that the U.S. promise to remain in Iraq regardless is a reaction motivated by the current presidential campaign. The Iranian commentary went on to accuse the U.S. State Department of employing "fresh propaganda" in order to "legitimize America's military presence in Iraq." (Bill Samii)
IRAN, IRAQ TO BUILD RAILWAY LINKS. The unnamed "managing director of Iraq's railway authority" announced on 1 April that Iran and Iraq have agreed to the construction of two railway lines, Iranian state radio reported. The first railway will link Baghdad and Tehran via Qasr-i Shirin and Kermanshah, and the second railway will link Al-Basrah and Khorramshahr via Shalamcheh. Feasibility studies will start as soon as possible, state radio reported. A similar report, citing an official source at the Iraqi State Railway Company, appeared in the "Al-Mashriq" newspaper on 31 March. Iraqi Transport Minister Bahnam Zayya Bulis had said during a 21 September 2003 meeting with Iranian charge d'affaires Ali Reza Haqiqian that Iraq wants to cooperate with Iran in creating a railway network, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN GETS TOUGH WITH AFGHAN AND IRAQI REFUGEES. Ahmad Husseini, the Iranian Interior Ministry official in charge of refugee affairs, said on 29 March that a plan for repatriating Afghan refugees will go into effect on 3 April, IRNA reported. He added that the Iranian government will curtail facilities it makes available to the refugees, and only the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry is authorized to issue work permits. Husseini said the government could expel, assimilate, or repatriate the Afghan refugees, adding, "The option for assimilation is fully rejected because all of the country's officials are against it." Husseini added that the government has adopted a get-tough policy for refugees who break the law.
The next day, Husseini said that the repatriation of Iraqi refugees began after the ouster of Saddam Hussein and will continue until the refugee camps are emptied, IRNA reported on 30 March. He said the Ashrafi Isfahani refugee camp and the Dezful refugee camp in Khuzestan Province have already been cleared, in accordance with a plan developed by the Interior Ministry and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Husseini said 70,000 Iraqis have returned home voluntarily. He added that in a 2001 survey there were 202,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran, and that number is down to 125,000 now.
UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers announced the repatriation of Iraqis in July 2003 during a visit to Iran. (For more on the refugee situation in Iran, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 January and 5 June 2000; 23 July, 20 August, and 10 September 2001; 21 January, 18 February, 9 and 23 December 2002; 13 January, 28 July, and 22 December 2003; and 22 March 2004). (Bill Samii)
DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE: TEHRAN ON HUMAN RIGHTS. The Islamic Revolution Court sentenced Peyman Piran, a student activist who has been in custody since February, to 10 years in prison, "Sharq" reported on 3 April. He faced accusations of acting against national security, contacting foreigners, disturbing public opinion, and behaving insultingly. Farhad Dehqan, a student activist at Shiraz University, recently received a suspended six-month jail sentence for defending the imprisoned Hashem Aghajari in a speech, ILNA reported on 3 April
"No country enjoys the freedom, democracy, and press freedom that currently exists in our country," judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said on 30 March, Fars News Agency reported. Turning to a recent UN report on the state of human rights in Iran, Hashemi-Shahrudi called on the inspectors to report the realities of what they have seen in Iran.
Ambeyi Ligabo, the UN's special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, visited Iran in the first week of November (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 November 2003). According to his report about the trip, there is a "climate of fear induced by the systematic repression of people expressing critical views against the authorized political and religious doctrine and the functioning of institutions," AFP reported on 11 March. Ligabo noted that hard-liner-controlled unelected institutions effectively exclude elected reformists from actual participation in the system.
Ligabo also reported that the imposition of severe and disproportionate sentences has resulted in self-censorship by all segments of the population, including intellectuals, journalists, politicians, and students. As stated in the report, many Iranians told Ligabo that "there is freedom of expression, but there is no freedom after expression."
Hashemi-Shahrudi's comments are only the most recent instance of Iranian officials defending their human rights stance.
Judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham spoke out after Canada initiated a resolution in the United Nations in November that denounced Iran's use of torture and limits on freedom of expression. Elham said the West is using the human rights issue as a weapon against Islam, "Mardom Salari" reported on 24 November. Acts by Israel and the United States are "a way to avoid accountability to world public opinion, in fact, by attacking Islamic civilization, the Westerners have sought to massacre a civilization." He dismissed criticism of public executions, saying this is done only in cases of gruesome crimes against women and children, adding, "If the West supports women's rights, how is it that it attacks these punishments."
Elham also accused the Canadian justice system of being the world's worst, most backward, and most racist. "An Iranian is killed with 12 bullets by the Canadian police and because he is a Muslim, Canada does not pay the least attention to his rights."
When Ligabo visited Iran in November he asked the authorities to release all political prisoners. London-based human rights activist Hussein Bagherzadeh told RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari that it is difficult to know precisely how many of them there are. "At the moment, we have the names of about 30 or 40 people who have been known and [whose names have been] published in the Iranian press. We believe that the real number [of political prisoners] runs into the hundreds of people," Bagherzadeh said.
"The authorities never produce or publish the exact figures," he added. "The families sometimes are reluctant to announce the arrest of their loved ones because they are afraid that makes bad publicity for them, and also because there are many arrests done in the provinces and cities outside the capital where the local press is not very active or free to report. Also, there are various bodies in Iran who go out and arrest people and are not controlled by the government, and again, they are reluctant to let people know who they are holding [and] why they are holding [them]."
Indeed, student Ahmad Batebi, while on a prison furlough, gave Ligabo a list of political prisoners. Batebi described the list in an interview with Radio Farda correspondent Farin Assemi. "I have compiled and submitted a list of about 50 political prisoners in various prisons in Iran, as well as their personal identification and the crimes they are accused of," Batebi said. "I tried, as far as my memory served, to describe instances of violations of human rights, of illegal pressure during the prefabrication of cases, of interrogations of prisoners at the time of prosecution -- which is customary -- and to describe those whose cases could be helped from a legal aspect, as well as the prisoners' appalling physical conditions and endless problems with health."
Batebi disappeared soon thereafter.
Amnesty International spokesman Drewery Dyke told RFE/RL correspondents Charles Recknagel and Azam Gorgin in November that Batebi's case points to a pattern in Iran of incarcerating people on vague charges that ignores normal legal practice and violates basic human rights. "What is of concern in particular is the secret nature of that trial and the ongoing incarceration without a clear sense of what it is based on. [Amnesty International] has certainly raised concerns in the past about the use of very vague provisions in the law relating to national security that seem to compromise, that seem to encroach, on freedom of association," Dyke said. (Bill Samii)
SUPERVISORY BODY TO ANNOUNCE MORE ELECTION RESULTS. Mohammad Jahromi, who is in charge of election affairs at the Guardians Council, announced on 31 March that the council would decide on the final election results in Azad Shahr, Bandar Anzali, Behbahan, Esrafiyan, Lahijan, Ramian, and Shirvan on 4 April, ILNA reported. Jahromi said that there will be a second round of voting in 39 constituencies where candidates did not earn a sufficient number of votes to win outright. There also will be a second round in Babolsar and Fereidunkenar constituency, where the winning conservative candidate resigned after several days of rioting by the locals (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 March 2004). Jahromi said 64 candidates will be elected in the second round, after 220 were elected in the first round.
The seventh parliament will begin work on 27 May.
Mohammad Ali Moshfeq, the Interior Ministry official in charge of elections, announced on 3 April that the second round will take place between 20 and 30 April, "Iran" reported. He added that the Interior Ministry would announce the specific date shortly after the Guardians Council announces the results for 10 remaining constituencies. (Bill Samii)
PARLIAMENT TO QUESTION CABINET MEMBERS. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari will appear before the legislature at its first session of the new year on 4 April to answer questions posed by Qom representative Ali Yasrebi, and Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei will face questioning from Khuzestan Province representatives about the poor cultural situation there, ILNA reported on 31 March. Other items that will be on the agenda in that first week will be parliamentarians' resignations, complaints from the families of national-religious activists, and various committee reports, ISNA reported on 30 March.
Parliamentary speaker Karrubi said in the first legislative session on 4 April, in a reference to the disqualification of incumbent parliamentarians as candidates for the February elections, that there should be an investigation into this, ISNA reported. Karrubi said that he raised this point in a meeting with Supreme Leader Khamenei before the elections, and Khamenei said the elections should be held on time and the matter could be investigated afterwards. Karrubi added, "I ask the eminent leader to appoint a commission to investigate the violation of the rights of these individuals." (Bill Samii)
IRAN CONSIDERS A CIVIL DEFENSE ORGANIZATION. The head of Iran's Statistics Center, Abbas Ali Zali, on 29 March announced that the final casualty figures for the 26 December earthquake in Bam have been revised, state television reported. Zali said 26,271 people from Bam and surrounding locales were killed, and that the overall population in the region before the earthquake was 142,376. Early reports put the number of dead at 20,000 to 50,000 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5, 12, and 19 January 2004).
The survivors of the earthquake are having a difficult time. Pari lost her daughter and husband in the quake and her home was flattened, and she has not received the medical attention she requires and still does not have a permanent accommodation. "The government has forgotten the people of Bam," she said according to "The Guardian" on 2 April. "We didn't think three months on we'd still be living in a tent. We thought that within 20 days or at least a month we'd be living in temporary housing," she said. Pari and other local people said that they must pay money for work crews to remove the rubble. The government refuses to allow foreign journalists to go to Bam since locals rioted in March over the poor way they are being treated (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 March 2004).
More people might have been saved immediately after the earthquake if some sort of rescue organization had existed, and even without such an organization, provision of shelter and aid for the survivors would have been facilitated by the existence of a pre-existing aid network. After the Bam earthquake, President Khatami said that the resurrection of the country's civil defense organization is necessary for modern management of relief work, Radio Farda reported on 1 January. The Iranian Civil Defense Organization, established in 1957 to deal mainly with natural disasters and run by the Interior Ministry, was dissolved after the 1979 revolution.
Khatami was not the only official to call for its revival. Jiroft parliamentary representative Ahmad Pishbin said that the country needs a civil defense organization, "Nasim-i Saba" reported on 3 January. He described this as a necessity in case of emergencies like earthquakes, where an organized response would be more rapid and effective. Pishbin expressed the belief that various state institutions -- the military, the Red Crescent, the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, and the police -- back this idea.
The mayor of Tehran also recommended creation of a civil defense organization for the capital. After a number of discussions on the subject, the city council decided to shelve the idea for two months, "Iran" reported on 25 February. The city already has a crisis management center, and most council members objected to the creation of a new civil defense organization that could lead to duplication of effort. Maziar Husseini, who heads the crisis management center, told council members that institutions connected with the center do not cooperate enough, "Iran" reported. (Bill Samii)
TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS ON THE RISE IN NEW YEAR. The deputy chief of the traffic police, Brigadier General Mohsen Ansari, said on 30 March that there has been a 10.6 percent increase in traffic accidents during the Norouz holiday period in the current year compared to the preceding year, Mehr News Agency reported. He said there had been 20,000 traffic accidents over the last 12 days. The majority of accidents have occurred in the cities. The number of fatalities in the new year has reached 201, Ansari said, compared to 150 last year. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN BACKS OPEC PRODUCTION CUT. Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said on 30 March in Vienna that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) should go ahead with its planned million-barrel-per-day production cut, AFP reported. The decision was made at OPEC's meeting in Algiers on 10 February. Saudi Arabia is pushing for the production cut, too, according to a 31 March report in "The New York Times." OPEC currently produces about 26 million barrels of oil a day -- one-third of the global oil supply.
Algeria, Libya, and Venezuela also back the Saudi move, "The New York Times" reported. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates appeared to be less enthusiastic about it. Russia and Mexico, which are not OPEC members, have indicated that oil prices are too high.
U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said in a 31 March statement that OPEC's decision to cut production was a disappointment, the U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs reported (http://usinfo.state.gov). He said the White House is telling "big producers" that "high energy prices are unacceptable."
Although Washington is concerned about the production cut's potential to increase prices at the gasoline pump, it has applied little pressure on OPEC members to maintain production at present levels, according to an anonymous "senior official from an OPEC country" cited by "The New York Times." (Bill Samii)
IRAN-ARMENIA GAS TALKS NEARING CONCLUSION. Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian said on 29 March that the agreement on construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline should be concluded in early April, Armenian Public Television reported the same day and Iranian state radio reported on 31 March. Construction of the actual pipeline is expected to start at the end of 2004 and is expected to take 20 months. A total of $100 million has been allocated for building the Armenian side of the pipeline, while the Iranian section of the project, to be built by the National Iranian Gas Company, has a slightly larger funding allocation, Armenian Public Television reported. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW FOR CASPIAN TALKS. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi will visit Moscow on 5 April to participate in a meeting of his counterparts from the Caspian Sea littoral states, IRNA reported on 2 April. The meeting of officials from Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan will begin on 6 April. Russian President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for Caspian affairs, Viktor Kalyuzhnyi, said the topics to be discussed will include division of the Caspian Sea's fishing resources and military activities by littoral states. (Bill Samii)