9 August 2004, Volume 7, Number 26
WANTED: AN ORDERLY, MORAL PRESS. Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, who heads Iran's conservative-dominated judiciary, said on 5 August in Mashhad that the judiciary has had to intervene in press affairs because state bodies like the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, which regulates Iran's newspapers, have failed in their supervisory duties, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Hashemi-Shahrudi urged journalists to respect "sincerity" and the "trust" placed in them, and engage in "Islamic news reporting," which raises "cultural levels and public awareness," IRNA added. The judiciary has closed scores of newspapers and journals over the past four years on charges such as contempt for religious values and insulting state officials or clerics.
Shahrudi made the remarks at one of his regular face-to-face meetings with the public, designed to hear citizens' complaints, which this time was held in the building housing the country's Justice Department. At the meeting, he also said that "competent judges are identified and encouraged, and weak judges admonished," IRNA reported.
The previous day, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed concern at Iran's recently increased efforts to "gag the Internet," and a draft bill the group says will restrict freedom of expression on the Internet if it becomes law. RSF did not report on its website (http://www.rsf.org) whether the government or the judiciary have proposed the bill. The bill threatens imprisonment for the dissemination of information deemed threatening to Iran's "internal and external security," up to 15 years if that information is sent to "foreign states [or] organizations," according to rsf.org. The bill would also punish the spread of "false information" about Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and let police search Internet users' homes for incriminating evidence, without need of a court order, rsf.org added.
RSF is also concerned for the well-being of Mujtaba Lutfi, a theologian and former journalist detained in Qom and prosecuted last May for "spying and spreading false information." Lutfi posted an article about civil rights on naqshineh.com, a site now closed and facing prosecution for other critical content, rsf.org reported.
Some 200 journalists and supporters of democratic reforms in Iran held a sit-in on 26 July in the Tehran offices of Iran's press guild to protest the recent closure of two reformist dailies by the conservative-led judiciary, Radio Farda reported. The protesters included Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who is representing the family of Zahra Kazemi (see below), and liberal theologian Hojatoleslam Muhsin Kadivar, according to the report on Radio Farda's website (http://www.radiofarda.com/en_default.aspx). The protest, organized by the Association in Defense of Press Freedoms, lasted much of the afternoon.
"Journalists were merely intending to state their objections in this gathering," Radio Farda quoted protester Ali Pir-Husseinlu as saying. "We did not have the possibility of any greater sit-in or protest," he said. "Outside pressures were such that it could not continue any longer," he added, without specifying those pressures. (Vahid Sepehri)
COURT ACQUITS SUSPECT IN CANADIAN JOURNALIST'S KILLING. A Tehran court on 24 July acquitted an Iranian state security agent accused of the "semi-intentional" killing in 2003 of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, citing insufficient evidence, local and international news agencies reported on 25 July. Mohammad Reza Aqdam Ahmadi was the only man charged in the killing, in which Kazemi died after her detention and interrogation by authorities in Tehran. The judiciary now says it has no idea who killed Kazemi, but it ordered the Iranian state to pay her family around $13,700 in compensation, AFP reported on 25 July.
Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and attorney for Kazemi's family, told Radio Farda on 25 July that Kazemi's death was a murder, not a "semi-intentional" killing, that the investigation was incomplete, and that the court refused to summon specific witnesses her legal team had identified. Had it summoned them, Ebadi said, the killers would have been caught, Reuters reported on 25 July. Ebadi said her team will exhaust legal channels in Iran to win justice, adding, "If using [those], the truth is not clarified nor justice done, we shall [take our case to] international authorities and the United Nations," the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 25 July.
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 26 July that Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security is ready, "if the judicial apparatus wishes," to find the "real agent in the semi-intentional murder" of Kazemi. "I asked the intelligence minister about the case yesterday, and he...said that if the [judiciary] permits and wishes it, the Intelligence Ministry will identify the truth of this matter, through...transparent and open investigations, and in the presence of all parties involved, including [the victim's] immediate family," ISNA quoted Ramezanzadeh as saying.
The judiciary dismissed Ramezanzadeh's suggestion as "interference," news agencies reported on 28 July. The court decision was "authoritative," the statement said, and an acquittal can only mean that Kazemi's death was "an accident," "Sharq" reported. The judiciary said Kazemi, who began a hunger strike after being detained, must have fainted after her blood-sugar level dropped and hit her head on something "somewhere around her," "Sharq" reported, citing a 28 July judiciary statement.
Canadian Foreign Ministry spokesman Reynald Doiron said on 28 July that the judiciary's explanation has "no credibility" and "hardly deserves...comment," Reuters reported the same day.
Lawyers representing Kazemi's family have published an open letter urging judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi to order a review of the case and appoint an independent inspector to look into her death, Radio Farda reported on 29 July. Lawyers for Kazemi's family reject the judiciary's conclusion about an accidental death and say she was in an enclosed space in the care of the state, according to the Radio Farda report. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, one of the lawyers, believes "a review would clarify" the case and added, "We keep telling the court there are witnesses. Bring in the witnesses to reveal the truth," Radio Farda noted.
Separately, Reporters Without Borders also urged an independent investigation on 29 July, according to AFP, and dismissed as "ridiculous" and an "affront" the judiciary's statement that Kazemi died accidentally. (Vahid Sepehri)
JAILINGS, TRIALS, AND BEATINGS. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's first minister of Islamic culture and guidance, Ataollah Mohajerani, was detained on 27 July by a Tehran court dealing with offenses by state employees, "Resalat" reported on 28 July. Mohajerani was held after he went to court to hear charges brought by "one of his wives," Mahsa Yusefi, who alleges he is not supporting her and has not registered their marriage, "Resalat" added. Iran's Islamic laws forbid sexual relations outside marriage. Mohajerani is being held until his family pays bail of $113,000.
Separately, Mohammad Salamati, the secretary-general of the reformist Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, was charged in a Tehran court on 27 July with "the publication of falsehoods" said to be contained in a statement issued by his group, ISNA reported the same day, without giving details. He was released on bail of $13,000, ISNA added.
Rajab-Ali Mazrui, a member of Iran's last, reformist-dominated parliament, was called to a Tehran court on 3 August to hear charges of calumny brought against him by an officer of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 4 August. Mazrui had at an unspecified date accused the officer of abusing his position and lacking "military competence," the daily reported. The court informed Mazrui he is charged with "publishing falsehoods and proffering insults," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported, without giving further details.
Amnesty International has expressed concern that Mustafa Piran, a teacher detained in July while organizing a civil protest, has been tortured, Radio Farda reported on 3 August. Radio Farda quoted an unspecified family member as saying that he saw bruises on Piran's face and body when he visited him in prison. Piran's son, Peyman, is also in jail for protesting against a 1999 police attack on a Tehran student dormitory. Mustafa Piran was arrested after state security officials broke into his home, beat him, expelled his family from their government-owned apartment, and threw out their belongings, according to Radio Farda and Amnesty International. (Vahid Sepehri)
COURT RELEASES AGHAJARI. Political activist and university professor Hashem Aghajari, who was sentenced to death in 2002 for apostasy, reprieved, then sentenced to imprisonment in July for insulting Iran's ruling clergy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 2004), was released on bail on 31 July, news agencies reported the same day. He left a Tehran prison after a sum equivalent to about $122,500 was posted as bail, AP reported. Having been in jail since 2002, he has already served two years of the three-year sentence given him in July. He went home to meet the press and a crowd of friends, including Hojatoleslam Muhsin Kadivar and reformist journalists Emaddedin Baqi and Issa Saharkhiz, all of whom were previously jailed by the conservative-led judiciary, Radio Farda and ISNA reported. "I am very happy to be among people again," Radio Farda quoted Aghajari as saying. He said he will challenge the court's decision to bar him from publishing articles and speaking in public, which he said violates his rights, ISNA reported. The sentence given him in July included the "deprivation of social rights" for five years. (Vahid Sepehri)
PARLIAMENT FOCUSES ON 'IRRELEVANT' ISSUES. President Khatami said in his 14 July comments to parliament that, in democratic societies, it is the most powerful body, IRNA reported.
An article in "Sharq" on 27 June, however, asked why the current legislature is focusing on "irrelevant issues." The representatives chant slogans about saving money by limiting the items on their cafeteria's menu, and by not accepting housing assistance, automobiles, or cellular telephones. In fact, according to "Sharq," the amount of money allocated for their housing will increase -- it is currently $3,750 for a down payment and $438 for rent, and reportedly this will increase to $8,750 and $500. Other aspects of parliamentarians' compensation packages, such as meals and cars, remain at the same level as during the previous legislature.
The "Sharq" article also noted that in the first month of its existence the new legislature had one-fifth the number of open sessions that the previous one had. Moreover, the current, seventh parliament held three incomplete open sessions. (Bill Samii)
IRAN BANS UNDERAGE SMOKING. The Iranian government has approved a Health Ministry proposal to ban the sale of cigarettes to individuals under the age of 18, Radio Farda reported on 25 July. The decision is aimed at preventing teenage addiction to tobacco and curbing the rising number of young smokers in Iran, according to Tehran-based journalist Arash Qavidel as quoted by Radio Farda on 25 July. The Health Ministry directive also bans smoking in all public-administration buildings and cigarette advertising, according to Radio Farda.
"One rarely sees people smoking in public places like a subway station or administrative buildings, but every day there are more youngsters smoking," Radio Farda quoted Qavidel as saying. He added that the number of women and girls smoking is approaching figures for male smokers "when only five years ago, the number of women smokers was less than half that of men," he added, although he did not provide a source for his assertion. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRAN TO RESUME BUILDING CENTRIFUGES. Iran has broken seals placed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on relevant equipment and is again building centrifuges that can be used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, AP quoted unnamed diplomats as claiming on 27 July. Iran agreed in 2003 to halt centrifuge construction and its uranium-enrichment program in a deal with the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. Diplomats claim that the moratorium ended several weeks ago, when Tehran broke the IAEA-tagged seals and begun assembling and installing centrifuges. It appears that Iran has not as yet restarted its uranium-enrichment program, the sources added.
AP reported that a source at Iran's state-run television station had said that Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani confirmed that Iran restarted the program on 29 June but told at least one broadcaster not to report on the resumption, which would likely draw harsh international criticism.
The next day, unnamed diplomats told AP in Vienna that Iran is testing equipment used to make uranium hexafluoride, a gas that can be used to make nuclear weapons when sufficiently enriched. They added that Iran "has apparently produced" the gas as a by-product, though the diplomats did not state how much was produced or when Iran began testing the machinery, AP added.
Unnamed diplomats in Vienna also cited an intelligence report on 28 July indicating Iran's interest in buying or making a gas, deuterium, which can be used both in civilian nuclear reactors and to boost a nuclear explosion, according to AP.
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Tehran on 31 July that Iran has resumed building nuclear centrifuges -- which can enrich uranium for civilian or military purposes -- but said it will not enrich uranium at this time, news agencies reported on 1 August. Iran also reportedly told European diplomats at closed talks in Paris on 29 July that it retains the right to enrich uranium, Reuters reported on 1 August.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran the same day that Iran has decided to reverse a promise it made to European states in Brussels in February to halt "the construction and assembly of parts," in addition to an earlier pledge to suspend uranium-enrichment-related activities (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003), the daily added. Iran is dissatisfied that France, Britain, and Germany have failed to get UN nuclear inspectors to clear Iran's nuclear dossier, a move that would end the current scrutiny of its nuclear activities. Assefi said Iran suspended uranium enrichment "to build confidence and show our sincerity in our activities," but that it "will not accept any imposition under any circumstances," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 2 August. (Vahid Sepehri, Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAN-EU TALKS ON NUCLEAR PROGRAM INCONCLUSIVE. An unnamed spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry told Radio Farda on 28 July that French, British, and German diplomats maintain an ongoing dialogue with Iran in an attempt to dissuade it from using its nuclear program for military purposes. That same week, senior European diplomats and Iranian officials met to discuss Iran's nuclear program and gauge Tehran's future intentions.
Iranian nuclear stance is causing international concern. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Kuwait on 29 July that Iran's recent renewal of uranium-enrichment-related activities are making it "more and more likely" that the country's nuclear program will be referred to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions, AFP reported the same day. The United States suspects Iran's nuclear program is a cover for making nuclear bombs, a charge Iran rejects. Powell called Iran's recent moves "troubling" and said he hopes that "this is a matter of concern" for the IAEA, which intermittently inspects Iranian installations to ensure that they serve a strictly civilian nuclear program.
European diplomats said on 1 August that their closed talks in Paris with Iranian officials, aimed at dissuading Iran from resuming uranium-enrichment-related activities, yielded "no substantial progress," the "International Herald Tribune" reported on 2 August, citing news agency reports. The diplomats met on 29 and 30 July, but "each side repeated their positions and there were no changes," according to unnamed European diplomat quoted on the iht.com.
In Tehran, Supreme National Security Council official Hussein Musavian conceded on 2 August that Europe and the United States are concerned by Iranian activities. "We want to have uranium enrichment and the fuel cycle at our disposal, [but] are prepared to give the international community complete assurance that this fuel cycle will not [deviate] toward nuclear weapons," IRNA quoted him as saying.
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Tehran on 4 August that Iran made "absolutely no agreement" with French, British, and German diplomats on abandoning its right to enrich uranium to fuel the nuclear reactor it is building, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 5 August. "Talks in this regard will continue with European states, the [International Atomic Energy] Agency, and nonaligned states," he said, but "we will not allow certain people to violate our rights," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. Kharrazi said Iran must "wait and see what will happen at the September meeting" of the IAEA, but "not permit...the dossier to be sent to the [UN] Security Council," the daily reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
TEHRAN DISMISSES LIKELIHOOD OF ISRAELI STRIKE... Iranian Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said in the northeastern city of Gorgan on 25 July that there is a "weak" possibility that Israel will attack Iran, Fars News Agency reported. "Still, Iran has thought of the measures needed to repulse all attacks," he said. Officials from Israel and the United States have suggested that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons with which it could strike Israel.
Yunesi also accused Washington of seeking "to dismember Iraq and [Saudi] Arabia," and warned that ethnic and religious discord in Iraq "pave the way for [U.S.] goals," farsnews.com reported.
Separately, the head of the Iranian army's land forces, Brigadier General Nasir Mohammadifar, said in Mashhad on 25 July, "America would have attacked Iran by now if it were sure it could defeat us," ISNA reported the same day. Mohammadifar told a gathering of army inspectors that the United States is "intensely aware" of its "absolute" inability to attack Iran. Should Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei order Iran's armed forces to go to war, Mohammadifar said, "We would consider martyrdom an immense blessing," ISNA added.
Brigadier General Seyyed Masud Jazayeri, the public-relations chief for the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, said in Tehran on 26 July that Tehran "will give a response so vigorous" as to "destroy" Israel if that country attacks Iran, ISNA reported the same day. Jazayeri was responding to intermittent hints by Israeli officials that they might strike Iran's nuclear installations, which Israel and the United States suspect might be used one day to make nuclear weapons.
Jazayeri said that if Tel Aviv and Washington "were able to, they would not wait a moment to strike Iran, but the threats they make against [Iranian] nuclear installations have no executive backing, because they know that Tehran's response will be so vigorous as to utterly destroy Israel, and what America considers its interests will be easily hit," ISNA quoted him as saying. He did not elaborate on the nature of U.S. "interests." Iran, he added, is not an aggressor but its response to aggression would be "sharp, firm, effective, and destructive." (Vahid Sepehri)
...AND WARNS OF NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL, CHEMICAL COUNTERSTRIKE. Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Mohammad Shafii-Rudsari told ISNA in Tehran on 3 August that Iran has a "diverse" defense strategy, without a nuclear deterrent, to meet threats from foreign powers "such as America," and "our defense capacity and power are entirely adequate for regional...threats." He did not specify in what manner the strategy is diverse, but "nuclear weapons are basically not on our agenda in terms of deterrence, and we even consider them an obstacle to deterrence, which is why we pursue...other capabilities."
Iran's strategy of diversity, he said, makes up for any inferiority in "classical" military power, and while he said it is unlikely that nuclear powers will strike Iran, "our diversified defensive capabilities will also respond to these threats," ISNA reported. Iran, he added, was once an importer, but now exports military hardware. "Arab states look upon this progress in disbelief, and...Turkey and Pakistan want our defense products, and are [interested in] participating and collaborating in production."
Supreme National Security Council official Hussein Musavian dismissed any talk of possible U.S. or Israeli strikes on Iranian installations. "These threats are a political and psychological war.... I do not imagine the Americans and Israelis will dare launch the slightest attack on Iran's nuclear installations," IRNA quoted him as saying on 2 August. "America's position in the region" will not allow this, he said, and Israel "faces an internal crisis." Musavian said he is "certain that American threats are baseless...it is not possible, in the worst possible situation, that the Americans will want to attack Iran," IRNA reported.
Musavian said Iran has already planned its "nuclear, chemical, and biological counterattack, initiated by the [Defense] Ministry," but gave no details on those. The United States, he added, can at most press the UN Security Council to impose economic sanctions on Iran, and "economic pressure has been shown not to work in the past 25 years. This measure would be a repetition of an experience that has already failed, and we are not worried by it," IRNA reported.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi dismissed on 25 July recent news of reported moves by the U.S. Congress to support opponents of the Iranian government and said proponents of such initiatives "are living in their dreams," ISNA reported the same day. "They know neither Iran nor the position of opponents sitting [abroad]," he added. Reuters reported on 25 July that two Republican senators have introduced the Iran Freedom and Support Act of 2004, authorizing the U.S. president to give $10 million to Iranian pro-democracy groups with the intent of promoting regime change in Tehran.
Assefi said such plans "show that [their proponents] are behind the times and secondly do not understand America's position.... They know that America is isolated in world opinion, and propose plans that are clearly doomed to failure," ISNA reported. Iran's government, Assefi said, will "stand up to America's oppressive plans...by relying on its people and the good relations between [Iranians] and officials," ISNA reported.
U.S. President George W. Bush said during a White House press briefing broadcast on C-SPAN on 2 August that his administration is paying "very close attention" to Iran, a country it has watched "since we [the Bush administration] came to office" in 2000. Bush was responding to a reporter who asked why the United States has paid greater attention to Iraq than Iran. The United States, Bush said, is working to "keep the pressure on the mullahs to listen to the demands of the free world," referring to Iran's Shi'a clergy. He said that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is working with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, and Germany to coordinate U.S. and European positions on Iran. (Vahid Sepehri)
TURKISH PRIME MINISTER VISITS TEHRAN. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began a three-day visit to Tehran on 27 July, dpa reported. Erdogan attended the 18th meeting of the Iran-Turkey Joint Economic and Trade Commission during his stay. The two countries aim to double last year's trade volume of $2.4 billion. Talks also addressed a $20 billion project that would transport Iranian natural gas to Europe via Turkey -- an agreement signed in 1996 but never implemented.
Iran is also expected to designate the Turkish-Kurdish opposition group Kongra-Gel a terrorist organization. Turkey has criticized Iran in the past for giving shelter to the group, a charge that Tehran denies. Iran and Turkey signed a security agreement in Tehran on 30 July at the close of Erdogan's visit, agreeing to place rebels opposed to Tehran and Ankara on each other's terrorist lists, AFP reported the same day. Iran has agreed to put Kongra-Gel, the former Kurdistan People's Party (PKK) -- which wants a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey -- on its terrorist list, and Turkey agreed to do the same with the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an Iranian rebel group based in Iraq.
Iranian Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali Asqar Ahmadi told the agency that Tehran and Ankara will cooperate against the two groups whatever names they may adopt in the future. Iran and Turkey, he added, will pursue other unspecified "security issues," AFP added. Iran has recently fought the Kongra-Gel near its frontier with Turkey to prevent the group from using Iranian territory in its war against Turkey (on the continuing conflict with the PKK/Kongra-Gel, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12, 19, and 26 July 2004). (Kathleen Ridolfo, Vahid Sepehri)
MUJAHEDIN KHALQ SAYS IT HAS COALITION PROTECTION IN IRAQ. The Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), an Iranian rebel group hostile to the Tehran government, is listed as a terrorist group by U.S. State Department and the European Union. A member of an MKO front group, Farid Suleimani of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance, now says that the group enjoys the protection of coalition forces in Iraq, where it is confined at a military base, AFP reported on 25 July. The MKO was backed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but disarmed by coalition forces after his ouster by U.S.-led forces. Its members are to enjoy the status of protected noncombatants under the Fourth Geneva Convention, AFP reported, preventing their extradition to Iran, which wants to prosecute them on terrorist charges.
Mariam Rajavi, an MKO leader, welcomed the move as a "victory" for the group against Tehran, Radio Farda reported on 26 July.
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh expressed uncertainty over the report's veracity in Tehran on 26 July, but said the international coalition's treatment of the MKO will "be a measure of the truth of the claims of [those] claiming to fight worldwide terrorism," ISNA reported the same day.
The next day, Tehran criticized Washington for granting protected status to the MKO in Iraq, IRNA reported on 27 July. "We already knew that America is not serious in fighting terrorism," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said. "America...is seeking to legally justify its support for terrorists only out of spite against and enmity with Iran's quest for independence." "The American people must be worried more than anybody else since other terrorist groups can now be granted protection and given privileges of a good terrorist," Assefi said.
During a 3 August visit to Tehran, Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati said that the Iraqi government has decided that the MKO "must not engage in any...political activities or other programs in Iraq," ISNA reported. "They are merely allowed to meet their basic human needs, including food and drink, and are barred from any and all activity," ISNA quoted al-Bayati as saying. So far, al-Bayati said, the "Iraqi government has had no control over this group," which has been guarded by coalition forces.
The MKO "are not permitted to remain in Iraq," al-Bayati said, and the International Committee of the Red Cross is interviewing members to "find them a place," or send them to Iran or a third country, if they wish.
Separately, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in a Tehran meeting on 3 August with Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi that Iran wants the MKO expelled, following a previous Governing Council decision that "America is preventing from being implemented," IRNA reported the same day. (Vahid Sepehri)
IRAN REPORTEDLY CONSIDERING OPENING CONSULAR OFFICES IN THREE IRAQI CITIES. Iran is reportedly considering opening consular offices in Al-Basrah, Karbala, and Al-Sulaymaniyah, IRNA reported on 26 July. The offices would work to facilitate the travel of Iranians to Iraq and vice versa, according to an "informed source" quoted by the state-run news agency. The offices would also help promote trade opportunities between the two states. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQ-IRAN BUSINESS TIES STRENGTHENED... The Export Guarantee Fund of Iran (EGFI) has been authorized to cover the risk of Iranian investments and exports to Iraq and Afghanistan, IRNA reported on 26 July. The high commission for Iran's non-oil exports reportedly issued a directive to the EGFI, clearing the way for the fund's general assembly to implement the decision. The directive also mandates the Transportation Ministry to establish export terminals at border crossings in cooperation with private-sector companies. The EGFI provides coverage for Iranian exports against political and trade risks in some 145 countries.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi met with Iraqi Finance Minister al-Mahdi in Tehran on 2 August, and told him Iran "considers Iraq its friend," and Iraqi and Iranian officials must boost bilateral cooperation with "agreements, contracts, and banking mechanisms," Fars News Agency reported the same day.
Al-Mahdi was in Tehran for a two-day conference intended to strengthen business ties between Iran and Iraq, IRNA reported. He arrived on 2 August with a delegation of several deputy ministers and 300 businessmen, who attended the meeting alongside 450 Iranian traders and businessmen. Iraq, he told Kharrazi, "is serious about expanding...cooperation and strengthening its friendship with Iran," IRNA reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo, Vahid Sepehri)
...BUT POLITICAL TIES STRAINED. Radio Farda quoted an unnamed Iraqi official as saying on 2 August that Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has postponed a visit to Iran because of the presence in Tehran of an unspecified political opponent. The official reportedly rejected unconfirmed reports that the opponent is Ahmad Chalabi, a former Iraqi Governing Council member who has visited Iran before, but did not confirm whether or not Chalabi is currently in Tehran, Radio Farda reported.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 1 August that Iraqi officials should be "cautious" in comments they make about Iran and blamed recent Iraqi charges of Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs on "disorderly conditions in Iraq and the lack of experience" of Iraqi ministers, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 2 August. Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib recently accused Iran of involvement in unrest in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2004), while Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan al-Khuza'i accused Iran on 20 July of "blatant interference" in Iraqi affairs (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 July 2004). "Iraqi officials have just begun working and need to be cautious," Assefi said, because "such remarks have serious legal and political consequences," the daily added.
Foreign Minister Kharrazi said in Tehran on 1 August that "we only think of being good neighbors and wish to interact with the Iraqi government," IRNA reported the same day. He said Iraqi Prime Minster Allawi has rejected al-Khuza'i's remarks, IRNA added.
A spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi, Georges Sada, told IRNA on 3 August that anti-Iranian remarks by Defense Minister al-Khuza'i "are not the position of Iraq's interim government," which is "stated only through the prime minister or a spokesman." "Whatever any Iraqi minister may say, the government intends to expand relations with its neighbors," Sada said. He said Allawi has not postponed a trip to Tehran and is to visit "at the arranged time," to discuss regulating the flow of Iranians in and out of Iraq, and "other important matters." Iranian pilgrims regularly visit Iraq's Shi'a shrines. "As...neighboring states, Iran and Iraq face a number of border problems, which that trip intends to resolve through friendly and diplomatic talks," Sada said. IRNA did not give a date for the visit.
Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati told ISNA in Tehran on 3 August that Iran and Iraq currently have "good, deep, and solid" relations and "Iraqis believe they must have good relations with Iran." He termed anti-Iranian statements by Defense Minister al-Khuza'i and Interior Minister al-Naqib "their personal views," not "the official position of the Iraqi government." The official position is that "Iraq considers Iran a neighboring Muslim state, not an enemy," ISNA quoted him as saying. Al-Bayati said he is in Tehran to plan a visit "soon" by Prime Minister Allawi. A joint Iran-Iraq committee, he said, will at an unspecified date "examine all issues and problems between Iran and Iraq, including the war," ISNA reported.
Iraqi Defense Minister al-Khuza'i urged Iran to return "right now" 130 planes he said the regime of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein sent to Iran for safekeeping before the 1991 Gulf War, AFP reported on 4 August, citing an interview with Kuwait's "Al-Anbaa." Iraqi officials had previously said 145 planes were left in Iran, and Iran says it has 22, which it will hand over if asked by the United Nations, AFP added.
Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam television has reported that "elements supervised by" the Mujahedin Khalq Organization are smuggling arms into Iran "with the support of" al-Khuza'i, Fars News Agency reported. The evidence, according to the report on the farsnews.com, is that Iranian border guards confiscated a "container" full of weapons on 30 July in the Hur al-Huwaiza District by the Iraqi frontier, adding that former members of Iraq's Ba'ath Party are involved in the smuggling. (Vahid Sepehri)