28 June 2004, Volume 7, Number 21
WASHINGTON ANTICIPATES IRANIAN NUCLEAR TRANSPARENCY. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed Iran on 21 June, the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs reported (http://usinfo.state.gov). Powell said that he is "satisfied, very satisfied" with the IAEA's work on the 18 June resolution addressing Iran's nuclear program.
That resolution (http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2004/gov2004-49.pdf) notes "with concern" that verification of enrichment and reprocessing activities had been delayed and Iran's decision to generate uranium hexafluoride was at variance with previous understandings. There also is "concern" that questions about uranium enrichment and P-2 centrifuges remain outstanding. The resolution expresses "serious concern" that information on the P-2 centrifuges "in some cases has been incomplete and continues to lack the necessary clarity." The resolution "deplores" the fact that "Iran's cooperation has not been as full, timely, and proactive as it should have been."
Powell expressed the hope during his meeting with el-Baradei that Iran will address these concerns in the coming weeks and months. According to Powell, "We will have a chance to examine their response in September and at that time judgments can be made as to what action might be appropriate."
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton sounded less satisfied than Powell. Bolton reported, in 24 June testimony before a Congressional subcommittee that Iran has announced that it will resume building equipment that can be used for a nuclear weapons program, "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" reported on 25 June. Bolton said that Tehran stated that it will resume making equipment for nuclear centrifuges in a letter to the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. An unnamed British spokesman told "The New York Times" that: "They've sent letters saying we haven't lived up to our commitments to normalize relations." This is presumably a reference to an agreement signed in October 2003 when the European officials visited Tehran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003, and http://www.iaea.org/worldatom/press/focus/iaeairan/statement_iran21102003.shtml).
Bolton told the subcommittee that Washington believes "Iran is still pursuing a strategic decision to have a nuclear weapons capability" (For the full text of Bolton's prepared statement, visit http://usinfo.state.gov/mena/Archive/2004/Jun/27-360963.html).
In Tehran, meanwhile, President Mohammad Khatami told a gathering of martyrs' families and relatives of those killed in a 1980 bombing that Iran does not seek a nuclear-weapons capability, state radio reported. "These claims are used as pressure to deprive us of acquiring nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," he said.
Iran's right to develop and use nuclear energy cannot be denied, former Foreign Minister Ardeshir Zahedi (1967-1971) writes in the international edition of the 25 June "Wall Street Journal." As in the past, Zahedi writes, Iran needs other sources of energy so it can export its oil. According to Zahedi the current regime, just like the previous one, wants a "surge capacity" that will let it develop a military nuclear capacity in a short period. The problem now, Zahedi asserts, is a "revolutionary regime, claiming a messianic mission on behalf of Islam, arming itself with nuclear weapons."
Former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft notes, in a commentary in the 24 June issue of "The Washington Post," that the IAEA's condemnation of Iran indicates that the nonproliferation regime could be "on the verge of a major breakdown." If Iran becomes capable of enriching uranium, Scowcroft writes, it will then be next to impossible to dissuade other countries from doing the same. France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. should present a united front to Iran. They should propose that in exchange for Iran's foreswearing uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, they will assist Iranian development of a power generation capability, supply nuclear fuel, and remove spent fuel. Scowcroft concludes that Iran should not be treated as "an isolated case" and other countries that intend to enrich uranium, such as Brazil, need attention as well. According to Scowcroft, "Our goal instead should be to delegitimize the spread of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing facilities to any country, because these capabilities are the linchpin of any program to develop nuclear weapons." (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN CONFIRMS WASHINGTON'S WARNING. Tehran confirmed on 27 June that it intends to resume making components for uranium centrifuges, international news agencies reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi told reporters that the manufacturing and assembly of components would resume on 29 June, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. He explained, "the Europeans failed to fulfill their promises and as a result we have no moral commitment and there is no longer any reason to continue building trust more than what is necessary."
The United States, the EU, and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) all condemned the Iranian decision, Reuters reported on 27 June. IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said on 27 June in Moscow: "They said that they are going to boost manufacturing, assembly, and [the] testing of part of their centrifuges," RFE/RL reported. "That's what the letter says. I hope it wouldn't change the dialogue. I hope it will be temporary. I hope Iran will also go back to a comprehensive suspension as they have committed to us before. So I hope this is not a major reversal. But we still need to work with them." (Bill Samii)
'SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?' -- IRAN AND THE NPT. Habibullah Asgaroladi-Mosalman, who heads the hard-line Islamic Coalition Party, said on 22 June that there is no need for Iran to leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) because it has no intention of making a nuclear bomb, the Fars News Agency reported. He said there are hundreds of scientific fields in which nuclear science is used, including medicine and agriculture, and he asked why the United States and Europe ignore this. Asgaroladi-Mosalman said the Americans have the worst record of using nuclear weapons, and that it is the U.S. that must dispose of their nuclear arsenal.
Asgaroladi's comments come as some legislators are calling for Iran's withdrawal from the NPT. Two parliamentarians from Tehran, Ali Abbaspur Tehranifard and Hussein Nejabat, are quoted in the 1 June issue of "Jomhuri-yi Islami" as saying that the United States is behind the pressure on Iran in the run-up to the current IAEA Board of Governors meeting. Tehranifard noted that before the 1979 revolution, the U.S. wanted to sell research reactors to Iran. If the IAEA refers the Iranian case to the UN Security Council, Tehranifard asserted, Iran should end its cooperation with the IAEA. Nejabat added that, if discrimination against Iran continues, it will consider quitting the NPT.
Ahvaz parliamentary representative Ahmad Musavi said that Iran will continue its cooperation with France, Britain, and Germany only if they fulfill their October 2003 commitments, Mehr News Agency reported on 14 June. Tabriz representative Mohammad Reza Tajedini said the legislature will not approve Iranian accession to the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if European and U.S. pressure on Iran continue, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 14 June.
The 14 June issue of the newspaper "Kayhan" carried interviews with a number of legislators who were unhappy with the state of play in the IAEA. Ahvaz's Seyyed Ahmad Musavi, Maku's Suleiman Jafarzadeh, Abadeh's Mahmud Mohammadi, Tehran's Manuchehr Mottaki, and Bushehr's Shokrullah Atarzadeh and Hassan Sobhani, all concurred that Iran has the right to peacefully use nuclear energy and indicated great skepticism about the value of cooperation with the Europeans.
On 19 June, one day after passage of the resolution, Borujerd parliamentary representative Alaedin Borujerdi said that if the IAEA continues in this way, the legislature will have yet another reason not to accede to the Additional Protocol of the NPT, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Borujerdi termed the resolution "ambiguous and unacceptable."
Abadeh parliamentary representative Mahmud Mohammadi, who serves on the National Security and Foreign Relations Committee, said on 20 June that a committee review of the additional protocol will be announced "in the near future," Mehr News Agency reported. The two areas of concern, he said, are securing Iranian national interests and continuing international cooperation. He added that nuclear energy must be utilized for industrial and economic development according to the Fourth Development Plan.
Hamedan parliamentary representative Hamid Reza Haji-Babai said on 23 June that Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani is to brief the legislature on nuclear and foreign-policy issues, IRNA reported. Rohani will also discuss with legislators the most recent IAEA resolution on Iran.
Deputy Parliament Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar said in a 24 June speech to the legislature that Iran has a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, Iranian state radio reported. Bahonar said that Iran is ready to cooperate with Europe and the IAEA and sign the additional protocol if they recognize this right -- "otherwise we will not sign it." (Bill Samii)
TRUCK CRASH IN IRAN KILLS SCORES. A tanker truck carrying almost 5,000 gallons of gasoline hit another tanker carrying tar before crashing into buses parked near a police checkpoint outside the city of Zahedan on 24 June, international news agencies reported. Initial reports state that more than 70 people were killed in the ensuing explosion and fire and another 84 were injured. An official at Zahedan's medical university told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on 25 June that about 15 ambulances were dispatched to the scene, as were emergency crews. He said many of the victims were brought in with burns over 90 percent of their bodies and they have been taken to Bu Ali Zahedan, Nabi Akram, and other local hospitals.
Sistan va Baluchistan traffic police commander Colonel Ahmad Najafi said about 100 injured people were taken to the hospital, state radio reported on 25 June, but he was unsure of the number of dead because many were still in the buses. "However, we think that 50 to 200 people may have lost their lives as a result of this accident."
Zahedan Governor Nurai said the truck crashed because it was being driven at an illegally high speed, state radio reported. He added that because of the crash six buses and five trucks caught fire. (Bill Samii)
RETIREES DON'T GET BENEFITS... Radio Farda reported from Tehran on 20 June that three months into the Iranian year, which began on 21 March, not only have retirees not received the bonuses the government promised them, but in some cases they have not received their regular payments (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran/archive/2004/06/20062004.asp#105615). The government normally provides retirees with coupons worth 600,000 rials (about $75) for the purchase of goods such as oil, rice, and butter, but this year it has provided only 480,000 rials (about $60) worth of coupons.
As a result of these developments, Radio Farda reported, retirees' living standards are deteriorating. Ali Akbar Khabazha, director of the association of retirees and civil servants, said that responsible officials are not providing any information on this situation. Laborers are entitled to retirement benefits after 30 years, but because of financial difficulties many retirees must continue to work. At the same time, the country is dealing with a 10-15 percent annual inflation rate, according to Radio Farda.
...AS COUNTRY COPES WITH DOUBLE-DIGIT INFLATION. Abdelali Jbili, assistant director of the International Monetary Fund's Middle East and Central Asia Department, said on 19 June that inflation and liquidity growth are running at about 15 percent, Reuters reported. He said Iran must reduce the high level of government spending and added that the government's efforts to reduce inflation are effective. "We expect inflation to either be at the same level as last year or lower," Jbili said.
The most effective way to control inflation is to control liquidity, Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari told a 21 June meeting of guilds, IRNA reported. He said liquidity currently stands at 27-30 percent, whereas the government forecast a 13-15 liquidity growth rate for the current year. Shariatmadari said it is up to the Central Bank of Iran to control the liquidity rate. (Bill Samii)
RADIO FARDA CONSIDERS GUARDIANS COUNCIL. Last autumn the reformist-dominated sixth parliament rejected Gholamhussein Elham as a jurist member of the Guardians Council, the body that vets legislation for compatibility with Islamic law and the constitution and vets candidates for elected office (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 November 2003). The council is made up of six clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader, along with six jurists selected by the judiciary chief who must be confirmed by the legislature.
Radio Farda reported on 22 June that the conservative-dominated seventh parliament is again considering Elham for a seat on the council (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran/default.asp#105844). Only 19-years old at the time of the revolution, Elham entered the judiciary as soon as he graduated. This step coincided with efforts to Islamicize the legal system. In the mid-80s he became an instructor in constitutional law, and almost as soon as he stopped teaching the subject he began studying it, according to Radio Farda. Elham later earned a doctorate in criminal law and criminology at Tehran Teachers Training College (Tarbiat Mudariss). He currently serves as the spokesman for the judiciary.
Radio Farda reported recently on other developments concerning the Guardians Council (http://www.radiofarda.com/weekly_subarchive/278/2004/6/ b64501bb-88b9-4fdc-b280-733405c324ad.html#b64501bb-88b9-4fdc-b280-733405c324ad). It noted that shortly before the last session of the sixth parliament (on 27 May), rumors began to circulate that the Guardians Council's role of approbatory supervision would become "continuous supervision" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 December 2003 and 1 June 2004). Tehran lawyer Nemat Ahmadi told Radio Farda that such a supervisory role would effectively eliminate the legislators' ability to act, and he speculated that there is a desire to add a law that would permit dissolving the legislature. Human-rights activist Ghasem Sholeh-Saadi said that "these people" [the members of the Guardians Council] want Islamic rule, not an Islamic republic.
MONTAZERI REBUKES RULING SYSTEM... Ayatollah Hussein Ali-Montazeri-Najafabadi offered a harsh criticism of Iran's theocratic system in an interview appearing in the 22 June issue of Italy's "Liberal Risk." He said the Vilayat-i Faqih (Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult) "Respects neither Islamic law nor grassroots wisdom." Montazeri said that, according to the Prophet Muhammad's sayings, the clergy rules over kings and kings rule over the people, but the current Iranian regime has cancelled this. Moreover, the Marja-yi Taqlid (source of emulation) no longer exists. "The current regime views all those who obey in a positive light. Anyone who does not obey is relegated to the sidelines of society." Montazeri said that the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, let other religious authorities answer questions, but this situation no longer exists. Montazeri added, "The Iranian parliament does not represent the will of the people today." He said the Iranian people want Islam, but not the type that is forced on them. (Bill Samii)
...AND SAYS RELATIONS WITH U.S. SHOULD BE NORMALIZED. Montazeri also spoke about Iran-U.S. relations in his interview with "Liberal Risk." According to Montazeri, "Relations with the United States should return to normal, on condition that the United States does not threaten to colonize us." He noted that young Iranians want good relations with the United States. Montazeri added that the 1979-1981 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was a mistake and said that the current Iranian government must provide compensation. (Bill Samii)
BRITISH PERSONNEL SEIZED ON SHATT AL-ARAB... Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam television service reported on 22 January that eight British military personnel detained the previous day in the Shatt al-Arab waterway were armed special-forces personnel who had "spying cameras" and detailed maps of the region, and it cited anonymous Iranian sources who said the British sailors would be tried for illegally entering Iranian waters. Tehran's domestic television service on 22 June cited Mike O'Brian, described by Al-Jazeera television as a British government adviser, as saying that the United Kingdom intends to discuss this issue with Tehran in order to avoid a crisis.
The British armada consisted of two "Boston Whalers" and a British Army combat support boat, the BBC reported. The boats were unarmed, according to the BBC report, but the crewmen were carrying personal weapons.
British military spokesman Major Ian Clooney explained on 21 June, "They were doing a routine patrol, as has happened for many months now, as part of the support and training offered to both the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the River Patrol Department, so there was nothing unusual in what they were doing," RFE/RL reported.
British spokesman Captain Hisham Halawi told Alhurra television on 21 June: "The British vessels were not aware of the river borders.... One cannot see where exactly are the borders. Meanwhile, the weather was not helping."
Two of the British personnel confirmed this in statements broadcast by Al-Alam on 22 June. Sergeant Thomas Harkins of the British Royal Marines said, "The squad entered into Iranian waters by mistake and we apologize for this mistake because it was a huge mistake." Chief Petty Officer Robert Webster of the Royal Navy said, "We were arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the Iranian territorial waters between Bahman Shahr and Arvand Rud Rivers." Webster continued, "We entered the waters by mistake and by accident and we were, on orders from our squad commander, escorting a boat from Umm al-Qasr to Basra."
Al-Alam television continued to broadcast "confessions" and statements by the British captives on 23 June and it also showed them marching along a beach, wearing blindfolds with their hands on their heads. In one transmission, two of the British personnel acknowledged mistakenly entering Iranian waters and apologized for this, and one of them said that the GPS navigation system was not working properly and they were forced to use nautical charts.
Both of the captives said they were being treated well. Sergeant Harkins said: "The treatment of the Revolutionary Guards was very friendly. They gave us food and water and allowed us to sleep. Treatment during the course of the investigation was good." An unidentified British captive said: "The Iranians are taking care of us well and are dealing with us well. They are very kind."
In a later 23 June transmission on Al-Alam, a detainee said, "After spending time here in Iran with some Iranians, we have come to understand Islam better and we have come to understand your beliefs."
"Because their morale was low and they could not even speak, we allowed them to watch the England-Croatia soccer game live," Rear Admiral Fadavi of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps said on 24 June, according to IRNA.
Efforts to secure the release of the British military personnel, meanwhile, continued. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw discussed the matter on 22 June, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (http://www.fco.gov.uk), and Ambassador Morteza Sarmadi met with an unnamed senior British official in London while Ambassador Richard Dalton spoke with Iranian officials in Tehran. An anonymous "informed source" in Iran said on 23 June that discussions between Kharrazi and Straw contributed to the resolution of the matter, IRNA reported. An anonymous U.K. official, however, said, "We haven't ruled out [the possibility of] the positive noises being a smokescreen," ft.com reported on 23 June.
Conflicting reports on the eight had them being released on 23 June, but according to Reuters on 24 June, talks on the subject continued late into the evening without achieving their release.
The eight men were released into British custody on 24 June and flown to Tehran. An anti-British demonstration took place when they arrived in the capital, Al-Alam television reported. Brigadier General Ali Reza Afshar, deputy chief for defense and cultural affairs at the Armed Forces Headquarters, said on 23 June that his command issued orders to release the eight British detainees, but not their three vessels, ISNA reported. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 24 June that the boats and other equipment will be released in five days, state television reported. (Bill Samii)
...QUESTIONS SURROUND IRAN-U.K. NAVAL INCIDENT. There was some speculation in both Iranian and Western media on the reason for this incident. The Shatt al-Arab is referred to as the Arvand Rud in Iran, and in mid-April Iranian news agencies reported that Iraqis shot at Iranian vessels. Khuzestan Province Deputy Governor Dr. Afqah said that there had been "repeated clashes" during the last month, mainly over fishing, ISNA reported on 16 April. Afqah said the army and police are working together to restore order in the area.
Tehran University political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam linked the Britons' detention with the recent IAEA resolution that criticized Iran, the "Christian Science Monitor" reported on 24 June. He said, "If the European powers, including Britain, had acted more favorably toward Iran, this kind of operation would not have taken place." He added that Iran is asserting itself as a regional power.
A 23 June report in London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" by Alireza Nurizadeh linked the case with the alleged Ukrainian detention of 40 prospective suicide-bombing volunteers in Iraq who are connected with a unit created by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. The alleged suicide bombers reportedly were turned over to British custody, but the U.K. refuses to acknowledge holding them.
"Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 23 June that the incident reveals an "evil plot by the British" and a "conspiracy." It linked the British presence in the Shatt al-Arab waterway with recent incidents involving Iran and its neighbors in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 June 2004), and said, "The British have been the masterminds stage managing it all!"
An article in the 23 June issue of "Etemad" agreed that the entry of the British vessels into Iranian waters is part of the earlier dispute with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Confirmation of this so-called "war of the boats," according to "Etemad," is that Qatar, the U.A.E., and Kuwait are the current and future bases of the U.S. and U.K.
The reformist "Vaqa-yi Itifaqiyeh" editorialized on 24 June that it is natural to detain people, especially armed military personnel, who cross the border illegally. The editorial questioned the costs of turning the episode into an extended media circus. It also questioned the value of broadcasting pictures of the blindfolded personnel on Al-Alam, and subsequently, CNN, BBC, and Fox News, in a manner reminiscent of Al-Qaeda showing blindfolded hostages before beheading them. The editorial asserted that some people are trying to harm the government's foreign policy. (Bill Samii)
IRAN RELEASES TURKISH SOLDIERS. Iran quickly released a 25-member Turkish military unit that entered its territory on 22 June, RFE/RL and ISNA reported. A Foreign Ministry fax to ISNA stated that the Turks entered Iran accidentally and were released after an investigation.
The Baztab website reported on 23 June that the Turks crossed the border while putting up barbed wire. Turkey's Office of the Chief of the General Staff (OCGS) said the unit was supposed to build an observation tower at the Gulveren/Gurbulak border crossing, Anatolia news agency reported on 24 June. (Bill Samii)
WATER-PIPE BAN THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG. Ali Hashemi, chief of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ), said on 23 June in Gorgan that his agency is not behind the recent crackdown on the use of water pipes, Radio Farda reported, citing (IRNA) (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran/default.asp#105957). A ban on water pipe smoking, a popular recreational pastime, went into effect on 21 June. The owners of restaurants and other facilities where the pipes are in use can be fined, as can the smokers, and the pipes can be confiscated. Hashemi said his agency does not have any responsibility for water pipes, but the ban will nevertheless affect his agency. Even if a small percentage of people use substances other than tobacco in the pipes, he said, we should not close all coffeehouses or ban water pipes.
Action against water pipes could be linked with the security forces' general crackdown on social misconduct and young people that takes place annually during the summer. Radio Farda reports that the security forces' presence has become more visible lately (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran_archive/ e376c5ae-7692-43e1-a0f5-b6c9fd784e8f.html#e376c5ae-7692-43e1-a0f5-b6c9fd784e8f).
Tehran journalist Ruzbeh Miribrahimi told Radio Farda that Tehran has been in the grip of this year's campaign for about a month. Miribrahimi speculated that the security presence is linked with the more conservative atmosphere associated with the new parliament and concern about the forthcoming 18 Tir commemoration (anniversary of the July 1999 unrest that started at Tehran University). The presence of troops in riot gear in other cities, Radio Farda reported, gives the appearance of martial law. (Bill Samii)
AFGHANISTAN AND IRAN CONFRONT THEIR DRUG PROBLEM. The international community will commemorate the International Day against Drug Abuse on 26 June. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote in the foreword to the United National Office on Drugs Control and Crime Prevention's "World Drug Report 2000" that increases in drug production and consumption are changing and in some cases, being reversed (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/world_drug_report_2000.html). For Afghanistan and its neighbors, unfortunately, the situation was not so rosy. Afghanistan remained the world's biggest producer of opium. Not only did this impose a tremendous toll on the Afghan people, but their neighbors suffered, too. According to the UNODCCP report, there were 1.5 million heroin addicts in Pakistan and another half million addicts in Iran.
The situation in southwest Asia has not improved significantly since that report came out. The fate of the world heroin market depends on events in Afghanistan, according to the "World Drug Report 2004" released on 25 June (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/world_drug_report.html). Global opium cultivation is down, but increased cultivation in Afghanistan and higher opium yields led to a 5 percent increase in global illicit opium production between 2002 and 2003.
Since the collapse of the Taliban, the situation in Afghanistan has improved in almost every aspect except in the area of opium-poppy cultivation. When it first took power in Afghanistan, the Taliban used the income from opium to finance their regime and production steadily rose from 1996, peaking in 1999 to an estimated 4,600 tons. By 2000, Afghanistan was responsible for 70 percent of the global production of illegal opium. But in July of that year, having been hounded by the international community, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar issued a decree banning opium cultivation in the country but not its trade (likely a gesture to gain international recognition for the Taliban regime). According to the UNODCCP, opium production in Afghanistan was reduced greatly following the ban from 3,300 tons in 2000 to just 185 tons the following year.
Following the overthrow of the Taliban regime and the creation of the Afghan Interim Administration, Chairman Hamid Karzai in January 2000 banned both the cultivation and trade of opium poppies in the country. However, with the central authority's influence being limited to Kabul and a few main cities and international military forces concentrating on the war on terrorism, drug dealers and their supporters found a fine opportunity to exploit the situation.
According to UN estimates, Afghan farmers produced 3,400 tons of opium in 2002 compared to 185 tons in 2001 -- an alarming increase. The numbers have continued to worsen. In 2003, a year in which three-quarters of the global opium supply originated in Afghanistan, production increased by another 6 percent to 3,600 tons. It is projected that cultivation will increase yet again in 2004. The UN's most recent report asserts that the potential farmgate value of opium production in 2003 is about $1.2 billion, and more than 85 percent of this amount was made in Afghanistan. It is estimated that 7 percent of the Afghan population -- 1.7 million people -- are directly involved in opium production. More than two-thirds of Afghan farmers told the UN that they intend to increase poppy cultivation.
Also worrisome is the fact that opium cultivation has been introduced to regions of Afghanistan that traditionally have not grown the crop and an increasing number of Afghans are becoming addicted to heroin -- a fact that has translated into an increase in cases of AIDS in the country through sharing of intravenous needles. The officially AIDS-free Afghanistan recently announced the country's first death from the disease.
UNODCCP Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa warned, in a February 2004 release (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/press_release_2004-02-06_2.html), that the international community faces critical decisions. Costa added that if counternarcotics commitments to Afghanistan are not translated into lower levels of opium production, there is a "risk of [the] opium economy undermining all that has been achieved in creating a democratic, modern Afghanistan." Costa told the International Conference on Counternarcotics, held in Kabul from 8-10 February, that "Fighting drug trafficking equals fighting terrorism."
Costa asked then for the resources to increase the number of operations against drug laboratories and that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) also be involved in combating drugs in Afghanistan. However, NATO has so far been reluctant to commit itself to tackling this issue. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer recently stated that counternarcotics operations were not the main responsibility of the NATO-led international force. In November 2003, outgoing NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said the alliance was "going to Afghanistan because" it did not want Afghanistan to come to Europe, "whether it be in terms of terrorism or drugs." It seems that once NATO actually went to Afghanistan, Robertson's message was lost in the political shuffle, giving drug dealers and the various warlords in Afghanistan the upper hand in this dangerous game.
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno, has said that his country plans to be more aggressive in its efforts to curb opium poppy cultivation in the country, but conceded that U.S. troops will not actively destroy the crops, Reuters reported on 17 June. Barno cited a "finite force" whose "primary focus continues to be counterterrorist operations."
As long as international forces stationed in Afghanistan do not actively try to stop the cultivation of opium poppies, try to deny the trafficking of the drug, and destroy the laboratories turning opium into heroin, the path of Afghanistan's recovery towards normalcy will be tenuous at best.
Indeed, the level of international involvement in dealing with Afghan narcotics is also a major grievance for Iran. In addition, Iran does not believe that its counternarcotics activities get sufficient attention or credit from the West -- the ultimate destination for opiates originating in Afghanistan. In a 1 June meeting with a visiting Kuwaiti official, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said Iran cannot afford to wait for Western help, IRNA reported. He complained about the extent of opium cultivation in Afghanistan, despite the presence of military personnel from the Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Iran leads the international community in intercepting opium, morphine, and heroin originating in Afghanistan, according to the UN (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/global_illicit_drug_trends.html). Tehran reports that approximately 2 million people in the country abuse drugs. Poor relations with the Taliban regime meant that Iran made little headway in persuading its eastern neighbor to curtail opium production. It therefore relied mainly on interdiction efforts.
Iran's relations with Kabul now are friendly, and Tehran is involved with promoting crop substitution plans in Afghanistan. Iranian Deputy Agricultural Jihad Minister Gholamreza Sahrain visited the Afghan capital on 12 June to discuss these activities, IRNA reported. In a meeting with Agriculture and Livestock Minister Seyyed Hussein Anwari, the Iranian official noted that, to date, Tehran has provided $10 million in aid for opium eradication.
Iran also is working closely with other states that neighbor Afghanistan in an effort to create a "security belt" that will stop narcotics shipments. In late May and early June, the head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters (DCHQ), Ali Hashemi, visited Uzbekistan. He met there with his Uzbek counterpart, Kamal Dustemov, on 1 June to discuss the need for regional states to close ranks in the drug control campaign, IRNA reported. The two officials expressed the belief that peace and stability in Afghanistan would be matched with reduced narcotics production. In the following days, Hashemi met with Internal Affairs Minister Zokirjon Almatov and Public Health Minister Feruz Nazirov.
In the latter meeting, Hashemi noted that there are 350 centers in Iran that treat drug addicts. Treatment and demand reduction is receiving ever more attention in Iran. Citing a figure of 214 billion rials (about $27 million), Hashemi said in Tehran on 26 May that more than 36 percent of the country's drug control budget is allocated for prevention programs, IRNA reported. This money will go to education for young people, cultural centers, mosques, and other nongovernmental organizations. A total of 600 billion rials (about $76 million), he said, will be used for prevention and interdiction.
Hashemi's earlier comments about the success rate in treating drug addicts were not very encouraging. He said in a 12 May meeting of the drug control planning department in Rasht that 10-15 percent of addicts are treated successfully. According to Hashemi, 200,000 people are addicted to heroin and 64,000 are infected with AIDS.
Unless the Iranian government can provide the professional and social opportunities that will discourage people from abusing drugs, the addiction and infection figures will probably worsen. And, until opium cultivation in Afghanistan is eliminated, Iran will continue to be a prime destination for these products. (Bill Samii, Amin Tarzi)