20 September 2004, Volume 7, Number 32
IRAN'S THEOLOGICAL COMMUNITY CONTENDS WITH CHANGING WORLD. The 1979 Islamic revolution struck Iran's religious community as the dawn of a new and promising era for the country and its faithful. A quarter of a century later things don't look so rosy for the clerics -- many Iranians view them with disdain, and Al-Najaf, the center of Shi'a learning in Iraq, seems set to eclipse the Iranian theocratic center of Qom.
The major Shi'a cities in Iran are Qom and Mashhad. There are almost 60 seminaries in Qom, the most prominent of which are Fayzieh, Dar ul-Shafa, Hojjatieh, Sayteh, and Golpayegani. Qom also has 10 libraries, and several Islamic periodicals are published there. Mashhad is the site of the tomb of Imam Reza and 20 seminaries, including Khairat Khan, Mirza Jafar, and Navvah. There are also seminaries in Isfahan (ex: Chahar Bagh, Mullah Abdullah), Shiraz, Tabriz, Tehran, and Yazd.
Fifteen years ago, Nikola B. Schahgaldian wrote in "The Clerical Establishment in Iran," (RAND Publication Series prepared for the Office of the U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, [June 1989]), that the estimated number of Iranian clergymen ranged from 90,000 (media observers), to 200,000 (Iranian clerics themselves), to 300,000 (European sources). Another 50,000-60,000 Iranians had some religious training. There were about 40,000 theology students at Iranian seminaries. Finally, there were some 60,000 people with no formal training or qualifications who acted as urban preachers, rural-prayer leaders, and procession organizers.
In early September 2004, a prominent theologian told a reporter that Iran remains very attractive to religious scholars. Hojatoleslam Husseini-Bushehri, who is either director of the Qom Theological Seminaries (Howzeh-yi Elmieh-yi Qom) or the Qom Theological Lecturers Association (Jameh-yi Mudarresin-i Howzeh-yi Elmieh-yi Qom), announced that there are hundreds of scholars from around the world studying at religious institutions in Isfahan, Mashhad, Qom, Tehran, and other cities, "Resalat" reported on 5 September. In Qom alone, Husseini-Bushehri said, there are 50,000 students from 70 countries. There are 300 religious research centers in Qom, he added, and 3,000 seminaries in the entire country.
Other major Shi'a centers are in the Iraqi cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala, and the Baghdad neighborhood of Khazimiyah. "Najaf has been the revered center of Shiite Islam for 1,000 years; it is the most respected shrine," Iranian scholar Abdolkarim Soroush said in an interview ("Rise of Iraqi Shiites Threatens Iranian Theocrats," "New Perspectives Quarterly" vol. 21, no. 2 March 2004). The seminary in Qom, Soroush added, "is barely 100 years old." With the demise of Saddam Hussein's regime, therefore, Al-Najaf is likely to become a center of apolitical and quietist Shi'a Islam.
Lebanon's importance as a site of Shi'a learning is growing, particularly in terms of teaching Lebanese ulama (see Rula Jurdi Abisaab, "The Lebanese Hawza of al-Rasul al-Akram: Toward a Redefinition of the Shi'ite 'Alim," in "Distant Relations: Iran and Lebanon in the Last 500 Years," Houchang Chehabi and Hassan Mniemnieh, eds., [London: IB Tauris, 2004]).
The number of religious students and seminary instructors in Iran appears to remain high even if the exuberance of the early revolutionary years has worn off. There is a practical explanation: clerics have a "head start" in seeking government jobs, and their children get into the best schools (Christopher de Bellaigue, "Who Rules Iran?" "The New York Review of Books," vol. 49, no. 11, 27 June 2002). Moreover, students who study under popular clerics receive a stipend, which is important given the difficulty of finding real jobs. A visitor to Qom told the "RFE/RL Iran Report" that one encounters individuals who have spent many years in the seminary without completing their studies.
Some seminarians' lack of purpose or identity or sense of rootlessness is furthered by the disdain many people have for the lower echelons of the clerical classes. In fact, such disdain is not a new phenomenon. During the 1960s and 1970s the "clergy were often described in unflattering terms as venal, greedy, and hypocritical," whereas leading clerics "were generally described as pious and learned" (Eric Hooglund, "Social Origins of the Revolutionary Clergy," "The Iranian Revolution and The Islamic Republic," Nikki R. Keddie & Eric Hooglund, eds., Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986, p. 80).
The 1979 revolution not only affected the nature of the Iranian government but it changed the relationship between religion and politics. The traditional criteria for judging a clergyman's stature (such as theological learning, writing, jurisprudence, knowledge of canon law, and the opinion of other top clerics) became less relevant, and political factors now play a greater role.
Three incidents illustrate this point. The 1989 succession to the supreme leadership by Ali Khamenei and his hasty promotion to the rank of ayatollah was one such case. Khamenei was only a hojatoleslam but had served as president; the constitution was amended so the supreme leader no longer had to be a source of emulation (see article 109). With the deaths of Grand Ayatollah Abolqasem Khoi (1992), Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Golpayegani (1993), and Grand Ayatollah Ali Araki (died 1994), there was an attempt to promote Khamenei to the rank of source of emulation. Khamenei himself withdrew from consideration. (See "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 November 1998.)
The third incident illustrating the impact of politics on the religious system relates to the 1997 presidential campaign. Thirty members of the Qom Theological Lecturers Association were invited to a meeting at which they were advised to declare their support for the leading conservative candidate. Several clerics avoided the meeting, but 14 of those in attendance informed the press that the seminary backed the conservative candidate. The clerics who did not attend the meeting subsequently expressed their dissent: "Those who pretend that none of the 30 members was against [conservative candidate Ali Akbar] Nateq-Nuri forget that Ayatollahs Mohammad Fazel [-Lankarani], Nasser Makarem [-Shirazi], [Ebrahim] Amini [-Najafabadi], [Ali Akbar] Masudi [-Khomeini], myself [Karimi] and a few others are also members of that association." (Azadeh Kian-Thiebaut, "Time for reform of the Islamic revolution," "Le Monde Diplomatique," January 1998.)
Some clerics' rejection of political involvement or a theocratic state was not completely unexpected. In the mid-1980s scholars were writing that some of the leading clergymen prefer "the looser visayat-i fuqaha, which they interpret as general supervision by the clergy over affairs.... At the most, these clerics are willing to concede the principle of vilayat-i faqih in times of exceptional turmoil but contend that it lapses when a government is installed, a parliament is elected and a new state order comes into being." (Sharough Akhavi, "The Revolutionary Clergy," "The Iranian Revolution and The Islamic Republic," Nikki R. Keddie & Eric Hooglund, eds., [Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986], p. 61.)
By the mid-1990s, withdrawal was, in some cases, becoming opposition to the Khomeini interpretation of the Islamic state in which clerics hold executive power. "Already, the higher-ranking ulama, under the banner of the institution of marja'iyat, are moving to their traditional role of opposing the state with seemingly traditional reasoning, i.e. the illegitimacy of the state in the absence of the Lord of the Age." (Maziar Behrooz, "The Islamic State and the Crisis of Marja'iyat in Iran," Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Vol. XVI, No. 2 .)
The leading clerics' unhappiness with the country's politics is illustrated by the point that eight of the top 12 ayatollahs reportedly refused to vote in the February 2004 parliamentary elections (Grand Ayatollah Yusef Sanei, cited by the "Chicago Tribune," 2 May 2004).
Nevertheless, there still are many clerics in Iranian governmental institutions. In this case, it is the middle-ranking clerics who dominate and they are not likely to want the system to change because of its benefits to them.
"First, those mollas [sic] who have gained political power can be expected to be reluctant to return to the mosques to become once again simply preachers. Second, the fact that so many politically active mollas [sic] come from lower-class backgrounds, and also that so many of the tullab [religious students] have similar origins, means that their support of the concept of clerical political activism is tantamount to having an assured means of upward mobility. Third, clerical control of the government has meant clerical control of government revenues, and thus financial independence form the traditional support of private, lay persons." (Eric Hooglund, "Social Origins of the Revolutionary Clergy," "The Iranian Revolution and The Islamic Republic," Nikki R. Keddie & Eric Hooglund, eds., [Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986], p. 82.)
Developments in Iraq, combined with the 25 years of mismanagement by the Iranian theocracy, indicate that the Shi'a community will undergo major changes in the coming decade. The Iranian theocracy is faced with two choices: complying with public sentiments and basing its legitimacy more on popular support than on religion, or continuing to impose itself on the Iranian people. (Bill Samii)
RELIGIOUS MINORITIES FACE PERSECUTION... The U.S. State Department renamed Iran as a Country of Particular Concern in its sixth Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, which was released on 15 September (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35497.htm). Other countries of concern are Burma, China, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Vietnam.
Iran's religious minorities -- Baha'is, Christians, Jews, and Sunni Muslims -- report "imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on their religious beliefs," and all the minorities suffer some "officially sanctioned discrimination." Jews feel threatened because of the government's anti-Israel policies and Baha'i sites have been destroyed (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 September 2004).
According to the State Department report, evangelical Christians are not allowed to proselytize. Security personnel monitor churches and demands worshippers' identity papers.
Indeed, approximately 80 evangelical Christians were arrested on 9 September when police raided the Assemblies of God annual conference in Karaj, BosNewsLife reported, citing Compass news agency. Radio Farda reported on 12 September that most of those arrested were released, and that many who spoke to the station had requested anonymity for fear of retribution.
Michael Kolahdozan is one of two Catholics in Shiraz, "The Daily Star" reported on 17 September, and he finds it difficult to practice his religion. "I go to an Anglican church here as there is no Catholic service. There is in Isfahan and Tehran, but they are Armenian Catholic churches, and I don't speak Armenian," he explained. Kolahdozan added that he sometimes goes to a synagogue. His parents live in Australia and his sister lives in England, and Kolahdozan finds it difficult to find a compatible partner. "I cannot find a wife and do not want a Muslim girl. The only woman I could marry would be in Tehran, but they are mainly foreigners. I want somebody who can speak my language," he said. (Bill Samii)
...AS DO SUFI MUSLIMS. The State Department's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, which was released on 15 September (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35497.htm), refers to "government repression of Sufi religious practices, including the constant harassment and intimidation of prominent Sufi leaders by the intelligence and security services." The size of the Sufi population is unknown.
There are four major Shi'a Sufi orders in Iran, according to Moojan Momen's "An Introduction to Shi'i Islam" (New Haven, 1985). The Nimatullahi order is the largest and is divided into five branches. The Kawthar Ali Shahi branch is centered in Hamedan, Maragheh, and Tehran. The Shamsieh or Shamsul Urafa branch has a "khanagah" (meeting place) in Tehran. The Dhur-Riyasatayn branch expanded in the 1980s, with branches being built throughout Iran and even in the United States and England. The Gunabadi branch is headquartered in Bidukht. The Safi Ali Shahi branch has at least 10 khanagahs throughout Iran.
The Dhahabi order is based in Shiraz, where, as of 1985, it maintained a khanagah. It also has meeting places in Tehran and Tabriz. The Nurbakhshi order was influential in the Safavid era (1501-1722), and it was important in the spread of the Shi'a faith in India. Having been suppressed near the end of the Safavid era, it never re-established itself in Iran, although a few practitioners remain. The Khaksar order appears to have little real organization, many members claim to be sheikhs, and among its members are many wandering dervishes. This order has several different branches and meeting places in different cities. (Bill Samii)
KHAMENEI WARNS THAT ISLAMIC WORLD IN DANGER. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said at the 16 September closing ceremony of a Koran recitation contest in Tehran that there is a war against the Islamic community, state radio reported. "This war has economic, political, cultural, military and security aspects," Khamenei continued, "And today, it has the greatest propaganda tools at its disposal." Events in Palestine, Iraq, or Afghanistan are not part of a war against individual countries but are part of a bigger war against the existence of Islam in the region. Khamenei said the Islamic community's survival is ensured by "a new Islamic spirit, movement, and awakening," and he warned, "they want to destroy this." Khamenei said the Islamic community can survive "through the Koran. The Koran taught us everything. We should learn and understand the Koran."
Khamenei struck a similar chord in a 13 September speech to state officials -- on the occasion of Mab'ath, the anniversary of Mohammad's appointment as prophet. He said that there is a war against the Islamic world because of its resources, state radio reported. The global arrogance proclaims democracy and freedom, he said, but it is trying to destroy the Islamic nation. In case there were any questions about who he was discussing, Khamenei spelled it out: "The arrogant power of America, this absolute manifestation of depravity, is spreading wickedness from all its fingers in the Islamic region today." "The Islamic world should unanimously stand against America's arrogant aggression anywhere and in whatever form. They should know that apart from resistance, there is no way to repel the wicked nature of the evil that has manifested in the arrogant America," Khamenei advised. He continued: "No leniency, flexibility, or retreat will reduce the unquenchable thirst of the arrogant. They will not accept anything less than absolute domination over the Islamic world, especially the Middle East region." (Bill Samii)
PARTIES HINT AT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES. Though Iran's next presidential election is still nine months away, there is a great deal of speculation about the likely candidates.
"I would rather someone else enter the presidential race, but if the society as well as prominent pundits conclude that I can fulfill this task better, I will announce my readiness," Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told reporters in Mashhad on 16 September, IRNA reported. Rafsanjani added that there is plenty of time for other candidates to come forward.
The reformist Islamic Labor Party's Abbas Ahmadi told Fars News Agency on 10 September that Hashemi-Rafsanjani has met with leaders of his organization and announced that he would run as a candidate under certain conditions. Rafsanjani said his decision would depend on the country's political climate, and he would do it for the sake of the revolution and the system.
Former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Musavi is the reformists' favorite, but he is being coy about his intentions (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 September 2004). Given the difficulties President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami has had in accomplishing anything substantive since being elected in May 1997, Musavi's hesitation is understandable.
"Election of an informed, experienced, faithful, and capable manager will expedite [Iran's] development," Majid Ansari of the pro-reform Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mubarez) said in the 23 August "Aftab-i Yazd." He added that a strong democracy with public support through elections will neutralize foreign threats. Musavi, therefore, is the only candidate for the 2nd of Khordad Front, Ansari said, adding, "We are still talking to Musavi."
Another prominent member of the Militant Clerics Association, Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, also weighed in on Musavi's behalf, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 11 September. Mohtashami-Pur described Musavi's "main qualifications" as "his trustworthiness, truthfulness, and honesty." He added that Musavi managed the country during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq and said that the country's infrastructure is under attack. "We need individuals such as Engineer Musavi, whose main concern day and night is the people."
Ansari said on 12 September that efforts to persuade Musavi to run as a presidential candidate are continuing, IRNA reported. Addressing the annual meeting of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, Ansari added, "The president is representing the republican aspect of the system and the presidential election will represent the religious democracy in Iran."
An anonymous "informed source" said in the 8 September "Resalat" that Musavi definitely will not be a candidate. Quoting an anonymous "prominent theoretician of the 2nd of Khordad Front," the source said: "the 2nd of Khordad Front groups are now going to select another person as their candidate in the presidential elections. This is because Mir Hussein Musavi has announced explicitly and clearly that he is definitely not going to stand as a candidate." Musavi reportedly gave many reasons for not running, but the source refused to share them.
Hamid Reza Taraqi, a member of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party's central council, said its strategy is to encourage high public participation in the election by supporting the candidate most likely to unite the voters and gather the highest number of votes, ISNA reported on 7 September. Taraqi said Ali Akbar Velayati -- former foreign minister and current adviser to the supreme leader -- might be a candidate but the Islamic Coalition Party has not started considering candidates. Taraqi concluded that the party has not made a decision on Velayati or anybody else.
Another Islamic Coalition Party member, Hassan Ghafurifard, said in the 4 September "Sharq" that Velayati has decided to run for president. "As far as I know, he has decided to stand for the elections and he has even made the arrangements for his campaigning."
Urumiyeh parliamentary representative Abed Fatahi has mentioned Expediency Council secretary and former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Mohsen Rezai as a possible candidate for president, the reformist "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 9 September. "Channels and sources close to Mohsen Rezai are propounding the likelihood of his presence in the presidential election, which in some respects is a source of delight." Among Rezai's advantages over other possible candidates, Fatahi mentioned "his youth and the fact that he was a fighter and an expert in economic, political, and military affairs." (Bill Samii)
ARREST OF IRANIAN JOURNALISTS ANGERS RSF. Radio Farda reported on 9 September that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed outrage over the recent arrest of three journalists -- Hanif Mazrui, Babak Ghafuri-Azar, and Shahram Rafizadeh -- and called on the Iranian government to release them promptly (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran_article/2004/9/6fd88c62-62b2-4946-a7e4-8ff04fd38b71.html; see also http://www.rsf.fr/article.php3?id_article=11362).
The arrests are part of a recent crackdown on pro-reform Internet sites, and according to Radio Farda, many Iranian weblogs have expressed concern about this issue. Radio Farda's correspondent noted that the government blocked access to three websites -- baamdad.com, emrooz.ws, and rouydad.info -- in late August.
The sites later reappeared, albeit with different addresses and formats, the BBC reported (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3619788.stm). The government also closed three Internet cafes in Bushehr, RSF reported (http://www.rsf.fr/article.php3?id_article=11275). Moreover, Hamid Motaghi, the head of the Naqshineh website (http://www.naqshineh.com) in Qom, which has been blocked since March, was summoned to court on 21 August and freed after posting bail of 100 million rials ($11,437).
RSF on 14 September called for the immediate release of Mazrui, Ghafuri-Azar, and Rafizadeh and referred to their "unfair detention," according to the RSF website (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=11384). The journalists are connected with the rouydad.com website, which is run from the Netherlands by exiled journalist Sina Motallebi. RSF expressed concern that they have been transferred to a "special wing" of Evin prison that is reputedly a place of torture and to which only intelligence service interrogators commanded by Judge Said Mortazavi have access.
RSF also noted that Said Motallebi, the father of Sina Motallebi, has been arrested in an effort to gag his son, and it added, "We call on the Iranian judicial authorities to halt this vile blackmail." Said Motallebi was arrested on 8 September, and the authorities reportedly threatened to make him "another Purzand" -- a reference to the 75-year old Siamak Purzand, who has been imprisoned since 30 March 2003. (Bill Samii)
IRAN VIEWS HERAT PROVINCE DEVELOPMENTS POSITIVELY. Iranian Ambassador to Kabul Mohammad Reza Bahrami told reporters on 13 September that it is natural for his government to be concerned about the situation along Iran's eastern border, Iranian state radio reported on 14 September. Bahrami said that former Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan had important roles in the struggles against the Soviet invaders and then the Taliban, but now there is an Afghan central government that is responsible for the entire country. Bahrami added that Iran supports the Afghan government's promotion of domestic security.
Iran has traditionally had a close relationship with Ismail Khan, who spent time in Iran after fleeing a Taliban jail. A U.S. intelligence officer once described him as an Iranian intelligence asset, and after 2001 he traveled to Iran several times and reportedly was the beneficiary of Iranian arms and money (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 December 2001; 28 January, 11 February 2002; 10 March, 15 December 2003; and 6 September 2004).
Tehran is, however, familiar with Ismail Khan's replacement. New Herat Province Governor Seyyed Mohammad Khairkhwah served as an ambassador to Iran until March 2002.
Khairkhwah met with the Iranian consul in Herat, Ali Najafimanesh, on 15 September, Herat TV reported. Khairkhwah described the government's objectives and stressed the importance of bilateral ties, while Najafimanesh discussed Iranian reconstruction projects in the province and hoped that stability would be established soon. Also in attendance were security commander Brigadier General Ziaudin Mahmudi, the National Security Department's General Mayel, and Mohammadullah Afzali, the head of the Foreign Ministry's office in Herat. (Bill Samii)
IRAN AND AFGHANISTAN SIGN POLICE COOPERATION AGREEMENT. Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali and Iranian Ambassador to Kabul Mohammad Reza Bahrami signed an agreement on cooperation in police affairs on 13 September, Afghan Radio Kelid reported on 14 September. Under the agreement, Iran will build and equip 25 border posts, train 180 Afghan police officers in Iran, and donate 125 motorcycles to the Afghan police. (Bill Samii)
IRAN-AFGHANISTAN WATER DISCUSSIONS TAKE PLACE IN TEHRAN. Iranian and Afghan officials met in Tehran on 8 September in what IRNA described as their first joint meeting within the framework of the 1973 Helmand (Hirmand) River treaty. The river flows from Afghanistan to Lake Hamun, and its waters are then used in Iran's Sistan va Baluchistan Province. Availability of water has been hampered in recent decades by Soviet tactics during the war in Afghanistan, drought, and poor relations between the former Taliban regime and the Iranian government. The situation has improved since 2002, but Iranians still complain of water shortages (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 May 2000; 10 and 23 September, 4, 11, and 25 November, 9 December 2002; 6 January and 20 October 2003, and 6 September 2004). Deputy Energy Minister Reza Ardakanaian told IRNA that they are preparing the grounds for implementing the treaty. He said that under normal circumstances, Iran's annual share is 820 million cubic meters. Ardakanian added that decisions made at the meeting will go into effect on 22 September, when the "water year" begins. (Bill Samii)
IRANIANS, TAJIKS INK PRELIMINARY AGREEMENTS. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and a delegation of Iranian officials arrived in Dushanbe on 11 September on the third leg of a trip that had already taken them to Yerevan and Minsk, international news agencies reported. The Iranians and their Tajik hosts met with President Khatami and his Tajik counterpart, Imamali Rahmonov, and signed seven memorandums of understanding, including one on "bilateral cooperation based on mutual respect and protection of both countries' interests." Other agreements addressed the operation of the hydroelectric power plant at Sangtudeh, "herbal quarantine," and the establishment of an Iranian trade center. Yet another agreement allowed for land in Tehran for the construction of a Tajik Embassy. Khatami and Rahmonov flew to the Sangtudeh construction site in southern Tajikistan on 13 September, the Avesta website reported. According to the agreements, Iran will invest $250 million in the project and will own 51 percent of it. (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI HOPES TAJIK VISIT WILL LEAD TO BETTER TIES. Iran was the first country to recognize Tajikistan's independence in the early 1990s, RFE/RL's Antoine Blua reports. Since then, expectations were that the two countries -- which share a common language -- would develop close ties. That hasn't happened. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami visited Tajikistan from 11-14 September to try to change the situation.
Khatami's three-day trip started 11 September and featured talks with Tajik President Imamali Rakhmonov. The two considered a broad range of issues related to bilateral cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, and industry. Khatami said on 12 September that Iran would do what it could to help the Tajik economy to develop. "And be sure that our policy and our strategy is to cooperate with Tajikistan in vast areas. We consider Tajikistan's [development] as [part of our own] development," Khatami said. He added that Iran will invest more than $700 million in the Tajik economy in the coming five years.
Davood Hermidas Bavand, who teaches international law in Tehran, says Khatami's trip is part of Iran's effort to develop closer economic relations with Central Asia: "Iran's [original] expectation to develop an extremely close relationship with Tajikistan gradually caved into insignificance -- once Iran and Turkey engaged in a kind of rivalry. [Neither country] has been able to fulfill the expectations of Central Asia in economic terms. In light of past experience we learned to engage in commercial and economic terms where there is a need for the people of Tajikistan and Central Asia as well as for Iran."
Khatami said Iran will allocate money to finish work on Tajikistan's Sangtudeh hydroelectric plant on the Vakhsh River. President Rakhmonov said the Iranian side will assume 51 percent of the total construction cost, estimated at about $500 million. "Fifty-one percent of the Sangtudeh hydroelectric plant is the Islamic Republic of Iran's. Forty-nine percent is Tajik and other countries, including Russia. To complete the construction of this power station in four years, Iran has promised $250 million and the Russian Federation $100 million," he said.
A planned highway linking landlocked Tajikistan and Iran via northern Afghanistan was also high on the agenda of the talks.
Iran's ambassador to Tajikistan, Nasser Sarmadi Parsa, earlier expressed dissatisfaction about the current level of bilateral trade, which totaled $100 million last year. He stressed that a highway linking Tajikistan and Iran would greatly promote economic cooperation. He noted the 110-kilometer road from Iran to Herat has already been built.
Iran is hoping a series of road projects in Central Asia will spur economic development.
Mohammad-Reza Djalili, a professor at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, points out a road link to Central Asia would serve Iran's strategic purposes. "Iran also has a strategic interest. The reconstruction of communication infrastructure -- roads, bridges, etc. -- in Tajikistan and linking them to the Iranian border through Afghanistan, would create a tremendous inter-Asiatic communication route. Land transportation could then be done from China to Europe through Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Iran," he said. (Antoine Blua of RFE/RL's News and Current Affairs department, Farangiz Najibullah of RFE/RL's Tajik Service)
IRANIAN PRESIDENT ASSESSES THREE NATION TOUR POSITIVELY. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told reporters at Mehrabad Airport on 14 September that his trip to Armenia, Belarus, and Tajikistan went well, IRNA reported the next day. He referred to the signing of agreements in all three countries but allowed that bilateral trade with Tajikistan could be better. Khatami said, "Iran's trade exchanges with Tajikistan have been increased during recent years by three times but there still exist some potentials for further promotion of ties." The Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit took place in Dushanbe on 14 September, and Khatami cited approval of Iranian proposals on reforming the organization's decision-making process and on establishing a free trade zone (FTZ). Khatami said the FTZ would be set up by 2015. The Iranian president said he met with counterparts from Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, as well as prime ministers from Pakistan and Turkey. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN MILITARY SITE INTERESTS IAEA. The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) board of governors began discussions on the Iranian nuclear program on 13 September in Vienna, and unidentified diplomats said on 10 September that the IAEA has asked to inspect the military site at Parchin, located about 30 kilometers southwest of Tehran, AFP reported. Among the activities that reportedly take place there is research on chemical explosives by the Defense Industries Organization. Parchin is not mentioned in an IAEA report currently under consideration in Vienna.
Hussein Musavian, spokesman for the Iranian delegation at the Board of Governors meeting, rejected on 13 September news reports that the IAEA has asked to visit the Parchin military site, IRNA reported.
David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security on 15 September released satellite imagery of the site and told Reuters that UN inspectors should determine what is going on there (for the ISIS imagery and analysis, see http://www.isis-online.org/publications/iran/parchin.html). According to the analysis, the site is "a logical candidate for a nuclear weapons-related site, particularly one involved in researching and developing high explosive components for an implosion-type nuclear weapon."
Musavian on 16 September again dismissed the allegations, Reuters reported. "This is a new lie, like the last 13 lies based on news reports that have been proved to be lies," he said.
An anonymous "senior U.S. official" told Reuters on 17 September that satellite imagery of the Parchin military site "clearly shows the intention to develop weapons." Another senior U.S. official was less sanguine, and according to an anonymous "Western diplomat" cited by Reuters, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is unsure about the Parchin site's possible nuclear function.
Anonymous diplomats said in the 17 September "Washington Post" that the UN has been negotiating with Iran since June for access to not just one but four military sites that have possible dual-use equipment. This is considered a sensitive issue because it affects the security of Iranian conventional military programs, according to "The Washington Post." The IAEA has been gathering information on the Parchin site for almost two years.
IAEA Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei's comments at a 17 September news conference in Vienna were more diplomatic. "We are aware of this new site that has been referred to," he said according to Radio Farda. "We do not have any indication that this site has any nuclear-related activities. However, we will continue to investigate this and other sites, we'll continue to have a dialogue with Iran." (Bill Samii)
IAEA CRITICAL OF IRANIAN NUCLEAR COOPERATION. The relatively tough wording of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 18 September resolution on Iran has prompted an angry reaction from Tehran. Press reports that preceded the resolution's publication indicated that Iranian behavior is frustrating some members of the international community.
IAEA Director-General el-Baradei discussed implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement in Iran on 13 September, the opening day of the Board of Governors meeting, according to the agency's website (http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Statements/2004/ebsp2004n006.html#iran). He said understanding of the Iranian nuclear program is increasing, Iran has fulfilled all requests for access, and it has responded to IAEA information requests, "although in certain instances the process needs to be accelerated."
El-Baradei said there are two issues that need to be resolved. The first is the source of and reason for uranium contamination found at certain locations and on some domestically produced equipment. Investigations of Iranian statements regarding the absence of P2 centrifuge-related activities between 1995 and 2002 are necessary, he added. El-Baradei expressed concern about Tehran's reversal of its decision to suspend some enrichment-related activities, and he urged Iran "to continue to accelerate its cooperation, pursuing a policy of maximum transparency and confidence building, so that we can bring the remaining outstanding issues to resolution within the next few months and provide assurance to the international community."
France, Germany, and Great Britain warned Iran on 13 September that its reversal of its pledge to suspend uranium enrichment is undermining their confidence, international news agencies reported. Foreign Minister Jack Straw warned, "What Iran has to understand is that it cannot turn the issue of confidence on and off like a tap," the "Financial Times" reported on 14 September. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said, "There is the risk of Tehran making a miscalculation. I hope that it sees and understands that. If not, we could be in a serious situation," Reuters reported on 14 September. French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said that negotiations with the Iranians remain difficult almost a year after their promise to suspend enrichment activities, Radio France International reported on 13 September.
Hussein Musavian, spokesman for the Iranian delegation at the current IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, stressed on 13 September that the suspension of uranium enrichment would last "just for a short, temporary period," Reuters reported. Iran reportedly is growing frustrated by continuing inspections of its nuclear facilities.
In a critique of the situation in which Iran finds itself, Tabriz parliamentary representative Akbar Alami told ISNA on 13 September that some Iranian officials were complacent and inordinately optimistic about Europe. Rather than dealing with European states, Alami said, the issue should have been handled normally, through the legislature, the Foreign Ministry, the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, and the IAEA. The nuclear issue is secondary to the Europeans' and America's real concern, Alami said, which is the nature and power of a state that has interests that conflict with their own. As long as this situation prevails, he said, they will not allow Iran to become an independent nuclear power.
Representatives to the IAEA board of governors met behind closed doors on 15 September in order to discuss the wording of a resolution on the Iranian nuclear program, csmonitor.com reported. U.S. officials reportedly seek tough language and a 31 October deadline to "remedy all failures identified to date" by the IAEA, according to the website, and they also want the removal of any references to a state's right to peacefully pursue nuclear energy.
Iranian official Hussein Musavian described the U.S. draft resolution by saying, "The Americans have put forward a draft, which is, relative to the one put forward by the Europeans, extraordinarily harsher against Iran," Iranian state television reported. The next day he said that the draft resolution is unacceptable, Mehr News Agency reported on 16 September. China rejects the resolution and amendments proposed by Russia are not included, he said, adding that Tehran seeks major changes to the draft resolution.
The resolution adopted by the board of governors on 18 September notes "with serious concern" that Iran has not suspended "all" activities relating to the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium, and it also expresses concern about Iran's plan to introduce 37 tons of yellowcake uranium at its conversion facility (http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2004/gov2004-79.pdf). Yellowcake can be converted into uranium hexafluoride, which in turn can be enriched in centrifuges. The resolution also "strongly urges" Iran to comply with IAEA requests for information and access to individuals and locations, citing a date of 25 November, which is when the next board of governors meeting takes place. The resolution "deeply regrets" Iran's reversal of stated intentions of suspending enrichment and reprocessing activities.
Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said on 19 September that "Today, all ambiguities of Iran's nuclear case have been cleared for the agency," IRNA reported. He criticized the three European powers for failing to comply with commitments to help the Iranian nuclear program. "In regard to the suspension of uranium enrichment, the resolution has asked us to suspend this process immediately," he added, according to Radio Farda. "For the time being, the Islamic Republic of Iran has not decided to prolong the suspension." (Bill Samii)
IS WEAPONIZATION NEAR? International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General el-Baradei said on 14 September that there is no firm evidence that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability, but it is not clear if its activities are entirely peaceful, Reuters reported. "Have we seen any proof of a weapons program? Have we seen undeclared [uranium] enrichment? Obviously until today there is none of that," el-Baradei said. "But are we in a position to say that everything is peaceful? Obviously we are not at this stage," he added.
Iran is no "more than 12 to 48 months from acquiring a nuclear bomb, lacks for nothing technologically or materially to produce it, and seems dead set on securing an option to do so," according to a draft report from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) released on 13 September (http://www.npec-web.org/projects/Iran/2004-09-13SevenLevers.pdf). The study -- which is partly funded by the Pentagon and includes input from leading experts on Iran, the Middle East, and proliferation issues -- warns that after Iranian acquisition of a nuclear -weapons option regional proliferation could increase, Iran might manipulate oil prices upward, and Iran could increase its support for terrorist organizations.
A day earlier, Israeli Defense Forces intelligence chief Major General Aharon Farkash-Ze'evi said that at the current rate Iran will be able to independently achieve nuclear-weapons capability by the spring of 2005, "Haaretz" reported on 13 September. ""This does not mean that it will have a bomb in 2005. It means that it will have all the means at its disposal to build a bomb," he added. (Bill Samii)
CORRECTION. The 13 September "RFE/RL Iran Report" asserted that Tehran military governor Teimour Bakhtiar wielded the first pickax to strike the dome of the Baha'i center in Tehran in May 1955. New York University's professor Farhad Kazemi wrote in to say that armed forces chief Nader Batmanghelidj struck the first blow while Bakhtiar looked on, and afterwards military governorship personnel completed the destruction. (Bill Samii)