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Iran Report: November 29, 2004

29 November 2004, Volume 7, Number 42

SUPREME LEADER SPEAKS OUT ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION... "When people look for a president, a parliamentarian, or any other individual who is chosen through elections, they want capable individuals in office who can increase the efficiency of the system, and solve people's material and spiritual problems," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 14 November sermon on Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, state television reported. Khamenei went on to say that the electorate's participation should be the main objective of the election.

The precise date of the upcoming presidential election remains unclear. Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari announced on 17 November that the election should take place on 20 May 2005, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. He previously recommended a 13 May election date, but the Guardians Council objected (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 October and 15 November 2004).

Guardians Council spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said on 27 November that the latest proposal -- 20 May -- is also unacceptable, IRNA reported. As he had before, Elham cited a legal requirement that the election take place three months before the conclusion of the president's term in office. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's term will end on 2 August, Elham said, so the election process should begin on 2 May. The election, therefore, would take place in early June.

There also are questions about the vote-counting process for the election, whenever it takes place. Elham said that the Interior Ministry is proposing use of the same vote-counting equipment that was used in the previous presidential election (in 2001), but this is outdated and inefficient. He added that the relevant software and hardware should be designed so its operation can be monitored by Guardians Council personnel. (Bill Samii)

...AND POTENTIAL CANDIDATES ARE CONSIDERED. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh announced on 15 November that former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin has agreed to run for president as the candidate of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) and the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, Mehr News Agency reported. According to Ramezanzadeh, the reformists' main problem is that they have lost touch with the public.

Reformists announced their interest in Moin shortly after former Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Musavi made clear that he is not interested in being a candidate (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 October 2004). At that time, publications such as "Sharq" stressed Moin's experience in the executive branch and his credibility with the student population.

Hojatoleslam Hadi Qabel of the IIPP's central committee noted these factors and more when he discussed Moin in an article in the 28 October "Farhang-i Ashti." Another factor arguing for Moin, according to Qabel, is that the Guardians Council is likely to approve of his candidacy. Qabel went on to predict that the reformists are likely to secure about 65 percent of the votes on election day. Asked about the possibility of Hojatoleslam Muhammad Asqar Musavi-Khoeniha being a reformist candidate, Qabel agreed that he is an influential person, but prefers to work behind the scenes. Moreover, Qabel continued, the possibility of being a candidate has not been discussed with Musavi- Khoeniha, who is a leading figure in the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez).

Not only is Moin not a threat to the conservatives, but his candidacy would legitimize approbatory supervision, the process by which the Guardians Council vets candidates, Human Dur-Andish writes in the 1 November "Farhang-i Ashti." The most viable candidates for the reformists, he continues, are Musavi-Khoeniha and Hojatoleslam Hassan Khomeini. Musavi-Khoeniha, viewed as "the father of the modern left," has the charisma needed to restore unity among the reformists, according to Dur-Andish, and he is credible as well. Dur-Andish also noted that there is a risk that the Guardians Council will not approve Moin's candidacy. Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, enjoys several advantages, the article continues. Chief among these are the likelihood that his candidacy will win approval, as well as his popularity among the traditional right.

Traditional conservatives and the more radical right-wing are somewhat divided on where they want to go and whom they want to support. Among their possible candidates are former state broadcasting chief Ali Larijani, who now is an adviser to the supreme leader; Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad; former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who also serves as an adviser to the supreme leader; and former labor minister and current Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli.

Ahmadinejad is backed by younger conservatives, "Etemad" reported on 8 November. Tavakoli says that he will be a candidate only if Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani runs for office, "Sharq" reported on 15 November.

Larijani said in a 13 November speech in Babol that he is willing to run as a candidate if he thinks he can be effective, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. "Factions are holding consultations and they are trying to establish a consensus of opinion before they name their candidates," he added. "Each faction will officially name its candidate soon."

Larijani's comments at a 16 November session on the upcoming election sounded more like a stump speech. He said that the legislature can enact numerous laws, but that this is meaningless if the executive branch ignores people's needs. He also discussed unemployment, regional affairs, Iraq, Israel, and security affairs. In closing he again addressed the election: "Conservatives must use all their power to encourage the people to participate in the elections and must give priority to unity and avoid division."

The Islamic Coalition Party's central council met with Velayati, according to "Aftab-i Yazd" on 23 November, and questioned him on a number of issues. The party said it intends to meet with other candidates.

The possibility of Hashemi-Rafsanjani being a candidate continues to be a major topic of discussion. He has said that he wants younger figures to become politically active, but he also has said he would run if it is in the country's interest. Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai said on 23 November that he believes it is "very unlikely" that Hashemi-Rafsanjani would run for president, Fars News Agency reported.

Gholamali Dehqan, spokesman for the politically pragmatic Moderation and Development Party (Hizb-i Ettedal va Toseh), said on 7 November that Hashemi-Rafsanjani represents political moderation and discourse, ISNA reported. Dehqan added that Hashemi-Rafsanjani stands for development, construction, pursuit of reforms, and the combination of realism and idealism.

Thirteen political organizations announced after a 16 November meeting that they would like Hashemi-Rafsanjani to be a candidate, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on 17 November. Participants in the meeting included leaders from the Executives of Construction Party, the Moderation and Development Party, the Islamic Labor Party, the House of Labor, and the Society of the Loyalists of the Islamic Revolution (Jamiyat-i Vafadaran-i Inqilab-i Islami). Hassan Ghafurifard, secretary-general of this latter organization, predicted on 20 November that Hashemi-Rafsanjani's candidacy would upset the political calculations of any other candidates, ILNA reported. Ghafurifard did not offer an explanation.

A date for the election has not been set yet, due to differences between the Interior Ministry that runs elections and the Guardians Council, which supervises them (see above). Prospective candidates will register about five weeks before the election. Until then, press speculation about potential candidates is sure to continue. (Bill Samii)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH ENCOURAGES VOTER PARTICIPATION. Deputy Interior Minister Morteza Moballeq said in Kermanshah that a lively voter turnout in coming elections "is the system's main support and its cornerstone," IRNA reported on 22 November. "We must create hope and liveliness among the people, and [ensure they vote] with enthusiasm," he said.

"We must not restrict the path to aspirants' participation and then expect a maximum turnout," IRNA quoted Moballeq as saying. He was referring to the usually strict vetting of electoral hopefuls by the conservative-dominated Guardians Council, the electoral supervisory body that barred thousands of candidates, many of them reformers, from running in the February parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 and 23 February 2004).

In Tehran on 22 November, government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh expressed hope that there will be a "fully competitive atmosphere" in the 2005 elections, "not like the atmosphere in the [February parliamentary] elections." He said the government will use "its instruments" to ensure competition, without giving details, ISNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

A REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT OR A REPUBLIC? Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) deputy commander, Brigadier-General Muhammad Baqer Zolqadr said in Tehran on 22 November that Iran's next government, to be formed after presidential elections due in 2005, must be "revolutionary and in harmony with all the pillars of the system," IRNA reported. He told a gathering of the Basij, a militia affiliated with the IRGC, that "cowardly elements and enemy mercenaries within the system" must be removed and Iran must become a "center of struggle against arrogance," the term Iranian officials often use to refer to the United States.

Elsewhere, Zolqadr referred to unnamed individuals as "vulnerable," "weak," and "infiltrators" who make Iran vulnerable. The United States, he said, constitutes "the greatest threat" to Iran, and Iranians must be in a state of permanent readiness in the face of that threat, IRNA reported. The reelection of President George W. Bush, he added, is a "warning, because this [administration] is inclined to military action." Iranian conservatives have in the past accused reformers of favoring policies that serve U.S. interests. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN DISMISSES ACCUSATIONS OF LAST-MINUTE ENRICHMENT ACTIVITIES. Unnamed Western diplomats claimed on 19 November that Iran continued to make uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the gas enriched in centrifuges to make fuel for power stations or nuclear weapons, right up to the 22 November deadline by which it promised to suspend enrichment-related activities to prove it is not violating nuclear nonproliferation commitments, AP and AFP reported the same day. An unnamed diplomat alleged in Vienna on 20 November that Iran has converted 37 tons of uranium ore at a conversion facility in Isfahan in central Iran into "an unknown amount of UF6," AFP reported, without stating a time frame for the conversion.

The reports were noted by U.S. President George W. Bush, who said on 20 November on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Santiago, Chile, that "we are concerned" that Iran might "speed up processing of materials that could lead to a nuclear weapon" before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) debates Iran's program on 25 November, AFP reported the same day. "It's very important for [Iran] to hear that we are concerned about their desires," Bush said.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi told a news conference in Tehran on 21 November that Iran has "no hidden installations and there are no nuclear weapons in our defensive doctrine," IRNA reported the same day. "We made a commitment to begin suspension [on 22 November] and we shall, and [enrichment] cases so far have been based on the Paris agreement and [under IAEA] supervision," he said. There was "nothing special" going on, he added. The suspension, he stressed, "is voluntary and temporary, based on the agreement with European states," IRNA reported.

"I do not imagine European states will ask for a cessation of enrichment, because that is not in keeping with the Paris agreement. If [this] is mentioned, we shall not agree to it," Assefi said. He noted that the IAEA governing board meeting should, "if [it] considers the facts," conclude that U.S. allegations of a covert weapons program are "baseless and false," although "the scandal they have provoked was not so unexpected for us," IRNA reported.

An unnamed Iranian diplomat told IRNA in Vienna on 22 November that Iran has not recently made uranium hexafluoride (UF6) "for military purposes." The production of "two tons of [UF6] was not to make a bomb, but an experimental initiative for peaceful purposes," he said. IAEA cameras have been installed and are recording the operations at the Isfahan conversion facility, where uranium ore was turned into UF6, he said, "and it is clear to [inspectors] that what goes on has nothing to do with making atomic bombs." The gas was produced to test the efficacy of equipment at the plant, he said, to know "whether or not the equipment and systems installed are capable of manufacture." He said Iran has no intention of mass-producing UF6, and its enrichment systems are designed to make low-enriched uranium destined for the civilian electricity plant being built at Bushehr, in southern Iran.

Reuters cited IAEA head Muhammad el-Baradei as agreeing, on 22 November, with the Iranian assertion that the aforementioned amount of uranium hexafluoride is not enough to build a bomb. (Vahid Sepehri)

IAEA CHIEF SAYS IRAN HALTS ENRICHMENT ACTIVITIES. Iran reportedly suspended all uranium-enrichment related activities on 22 November, honoring a 14 November deal with Britain, France, and Germany intended to avoid its referral to the UN Security Council for violating nonproliferation rules, news agencies reported. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Muhammad el-Baradei, said in Vienna on 22 November he believes "pretty much everything has come to a halt," Reuters reported. IAEA inspectors in Iran must now "apply seals and make sure everything has been stopped," el-Baradei added. He urged Tehran to maintain the suspension while inspectors check its installations to "restore confidence that the program is for peaceful purposes."

In Tehran, government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said Iran will "determine the limits...and duration of this suspension," IRNA reported. The move is designed to "prevent the warmongering ideas of some in the world," he said, perhaps referring to the United States, which suspects Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists this is a voluntary and temporary suspension of its recognized right to make fuel for civilian power plants. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN AND U.S. OBJECT TO EUROPEAN DRAFT TEXT ON NUCLEAR PROGRAM. Both Iran and the United States have objections to parts of a draft IAEA resolution proposed by France, Britain, and Germany to regulate a recent suspension by Iran of all uranium-enrichment and related activities, news agencies reported on 23 November. Iran reportedly halted those activities on 22 November, to avoid possible referral to the UN Security Council for any alleged violation of nonproliferation commitments. Tehran insists the suspension is temporary and that it has a right in principle to enrich uranium as fuel for power plants.

The draft states that suspension is "essential" for resolving Iran's case "within the framework of" the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Reuters reported, quoting an unnamed British official speaking on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. That wording implicitly allows for other measures, like Security Council referral and possible sanctions subsequently. The text does not otherwise mention punitive measures, but urges the IAEA director-general to immediately inform the governing board of suspension violations or if inspectors are prevented from "monitoring all aspects of the suspension," Reuters reported.

Unnamed diplomats in Vienna were quoted by Reuters on 23 November as saying that the United States finds the text of the draft resolution weak and wants an automatic trigger referring Iran to the Security Council for any suspension violations. Reuters quoted an unnamed Western diplomat as saying that European states rejected an automatic trigger as contrary to their 14 November agreement with Tehran.

Separately, U.S. President George W. Bush said in Cartagena, Colombia, on 23 November that Iran must "allow for verification" of the suspension to "earn the trust of those of us...worried about them developing a nuclear weapon," reported the same day. Verification, he stressed, will show if progress with Iran is "real." The IAEA is expected to discuss Iran's program on 25 November.

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on 23 November that the suspension will encourage the governing board to consider Iran's case more favorably. She said the IAEA will continue its work in Iran, irrespective of other factors, until it finds answers to its questions on aspects of Iran's nuclear program, and then ease its scrutiny once the international community is reassured. (Vahid Sepehri)

OFFICIAL SAYS IRAQI INSECURITY THREATENS IRAN'S SECURITY. Intelligence and Security Minister Ali Yunesi said in Tehran on 21 November that Iran wants "security to be established in Iraq," adding that insecurity "is not our wish," ISNA reported the same day. He told a gathering of security officials from Ilam Province, near the Iraqi border, that while "anti-Iranian terrorists are free in Iraq, terrorists opposed to the Iraqi government are identified and arrested in Iran." ISNA interpreted the remark as referring to the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, a violent rebel group opposed to the Tehran government that retains an unspecified number of personnel at a camp in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 October 2004). Yunesi added that, in the absence of Iranian police controls at the frontier, the "flow of a variety of... weapons into the country from the Iraq frontier region is...a serious threat to [Iranian] security," ISNA reported. "Of course we do not blame the Iraqi government in this case and hope stability is established in [Iraq] as quickly as possible," he said. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WANTS A DEMOCRATIC IRAQ. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Sharm el-Sheikh on 22 November, before an international meeting to discuss Iraq, that a "secure and democratic" Iraq will benefit the region, while elections held on time there will "be an effective help to regional security," IRNA reported. He said that "everybody must help restore security and peace to Iraq, and all countries are responsible in this respect.... So far, the measures taken in Iraq have not [contributed to] security, so other methods must be used to make up for the mistakes of America and its allies."

Interior ministers from Iraq's neighboring states are to meet in Tehran on 30 November, IRNA reported. In Tehran, Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said Iran "will do anything we can to resolve the security problem and end Iraq's occupation," ISNA reported on 22 November.

On 23 November, Kharrazi said in Sharm el-Sheikh that Iran respects Iraq's territorial integrity and independence and wants general elections held there on time, Radio Farda reported. He said Iran condemns "all terrorist operations in Iraq" because these help maintain foreign forces there, stated.

Separately, Kharrazi rejected all allegations of Iranian involvement in unrest in Iraq and said that "anyone accusing Iran must prove this accusation," IRNA reported on 23 November, citing an interview with Al-Jazeera. Kharrazi told the media on 23 November that he negotiated nothing with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, with whom he chatted at dinner on 22 November, and their meeting was "in line with diplomatic courtesies, which is natural," IRNA reported the same day.

Tehran had dismissed a positive outcome to the two men's meeting ahead of time. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said there are no plans "on the agenda" for a meeting of Iranian officials and Powell at the conference. "Powell had four years in which to change American policy...toward Iran and failed. Now that he has no formal position, negotiations cannot really be useful," he said. Iran will attend the gathering to protest "American methods" in Iraq, urge elections there, and "the departure of foreign forces," he said.

Assefi also distanced his government from Iranians he said might have volunteered to fight in Iraq, and stated this is not a "state...initiative." "Certain people might do such things because of the unpleasant events taking place in Iraq, for which [the United States] is principally responsible," he said. (Vahid Sepehri)

OMANI ENVOY MEETS WITH OFFICIALS IN TEHRAN. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani met with the sultan of Oman's special envoy and adviser, Abd al-Aziz bin Muhammad al-Rowas, in Tehran on 21 November, Iranian news agencies reported. The envoy discussed Iraqi affairs and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to and IRNA. Rafsanjani told the envoy that Iraqis "know very well" that the United States is not spending its money in Iraq to give them "freedom and democracy," reported. Iraqis, he added, will not "obey the occupiers' commands" or pursue their goal "to fall in line with Israel." (Vahid Sepehri)