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Iran Report: September 13, 2004

13 September 2004, Volume 7, Number 31

BAHA'IS SOUND THE ALARM ON ABUSES IN IRAN. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States asserts, in an advertisement in "The New York Times" of 12 September, that the Iranian government has persecuted the 300,000 members of the religious minority for the last quarter century, the Baha'i World News Service reported (; see the advertisement at The advertisement compares the Iranian theocracy's actions with those of the Taliban when it destroyed the ancient rock statues of Buddha at Bamian, Afghanistan.

The Iranian government's most recent attack on the Baha'i faith is the destruction in June of the Tehran house of Mirza Abbas Nuri, father of Baha'i founder Mirza Hussein Ali Nuri (also known as Bahaullah). A 13 September press release from the Baha'i community notes that, earlier in the year, Iranian authorities destroyed the gravesite in Babol of Mullah Mohammad-Ali Barfurushi, a prominent Baha'i known as Quddus. Bani Dugal, a Baha'i representative, described these developments as "part of a concerted plan on the part of the Iranian government to gradually extinguish the Baha'i Faith as a cultural force and cohesive entity." (Bill Samii)

IS THE HOJJATIEH SOCIETY MAKING A COMEBACK? Friday Prayer leaders throughout Iran warned their congregations in early July of renewed activities on the part of the Hojjatieh Society -- a strongly anti-Baha'i movement that has long been regarded as a potent, if secretive threat to the ruling elites (both imperial and clerical) that have run Iran since the Hojjatieh Society was created in the middle of the last century. In Shahrud, Ayatollah Abbas Amini said that Hojjatieh activists are recruiting new members in the city's mosques, Radio Farda reported on 11 July.

The Hojjatieh Mahdavieh Society was established in 1953 by a preacher from Mashhad, Sheikh Mahmud Halabi, who supported Prime Minister Mohammad Mussadiq. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi allowed the society to pursue its anti-Baha'i activities after Mussadiq's August 1953 ouster, in exchange for the clerical community's support for his renewed reign. Society member Mohammad Taqi Falsafi's anti-Baha'i sermons were broadcast by state radio, for example, and Tehran's Military-Governor Teimour Bakhtiar took a pick-ax to the Baha'i temple in Tehran in May 1955. Around that time, Halabi persuaded the Marja-yi Taqlid (source of emulation) Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Tabatabai Borujerdi to issue a fatwa banning transactions with Baha'is, according to Baqer Moin's "Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah" (1999).

After that, the Hojjatieh Society entered a period of relative inactivity, although the same cannot be said of Falsafi. The shah's court minister, Assadollah Alam, wrote in his diaries that in 1963 Falsafi preached against the shah's reform program and, after a June 1963 riot, Alam had Falsafi imprisoned (Assadollah Alam, "The Shah and I," Alinaghi Alikhani, ed. [1991]).

There is more to the Hojjatieh Society than its anti-Baha'i beliefs, however, although the depths of those beliefs say a great deal about the society. While Baha'i leader Mirza Hussein Ali Nuri (1817-1892) -- who declared himself a prophet known as Bahaullah (most Muslims view Muhammad as the final prophet in Islam) -- disputed the existence of a hidden imam, Hojjatieh members believe that true Islamic government must await the return of the hidden imam, or Mahdi, who is currently in occultation. For much the same reasons, the Hojjatieh Society opposed Ayatollah Khomeini's theory of Islamic government and Vilayat-i Faqih (rule of the supreme jurisconsult). It favors collective leadership of the religious community, and opposes religious involvement in political affairs.

The Hojjatieh Society enjoyed a revival after the 1978-1979 Islamic revolution; fearing a communist takeover, Sheikh Mahmud Halabi urged his followers to vote in favor of Vilayat-i Faqih in the December 1979 referendum on the country's form of government. Moin writes that the society was well organized at the time and its members had "impeccable religious credentials," so they were able to fill administrative gaps left by revolutionary purges, as was particularly the case in the educational sector. Some cabinet members allegedly had Hojjatieh links as well.

Prominent clerics of the revolutionary era who were Hojjatieh members or sympathizers included Ahmad Azari-Qomi, Ali-Akbar Parvaresh, Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, Abolqasem Khazali, and Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, according to Mehdi Moslem's "Factional Politics in Post-Khomeini Iran" (2002). None of them acknowledged their relationship with the society, however, maintaining more open ties with the Islamic Coalition Association (now the Islamic Coalition Party) and with the bazaar sector.

Within a few years this situation changed. Concern arose about the society's secretiveness, as did resentment of its members' success. An increasingly intolerant Khomeini, Moin writes, attacked the society and what it stood for. He said in a 12 July 1983 speech: "Those who believe we should allow sins to increase until the Twelfth Imam reappears should modify and reconsider their position.... If you believe in your country [then] get rid of this factionalism and join the wave that is carrying the nation forward, otherwise it will break you." The Hojjatieh Society announced its dissolution on the same day, according to Moin.

The formal end of the Hojjatieh Society did not necessarily mean the end to its role in politics. Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, for example, became the speaker of the fifth parliament and currently serves on the Expediency Council and as an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ali-Akbar Parvaresh served as deputy speaker of parliament and education minister. Ayatollah Ahmad Azari-Qomi-Bigdeli served as public prosecutor, represented Khomeini during a parliamentary review of the constitution, represented Qom in the legislature, served on the Assembly of Experts, and headed the Resalat Foundation (the regime eventually put him under house arrest for questioning the system of Vilayat-i Faqih and questioning the qualifications of Supreme Leader Khamenei; he died in 1999).

Warnings of renewed Hojjatieh Society activism appeared again in 2002. Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi told a press conference that a group of people in Qom was arrested on charges of supporting the society and trying to fuel religious discord, and their books and pamphlets were confiscated, "Toseh" reported on 27 August 2002. Rudsar and Amlash parliamentary representative Davud Hasanzadegan-Rudsari said a little later that the revived Hojjatieh Society is "exacerbating the Shi'a-Sunni conflict," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 1 September 2002. Hasanzadegan described the society as "the embodiment of obscurantism."

An editorial in the 1 September 2002 issue of the conservative "Kayhan" newspaper took a very different tack when discussing reports of renewed political activity by the Hojjatieh Society. It claimed there are many similarities between the reformist 2nd of Khordad grouping and the Hojjatieh Society. Both advocate the separation of politics and religion; just as the society opposes creation of an Islamic government, the reformists are "trying to separate the Islamic from the republic and then gradually turn the Islamic system into a secular system of government." Society members and reformists enjoy luxury and wealth, according to the editorial, and they both opposed Vilayat-i Faqih.

The editorial went on to claim that both groups accept all sorts of sin and social corruption. "The only difference is that association members say we should not fight vice so that it spreads and the Mahdi will emerge, while certain reformers say that the democratic principle demands that the people be left alone to do as they please, even if it means loose morals and social corruption." The Hojjatieh Society, mainly because it opposes Marxism, is pro-Western, according to the editorial, as is the 2nd of Khordad grouping.

The Hojjatieh Society was also mentioned occasionally in 2003. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 8 January that Hojjatieh Society members who infiltrate the government would be dealt with in the same way as other citizens, "Iran Daily" reported the next day. Assembly of Experts member Hojatoleslam Hashem Hashemzadeh-Harisi said in the same newspaper that the infiltration of the government by such "radicals" threatens the Islamic system and undermines national solidarity. On the sidelines of the 9 March legislative session, Tehran representative Ali Shakuri-Rad allegedly said that the Hojjatieh Society should be licensed as a political party, "Resalat" reported on 10 March ("Towseh" put this into context on 10 March, when it reported that Shakuri-Rad was comparing his political opponents to the Hojjatieh Society).

"Aftab-i Yazd" on 7 October 2003 criticized an unnamed cleric for defending the Hojjatieh Society. This cleric reportedly claimed that Ayatollah Khomeini was deceived into criticizing the Hojjatieh Society.

Sectarian conflicts reemerged in spring 2004 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 September 2004), which some sources linked to the Hojjatieh Society. Rasul Montajabnia wrote in a commentary for "Nasim-i Saba" on 4 May that members or supporters of the society have stopped their fight against the Baha'i faith and have turned their attention to creating divisions between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims. Montajabnia repeated this concern in the 12 May "Hambastegi."

Hussein Shariatmadari, director of the "Kayhan" newspaper, said, "The Hojjatieh Society has always been active as a creeping current," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 31 May 2004. Turning to its renewed activism, Shariatmadari warned, "In these days all the currents that suggest a secular establishment are the supporters of this society."

Ayatollah Abolqasem Khazali, who served on the Guardians Council, defended the Hojjatieh Society in the 18 May 2004 "Aftab-i Yazd." He said that stories of its renewed activism are "completely a lie." "I know these people [society members] very well. They are not working. They would have worked if they had known it was good for Islam. Therefore it is a complete lie when they say they have become active again."

It is difficult to verify if the Hojjatieh Society really has become more active as an organization or if recent warnings about it relate to something completely different and this is another case of governmental scapegoating.

Members of the Hojjatieh Society, according to Radio Farda, are followers of the Iranian-born but Al-Najaf-based Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani Such a claim has not been reported elsewhere, but it is not impossible and goes some way in explaining official Iranian concern. The Iranian regime bases much of its legitimacy on its religious credentials and connection with Qom. The Qom howzeh would fear the transfer of prominence to the Al-Najaf howzeh. As suggested by an editorial in the 8 June "Farhang-i Ashti," Al-Najaf is the "new Islamic Vatican" and it rivals Qom. Mashhad -- birthplace of the Hojjatieh Society -- also rivals Qom, especially because, according to the editorial, it views Islamic rule with "deep suspicion." The editorial explains: "Qom looks to merge religion and politics, while Mashhad thinks of separating the two."

A potential link to the Hojjatieh Society is not the only cause of concern on the part of the Iranian government about Ayatollah al-Sistani. Like the Hojjatieh Society, al-Sistani does not advocate Vilayat-i Faqih. The government's concern about a religio-political organization that questions the basis of its theocratic system is therefore understandable. The society's anti-Baha'i message may not find much of an audience in modern Iran, and the right-wing tendencies of prominent members may not jibe with overall public sentiment. Its opposition to the system, however, may very well strike a chord with an unhappy public. (Bill Samii)

POLL SUGGESTS IRANIANS NOT INTERESTED IN NEWS. A recent nationwide poll by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) suggests that the majority of Iranians do not follow the news very closely. In an ISNA report on the poll's results on 8 September, 82 percent of those surveyed listen to less than one hour of radio daily and 59.9 percent watch only one hour of television daily, while 12.2 percent watch less than 30 minutes of satellite television daily and 25.5 percent watch up to one hour of satellite television a day. Concerning newspaper readership, 38.8 percent of respondents said that they do not read newspapers at all, while 24.7 percent read a newspaper for less than 30 minutes a day. Internet use is also remarkably low, with 81 percent not having any access at all to the Internet and 74 percent not having a computer at home. Of those who do have Internet access, according to the poll, 42.1 percent use it less than 30 minutes a day. (Bill Samii)

IRAN TO LAUNCH WEATHER SATELLITE. Scientific and Industrial Research Center chief Mohammad Fathi said on 2 September that Iran will launch its first satellite by May 2005, Reuters reported, citing Iranian state television. Fathi said the domestically made Mesbah satellite would be used for meteorology and geology.

A few days later, an Israeli satellite intended to provide real-time information on Iran's missile program crashed just minutes after its launch. The Israeli Defense Ministry announced on 6 September that the launch of its Ofek-6 satellite failed, Jerusalem's Channel 2 television and the website run by "Yediot Aharonot" ( reported. One of its four directional engines malfunctioned and the rocket and payload crashed into the Mediterranean Sea. Ofek-6 was intended to replace Ofek-5, according to "Ha'aretz." Ofek-5 will function for a few more years, and an anonymous source close to the project estimates that another replacement satellite can be put in place in time if the necessary funds are available. The failure of the Ofek-6 cost approximately $50 million.

Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani said on 7 September that Iran is willing to demonstrate its Shihab-3 missile "in the presence of observers," IRNA reported. Iran test-fired the missile on 11 August (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 August 2004). Shamkhani went on to say that Iran continuously upgrades its defensive capabilities as part of its policy of deterrence. "Being powerful does not necessarily mean war-mongering, neither do the roads of peace lead to concession," Shamkhani said (Bill Samii).

SYRIA'S LEBANESE OCCUPATION GETS IRANIAN THUMBS-UP. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami telephoned his Lebanese counterpart, Emile Lahud, on 7 September to congratulate him on the extension of his presidency for another three years, the Lebanese National News Agency (LNNA) reported. The previous day, a Hizballah delegation that included the chief of Hizballah's Political Council, Al-Sayyid Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyid, Mustafa al-Hajj Ali, Khadir Nur-al-Din, Hassan Hadraj, Ghalib Abu-Zaynab, Muhammad Salih, Mustafa al-Dirani, Hassan Izz-al-Din, Mahmud Qamati and Wafiq Safa, visited Lahud to convey Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's congratulations, LNNA reported.

These sentiments are not universal, as the extension of Lahud's six-year presidential term is the result of a constitutional amendment pushed by Syria. The Lebanese parliament voted by 96 to 29 for the amendment on 3 September.

Four cabinet members resigned in protest on 7 September, news agencies reported.

The UN Security Council adopted on 2 September a resolution that called for free elections in Lebanon "conducted according to Lebanese constitutional rules devised without foreign interference or influence;" in other words, calling for an end to Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. The UN resolution also calls for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country and the disarmament of militias, in what is seen as a reference to Hizballah. Syria's ambassador to the UN, Fayssal Mekdad, retorted, "Syria is not a foreign force in Lebanon, it is there at the request of the Lebanese government." There are 15,000-20,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon. (Bill Samii)

INTELLIGENCE MINISTER DEFENDS LEBANESE HIZBALLAH. While Tehran continues to deny involvement with international terrorism, observers in Israel suggest the opposite may be the case.

Iran's Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi reiterated, in a 31 August press conference, the official Iranian position that Lebanese Hizballah is a liberation movement, IRNA and ISNA reported. The U.S. State Department classifies Hizballah as a foreign terrorist organization. Responding to a question about U.S. claims that Iran supports terrorism, Yunesi said, "If they mean Iran's support for Hizballah, they should know that the Hizballah is a legal group which was created to fight Israel. It is a defense organization which was established in order to defend the Lebanese people and land," ISNA reported. Yunesi added that this is why many states in the region support Hizballah.

The State Department also asserts that Iran supports the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, two other groups labeled as foreign terrorist organizations that are active in Israel. According to Yunesi, however, "We do not consider the Intifada [uprising] of the Palestinian people as a terrorist movement," IRNA reported. "It is the very right of the Palestinians people to defend themselves and all Muslim countries support them."

Hizballah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qasim appeared to confirm the importance of Iran to his organization during a late-July ceremony in the town of Tulin, when he said "We must stand side by side against the Israeli enemy, because Lebanon's strength is part of Syria's strength, and Iran's support and [Hizballah's] support for Palestine are an honor for us," "Al-Mustaqbal" reported on 26 July.

Anonymous sources in the Israeli defense establishment said that Iranian involvement in terrorism in the occupied territories has increased, Voice of Israel reported on 1 August. These activities mostly are run through Hizballah in Lebanon and, according to the Voice of Israel reporter, "During the past two years Hizballah has tripled or even quadrupled the scope of its operations in the territories."

A commentary in the 27 July issue of "The Jerusalem Post" stated that the threat to Israel from rockets provided to Hizballah by Iran and Syria has grown, both in range and quantity. Iran is supplying an array of rockets by air and sea and overland from Syria, while both countries are providing logistical support and training as well.

Israeli Defense Forces intelligence chief Major-General Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash said on 2 September, "we are dealing with a threat on the northern front. That also means Hizballah and Iran, as well as Syria," "Maariv" reported on 3 September. He continued, "I call this [threat] a bag of mixed sanctions -- economic, political. and military."

Israel's ability to directly target Hizballah is limited, according to "Yediot Aharonot" on 3 September. "However, Israel can influence Hizballah by exerting pressure on the organization's patrons," which were identified earlier as Iran and Syria. The Israel-Palestinian conflict benefits Iran because it diverts the Arab world's attention and permits Iranian activism in the Persian Gulf and Iraq. Because Israel's ability to influence Iran is limited, it should target Syria. (Bill Samii)

IRAQIS LOOK AT THEIR EASTERN NEIGHBOR. Interim Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, during a visit to Tehran, said on 31 August that Iran and Iraq agree that the two countries' political decision to have good relations should be "converted into a working plan," Al-Arabiyah television reported. He added, "Instability in Iraq will have adverse consequences for the entire region."

Salih, Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, and Minister of State for Provinces Wail Abd al-Latif met with Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani on 30 August, IRNA reported. Rohani noted that the security of Iran and of Iraq is linked, and Iraq's security has a regional impact. Salih reassured his host, "We will not allow any threat to be posed against Iran," and he added that coalition forces would not be allowed to stay in Iraq any longer than necessary.

The Iraqis met with Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari on 29 August, IRNA reported the next day. Citing an Interior Ministry press release, IRNA reported, "The officials of both sides should notice that the enemies are frightened with [sic] the close ties between the two neighboring countries and their peaceful coexistence." Their discussions reportedly addressed pilgrimage traffic, the establishment of border markets, trade fairs, investment in border provinces, and cooperation in counternarcotics.

Salih said afterwards that the discussions in Iran were frank and cordial, "Al-Shira" reported on 4 September. Allegations of Iranian involvement in Iraqi unrest continue to trouble the two countries' budding relationship. Salih told "Al-Shira," "We will not allow the country to turn into an arena for settling accounts between Iran and the United States, for example." He added, in what could be a reassurance to Iran, "We will not allow our country to turn into a launching pad for strikes at the interests of our neighbors." He said coalition forces are in Iraq to help establish security and stability, and those who want the coalition to leave must help the Iraqi government maintain security.

Interim Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Ja'fari is said to have addressed this issue during his late-August trip to Iran. He was reportedly very forthright in a meeting with an unnamed Supreme National Security Council official and an unnamed adviser to the supreme leader, and he criticized Iranian military and security units' "blatant interference," Alireza Nurizadeh writes in the 4 September "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." Al-Ja'fari added that the charge d'affaires, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, is being watched closely by Iraqi security services, as was Qods Corps officer Khalil Naimi. Shot dead in Baghdad on 15 April by unknown assailants, Naimi was identified officially as the cultural and press attache at the Iranian embassy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 April 2004). Al-Ja'fari told the Iranians that Qomi should avoid doing things that would get him expelled.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi discussed these allegations on 29 August, Italy's "Corriere della Sera" reported on 30 August. He said, "We ask that they respect our sovereignty and do not interfere in our internal affairs." Allawi said that although Iraq is weak now, it has the potential to be rich and strong, so calm is in everybody's interest. Addressing the possibility of his visiting Iran, a subject referred to frequently in the Iranian media, Allawi said, "If the conditions were there, I myself could soon go to Tehran."

Salah al-Shaikhly, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Kingdom, said on 2 September that Baghdad has good relations with the governments in Tehran and Riyadh, "Haaretz" reported on 3 September. Al-Shaikhly made his assertion in response to questions about his colleagues' accusations of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs. The problem relates to autonomous actors in these countries, he said. "The problem is that these structures [central governments] do not have control over the fanatical zealots that send forces across the border to Iraq," al-Shaikhly said. He explained that Baghdad has asked the central governments in Saudi Arabia and Iran to take action. He said, "We approached the two governments and asked them to deal with this, as they are better equipped than we are to do so."

Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan al-Khuza'i said on 3 September that some of Iraq's neighbors are fueling unrest there and, when pressed, he said, "Yes, it is Iran. I have said it before.... and I say Iran, Iran, Iran," AP reported. He said Iran is promoting violence in his country as a way to "settle its scores" with the United States, AP reported. (Bill Samii)

AL-SADR'S IRANIAN CONNECTION QUESTIONED. Two recent reports suggest that some of the Iranian support for Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr may be drying up.

Ansar al-Sunnah leader Abu Abdallah al-Hassan bin Mahmud criticized Iran in an interview published in the 21-27 August issue of the Beirut political weekly "Al-Muharrir" (for a description of the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 4 June 2004). He said bombings that target Iraqi citizens are carried out by organizations representing Iran, because the Persians bear a grudge dating from the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Abu al-Hassan accused the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, al-Da'wah al-Islamiya, and the Islamic Action Organization of being Iranian products. Abu al-Hassan claimed that Iranian intelligence operatives killed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Muhammad Baqer al-Hakim because he turned against his Iranian patrons by promoting a democratic federal Iraq rather than a Shi'a theocracy.

The Iranians, furthermore, want the "fatwa headquarters" transferred from Al-Najaf to Qom, Abu al-Hassan said. Iran's objective in Iraq is to spread Shi'a Islam, create an Islamic government, have the Shi'a rule the country, buy land, and "obliterate the Iraqi identity." He added that Iran wants to control the shrines, introduce prostitution networks, sell drugs, and create sectarian strife.

Abu al-Hassan added, in his interview in "Al-Muharrir," that his organization works with Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army. This cooperation is based on a note from al-Sadr's father, Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr, that said if he is martyred his sons should "follow the fatwas of Al-Sayyid [Kazem] al-Haeri and Sheikh Dr. Ahmad al-Kubaisi. You must unite with the Sunnis." Subsequently, the Ansar al-Sunnah and the Imam Al-Mahdi Army exchanged personnel. "Therefore, the relationship can be described as intimate," Abu al-Hassan said.

Al-Haeri is an Iraqi cleric based in Qom who issued a fatwa in April 2003 declaring that al-Sadr is his deputy in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 April 2003).

Since then, the 68-year-old al-Haeri has renounced his relationship with al-Sadr. "Mr. al-Sadr used to be our representative...but that was on condition of obedience to and coordination with our office in Al-Najaf," al-Haeri said in comments posted on his website, AP reported on 5 September. Al-Sadr "does not coordinate with our office, so his agency became void," according to the website, which added that al-Sadr "does not seek our advice in his stances, so we cannot endorse what he does." According to a 5 September report in "The New York Times," al-Haeri withdrew his support for al-Sadr after Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani informed senior clerics in Qom that the Imam al-Mahdi Army caused some of the battle damage at the Imam Ali shrine in Al-Najaf. (Bill Samii)

RUMSFELD SAYS IRAN 'NOT PART OF THE CIVILIZED WORLD.' "Iran is a country that is not part of the civilized world in terms of its behavior," U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a 7 September interview that was published in "The Washington Times" one day later. Rumsfeld was discussing the provision of money and personnel from Iran to the continuing insurgency in Iraq, although he conceded that it is not clear who in Iran is behind this. Rumsfeld said, "By 'they,' I'm not going to say which element of the government or whether it's even known to the government." He continued, "But money has come in from Iran. People have come in from Iran. And it's a very difficult thing to stop." Rumsfeld also criticized the international community's lax approach towards Iran. He said, "And when you have countries of the world that are not willing to participate in an organized effort to try to persuade a country to behave in a civilized way, it encourages them simply to continue on its merry way." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI SIGNS SEVEN AGREEMENTS IN ARMENIA... President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami arrived in Yerevan on 8 September for a two-day visit, news agencies reported. Khatami was accompanied by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf, Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Safdar Husseini, and Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari. The two sides signed agreements on bilateral cooperation, and on cooperation in the energy, culture, and customs fields, Armenian public television and Arminfo reported.

The energy agreements include one on financing a gas pipeline from Megri to Kadzharan in southern Armenia, and another on construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline. The formal agreement on the pipeline was signed in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004), and Armenia's ambassador to Tehran, Gegham Gharibjanian, told RFE/RL in early September that work on the Iranian section of the pipeline is already underway. Work on the Armenia section will begin by the end of October, Gharibjanian told Interfax on 9 September.

Khatami and his Armenian counterpart, Robert Kocharian, issued a joint statement emphasizing their belief that the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute should be settled peacefully and that they had agreed on counterterrorism and counternarcotics issues. Khatami visited the Blue Mosque in Yerevan and addressed the Armenian legislature.

During a 9 September meeting with students and staff at Yerevan State University, Khatami dismissed the possibility of his country's East Azerbaijan Province merging with the Republic of Azerbaijan, Mediamax reported. Khatami said that Iranian-Azeris are active in Iranian economic and political affairs, as well as culture and science. Irredentist groups in Azerbaijan cite suppression of co-ethnics in Iran and call for unification.

On the same day, Khatami met with Iranians who live in Armenia, IRNA reported. Khatami noted Armenians' ability to protect their ethnic identity through 70 years of Soviet rule and added that ethnic Armenians are active in many aspects of Iranian life. (Bill Samii)

...AND HEADS TO BELARUS. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus officially greeted President Mohammad Khatami on 10 September, IRNA reported. Khatami arrived in Minsk on 9 September. On the same day, he told Iranians living in Belarus that trade is an important means of communication, adding that trade exhibitions can strengthen Iran-Belarus bilateral ties, IRNA reported.

Iranian Ambassador to Minsk Mohammad Musa Hashemi-Golpayegani said on 9 September that the two sides signed agreements on agriculture, trade, bilateral relations, culture, sports, and customs, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Khatami is scheduled to leave for Dushanbe on 11 September. (Bill Samii)

SOME IRANIAN OFFICIALS QUESTION VALUE OF NUCLEAR AGREEMENTS. While top Iranian officials voice Tehran's support for and commitment to the country's nuclear-treaty obligations, they also stress the related advantage of a dialogue with Europe. There are, however, occasional voices of dissent.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 5 September that Iran remains committed to its suspension of uranium enrichment, IRNA reported. The Europeans should understand that manufacturing parts for use in uranium enrichment centrifuges is a completely different matter, he said.

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 6 September that Tehran is committed to discussing its nuclear program with the EU, Radio Farda reported. Ramezanzadeh said Iran expects the Europeans to fulfill commitments they made when the British, French, and German foreign ministers visited Tehran in October 2003 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003; for the full text of the agreement, see Ramezanzadeh said Iran is committed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol, and it expects other countries to fulfill their commitments. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors is scheduled to meet on 13 September, and the most recent IAEA report indicates that Iranian cooperation with the agency has improved (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 September 2004).

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani discussed the nuclear issue and bilateral trade matters with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and Foreign Minister Bernard Bot on 6 September, Radio Farda reported. The Netherlands currently holds the EU's rotating presidency. Rohani told Iranian state television afterwards that the two sides discussed 10 topics, including Iran-EU relations and the nuclear program. Rohani stressed that Iran will not forsake its right to pursue peaceful nuclear activities, and he emphasized that questions on this subject can be resolved through dialogue. Rohani added that Iran expects the Europeans to fulfill their October 2003 commitments (see above), IRNA reported.

Some Iranian officials, on the other hand, question the benefit of Iran's stated commitment to the NPT and the additional protocol. Dr. Rezai, identified by ISNA as an "international affairs expert at our country's Atomic Energy Organization," said on 6 September that any obligations imposed by the NPT and the additional protocol limit state sovereignty. For that reason, Rezai continued, "we cannot, generally speaking, argue that our country will derive any benefits from accepting international treaties such as the NPT or the protocol."

Iran's difficulties with the IAEA, Rezai continued, are political rather than technical or scientific. For that reason, he said, Iranian officials must find a political solution to the problem. Rezai went on to say that some Iranians believe the country should adhere to its revolutionary principles in addressing the issue, but "a rather expansive definition of our foreign policy principles" has "limited the freedom of action of our country's diplomats."

Tehran parliamentary representative Elham Aminzadeh and Islamabad-i Gharb representative Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh said in the 5 September "Kayhan" that Iran cannot be forced to sign an agreement. Rashid Jalali from Karaj and Hussein Nejabat from Tehran said the legislature would approve accession to the additional protocol if doing so does not undermine Iran's national interests. Nejabat added, "If joining the additional protocol is to be accompanied with international pressure and force and if our interests are ignored and if it is used as a lever of pressure to keep us away from our real interests, there is no reason why we should approve it." (Bill Samii)

ISRAEL CALLS FOR PRESSURE ON IRAN. Radio Farda reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in a 7 September interview with "The Jerusalem Post" that the international community's efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of Iranian hands are inadequate. It is not too late to stop Iran, he said, but the issue should be referred to the United Nations Security Council.

"There is no doubt" that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, Sharon said. "That is their intention, and they are doing it by deception and subterfuge, using this cover or that. This is completely clear." Sharon said the danger is that Israel can be reached by Iran's 1,300-kilometer range Shihab-3 missile, and Iran is working on another missile with a 2,500-kilometer range. (Bill Samii)

SKEPTICAL REACTION TO TEHRAN'S NEW NUCLEAR PROMISES. During talks in Vienna with International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Muhammad el-Baradei, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani pledged to suspend all uranium enrichment activities, the "Financial Times" reported on 8 September. This pledge includes a freeze on producing, testing, and assembling uranium enrichment centrifuges.

Iran first pledged to suspend enrichment activities in October 2003 but, according to the most recent IAEA report, had intended to convert 37 tons of nearly raw uranium (yellowcake) into uranium hexafluoride, which can be enriched in centrifuges (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003 and 6 September 2004). The latest Iranian offer is reportedly dependent on the Europeans' commitment to an earlier pledge of an economic payoff for Iran. An anonymous "European diplomat," however, told the "Financial Times" that Europe wants Tehran to extend its pledge to include suspension of the preparation of materials that could be enriched in centrifuges.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher seemed to be skeptical about Iran's offer to the IAEA, according to a transcript of the State Department's Daily Press Briefing for 7 September ( Boucher told the press, "You don't have to look back too far to find Iranian officials saying that they were going to suspend production of centrifuge and use of centrifuges, and then to find them saying that no, they were going to go ahead anyway."

Boucher went on to connect the Iranian actions with the IAEA meeting planned for 13 September. He said, "One might conclude that some of these cycles (of unfulfilled promises) have to do with the imminence of IAEA board meetings -- that we hear that they're going to do this, that, or the other before a board meeting and then, somewhat afterwards, not necessarily too long, we find out that they either did not or would not or will not do those things."

Bush administration officials said on 8 September that some of its allies are resisting the U.S. campaign to get Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons pursuits, "The New York Times" reported on 9 September. The White House has tried to have the matter referred to the Security Council five times already, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said, and it will try again at the 13 September IAEA meeting.

Europe seems increasingly frustrated with Iran, but it is willing to keep waiting. An anonymous British official said on 8 September that France, Germany, and the United Kingdom decided during a meeting in the Netherlands that Iran must suspend all its nuclear-weapon related activities by November or face sanctions, "The Guardian" reported on 9 September. The official said, "Iran needs to meet its commitments. We would like it to meet its commitments before then, but if it doesn't, Iran needs to know and it needs to know now, that there is going to be a decision point in November and at that point a very serious referral to the United Nations Security Council." The official added that negotiations with Iran cannot go on "forever." (Bill Samii)