1 November 2004, Volume 7, Number 38
IRGC COMMANDER DISCUSSES NEW STRATEGY. Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' (IRGC) ground forces, said the IRGC is being reorganized to face new threats against Iran, "Resalat" reported on 26 October. Addressing officers of the Ashura 31 Mechanized Division, as well as other IRGC and Basij officers in East Azerbaijan Province, Jafari said, "In view of the new threats by the global arrogance [the United States], IRGC has changed its training and combat programs. With its new organization, the IRGC has increased its combat readiness for facing threats." The IRGC's new emphasis on asymmetric warfare was apparent during the Ashura 5 war games, which took place in the western provinces of Hamedan, Kurdistan, and Zanjan in early September (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 September 2004). (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN MILITARY RHETORIC REFLECTS OUTSIDE PRESSURES. The commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corp (IRGC), Brigadier General Yahya Rahim Safavi, said on 8 October that U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are merely the foundations of an expansionist U.S. military strategy to subdue the entire Middle East, the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) reported. Safavi added: "If this strategy fails heavily in Iraq, it will, undoubtedly, stop. Otherwise it may extend to neighboring countries."
This line of thinking reflects Iran's fear that it is the next candidate for regime change in the context of the White House's "axis of evil," and it explains regime hard-liners' efforts to undermine U.S. objectives in Iraq. From the hard-liners' perspective, the survival of the Islamic Republic is at stake. The IRGC -- constitutionally designated to be the guardian of the Islamic revolution and Iran's territorial integrity, and which is believed to control the country's nuclear and ballistic-missile programs -- therefore has a unique responsibility, and this arm of the regime has found itself to be in the ascendancy as pressure piles on Iran. "U.S. military presence [in Iraq] will not become an element of strength [for Washington] at our [Iran's] expense. The opposite is true, because their forces would turn into a hostage in Iranian hands in the event of an attack."
In contrast with the IRGC's apparent policy of brinkmanship -- senior IRGC official Hassan Abbasi cited "a strategy drawn up for the destruction of the Anglo-Saxon civilization" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 June 2004) -- more moderate political figures like President Mohammad Khatami emphasize the peaceful nature of the country's nuclear program, underscore the defensive nature of Iranian military doctrine, and argue that the ballistic-missile program is only a deterrent.
Many in the regime deem it necessary to be bellicose in order to avoid the fate of Iraq's Ba'athist regime. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the recently installed hard-line-dominated parliament, ranking officers in the regular armed services and the IRGC, and the conservative media are increasingly emphasizing Iran's abilities to avenge a possible U.S. or Israeli strike at Iranian nuclear facilities, as well as a capacity to sabotage U.S. initiatives throughout the wider Middle East. As Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani told AFP on 18 August, Iranian assets and capabilities can be activated region-wide and presumably utilized in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and the waters of the Persian Gulf. In the same interview, Shamkhani said that the "U.S. military presence [in Iraq] will not become an element of strength [for Washington] at our [Iran's] expense. The opposite is true, because their forces would turn into a hostage in Iranian hands in the event of an attack" on Iran. The clear message from that interview and similar statements is that the regime in Tehran will fully mobilize all resources at its disposal to hurt the United States, although Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi later claimed that Shamkhani was misquoted.
Coinciding with the last two International Atomic Energy Agency sessions debating Iran's file, the IRGC put on a show of military muscle. In September the largest-ever "Ashura" exercises were conducted with prominence given to "asymmetric assets" and "resistance units" staging "deep defense." In October, the IRGC test-fired a Shihab-3 missile with allegedly improved range and accuracy.
During the September Ashura exercises, IRGC commanders noted that Iran's military strategy has learned from its eight-year war with Iraq (1980-88) and by observing recent U.S. military invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq. IRGC spokesman Masud Jazayeri said that "considering that some powers can observe some parts of our military exercise, we hope that the greedy enemies avoid carrying out any possible attack against our country after witnessing our capabilities," ISNA reported on 14 September. Whether such rhetoric can help the IRGC gain the upper hand remains to be seen. But the Iranians have clearly monitored the U.S. military's performance in Iraq and registered its tactical and operational shortcomings. The latter seem to have shaped the nature of the latest Ashura drills, where the focus was on small rapid-reaction forces, speedy transportation of ground-force units, and enhancing the military skills of the paramilitary Basij forces. In other words, Iranian military leaders hope to deter a U.S. military invasion by emphasizing the heavy costs that Washington is likely to incur once it has entered Iran.
Iran's mass media openly discuss the country's military options. The brazen rhetoric often runs parallel with debate on guerrilla warfare. That the U.S. military will have superiority in conventional battle is taken for granted. On 21 September, the reformist "Mardom Salari" newspaper ran an analysis on "deep defense" that quotes an assessment from the U.K.-based Center for Defense Studies which concludes, "if it [Iran] should come under attack, the advantage of deep defense in the cities by the IRGC and Basij volunteer forces can mobilize a devastating defense against foreign aggression." Safavi has claimed that the Basij paramilitary force is 10 million strong and organized along 3,000 battalions. This is an outlandish figure, but it is very difficult to estimate the extent of popular mobilization against a U.S. military intervention.
As far as "asymmetric assets" are concerned, the opinions of the chief of staff of the armed forces, General Hassan Firuzabadi, are revealing. When the current parliament rejected a bill drafted by the outgoing reformist deputies on the professionalization of the military, Firuzabadi declared that a professional military would be "mercenary," "Kayhan" reported on 20 September. Harkening back to the heyday of the Iran-Iraq war, Firuzabadi appealed instead to religious fervor by suggesting that the regime's military strategy depends on "young individuals between 18 and 25 who have no dependents and are ready to sacrifice their lives to defend Islam, the Koran, and the country."
In reality, Iran has moved a long way since the early 1980s when revolutionary zeal could mobilize the public. There is no doubt that the IRGC and senior officials in the regular armed forces are very fearful about Washington's intentions. As the regime's survival is the ultimate goal, however, even the ideologues of the IRGC can be expected to compromise. (Alex Vatanka is an analyst at Jane's Information Group.)
MILITARY OPPOSES OUTSIDERS IN THE REGION. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani said on 27 October that the United States is pursuing its own interests in the region, but Iran has already taken measures to counter U.S. policy, Mehr News Agency reported. Iran's policy is one of deterrence, but in light of the alleged U.S. intention to increase its regional presence Iran must upgrade its defensive abilities, he said. He added that the United States does not have the ability to turn Iran into another Iraq.
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) spokesman Brigadier General Masud Jazayeri said on 25 October that he does not put it past the United States or Israel to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, Mehr News Agency reported, citing the "Al-Khalij" daily from the United Arab Emirates. He said Iran would react forcefully to any act of aggression against it. Jazayeri went on to say that Iran is not threatening regional states and noted that it never acted against Iraq's allies during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. Jazayeri said regional disputes should be settled without foreign interference, adding that the withdrawal of foreign troops would bring about regional security. (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI'S UNEMPLOYMENT PREDICTION DEFIES STATISTICS. Thanks to the government's job-creation efforts the country's unemployment rate is down to 10.4 percent, President Mohammad Khatami said in Tehran on 24 October at a ceremony honoring statisticians, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Earlier in the month the head of the National Youth Organization, Rahim Ebadi, said the unemployment rate stood at 27 percent, "Sharq" reported on 14 October.
A report released in early September stated that the unemployment rate among 15-29 year olds currently stands at 31 percent and predicted that it would reach 52 percent if the current national unemployment rate of 13.2 percent persists, IRNA reported. The report, commissioned by the Management and Planning Organization and the National Youth Organization, broke this down further -- 34 percent for the 15-19 and 20-24 age groups, and 16 percent for the 25-29 age group. (The National Youth Organization began in 1993 as the Supreme Council of the Youth; for more information on youth employment, see http://www.nyoir.org/eng/Iranian-Youth-Today-Employment.htm.)
The fact that at least five Iranian agencies provide unemployment statistics explains in part the discrepancy in figures, Jahangir Amuzegar writes in the 11 October issue of "Middle East Economic Survey."
Number-crunching aside, job creation requires economic growth, and that does not seem to be forthcoming. Mohammad Kayhan Mir-Fakhrai said on 4 September at a Tehran conference on productivity that the fourth five-year development plan calls for 8 percent annual economic growth, IRNA reported. However, Mir-Fakhrai said, manpower and investment are not able to fulfill these projections.
Virginia Tech economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani argued [in "Population, Education, and Economic Growth in Iran," I. Sirageldin, ed., Human Capital and Population in the Middle East, (2002)], as does Jahangir Amuzegar more recently ("Middle East Economic Survey," 11 October 2004) that the education system is not serving young job-seekers or the country. The formal education process, passing exams, and earning degrees ("credentialism") takes precedence over productive skills. Amuzegar calls these graduates "certified unemployables" and says a reported 80 percent of them are graduates of the Islamic Azad University -- "a multi-branched, private, tuition-based, diploma mill without a qualified faculty, and with no standard laboratory, library, or research facilities" (on diploma mills, see also "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 September 2004).
Immediately after the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, the government encouraged veterans to seek employment abroad and based Labor Ministry personnel in other countries to facilitate this process. Over time this process petered out. Now, according to a commentary in the 4 October "Mardom Salari," the Labor Ministry is bearing the international expense of these personnel without getting any visible return. The commentary asked what plan the Labor Ministry has for marketing Iranian job-seekers overseas. (Bill Samii)
CONSERVATIVE DISUNITY OVER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE... "Radical conservatives," columnist Akbar Montajebi writes in the 25 October "Sharq," do not want Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani to be a presidential candidate in the upcoming election, although he did not give a reason. They are therefore pushing legislation to set an age ceiling for presidential candidates, and they are also hinting at the alleged corrupt practices of his children. "Rational" and "values-oriented" conservatives, Montajebi continues, warn that if Hashemi-Rafsanjani and former parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, both of whom are in their early seventies, are blocked from running on grounds of age, then former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Musavi, who previously refused to run, will stand as a candidate. Montajebi adds that the election is more than seven months away, but such rifts are increasing daily.
The hard-line Islamic Coalition Party wants its former secretary-general, Habibullah Asgaroladi-Mosalman, to be a presidential candidate, "Sharq" reported on 11 October. "Sharq" did not report on Asgaroladi's interest in entering the race. An Asgaroladi candidacy would clash with the right wing's slogans about getting new faces involved with politics. "Sharq" goes on to predict that fear of the reformists will probably persuade the radical and traditional wings of the conservative movement to unite and back the candidacy of a "moderate person such as [former Foreign Minister] Ali Akbar Velayati." (Bill Samii)
...COULD REVEAL CORRUPT PRACTICES. The threat of exposing the corrupt practices of the highborn is not an empty one, and the activities of the "aqazadeh" (a colloquial term for sons of prominent officials) are notorious in Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 November 2002 and 4 October 2004). Behbahan parliamentary representative Valiollah Shojapurian recently addressed this issue, in the 24 October edition of "Etemad." According to Shojapurian, much of the corruption stems from closeness to power, and "the sinister phenomenon of the officials' offspring in our country." Shojapurian urged the legislature to investigate "how an ordinary person with no higher education and not exceptionally clever can achieve so much overnight and amass a capital that exceeds billions with a legal collateral of only 5 billion tomans (approximately $6.33 million). Shojapurian went on to say that the legislature should determine the institutional affiliations of these people's fathers, and it also should find out why these fathers cannot influence their own children.
It is not just the offspring -- corruption is seen as rife among top officials in general. Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2004, released in late October, found that there tends to be an especially severe problem with corruption in most oil-producing nations (http://www.transparency.org/pressreleases_archive/2004/2004.10.20.cpi.en.html). With a score of 2.9 (out of a possible score of 10 for a state devoid of corruption), Iran ranked 87 out of 146 countries surveyed. Other oil producers -- Angola, Azerbaijan, Chad, Iraq, Russia and Venezuela -- also fared badly. Finland topped the list with a score of 9.7, and Haiti and Bangladesh were the worst with scores of 1.5. (Bill Samii)
STUDENT INTEREST IN POLITICS LOW. University lecturer Hussein Sarrajzadeh told a 22 October meeting of students affiliated with the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party that according to a recent poll of 1,522 students at 20 universities, 20 percent do not read newspapers and the majority support the reformist 2nd of Khordad Front, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Deputy Minister of Science, Research, and Technology for student affairs Gholamreza Zarifian added that only 6 percent of students surveyed were interested in politics, while their greater interests were family, school, sports, and cultural pursuits. He ascribed this ordering of priorities to the costs associated with political activism.
This partial presentation of polling data is not all that enlightening, nor is it unusual from speakers at political forums. Indeed, the speakers can be expected to manipulate statistics or present them in a biased fashion in order to bolster their arguments.
Yet claims of a withdrawal by students from politics are substantiated by anecdotal evidence. Majid Haji-Babai, a member of the central council of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, wrote in the 8 September issue of "Sharq" newspaper that the student movement boycotted the February 2003 municipal council and February 2004 parliamentary elections. There were four reasons for this boycott, he writes: a belief that the political structure is beyond reform; reformists' inattention to students and academics; the emergence of the Internet and other sources of information and the new ideas popularized through these media; and the constant psychological warfare by conservatives against the students.
Haji-Babai criticized the boycott, because it is "nothing but playing the game of power." A boycott, he says, is the same as "political passivity." What the student movement should really do, he argues, is to act as a legal opposition with a program that specifies the changes it would like to see. The only way to "negate power," Haji-Babai advises, is "with power." (Bill Samii)
MEDIA DIFFICULTIES CAUSE INTERNATIONAL CONCERN. Of the 167 countries rated in Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) 2004 index of press freedom, published on 26 October, Iran ended up in 158th place (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=11715). The RSF report also repeated the organization's assertion that Iran is the biggest prison for the press in the Middle East, with 14 journalists currently behind bars. In Iran and neighboring countries with a similar rating -- such as Saudi Arabia (159), Syria (155), and Iraq (148) -- RSF says that either there is no independent media or "journalists are persecuted and censored on a daily basis." Iran ranked 122 out of 139 in the October 2002 index (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=4116) and 160 of 166 in the October 2003 index (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=8247).
Numbers can be abstract, but a name signifies a real person. An appeals court in Isfahan has upheld the conviction of Faezeh Sharif, editor of "Seda" weekly, on charges of publishing indecent pictures, IRNA reported on 23 October. Sharif's sentence includes a cash fine of 1.5 million rials ($171) and 5 million rials as a substitute for 50 lashes.
Journalist Siamak Purzand was given an eight-year prison sentence in 2002, but he received temporary leave recently. Lily Purzand, Siamak Purzand's daughter, told Radio Farda that her father successfully underwent several hours of surgery at Tus Hospital on 18 October (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran_archive/67db96df-6cd0-468e-8360-0dcab50ef43c.html#67db96df-6cd0-468e-8360-0dcab50ef43c).
Journalist Ali-Reza Jabari was released from prison recently, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced in an 18 October press release. Jabari had been sentenced in April 2003 to four years in prison, a flogging, and fined for drinking and distributing alcoholic beverages, adultery, and incitement to immorality.
Publications are having problems, too. "From Saturday to Sunday," a student publication from the University of Shahr-i Kurd in Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari Province, has been suspended for six months for publishing an offensive article, ISNA reported on 20 October.
Mohammad Ali Radi, managing editor of a Yazd weekly called "Sayehban," announced in a letter faxed to the local Islamic Culture and Guidance Department on 24 October that he has decided to stop publication, IRNA reported. Radi said he had unintentionally reprinted an Internet report that claimed alcohol consumption improves longevity. The authorities did not accept his explanation, he added, so he will not publish again until the situation is resolved.
"Asia" business daily has ceased publication due to "technical difficulties," editor Iraj Jamshidi said on 23 October, according to ILNA. Publication will resume when the difficulties are resolved, he said. (Bill Samii)
'SPIDERWEB' ACCUSATIONS REVERBERATE. Presidential adviser and former Vice President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi has filed a complaint against the director of the hard-line "Kayhan" newspaper, ILNA reported on 27 October. The complaint against Hussein Shariatmadari relates to an article he wrote -- "The Spiderweb" -- in which he identifies a number of online journalists and weblog writers and accuses them of being American agents (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 October 2004). Abtahi's complaint accuses Shariatmadari of spreading lies in an effort to upset public opinion.
The most recent arrest in connection with this case is that of "Etemad" reporter Fereshteh Ghazi, who was detained when she appeared at the judiciary on 28 October, dpa reported. The reporter's husband said the charges are unknown and he does not know where she is being held. In reality, the arrest is tied to her online reporting, but the authorities intend to accuse Ghazi of adultery, according to Reporters Without Borders on 29 October (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=11752). The media watchdog adds that other online journalists who were arrested previously -- Javad Gholam Tamimi, Omid Memarian, Shahram Rafizadeh, Hanif Mazrui, and Ruzbeh Mir-Ibrahimi -- are likely to face accusations of being her partners and some allegedly have signed confessions.
Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi Rad said in the 24 October issue of "Etemad" newspaper that the online journalists would be tried "in the near future." He added that they would be allowed to hire their own defense lawyers. (Bill Samii)
ACTIVISTS BARRED FROM INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL. Attorney Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, who was scheduled to visit France with Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, said on 22 October that the government has refused to issue him a passport, ILNA reported. Dadkhah represents the family of slain Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi.
Reformist journalist Emadedin Baqi's efforts to reach the United States where he was to receive an award also failed, when police at the airport detained him and seized his passport, Voice of America reported on 13 October. Baqi was scheduled to receive the Civil Courage Prize from the Northcote Parkinson Fund, which honors "steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk." Baqi's uncle, Heibatollah Baghi, accepted the prize on his nephew's behalf.
There is hope that the political deadlock in Iran can be changed, Baqi wrote in "The Washington Post" on 25 October, because "society itself, not the government, creates change." "The state is facing powerful, irreversible social pressure for reform," he adds. (Bill Samii)
IRAN TO TEACH ITS CHILDREN AIDS BASICS. Iran is to teach its teenagers "basic life skills" from April 2005 to help prevent the spread of AIDS in the country, Riaz Gheiratmand, head of healthcare and nutrition at the Education Ministry said in Tehran on 28 October, Radio Farda and ISNA reported the same day. The UNICEF office in Tehran is to hold a two-day workshop on AIDS-prevention among older schoolchildren, for Education Ministry officials in charge of school curricula and textbook contents, Radio Farda added.
According to the latest Health Ministry figures, "about 200 schoolchildren" in Iran are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, Radio Farda reported. Gheiratmand said those children had contracted the virus from their mothers before birth, or "because of the intravenous drug addiction of their fathers," without giving further details, Radio Farda reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
FOREIGN MINISTRY APPOINTS SPECIAL IRAQI REPRESENTATIVE. A 24 October Foreign Ministry press release announced the appointment of Ali-Asghar Khaji as the foreign minister's special representative to Iraq and director of the Foreign Ministry's Special Office for Iraqi Affairs, Mehr News Agency reported. Khaji previously served as ambassador to Riyadh. The Iranian charge d'affaires in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, reportedly is linked with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.
Appointment of the special representative may be connected with Iranian efforts to secure war reparations from Iraq. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 20 October that Iran will do everything within its power to secure reparations for the 1980-1988 war between the two countries, IRNA reported. Kharrazi said that an estimated $97.2 billion in nonmilitary damages had been accounted for, adding that a 5 May 2003 letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan requested payment of reparations. According to the Middle East News Agency on 23 October, Iran has also submitted a request for reparations to the International Monetary Fund. (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI ADVISER MEETS WITH HIZBALLAH LEADERSHIP. Presidential Adviser Mohammad Sadr arrived in Beirut on 25 October and later met with Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and President Emil Lahud, Al Manar television and the Lebanese National News Agency (LNNA) reported. Sadr reportedly told Nasrallah and his deputy, Naim Qasim, that Iran always has and always will support what Al-Manar referred to as "the Lebanese people and their resistance." Lahud told Sadr that UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and international pressure will not sway Lebanon and Syria, LNNA reported. Lahud vowed to continue efforts to determine the whereabouts of four Iranian officials who disappeared in Lebanon in 1982, as well as Imam Musa Sadr, an Iranian cleric resident in Lebanon who disappeared while visiting Libya in 1978. Sadr is also scheduled to meet Lebanon's new prime minister, Omar Karami, and National Assembly President Nabih Berri during his three-day visit, according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)
FOREIGN MINISTER WRAPS UP VISIT TO KUWAIT AND SAUDI ARABIA... Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi returned to Iran early on 26 October after a one-day trip to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Al-Ikhbariyah Satellite TV, KUNA, and IRNA reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi and Director-General for Persian Gulf Affairs Hussein Sadeqi accompanied Kharrazi. In Kuwait, Kharrazi met with Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jabir al-Sabah and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah; and in Saudi Arabia he met with King Fahd bin Abd al-Aziz Al-Saud, Crown Prince Abdallah Bin-Abd-al-Aziz al-Saud.
During a press conference in Kuwait, Kharrazi dismissed allegations of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs and challenged the United States to show documented proof of this. In his meeting with the Saudi crown prince, Kharrazi warned, "Zionism and imperialism have plans for the Islamic world," Iranian state television reported. He therefore advised, "Islamic countries must put aside their trivial differences and concentrate on issues of importance to the Islamic world." "America's wrong-headed policies, injustice, discrimination, and Israeli rapacity have contributed to the spread of terrorism around the world," Kharrazi added. Palestinian and Iraqi affairs featured in all the discussions. (Bill Samii)
...AND THEN TRAVELS TO U.A.E. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and other Iranian officials arrived in the United Arab Emirates city of Al Ain on 27 October, IRNA reported. During his one-day visit, Kharrazi met with Crown Prince Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayid al-Nahyan, mainly to discuss developments in Iraq. (Bill Samii)
AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA, IRAN PREPARE TO SYNCHRONIZE ENERGY SYSTEMS. A draft agreement has been prepared that will pave the way for an exchange of electric power between Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran, Interfax reported on 26 October citing the Azerenergy press service. Russian Unified Energy Systems (EES) chief Anatoliy Chubais discussed the draft agreement, under which the three countries would provide each other with power during winter months and in the case of emergency, with President Aliev during a visit to Baku last week. ITAR-TASS on 20 October quoted Chubais as telling journalists in Baku that a Russian-Azerbaijani delegation will travel to Iran shortly, in the hope of finalizing the exchange agreement. (Liz Fuller)
IRAN-EU NUCLEAR DISCUSSIONS DRAG ON. Iran has rejected a proposal submitted by the EU-Three (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) on 21 October designed to wean it away from enriching uranium. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi dismissed the offer -- reported to include construction of a light-water reactor, trade concessions, and cooperation on counternarcotics and counterterrorism in exchange for an Iranian promise never to enrich uranium -- on 24 October as "preliminary" and "unbalanced," IRNA reported. He said the proposal should have "more positive tones and its negative points must be eliminated or reduced," and added that the Europeans should provide assurances that they would implement any agreement they reach with Iran. Assefi said outright that Iran will not give up uranium enrichment permanently. Assefi said discussions with the Europeans would resume on 27 October.
"The EU has a positive feeling about the meeting yesterday," an anonymous EU diplomat said on 28 October, Reuters reported. Diplomats went on to say that Iran hinted at its willingness to suspend uranium enrichment for a short period -- "two or three months."
It is not clear why this is considered a positive development, as the Iranians have made similar promises in the past, and then threatened to resume uranium enrichment. Moreover, a suspension is not a permanent state, whereas renunciation of uranium enrichment does indicate permanency. Indeed, this is what the Europeans are reportedly demanding -- a permanent freeze in uranium enrichment. Moreover, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the freeze should be in place by 10 November so it can be verified in time for the IAEA Board of Governors' 25 November meeting, Reuters reported on 28 October.
Iran has consistently refused to abandon uranium enrichment. Supreme National Security Council official Hussein Musavian said on 29 October that abandonment is out of the question and is an irrational proposal, state radio reported. "Iran will not be flexible on the matter for a long period of time," he added. The Iran-EU discussions are scheduled to resume on 5 November. (Bill Samii)
PROGRESS IN NUCLEAR MANUFACTURING REPORTED. The acquisition of advanced nuclear technology without help from other countries was like walking in the dark, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi said, and it depended very much on trial-and-error. This absence of foreign help, he went on to say in the 27 October "Jomhuri-yi Islami" newspaper, guaranteed that Iran would have to be self-sufficient.
These claims of homegrown nuclear expertise have a nationalistic appeal, but in fact they are outright lies. In February, top Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan confessed that he passed nuclear secrets to Tehran for personal profit, and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi acknowledged a few days later that Tehran had obtained some foreign nuclear know-how (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 February 2004). Moreover, several Indian entities face U.S. government sanctions for allegedly transferring nuclear-weapon-related technology to Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 October 2004).
Nevertheless, Tehran has been showing off its technological accomplishments recently.
The Vice President for Nuclear Fuel Production at the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Ghannadi-Maragheh on 24 October told a visiting legislative delegation that the Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan is nearing completion, Reuters reported. He said the facility is 70 percent complete, with 21 of its 24 workshops operational. The facility converts raw uranium (yellowcake) into uranium hexafluoride, which can be enriched in centrifuges. Iran previously announced that it intends to convert 37 tons of yellowcake (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003 and 6 September 2004). Kamal Daneshyar, one of the legislators who visited the facility in Isfahan, said afterwards that, because of Iran's limited oil reserves, the Iranian government should plan on building nine nuclear power plants, state radio reported.
The head of Isfahan's Research and Fuel Production Center, Mansur Habashizadeh, said on 25 October that Iranian scientists can produce cladding for uranium rods, state television reported. He added that zirconium will be used as the casing for nuclear fuel in reactors, and then threw in that Iranian scientists can make 99.99 percent pure "manganese." Either Habashizadeh did not explain the connection between all these developments clearly, or state television did not provide his explanation.
Zirconium, which will be made at the Zirconium Production Plant (ZPP), is necessary in nuclear installations as fuel cladding, IAEO Vice President Ghannadi-Maragheh reported in a paper for the World Nuclear Association's Annual Symposium 2003 (http://www.world-nuclear.org/sym/2003/ghannadi.htm). He added that high-purity magnesium is required to make zirconium sponge, so a magnesium production unit has been built next to the sponge unit.
Manuchehr Madadi, research and development chief at the Arak heavy water production plant, said on 27 October that two or three units of the facility are already operational and can produce 15 percent heavy water, Mehr News Agency reported. When the fourth unit goes online in a month, he continued, 99.8 percent heavy water can be produced. According to state television, the plant can produce 8 tons of heavy water annually, and the heavy water will be used at the Isfahan heavy water research reactor. According to Reuters on 27 October, it is easier to extract bomb-grade plutonium from fuel rods used in a heavy-water reactor than from a light water reactor. (Bill Samii)
NUCLEAR POWER WORKERS PROTEST UNPAID WAGES. Bushehr nuclear power plant security personnel broke up a gathering of workers demonstrating against unpaid wages, and then the provincial welfare council dismissed some workers and transferred others, ILNA reported on 22 October. Isa Kamali, secretary of the Bushehr Worker's House, said that a Labor Ministry arbitration council is being prevented from investigating the case on alleged security grounds. (Bill Samii)