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Iran Report: May 3, 2004

3 May 2004, Volume 7, Number 16

KHATAMI RESHUFFLES CABINET AMID CONSERVATIVE COMPLAINTS. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami partially reshuffled his cabinet, to "give it cohesion and create greater coordination in the government's economic team," IRNA quoted the government spokesman, Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, as saying on 20 April. The change will help the government "attain its economic aims in the remaining year and a half of its activity," he added. Parliament swiftly approved the change, confirming former Labor and Social Affairs Minister Safdar Husseini as economic affairs and finance minister. He ceded the Labor Ministry to Nasser Khaleqi, a legislator from Isfahan who must now resign his seat. Mohammad Satarifar, the head of the Management and Planning Organization, the state economic-planning and budgeting body, will also leave, though not before the fourth five-year development plan, currently being debated in parliament, becomes law.

The reshuffle was prompted by the inability of Satarifar to work with the former finance minister, Tahmasb Mazaheri. Khatami has insisted that Satarifar left of his own accord, and was not dismissed, ISNA reported on 21 April. He is to become a presidential adviser after he steps down, though it is not clear if this is a formal position. Khatami has stressed that he is satisfied with the performance of his ministers and that the reshuffle is not a reflection of anyone's "weakness."

Conservative critics have protested that the change is a political maneuver, intended to consolidate the president's position with the help of the current reformist-dominated parliament. The next legislature, due to begin its term in late May, is not expected to be as cooperative.

Conservatives observe that both new ministers are members of the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), many of whose members were barred by the conservative-controlled Guardians Council from running in the last parliamentary elections. Elias Naderan, due to represent a Tehran constituency in the next parliament and a member of the conservative Developers group, has warned that if the president does not offer a "suitable justification for the cabinet reshuffle...the seventh parliament will have to reshuffle his cabinet," "Iran" reported on 25 April.

Mohammad Shahi-Arablu, a conservative legislator for Hashtrud, said that the president did not consult members of the coming parliament, and warned that if "the president wishes to continue" such "radical" measures, "the seventh parliament will give him his response," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 24 April. The changes "will not enhance interaction with the seventh parliament nor create a more responsive cabinet," Musa Qorbani, another conservative lawmaker, said in parliament on 24 April, "Entekhab" reported the next day. He said that aside from "a lot of statistics which even government people say were not accurate, we have not seen any creativity or initiative from [Safdar Husseini, when he was labor minister]." Mohammad Reza Bahonar, another prominent conservative, said he believes that "the government could have given a better green light on interacting with the seventh parliament," "Iran" reported on 25 April. The president has said that it did not occur to him that the new ministers are IIPP members, and the reshuffle has "no political significance," "Entekhab" reported on 26 April.

Reformers have defended the appointments, firstly saying that Khatami is legally entitled to shift cabinet ministers, and attacking the conservatives for their inconsistency -- they complained for so long about the government's negligence of the economy and weak performance, and now they object to a proposed remedy.

"This legal decision should be accepted by all those who have made 'development' their slogan and promised to end tensions and quarrels," Elaheh Kulayi, a Tehran legislator, was cited as saying by "Aftab-i Yazd" on 24 April.

Another reformist parliamentarian, Meisam Sa'idi, said that conservatives in the next parliament probably have no intention of working with Khatami, "because of their fundamental views," the daily reported.

Safdar Husseini told parliament on 25 April that he would work to ensure annual 8 percent economic growth, keep inflation in check, strengthen the national currency, ensure "social justice, reduce inequalities, and assure a fair distribution of incomes and assets," "Iran" reported on 26 April. "The banking system must be freed from its current regulations and market mechanisms must apply, and here we must also give private banks a greater scope for activity," the daily quoted him as saying.

"The reality is that Iran's economy is state-oriented, incoherent, closed, monopolistic, and dependent on oil, and the government is determined that our economy should come out of this condition and become a dynamic economy," "Iran" quoted him as saying. New Labor Minister Khaleqi promised in Tehran to raise workers' salaries to "realistic" levels and "raise the workforce's level of welfare," "Entekhab" reported on 27 April. He told parliament on 25 April that changes in education are needed to meet the needs of the job market, "Iran" reported the next day.

Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi confirmed on 18 April that Interior Minister Abdulvahid Musavi-Lari "stays in his place," dispelling earlier rumors on his resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2004). (Vahid Sepehri)

U.S. REPEATS NUCLEAR-BOMB CHARGES AGAINST IRAN... U.S. officials reiterated their concerns and charges over Iran's nuclear program, which they suspect may deliver bombs one day. President George W. Bush said on 21 April that it would be "intolerable to peace and stability in the Middle East" if Iran has nuclear bombs, as its "stated aim is the destruction of Israel," Reuters reported. He warned that Iran would be "dealt with, starting through the United Nations," if it pursued nuclear-weapon ambitions.

On 27 April, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said in New York that Iran is deceiving the world over its nuclear activities and, "if we permit [its] deception to go on much longer, it will be too late," because Iran "will have nuclear weapons," AFP reported. Bolton said at a meeting to prepare for a conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) next year that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will "at some point" have to report Iran to the UN Security Council and, if the council cannot meet the Iranian "threat to international peace and security," it will undermine its own credibility and the nonproliferation regime, AFP added.

According to Iranian exile Alireza Jafari and unnamed diplomats, Iran has two nuclear programs, one it shows to UN inspectors, and a secret one designed to make bombs, run by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) following the orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Reuters reported on 27 April. (Vahid Sepehri)

...AND IRAN REJECTS THEM. Iranian officials continue to reject any and all accusations that they are secretly developing nuclear weapons. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi rejected on 22 April in London the U.S. president's statements as "deluded", and accused the United States of drawing conclusions from its own "baseless charges." A nuclear-weapon program is "basically not a part of our security strategies," he said, adding that the IAEA, "has confirmed that no evidence has been found to confirm American claims," IRNA quoted him as saying on 22 April. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi rejected on 28 April the statements by Bolton as "without evidence and reason," IRNA reported the same day. U.S. allegations, he said, are designed to make a "security cordon for Israel" and its nuclear program, "a serious threat to the region."

They were anticipated in their remarks by Ayatollah Khamenei, who denounced such suspicions on 18 April as nothing but "the profound concern of the arrogant" over Iran's "startling scientific progress, especially in nuclear technology," ISNA reported. "Those provoking a scandal in this regard know very well that we have not sought, nor do we seek, nuclear weapons, and it is in fact Iran's technological and scientific capabilities that really worry them," he told a group of military cadets in Tehran.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for legal and international affairs Gholamali Khoshru, who represented Iran at the United Nations meeting to prepare for the conference to review the NPT in 2005, said that "after a year's close inspections by [IAEA] inspectors, there is no evidence of any deviation in our nuclear programs," "Iran" reported on 29 April. "I think it necessary to state that America is not a competent authority to comment on others' compliance with nonproliferation rules." The United States, he said, has itself broken its NPT obligations, according to "Iran," and "we think that America's problem has another source," namely "its suspect record...of active support for [Israel's] nuclear program," which is outside IAEA supervision, "Iran" added. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN SAYS IT HAS SUPPLIED 'COMPLETE' NUCLEAR INFORMATION. Iranian officials said on 24 April that Iran has given UN nuclear inspectors "complete" explanations of recent discoveries that prompted suspicions over its nuclear activities, AP reported. Mohammad Saidi, who heads the international affairs department of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, said his country has fully explained the discovery of traces of weapons-grade uranium on equipment and of research documents for advanced centrifuges that could be used in bomb making to five IAEA inspectors, AP reported. They arrived in Iran on 12 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004) to supervise the suspension of uranium enrichment and centrifuge manufacture and departed on 23 April. Saidi said another group of inspectors arrived in Tehran on 24 April for "routine" inspections.

The arrival of those inspectors is "within the framework of a working program between Iran and the agency to clarify certain questions," quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi as saying on 25 April. "These negotiations will continue...and inspectors will inspect the sites...[that] they consider necessary." He urged Europe and the agency to honor "their commitments" to Iran. Mutual respect, he said, "will mean greater cooperation and resolve ambiguities."

Another IAEA inspection team is to arrive in Iran at the end of May, "Iran" reported on 27 April, citing IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming. She reportedly told IRNA that the inspectors are to complete their report to the IAEA board of governors, before it meets on 14 June, according to "Iran." IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei is due to present a report on Iran's nuclear activities to the board of governors in June. (Vahid Sepehri)

INTELLIGENCE MINISTER DENIES NUCLEAR SECRETS LEAK. Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi denied a report that agents have arrested Iranian scientists for passing nuclear secrets abroad, Reuters reported on 21 April. The weekly "Ya-Lesarat" carried a relevant report without stating to whom secrets were allegedly passed, Reuters added. But an Iranian exile, Alireza Jafarzadeh, and unnamed diplomats have stated that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps is now watching some 400 Iranian nuclear scientists to prevent any information leaks, Reuters reported on 27 April. (Vahid Sepehri)

FOREIGN MINISTER TOURS EUROPEAN CAPITALS. Kamal Kharrazi toured European capitals from 19 April, to discuss bilateral relations and Iraq, but also remind Europeans to honor promises Iran says they made last October to ease its access to nuclear technology and "normalize" its dossier with the IAEA, if Tehran allows close checks of its program. He discussed Iraq and the nuclear program in Rome on 19 April with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, news agencies reported. Kharrazi told IRNA the same day that he sought to "inform Italian authorities of Iran's peaceful nuclear program and our expectations that Europe meet its commitments in this regard." Tehran, he said, "has undertaken all necessary cooperation with the IAEA and now naturally expects the Europeans to work to normalize Iran's dossier [there] and initiate nuclear relations with Iran," IRNA reported.

He was accompanied by Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi, who rejected on 19 April an Italian newspaper report that Iran asked Italy to mediate between it and the United States, which severed diplomatic ties after Iran's 1979 revolution, ISNA reported. Better ties, he said, "depend on a change in Washington's methods and need no mediation." The agency cited a report in the daily "Corriere Della Sera" on 19 April about an Iranian promise to exert its influence on Iraqi Shi'ites in exchange for Italian mediation with the United States.

Berlusconi reportedly asked Iran on 18 April to help resolve problems in Iraq and the Middle East, and accepted an invitation to visit Iran, ISNA reported the next day, citing AFP.

Kharrazi went on to Belgium on 20 April, reiterating Iran's demands to European states. "Iran has had a sincere and fully transparent cooperation with [IAEA] and Europe, and expects opposite parties to recognize and respect [its] rights," quoted him as saying. The state broadcasting body's website reported that Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel promised that Brussels "will cooperate with Iran at the [June] session of the [IAEA] governing board."

In Paris on 21 April, Kharrazi conveyed his concern to French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier that Europe may not "honor its commitments [in which case] continuing cooperation with Iran will face difficulties." Iran has presented its cooperation with the IAEA less as an obligation than indicating its desire to prove the peaceful nature of its program. Iranian officials have repeated that Iran has a right to pursue a peaceful program, undertake nuclear research, or master the nuclear fuel-production cycle, and may reconsider its helpful attitude in the absence of reciprocal concessions.

Barnier promised that Europe will honor its promises "because it considers Iran a trustworthy partner and colleague," IRNA reported on 21 April. But President Jacques Chirac reportedly criticized Iran for not revealing all its activities, and said it must do so before the "decisive" June meeting of the IAEA board of governors, according to "The New York Times" on 22 April. The daily cited an unnamed French official as calling the Iranians "clever cheaters," who make pledges to uncover their controversial program and then "try to find ways around them." Kharrazi made a point of rejecting an unspecified U.S. daily's report that he had had a frosty meeting with Chirac on 21 April, IRNA reported the next day. "Naturally the Americans are dissatisfied with the expansion of Iran's ties with European states, especially France, which is why they make these baseless claims."

His visit concluded in London on 22 April, where he held "very good" talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, according to IRNA the same day. (Vahid Sepehri)

FOURTH IRANIAN LEGISLATOR RESIGNS. Iran's parliament on 18 April approved the resignation of another legislator dissatisfied with parliamentary elections last February, IRNA reported. Three parliamentarians have already resigned (see "RFE/RL Iran Report" 19 April 2004). Parliament accepted the resignation of Behzad Nabavi, a Tehran representative and deputy speaker, one of some 120 parliamentarians who wish to quit following the extensive rejection of reformist candidacies before the last elections. There were 154 votes to accept his resignation, and 22 against it. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER DENOUNCES ELECTION INJUSTICES. The rejection of many reformist candidacies before the 20 February parliamentary polls prompted parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi on 25 April to make a vigorous denunciation of the elections and the refusal by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardians Council, which barred the hopefuls, to provide explanations. Karrubi deplored "a lot of generalizations, insults, and calumny" Jannati made against disqualified hopefuls at a public sermon in Tehran on 23 April, "Iran" reported on 26 April.

"Mr. Jannati, the fact is have nothing to say. Have the courage to say [the disqualifications] were subjective and political," Karrubi said in parliament on 25 April. "We shall repeat for the rest of our lives that in these elections, the rights of certain people were violated...and you must answer for it."

Jannati said in his sermon that it was "unreasonable" of the rejected hopefuls, who included sitting legislators, to demand public explanations on why they were barred, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 24 April. Without specifying, he attributed moral vices to them or termed them security liabilities. Should the council publicly name and shame individuals, he asked, and say of them that "his crime was that he committed adultery for example, or he had moral and sexual problems, or some other person sold smuggled goods...or spied?"

Jannati said that the Guardians Council's decisions are final, and that it had done its duty, according to "Aftab-i Yazd." It will give public explanations, he added, if the judiciary asks it to. The judiciary, controlled like the Guardians Council by conservatives, is not expected to do so. Jannati suggested the plaintiffs go to the council in person, "and if we made a mistake, we shall admit our mistake, though we shall not insist on our mistakes." Karrubi said in parliament, "you know we are not referring to those accused of corruption. We mean that you disqualified suitable people," "Iran" reported on 26 April. (Vahid Sepehri)

PARTY WANTS FORMER PRESIDENT TO RUN AGAIN. The Executives of Construction Party has reportedly asked Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a former president, to run in the next presidential election, "Aftab-i Yazd" cited an unnamed source as saying on 27 April. Rafsanjani has no plans to run "unless circumstances force him," the daily quoted his brother, Mohammad Hashemi, a member of the Executives, as saying.

Iran's Interior Ministry confirmed that it can hold the second round of last February's parliamentary elections on 7 May, in 39 constituencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004). Elections in Tehran and surrounding districts are postponed to coincide with the next presidential elections, after the Guardians Council approved a parliamentary amendment to the elections law to allow this, Fars News Agency and reported on 27 April. (Vahid Sepehri)

PRESIDENT ADMITS IRAN HAS POLITICAL PRISONERS... President Khatami said on 27 April that "we certainly have political prisoners [in Iran] and...people who are in prison for their ideas," ISNA reported the same day. "I have pursued these people's problems...and protested," he said in a meeting with representatives of several youth groups in Tehran. "I have clearly stated that I do not accept the conviction of any political or press activist unless tried in a free and fair tribunal." Some youngsters objected that he had kept quiet at "sensitive political moments" and turned the "enthusiasm [of early reform days] into despair," ISNA reported. He urged young people to be realistic, and not to compare Iran's conditions to countries "that have experienced democracy for hundreds of years." (Vahid Sepehri)

...BUT CHIEF JUSTICE DISAGREES... Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi apparently contradicted Khatami's admission at a Tehran press conference on 29 April and said that "we have no political prisoners in Iran" because Iranian law does not mention such offenses, IRNA reported. "The world may consider certain cases, by their nature, political crimes, but because we do not have a law in this regard, these are considered ordinary offenses," IRNA reported. The judiciary, he said, has sent to parliament a bill governing political offenses, but it was rejected as "incomplete," IRNA reported. The judiciary believes a similar bill presented by parliament and the Interior Ministry "has a legal problem, because the law stipulates that it is the judiciary's duty to draft a [political offenses] bill." Shahrudi said the judiciary is currently working on a bill to downgrade financial offenses from criminal to civil offenses, and one on "electronic offenses" governing Internet use, IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

...THOUGH HE ORDERS AN END TO PRISONER ABUSE... Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahrudi on 28 April instructed police, judiciary, and security personnel not to torture detainees, Reuters and local media reported that day. His directive stated that "any torture to extract confessions from the defendant or coerce [them] to other ends is forbidden, and confessions extracted thus lack religious or legal validity," according to "Kayhan." Iran's constitution bans torture, but critics said that the directive shows that it exists, Reuters reported. "Questions must be useful and clear and pertinent [to the charge] and curiosity into personal or family secrets, inquiries into past offenses, and attention to matters [irrelevant to] the case should be avoided," the directive stated, adding that interrogators must not take defendants to "unknown places" for questioning, "Kayhan" reported. Critics have accused the judiciary of holding closed trials and dispensing with juries, mostly for journalists or political detainees. (Vahid Sepehri)

...AND POLICE CHIEF URGES FORCE TO SATISFY THE PUBLIC. Iran's police chief, Mohammad Baqir Qalibaf, has urged the police to make sure "people feel safe with the presence of this force...and constantly need our presence," "Entekhab" reported on 25 April. The force must "reduce its mistakes and create a sense of satisfaction" among the public, he told a group of police graduates. Every organization has its "ugliness and beauty," he said, urging recruits to "disregard the ugliness and learn the merits" of the police and rely on "faith, piety, and patience." (Vahid Sepehri)

PRESIDENT DEPLORES VIOLENCE IN IRAQ... President Khatami said on 21 April that Iran wants peace in Iraq and "we consider incorrect any activity that disrupts order and creates instability in Iraq," ISNA reported the same day. "What we approve in Iraq are the policies and methods of [Grand] Ayatollah [Ali al-Sistani].... We have recognized the Governing Council and approve of their policies," ISNA quoted him saying at a press conference. He urged the speedy departure of the coalition forces, which he termed "a provocative source" for recent violence. "Remove the source of provocation, we told them in a message, and the disorders will automatically subside." Any attack on the Iraqi cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala by U.S.-led forces "means suicide for the occupying forces and provoking the feelings of the entire Islamic and, especially, Shi'ite world against them." (Vahid Sepehri)

...KARRUBI AGREES... The departure of occupying forces is "the only way for peace and security to return to Iraq," parliamentary speaker Karrubi said, speaking at the start of his visit to Syria and Lebanon on 19 April, IRNA reported the same day. On 20 April, he too warned U.S. forces not to enter the "sensitive, important and sacred" city of Al-Najaf to confront Shi'ite insurgents. "The occupiers have been warned to be careful lest there is a crisis in this and other holy cities in Iraq. Any unfortunate consequences of [entering the cities] will concern the American occupiers, who have complicated matters with their aggression, " IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

...AND OPPOSES U.S. PLANS FOR REGION. Karrubi expressed on 20 April Iran's opposition to stated U.S. plans to democratize the Middle East, IRNA reported. The "current American government" has shown its hostility to the Islamic world, he said, adding that "any of its plans are against the interests of regional peoples and governments, and we have explicitly declared our opposition to these plans." He stated Iran's support for the Palestinian cause. "Tehran's clear and transparent policy is the formation of an independent Palestinian state and the return of refugees to their real homeland." (Vahid Sepehri)

IRGC HEAD CALLS U.S. PLANS 'DIABOLICAL.' Yahya Rahim Safavi, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), said on 28 April that the United States has "diabolical" designs to control Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world after conquering Iraq, "and if [Saudi] Arabia is taking its distance from America now, it is for this reason," ISNA reported. He said that the United States is hostile to Iran for its "rejection of injustice and fight against lies and heresy." The United States, he said, is concerned that the "spirit of the Lebanese Hizballah and Shi'ite resistance fighters," will spread to Iraq. "The [U.S.] occupation of Iraq will fail and they will meet a far more disgraceful defeat in Iraq than in Vietnam," ISNA quoted him as telling a conference in Tehran. "The Americans have come to Iraq so they may support [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon more easily, or give greater assistance to the shameful existence of the Israelis." (Vahid Sepehri)

GENERAL SAYS IRAQ ABUSED IRANIAN WAR CAPTIVES. The head of Iran's prisoners of war commission, Brigadier General Abdullah Najafi, said on 22 April that "there are no Iraqi prisoners whatsoever in Iran" from the 1980-88 war with Iraq, ISNA reported. He said Iran's "Islamic and humane" treatment of prisoners led to 7,634 Iraqis staying in Iran, where "they currently live as Iranian citizens...and those who returned preached the Islamic religion to their families." But the Foreign Ministry "is gathering evidence to take legal action against Saddam [Hussein] because most Iranian prisoners were subjected to torture that was illegal and inhumane," he said, adding that "a number of" Iranian captives who sought asylum in Iraq were given to the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), an Iranian rebel group. "According to our reports, after the fall of the Saddam regime, these asylum seekers remain in the barracks under [MKO] guard and are not allowed to leave." Najafi accused U.S. occupying forces of preventing the Red Cross from visiting them to ask if they wish to return to Iran.

Iraqi Immigration Minister Mohammad Jassim Khudayr has reportedly pledged the expulsion from Iraq by June of the MKO, reported on 19 April. "While certain international organizations have pressured us not to expel [MKO] from Iraq, they must leave Iraq on 30 June," the agency quoted him as saying at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad. The MKO, which seeks to topple Iran's government, enjoyed the support of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. (Vahid Sepehri)

TEHRAN COURT FINES U.S. FOR HELPING SADDAM. A Tehran court fined the United States $600 million for encouraging Iraq in its 1980-88 war with Iran and "supplying the Ba'athist regime...with chemical bombs and facilitating their use against...defenseless [Iranians]," ISNA reported on 28 April. Branch Three of the Tehran judiciary ordered the fine to be paid to a group of veterans harmed by chemical attacks in that war, ISNA stated. The court, which ISNA reported has already fined the U.S. government $1.8 billion on similar charges, sent its decision to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which handles U.S. interests in the absence of Iranian-U.S. ties. Meanwhile, the Tehran city council has ordered the mayor to place "within 15 days" a plaque outside the German Embassy in Tehran commemorating the victims of chemical attacks from the same war, "Iran" reported on 28 April. Germany is one of the powers Iran accuses of having sold Iraq chemical weapons in the war. The move is seen as a response to a plaque placed outside a Berlin restaurant last week that accuses Iran of murdering dissidents there in 1992. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN REPORTS 2 MILLION DRUG ADDICTS. Ali Hashemi, the head of Iran's counternarcotics agency, said that there are 2 million drug addicts in the country, contradicting an earlier figure of 2.7 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004), though he admitted the number is imprecise, "Iran" reported on 22 April. He said the country hopes to maintain the figure at 2 million over the next decade, the daily added. But he warned on 26 April that addicts sharing syringes may help spread AIDS in Iran, ILNA reported. There are "295,000 heroin addicts in the country, 145,000 of whom [inject], all are vulnerable to AIDS," ILNA quoted him as saying. The proportion of HIV-positive addicts using needles, he said, has risen from 3 percent in the year to 20 March 1999, to 66 percent in the year to March 2003. Hamid Saremi, head of the cultural department of the state counternarcotics agency, suggested on 20 April that addicts should not be treated like criminals and there should be a "cultural approach" to fighting drug abuse. He admitted that there is widespread drug use in prisons. "Certain prisoners swallow the drugs and bring them into the prisons," quoted him as saying. Parliament, he added, will debate stiffening antidrug laws "in coming months."

Iran's Education Ministry will meanwhile ban smoking in schools, and the ministry will seek to promote "sports and cultural activities" to fill young people's time and prevent drug abuse, Fars News Agency reported on 20 April, citing a ministry official. (Vahid Sepehri)

TOTAL CLOSE TO IRANIAN GAS DEAL. Total SA of France might soon close a deal to develop part of Iran's offshore natural-gas reserves, "The New York Times" and Bloomberg News reported on 26 April. The deal, worth $1.2 billion, is to develop Phase 11 of the South Pars offshore field, AFP reported on 25 April, citing Deputy Oil Minister Mehdi Mir-Moezzi as saying in Tehran. Gas from this segment of South Pars is destined for Europe, AFP reported. Also, Iran should sign a deal in the next two weeks to export 15 million cubic meters of gas a day to the United Arab Emirates, AFP reported on 26 April, citing Rokneddin Javadi, the head of the Iran National Gas Export Company. "Negotiations to export 1.5 billion cubic meters of gas a year to Kuwait are continuing," "Entekhab" also quoted him as saying. (Vahid Sepehri)

STATE DEPARTMENT NAMES IRAN AS TOP TERROR SPONSOR. The United States condemned Iran on 29 April as the leading "state sponsor of terrorism" in 2003, accusing it of fomenting terror attacks in the Mideast, AFP reported the same day. The State Department's annual report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism," stated that Iranian intelligence agents and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps have participated in the planning or supporting of terrorist acts, and that Iran has not honored pledges to confront the Al-Qaeda terrorist group or hand over Al-Qaeda suspects, AFP added. The report also deplored Iran's "high-profile role in encouraging anti-Israeli activity" by such groups as Hamas or the Lebanese Hizballah, which Iran considers legitimate resistance groups, and suggested Iranian elements have stoked discontent among Iraqi Shi'ites and helped terrorists evade coalition forces.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi dismissed the report on 30 April as "repetitive, demagogical, and worthless," IRNA reported, "and another example of that country's constant incitements against the Islamic Republic of Iran."

The report follows a U.S. government announcement on 20 April to extend a temporary suspension of certain sanctions against Iran, initially designed to ease relief efforts after an earthquake there in December that killed thousands (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 January 2004), Reuters reported on 21 April. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN TO SPLIT LARGEST PROVINCE IN THREE. Iran's parliament voted on 18 April to divide its largest province, Khorasan, into three parts to improve budget allocations and make the government of the province more efficient, local news agencies reported. Located in the northeast of the country bordering Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, it is to split into Northern, Southern, and Razavi Khorasan, reported. Talk of such a move provoked violence in 2001 and 2002 by residents fearful of losing benefits, added. But there was no reported violence this time. Hussein Ansari-Rad, a legislator from Khorasan, told parliament on 18 April that the move will create unnecessary costs, ISNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN HOLDS NAVAL MANEUVERS IN PERSIAN GULF. Iran held four days of naval exercises in the northern Persian Gulf to "raise its marine capabilities and preparedness for defending the country's naval frontiers," reported on 19 April. Warships and marine units from the regular army participated in the second war games Iran has held in the gulf's northern waters in two months, according to the state broadcasting body's website. They included a land and sea assault on "territory occupied by an imaginary enemy," attacks on "the imaginary enemy's naval equipment," and the "heavy bombardment of enemy positions in coastal regions," as well and stop-and-search operations on vessels. Iran disputes the ownership of three Persian Gulf islands with the United Arab Emirates. (Vahid Sepehri)