17 May 2004, Volume 7, Number 17
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL's Iran Report" will appear on 31 May 2004.
IRANIAN JUDICIARY CHIEF'S MEASURES AIM TO SATISFY THE PUBLIC. Iran's judicial officials, like the hard-line Guardians Council, which also deals with legal issues, maintain they are not engaged in politics. As Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2004), there are no political crimes or criminals in Iran because Iranian laws do not mention them as such.
The public, however, has expressed its outrage at reported abuses and the widely-held perception that politics may indeed play a role in how justice is done in Iran. In response, Hashemi-Shahrudi issued a directive on 28 April instructing police, judicial officials, and security agents to refrain from physical abuse when interrogating suspects and to avoid the kinds of practices that human-rights activists associate with dictatorships.
The directive was swiftly ratified by parliament on 4 May as the Bill on Legitimate Liberties and Civil Rights and approved the next day by the Guardians Council, which has in the past rejected initiatives by the outgoing, reformist-dominated parliament, to ban the practice of torture, already outlawed by the constitution.
Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahrudi was at first disinclined to term the directive a response to actual abuses. It "did not mean that its stipulations have not been respected so far," he told a gathering of judiciary officials in Tehran on 10 May, according to "Iran" on 11 May. It was issued "for its importance and as an emphasis...and nobody should draw conclusions...and exploit [the directive]."
But this went against his own assertion that it was inspired by his weekly meetings with members of the public who come to seek justice when they are dissatisfied with court decisions. Hashemi-Shahrudi then admitted at a conference of Tehran provincial judges on 12 May that there "have been offenses [in police and interrogation centers] and [during] transfers to prisons, and people's rights have been violated," according to ISNA.
He blamed these abuses on insufficient supervision. "A person told me his [or her] son was beaten at the police. Who is responsible for supervising [police and interrogation centers]? Where does it say in the law that the police can do anything they like? What happened to supervision by magistrates? What happened to the implementation of just laws," he asked, ISNA reported on 12 May.
Furthermore, he recalled the death in June 2003 of a photographer, Iranian-Canadian Zahra Kazemi, from head injuries apparently received during an interrogation in Tehran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June and 16 July 2003). If there had been "precise supervision" of police and interrogators, Hashemi-Shahrudi said on 12 May, "why should a case like Zahra Kazemi's carry such a high cost for our society...the directive pays attention to these issues," ISNA reported.
This dearth of supervision, he maintains, is due to the judiciary's immense workload, the result of laws that have made every violation a criminal offense liable to prosecution within the judicial system. This, along with the suppression of magistrates' courts, which were recently revived, meant that the judiciary was flooded with new cases, obliging a court to deal with anything from bounced checks to murders.
But he said in Tehran on 11 May that "many parts of the judiciary have undergone fundamental change, and the people must be informed of these changes," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 May. Magistrates courts have been revived to deal with incoming cases and ensure only serious crimes are passed to higher criminal courts. He has urged many disputes to be given to "arbitration councils and pseudo-judicial bodies" to prevent them from clogging the judicial system. He said in Tehran on 11 May that while judges in India reportedly deal with 10 cases a month, "in our country the figure is 700," according to "Aftab-i Yazd." The paper cited him as saying that he wants to see Iranian judges deal with "one case a day. Because naturally when they throw a mass of cases at the judiciary the judge is forced to sign with his eyes shut, and that is a cause of corruption."
Hashemi-Shahrudi will reportedly also penalize bad judges. According to the first deputy head of the judiciary, Hojatoleslam Hadi Marvi, Hashemi-Shahrudi has sent to "deprived areas," or some of Iran's less accessible and underdeveloped regions, several judges for "procrastinating and failing to deal [with cases] suitably and with precision," "Kayhan" reported on 2 May. "The judiciary is serious in dealing with any offense and we will give a firm and legal response to anyone dealing with people incorrectly, and remove offending judges," "Keyhan" quoted Marvi as saying.
And there are his weekly meetings with the public, where he uses his authority to pardon convicts or force courts to review sentences. He has urged provincial judiciary chiefs to also meet with people and take a personal interest in the province's more important judicial cases. Hashemi-Shahrudi has also sent out an inspection team to check prisons. "This committee has begun its work and we shall make public its first report," ISNA cited Hadi Husseini, the head of the judiciary complaints department, as saying on 13 May. "The committee will examine all items existing in prisons, including the problems of prisoners, and issues with guards and prison officials," he said.
In a year that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has declared the "Year of Accountability" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 March 2004), Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahrudi added in Tehran on 12 May that "the other two branches have talked more about reforms, but the judiciary has carried them out," ISNA reported. His initiatives may be termed part of the conservative version of reforms, an attempt to make "Islamic justice" work and show that reforms mean the same system working better, not a change of the system.
But the alacrity with which parliament ratified Hashemi-Shahrudi's bill indicates that reformers, too, are principally interested in results -- greater personal security and a stricter application of the rule of law -- and happy for conservative bodies to deliver the same goods, whatever their name. But they have shown skepticism over the efficacy of internal supervisory mechanisms; hence their emphasis on mutual supervision by government branches and popular supervision of state institutions through parliament, and its Article 90 Committee, charged with investigating public bodies' abuse of individual rights. (Vahid Sepehri)
TEHRAN AIRPORT CLOSURE BECOMES NATIONAL EMBARRASSMENT. Members of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) closed Tehran's International Imam Khomeini Airport on 8 May, its first scheduled day of operations.
Officials said the closure was due to the presence of foreigners from the Turkish-led consortium Tepe-Akfen-Vie (TAV), which built and was to operate the airport. The IRGC said the foreign workers were a security risk at a sensitive site. IRGC Brigadier General Alireza Afshar, a deputy head of the armed forces joint headquarters, said on 9 May that the airport would not be safe until the contract with TAV was cancelled, Fars News Agency reported the same day. The airport, he added, "has a special and vital security status and needs...more precise regulations." It was shut, he said, after the Roads and Transport Ministry ignored instructions issued on 4 April by the Supreme National Security Council to cancel the contract, according to farsnews.com on 9 May.
The airport remains closed even though Iran Air, the national airline, has been tasked with operating the facility. Additionally, foreign personnel were asked to leave on 7 May in a bid to avert closure. Yet it was still closed.
The cabinet deplored the shutdown of the airport on 9 May and "the intervention of irresponsible elements in this incident," according to the daily newspaper "Iran" the next day. It ordered an investigation and wants "the prosecution and punishment of the culprit or culprits," according to "Iran."
Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram stated separately on 9 May that the Supreme National Security Council did not tell the ministry to cancel the contract. "Iran" on 10 May reported that Khoram said: "We [told the armed forces] there is no contract to cancel, but an agreement, which is not a contract." He denied a claim by Afshar that President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami had personally asked for the cancellation of the contract, even if it meant paying reparations, "Iran" reported: "They have issued a false report and acted upon it. The president said that the contract should be cancelled if there was one. We said, there is no contract to cancel." Expelling foreign contractors and consultants from ports and airports to satisfy the military, Khoram added, would be like "shutting the country's gates."
The suspension of the operation deal has also angered Turkey. The TAV consortium built the airport's Terminal 1 and signed a memorandum of understanding last December to operate it, according to bakutoday.net and the "Turkish Daily News" on 12 May. It spent $15 million on equipment and staff training for that task, which it now cannot do. TAV says that its agreement, which includes a $193 million deal to build and operate a second terminal, remains valid, according to bakutoday.net. According to Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Namik Tan, the suspended deal may deter other Turkish companies from doing similar business in Iran and harm economic ties between the two countries, bakutoday.net reported on 12 May.
Part of the "security issue" cited by the IRGC may consist of Turkey's security ties with Israel -- a state Iran does not recognize and considers an archenemy. Iran's conservative press has highlighted what they term the TAV consortium's potential ties to "Zionists." They have also denounced the considerable cost of the airport's inauguration on 1 February (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 April 2004).
But officials have sought to present the closure in more technical terms. Ala'eddin Borujerdi, a member of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee and one of two legislators the parliamentary speaker has appointed to investigate the matter, said on 12 May that the "matter...is not political," "Entekhab" reported on 13 May. According to farsnews.com on 14 May, Borujerdi stated that the airport was simply not ready to function on 8 May and that "its initiation was hasty." According to his "preliminary assessment," the problem arose from a "lack of coordination between agencies," farsnews.com added. Borujerdi agreed on 12 May that the Transport Ministry had asked foreign employees to leave the airport on 7 May, the day before the closure, but stated that this gave them insufficient time to leave and "transfer responsibilities" for the next day, "Entekhab" reported on 13 May.
Unlike the reluctance of official bodies to name and shame before investigations have been completed, some politicians have already found their scapegoat -- Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram. Ahmad Tavakkoli, a conservative elected to the incoming parliament, said on 13 May that anyone witnessing "such an embarrassing disaster" in their area of responsibility "should not remain in his position for even an hour," according to ISNA. The minister has mentioned the need to pay TAV $20 million in compensation, but "Entekhab" quoted Ardabil representative Vali Azarvash, a member of parliament's Construction Committee, as saying on 12 May that the minister "must pay the...compensation out of his own blessed pocket." Fars New Agency, affiliated to the conservative-controlled judiciary, cited an unnamed Transport Ministry official as saying on 11 May that President Khatami has told Khoram that whoever "signed the agreement can pay the compensation."
Critics agree only on the poor image of Iran that is projected by the closure. The public and foreign and domestic media do not care who is responsible for the airport closure, "Iran" commented on 11 May: "the armed forces, roads and Transport Ministry, the state aviation authority, airlines -- does it matter? The important point, especially for [Iranians], is that the country's largest and most important development project in the past year has not so much been a source of pride for Iran and Iranians as it has 'disgraced the nation,' to quote the parliamentary speaker." How could there be no coordination, "Iran" asked that day, "in a country that has the most tiresome bureaucracy for the simplest task, with military vehicles going and parking themselves on the runway, just when millions of Iranians and people [elsewhere] wanted to see Iran's skill at running an international airport?" (Vahid Sepehri)
UN NUCLEAR CHIEF UNSURE ON IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM... International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said in New York on 14 May that while Iran has the capacity to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels, the IAEA has yet to find proof that it is doing so, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Sergei Antipov said in Berlin on 15 May that Russia will complete the nuclear-power plant it is helping build in southern Iran, at Bushehr, despite technical and commercial complications, and U.S. objections, Reuters reported the same day. Antipov added that Russia will only provide reactor fuel on the condition that all spent fuel be returned to Russia to ensure it cannot possibly be used in the production of nuclear weapons. A delegation from Iran's Atomic Energy Organization met with Russian Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev in Moscow on 12 May to discuss nuclear cooperation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004), international news agencies reported. The two sides agreed to speed up construction at Bushehr, IRNA reported. In Tehran, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 16 May that "we are on the verge of nuclear change, but we do not seek nuclear weapons, and we know it is incorrect to use such weapons in human society," iribnews.ir reported the same day. "They do have a deterrent effect, but we hope to use other means of deterrence," he said. (Vahid Sepehri)
...AND IRANIAN AMBASSADOR VOWS TO PROVIDE UN WITH FULL REPORT ON NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES SOON. Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Piruz Husseini, said on 13 May the country will "very soon" provide the UN nuclear watchdog with a full report on its nuclear activities in the run-up to a key IAEA meeting in June, Reuters reported. Husseini said that Iran will answer any questions the IAEA might have regarding the report, which Iran earlier promised by mid-May, IRNA reported. The IAEA governing board is to give its opinion on Iran's nuclear program on 14 June. Meanwhile, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said in Washington on 13 May that Libya, which recently renounced its unconventional arms program, has stated it will not trade arms with states possibly linked to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, including Iran, Reuters reported the same day. (Vahid Sepheri)
SUPREME LEADER ORDERS REVIEW OF DISSIDENT'S DEATH SENTENCE. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has reportedly asked judiciary head Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi to review the death sentence handed down to dissident Hashem Aghajari, who received the sentence in 2003 for criticizing Iranian clergy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 10 May 2004), "Iran" reported on 16 May, citing ISNA. However, Abdulreza Izadpanah, the deputy judiciary chief for social affairs, denied on 15 May that Khamenei has ordered a review, although he said Khamenei is one of several senior clerics who believe that Aghajari's statements "do not constitute an instance of apostasy," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 17 May. Izadpanah said the case is proceeding through the normal judicial stages, adding that "we hope judicial officials will soon make a declaration on this case and we will not see any more such cases and affairs." (Vahid Sepehri)
TURKEY WARNS IRANIAN AIRPORT CLOSURE MIGHT AFFECT BUSINESS RELATIONS. Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Namik Tan said in Ankara on 12 May that the sudden closure of Tehran's new airport, which the Turkish-led consortium Tepe-Akfen-Vie was contracted to run, could harm business ties with Iran, bakutoday.net reported on 13 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 May 2004, and feature article above). Tan called the airport deal "one of the most important business projects undertaken by Turkish companies in Iran," and warned that the impasse might harm bilateral "economic ties," bakutoday.net reported. Meanwhile, Ahmad Tavakkoli, a conservative member-elect to Iran's next parliament, said on 13 May that "the least we expect of [President Mohammad] Khatami is that he dismiss Ahmad Khorram," the transport minister tasked with the airport project, ISNA reported the same day. He said no minister should remain in office "for even an hour" when faced with "such an embarrassing disaster." (Vahid Sepheri)
IRANIAN COURT SAYS 55 ARRESTED ON 'POLITICAL' CHARGES IN ONE MONTH. The Tehran public prosecutor's office has stated that it arrested 55 people in the monthlong period preceding 19 April for alleged "political and security actions against the system," the daily "Iran" reported on 13 May, citing the prosecutor's office. A man was arrested because the contents of a magazine he published allegedly rejected Islamic teachings, discussed contacts with ghosts, and insulted the Koran, according to "Iran." Two other people were arrested for "embezzlement and deceit" pertaining to their alleged use of forged papers identifying them as agents of the Intelligence Ministry and of the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, "Iran" reported. Judicial authorities also arrested six individuals in Tehran and the northwestern cities of Khoy and Orumieh over the month on charges of fomenting ethnic discord and promoting separatism, as well as members of a group allegedly planning to bomb parts of Tehran, "Iran" reported. (Vahid Sepheri)
REGIONAL PARLIAMENTARIANS WANT TO PUT HUSSEIN ON TRIAL. Parliamentary speakers from six states bordering Iraq agreed during their two-day meeting in Amman, Jordan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2004), to a statement proposed by Iran that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must be prosecuted, Iranian parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi told IRNA on 13 May. Karrubi said Hussein is the "source of all existing problems in Iraq." He added that the statement also calls for free elections, the transfer of power, and an end to unspecified "terrorist operations." In addition, participants in the conference "agreed on an end to the occupation of Iraq and the departure of invading forces," Karrubi said. During a meeting on 13 May with Turkish parliamentary speaker Bulent Arinc, Karrubi called for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that "otherwise its negative effects will affect all countries in the region," IRNA reported. The news agency also quoted Karrubi as saying that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "have caused insecurity in the region and the world." (Vahid Sepheri)
IRANIAN JUDICIARY CHIEF ADDRESSES POLICE ABUSE. Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi admitted in Tehran on 12 May that Iranian police and security forces have abused detainees in the absence of proper supervision, ISNA reported. "Offences have been committed in police stations and criminal departments, and [during] the transfer of individuals to prisons, and people's rights [have been] violated," ISNA quoted him as telling a gathering of judges. "A person told me the police beat his [or her] son," he said. "Who is responsible for supervising" the police? Shahrudi said weekly meetings he holds with public officials resulted in his issuing a directive, which is now law, to safeguard prisoners' rights (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2004). "Where does it say in the law that the police can do anything they want?" he asked. "What happened to the implementation of just laws? All these cases need supervision and legal prosecution," ISNA reported. People should not face police interrogation for every charge, he said. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN PRESIDENT CONDEMNS IRAQI ABUSES... President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami deplored on 11 May "the shameful torture of Iraqis by the occupiers," and termed this a "cause of hatred" toward coalition forces in Iraq, IRNA reported the same day. "These actions show the...double standards of certain powers that present themselves as leading supporters of human rights," he said in a meeting in Tehran with Masahiko Komura, an envoy of the Japanese prime minister, IRNA reported. He urged an end to the "occupation and use of violent methods," adding that those "we respect in Iraq, especially Ayatollah [Ali al-] Sistani, want the rule of democracy and the popular vote. The occupiers must answer this peaceful call, the remedy to Iraq's crisis." Separately, parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi said in Tehran on 11 May that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners "has exacerbated [Iraq's] critical condition," IRNA reported the same day. He was speaking before leaving for Amman, Jordan, where parliamentary delegations from Iraq's neighbors will discuss the Iraq crisis on 12 and 13 May. Arab League and Iraqi Governing Council envoys will also attend, IRNA added. (Vahid Sepehri)
...AS DOES IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER. Kamal Kharrazi said in Rabat, Morocco, on 10 May that "with the crimes it has committed in Iraq, America has shown its true face and is isolated in the civilized world," Mehr News Agency reported. In reference to the recent revelations of abuse of Iraqi detainees by coalition forces, Kharrazi said during his meeting with his Moroccan counterpart Muhammad Benaissa that "America has upset all human rights norms and standards, and tortures people while it promises democracy." Kharrazi denounced U.S. plans to democratize the Middle East as "new colonialism," adding that there can be no Mideast peace "while there is injustice and oppression in Palestine," mehrnews.com reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
OFFICIAL SAYS IRAN WILL RESPOND TO ISRAELI STRIKES. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani threatened Israel with reprisals on 11 May should it ever strike Iranian nuclear installations as it did Iraq's in 1981, AP reported the same day, citing a state television interview with Rohani. He said that Iran is equipped to give a "resolute response" to such a strike, AP added. Israel and the United States suspect that the purpose of Iran's nuclear program is to make nuclear bombs, though Iran denies this. Rohani is Iran's leading nuclear negotiator. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES BETTER INHERITANCE RIGHTS FOR WOMEN. Parliament amended Iran's Civil Code on 10 May to allow women to inherit all the property of their deceased husbands in the absence of other heirs, IRNA reported the same day. At present, widows can inherit up to one-quarter of their husband's possessions, cash, and real estate, though not the land under the property, IRNA reported, the remainder going to children and blood relatives or, in their absence, the state. The Guardians Council, which checks legislation for constitutional or religious discrepancies, must approve the bill to make it law. Separately, judiciary spokesman Gholamhussein Elham repeated on 11 May that the controversial death sentence on dissident Hashem Aghajari (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 10 May 2004) is technically in the appeals stage, because the Supreme Court has yet to give its definitive verdict on the case, Fars News Agency reported the same day. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRAN LOOKS FORWARD TO NUCLEAR BODY'S JUNE SESSION. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 6 May that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will not condemn Iran at the agency's June meeting because "Iran's cooperation so far and respect for its commitments on nuclear issues are very clear and transparent," IRNA reported that day. Assefi was confident that "other countries, too, will honor their commitments to Iran," including European states, "which have made every effort to respect their commitments," IRNA added (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2004). He said he hopes the IAEA governing board will consider Iran's nuclear dossier "without political maneuvers and with a technical approach, so [it] can return to normal." IAEA Director-General el-Baradei told French legislators in Paris on 6 May that the world will not wait "forever" for Iran to "come clean" on its program, Reuters reported the same day. (Vahid Sepehri)
NUMBER OF HIV-POSITIVE IRANIANS RISES. The number of Iranians diagnosed as having contracted the HIV virus that causes AIDS rose from 6,327 in the month ending 20 January 2004 to 6,746 in the month ending 19 April 2004, the daily "Iran" reported on 6 May, citing Riyaz Gheiratmand, the head of health care and nutrition at the Education Ministry. The figures he gave, released by the Health Ministry, slightly differ from earlier figures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2004). The latest number includes 698 people in the 5-24 age group, while 20 percent of all women with AIDS are in the 15-24 age group, "Iran" cited him as saying. He said that schools in some regions began AIDS prevention courses in secondary schools one year ago, "though there has been no assessment on these and, certainly, if there are no positive results, we shall stop them," "Iran" reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN RELATIVES OF IRAQ-BASED REBELS DEMAND THEIR RETURN. Relatives of members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), a rebel group formerly based in Iraq and now reportedly disarmed and detained by coalition forces, demonstrated outside the British and Swiss embassies in Tehran on 6 May, demanding the return of family members, IRNA reported the same day. The Swiss embassy handles U.S. interests in Iran in the absence of U.S.-Iranian diplomatic ties. The agency cited a former MKO member at one of the gatherings as saying that the group is forcibly holding 3,000 members, including some 1,500 women, who wish to return to Iran. The British embassy in Tehran issued a statement promising to convey the relatives' concerns to U.S. forces, who it stated are guarding the group at the Ashraf camp in Iraq, IRNA added. The U.S., the embassy stated, is investigating the cases of these detainees but has yet to decide their fate. The Iraqi Governing Council has stated it intends to expel the MKO in June (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2004). (Vahid Sepehri)
IRAN URGES MORE EU INVOLVEMENT IN MIDEAST... Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 4 May in Brussels that the United States can blame itself for Arab "extremism" and urged greater European involvement in resolving Mideast conflicts, IRNA reported that day. "America's blind support" for the Israelis "is the real reason for extremism and hatred of America in the Islamic world," he said. The meeting of the Middle East "Quartet" -- the UN, the U.S., Russia, and the EU -- in New York on 4 May, "is a waste of time," he said. "While America continues to support [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's policies, meetings like [the Quartet meeting] or other such initiatives will lead nowhere." The solution to the Mideast conflict, he added, "is to give the Palestinian people their rights." (Vahid Sepehri)
...BUT IS TOLD BY THE EU TO BE MORE COOPERATIVE. Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, and Christopher Patten, its external affairs commissioner, told Kharrazi in Brussels on 3 May that Iran must not only allow thorough checks of its nuclear program but also implement political reforms, improve human rights, and stop supporting terrorists before any EU-Iran trade talks, ft.com reported on 4 May. But Kharrazi said in Brussels on 4 May that Iran "will not accept any preconditions," to EU ties, ISNA reported that day. "We have clearly stated that we do not intend to exert pressure to gain any agreement" for such relations. "Both sides need each other and each side has its interests, and an agreement will work if it is bilateral." He said he had informed EU officials of Iran's "expectations" on the nuclear dossier (see "Iran Report," 3 May 2004), and, "we believe that we must work together to reach a positive result at the [International Atomic Energy Agency] board of governors," ISNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES DEVELOPMENT PLAN, RIGHTS BILL. Iran's parliament approved the 2005-2010 development plan and sent it on 2 May to the Guardians Council, which reviews bills for constitutional or religious discrepancies before they become law, ISNA and BBC reported on 4 May. The plan would boost economic growth by downsizing the state sector, promoting investment, cutting fuel subsidies, and letting foreign banks open branches in Iran, the BBC reported on 4 May. Conservatives have criticized the chamber's hasty approval of the bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2004). Reza Zavarei, a Guardians Council member, said on 4 May that it "is one of the miracles of the sixth parliament that it ratified the [plan] in six days." The council will rule on the bill between 10 and 20 days following its ratification, ISNA reported on 4 May. Parliament has also approved a bill on the safeguarding of prisoner rights, Middle East Online reported on 4 May, citing Iranian state radio (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April and 3 May 2004). (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS REFORMS BEFORE YOUTH AND POSTERITY. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami defended "the achievements of reforms" in an open letter on 3 May but admitted that Iranian hopes have "gradually declined" since reforms began in 1997, IRNA reported the same day. "There is no choice but to pursue the path of reforms, with moderation, flexibility, wisdom, and tolerance," he wrote in his "Letter for Tomorrow," promised at a 27 April meeting with youth (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2004). He said that his government has been "one of the few" in Iran to defend civil rights, IRNA reported. It is a "mistaken idea" he wrote, if people think that "with the elimination of the Islamic Republic, an independent and popular republic will emerge." His reforms, he added, seek "legitimate, civil, and intellectual liberties," not "loose morals" or "Westernized lifestyles." (Vahid Sepehri)
IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WANTS 'SERIOUS' DIALOGUE WITH EUROPE. Kamal Kharrazi discussed Iran-EU ties and Iran's nuclear program with European officials in Brussels on 3 May, IRNA reported the same day. He told European Commission President Romano Prodi that both sides "must be serious" in their political and economic cooperation "otherwise Iran may not be keen to make an effort in this regard." Kharrazi also discussed Iran's nuclear program, whose secrecy has prompted Western concerns. "Iran is committed to pursuing its cooperation with the [International Atomic Energy] agency [IAEA] and [its] suspension of uranium enrichment is an effective and reassuring step," Mehr News Agency quoted him as saying. He urged European states to honor their pledge to allow Iran access to nuclear technology in exchange for UN inspections of Iranian installations. "This is a trilateral project between Iran, [the IAEA], and the European Union. Success in this project is a success for all, and the failure of this project is failure for all," he said. (Vahid Sepehri)
NEXT IRANIAN PARLIAMENT MAY CHANGE RATIFIED DEVELOPMENT PLAN. Ahmad Tavakkoli, a conservative member of Iran's next parliament, said in Tehran on 3 May that the next chamber may be "obliged to review the fourth [development] plan" currently being debated, IRNA reported the same day. "Parliament has not done the necessary technical and logical work, and certain sections have been ratified [hastily]," he said. Legislators have "reduced the fourth plan from 247 to 167 articles and ratified" it in "five to six days." He deplored the swift approval of one law with 114 articles authorizing the government to sell hospitals and schools and to raise fuel prices, IRNA reported. The next chamber will focus on "addressing people's problems and efficient, just service," not "factional issues," IRNA reported. It has already formed 11 working groups, one of whose projects is "to amend the [2004-05] budget which has very serious problems and was ratified in four to five days." (Vahid Sepehri)