10 February 2003, Volume 6, Number 6
KHATAMI AND SABRI MEET IN TEHRAN. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri arrived in Tehran on 9 February in response to an invitation from Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Iraqi television and IRNA reported. Iraqi television said that they would discuss a possible U.S. attack against Iraq and bilateral relations. Kharrazi told Sabri that Iran opposes war and unilateralism, and he encouraged Iraq to cooperate with United Nations inspectors, IRNA reported. From a bilateral perspective, the two sides discussed issues related to prisoners of war and those missing in action. Sabri met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 10 February, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)
KHARRAZI DISCUSSES IRAQ AND SANCTIONS IN LONDON. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi arrived in London on 5 February to meet with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chairman Donald Anderson and to speak at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA, or Chatham House). Kharrazi made a similar trip three years ago (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 January 2000).
Human Rights Watch said in a 4 February letter to Straw that the British government should push Iran to make "measurable improvements" in transforming promises of political reform into reality. The HRW letter cited increases in the arbitrary detention of students and targeting of government critics, and it described the judiciary's role in targeting reformists. The letter added, "religious critics of the ruling clerical elite continue to be targeted for persecution, and their freedom of expression is limited."
It does not seem that these subjects came up, at least if one judges by the public statements made after the meeting. Straw told correspondents on 6 February that the two sides discussed "a wide range of issues," according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. This aspect of the discussion focused on improving bilateral trade and investment cooperation, he said.
The major topic was Iraq. Prime Minister Blair's official spokesman said at a 6 February press briefing that both the United States and the United Kingdom have assured Iran of their commitment to Iraq's territorial integrity, according to Blair's official website (http://www.number-10.gov.uk). Moreover, Kharrazi said at a news conference after meeting with the British officials: "That is, of course, one of the concerns of all neighboring countries to Iraq: the concern of [the] partition of Iraq. Nobody agrees with that, and everyone believes that the territorial integrity of Iraq has to be maintained." Kharrazi stressed the need to give United Nations inspectors more time, RFE/RL reported, and he said that Iran is worried about the potential influx of refugees.
Kharrazi made similar points when he spoke at the RIIA on 5 February. He told the audience that he was in London to discuss the avoidance of war and ways to persuade Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to cooperate with the United Nations, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. "We believe that it is the responsibility of the Security Council to deal with Iraq and other matters. We are basically against war and would not support either side," Kharrazi said.
During the question-and-answer session at Chatham House, Kharrazi criticized the imposition of sanctions against Iran, IRNA reported, although he did not specify which country is imposing such sanctions. Kharrazi said multilateralism is preferable to unilateralism, adding that it is a mistake to try to marginalize any country in today's interdependent world.
Kharrazi used Iranian interception of ships smuggling Iraqi oil as an example of Iran's contribution to "peace-building campaigns," according to IRNA. Such interceptions are a relatively new development. After the imposition of sanctions against Iraq, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) charged protection fees for smuggled oil shipments in an operation run from an IRGC station at the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 December 1998). It is only in the past two to three years that Iran has begun intercepting some of the shipments.
British officials who received Kharrazi urged Tehran to dissuade Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad from carrying out suicide bombings, and they urged Tehran to persuade Hizballah to maintain calm in south Lebanon, London's "Al-Hayah" reported on 8 February. Kharrazi's British hosts also said that there are some Al-Qaeda members in Iran, and they asked Iran to end its support for these individuals. (Bill Samii)
KHARRAZI MEETS WITH BLIX... Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi on 6 February stopped in Vienna after leaving London and met with chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, IRNA reported. They discussed the disarmament of Iraq, with Kharrazi describing Iran's stance on the issue and Blix reviewing the work of the inspectors. (Bill Samii)
...VISITS SLOVAKIA... Foreign Minister Kharrazi went on from Vienna to Bratislava on 6 February for a two-day visit focusing on economic and political cooperation. Kharrazi was expected to meet with his Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan to discuss Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Slovakia's ambitions in terms of Euro-Atlantic integration, according to a 5 February report from the Slovak news agency SITA. Kharrazi also was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky, and Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics. At a 7 February press briefing, Kharrazi mentioned regional fears about Iraq: "There is such a concern in the whole region, not only in Iran but in other countries in the Middle East, that the Americans have a hidden agenda for the whole region. That is a reality, that there is such a concern." Kharrazi called for continued inspections in Iraq. (Bill Samii)
...AND AUSTRIA AGAIN. Foreign Minister Kharrazi met with Austrian President Thomas Klestil on the evening of 7 February, IRNA reported the next day. Kharrazi told Klestil that all Middle Eastern countries are skeptical about U.S. intentions on Iraq, because "there are already clear signs that all the U.S. politicians care for is achieving their own objectives, ignoring even their closest allies' interests, humiliating the international community, and issuing orders for all." Kharrazi said that Iran favors Iraqi disarmament but that this should be a UN initiative. (Bill Samii)
IRANIANS, NORWEGIANS TALK OIL, FISH, WAR, AND GOD. Less than a week before his trip to London, Vienna, and Bratislava, Foreign Minister Kharrazi visited Oslo. Kharrazi boasted during a 31 January meeting with Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy Einar Steensnaes that Iran has high potential in the energy business because of its abundant oil and gas resources and because it offers short, cheap, and secure routes to other countries, IRNA reported the next day. Steensnaes seemed underwhelmed and responded, "Norway, as an oil-producing country, attaches great importance to the stability of the market." Kharrazi also met with King Harald V, Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, and Foreign Minister Jens Petersen.
Vikings were renowned explorers and traders, and Norwegian Fisheries Minister Svein Ludvigsen came to Iran in early January to do some business. Ludvigsen told Agriculture Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati during an 8 January meeting that bilateral relations would improve with the transfer of Norwegian products and technology to Iran, IRNA reported. Ludvigsen also mentioned the potential for the Norwegian private sector to invest in Iranian fisheries industries.
Trade, however, was not the only purpose behind Viking seafaring exploits. There was a strong missionary zeal as well. Apparently, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani knows this, because he told Norwegian Ambassador Svein Aass on 31 December that Jesus Christ is highly respected in Islam, according to IRNA.
Rafsanjani seemed a bit weaker on current history, however. He told Ambassador Aass that Iran's ties with Norway are especially significant, because European countries have a more reasonable approach in comparison with "the U.S. internationally militaristic approach," IRNA reported. Norwegians have not proven to be as fickle as other Europeans, however, having fought alongside Americans in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and most recently, in Afghanistan. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN TAKES STEPS TO COUNTER ENEMY PROPAGANDA. The Iranian legislature on 5 February approved a 12.5 billion-rial budget (about $1.6 million) to counter alleged U.S. plots, state television reported the same day. The money would support Iranian lawsuits against the United States in international courts and "enlighten public opinion" inside and outside the country about America's "cultural onslaught." This has become a regular part of the budgetary process in Iran. The legislature also allocated 20 billion rials for the Center for Dialogue Between Civilizations.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 4 February met with officials from the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and told them that the IRIB must counter the propaganda of Western countries that were harmed by Iran's Islamic revolution, IRNA, "Iran Daily," and "Tehran Times" reported the next day. Khamenei said that the Islamic revolution ended the dependence of Iranian governments on foreign powers and provided the people with political freedom and that this is another reason why Iran is a target of foreign powers. The IRIB should expose the enemy's plots and revive hope about the future, he said.
Khamenei added that historically all youth have the same qualities -- dynamism, energy, and idealism -- and the third postrevolutionary generation in Iran is no different. He called on the IRIB to improve the quality of its radio and television programs. (Bill Samii)
IRAN'S TOP OFFICIALS DECRY U.S. MOTIVES. In the first and second sermons of the 7 February Friday prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani decried the U.S. attitude toward Iran and accused the United States of having ulterior motives in the region, according to state radio. "Today, Iran is no longer willing to accept the dictates of America or any other former master," he said, adding, "This is very important, and this is very bitter for them [Americans]." Rafsanjani also said that the United States faces an energy shortage, so, "they think that acquiring energy from this region necessitates their military presence."
U.S. concerns about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are just a ruse, according to Rafsanjani. "America is threatening to use nuclear weapons itself. Even if takes control of Iraq and puts a ruler in power over there, it will use the same instruments against Iraq's neighbors...what is even worse than Saddam's possession of such weapons, is the American presence in our region. Therefore, we explicitly oppose America's coming here."
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during an 8 February ceremony for air force officers and personnel, "The Americans are seeking to control the abundant oil reserves of Iraq, secure the interests of international capitalists and Zionists, and ensure presence in the sensitive Persian Gulf region," state television reported. Khamenei dismissed U.S. concerns about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. (Bill Samii)
ARMED FORCES SEEM SUSPICIOUS OF U.S. INTENTIONS. Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' ground forces, said on 5 February at an IRGC base in northern Tehran that Iranian society has always opposed foreign aggression, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Jafari described the United States as Iran's "principal enemy," and he said that the United States is trying to eliminate the Islamic Republic by exploiting its groundwork of the previous 20 years and reducing the authority of the guardianship of the supreme jurisconsult (velayat-i faqih). "The enemy's main threat is to weaken the system through issuing mild threats, by political means, or a psychological media war with particular subtlety," he said.
IRGC commander Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told a 3 February meeting of his officers at the Imam Ali Hall in Tehran that the IRGC can identify the enemy and is ready to confront any threats, ISNA reported. Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi-Kermani, who is the supreme leader's representative to the IRGC, then told the audience, "You can be certain that, thanks to God, America and its lackeys will not be able to do a damn thing."
The previous day, navy commander Admiral Abbas Mohtaj told an audience at Qom's Chahar Mardan Mosque, "America's main and principal objective in the region is to control energy so that it is able to lead the world economy, save Israel from its critical situation, and control Islam and Islamic Movements," ISNA reported. Mohtaj said that Iran could inflict heavy blows on the United States should it attack. Air force chief Brigadier General Reza Pardis said on 2 February, "The aim of America, which has come to the region under the pretext of fighting terrorism, is to control energy resources and dominate the world," IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)
STONINGS WILL CONTINUE TO PROTECT THE FAMILY. Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi told visiting EU Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten on 3 February that executions by stoning are seen as a way of protecting the family, state television reported. "At present, we are not considering a substitute for that punishment," Shahrudi said. Shahrudi said the West has double standards regarding human rights, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction. Shahrudi asked, "Why is it that today, while Israel is engaged in perpetrating state terrorism in Palestine, and America, without any regard for the UN Security Council resolutions, is preparing to attack a country, the EU is showing no reaction?"
The English-language version of the official Iranian wire service described a very different version of the meeting. According to IRNA on 4 February, Shahrudi told Patten that the justice system has decided to replace stoning with another form of punishment. Shahrudi criticized the European Union's sensitivity about human rights and claimed that big powers are exploiting the issue. According to IRNA, Patten agreed with Shahrudi that there is a double standard on human rights. (Bill Samii)
MONTAZERI NOT RECEIVING VISITORS. Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi was taken to the intensive-care ward in Qom's Kamkar hospital on 4 February because of heart problems. "Suddenly, he had a pain in his heart, and we immediately took him to the hospital, and the doctors have decided to keep him in the hospital for three days," his son Said Montazeri told Reuters on 5 February. Later in the day, hospital officials said that Montazeri is in stable condition following a heart attack and that they expect to release him soon, dpa reported. Montazeri's office sent a fax on 8 February that stated that he will not be receiving visitors for a while, because the doctors have told him to rest, ISNA reported. One of the reasons for Montazeri's health problems was his five-year house arrest (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January and 3 February 2003). (Bill Samii)
FIVE IMPRISONED JEWS GET FURLOUGHS. Five Iranian Jews who were convicted of espionage in 2000 were released on furloughs near the end of January, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 5 February. The five were the last of the 10 Jews convicted in the case to be held in prison, and their release coincides with the Ten Days of Dawn (the commemoration of the Islamic revolution). It is not known yet if the furloughs will be made permanent.
Maurice Motamed, the Jewish representative in the Iranian parliament, claimed the releases were the result of his personal intervention, while Pooya Dayanim, president of the Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee in Los Angeles, said the releases were meant to burnish Iran's human rights image in the run-up to meetings this week with the British government and the EU. Motamed said the releases would have come months earlier if Dayanim had not criticized the Iranian judiciary in an interview with the Voice of America. Dayanim dismissed Motamed as a "propaganda tool" of the Iranian government. (Bill Samii)
JUDICIARY TO INVESTIGATE ACTIVIST'S COMPLAINTS. Judiciary chief Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahrudi in a 3 February letter to Parliament Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said that any complaints by national-religious activist Ezatollah Sahabi will be looked into, the "Iran Daily" reported on 4 January. Sahabi, released on $250,000 bail after serving more than a year in jail, had written to Karrubi and to President Khatami that security personnel harassed him in prison and that the harassment has continued since his release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003). Shahrudi also said Sahabi should make his complaint through the proper channels, rather than sending letters to the press.
Revolutionary Court Chairman Hojatoleslam Ali Mobasheri took exception to Sahabi's letter and said that it indicated "his lack of goodwill and unfriendly behavior toward the judiciary," according to an interview published in the 4 February "Aftab-i Yazd." Mobasheri said that he met with Sahabi for two hours during his imprisonment and that his cell was 12 meters long and had a television and furniture. Sahabi "repeatedly expressed his satisfaction with the way that his interrogators and prison officials had treated him," Mobasheri said, and there is even a video recording of the meeting. Mobasheri asked why Sahabi is making these claims some 10 months after his release from prison.
Mobasheri also issued a threat: "Sahabi should not forget that...he is a criminal and that he has been released on bail." In other words, bail could be revoked and Sahabi could find himself in jail again. (Bill Samii)
POLLSTERS SENTENCED. The court has added one year each to the sentences of Ayandeh Research Institute Managing Director Hussein Qazian and board member Abbas Abdi, IRNA reported on 4 February, citing the daily "Abrar," bringing Qazian's and Abdi's total prison terms to nine and eight years, respectively. The original sentences were handed down on 2 February. The third clause of the indictment against them, focusing on the alleged collection of classified documents, remains open pending responses from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the president's office, the Supreme National Security Council, and other bodies.
ISNA reported on 3 February that Qazian was granted a temporary release so he could spend the day with his family.
Co-defendant Behruz Geranpayeh, who directs the National Institute for Research and Opinion Polls, was released on bail on 15 January, and according to the 2 February IRNA dispatch, he will go on a pilgrimage to Mecca soon.
Yet questions remain unresolved concerning classified documents that were allegedly found in the possession of the pollsters. Tehran Justice Department chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh said during a 3 February gathering at the Fayzieh seminary in Qom that confidential, secret, and top-secret documents were found at the homes of pollsters Abdi and Qazian, ISNA reported. These documents contained information about Iran's army and the country's military capabilities. Abdi and Qazian provided this information to the Washington-based Gallup Organization, Alizadeh claimed, and were paid a total of up to 450 million rials (approximately $56,000) on three separate occasions. Alizadeh added that the Justice Department has not had the chance to study the documents to determine their origins.
In a related matter, government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh appeared in court on 4 February to answer questions about his comments on the trial, IRNA reported on 5 February. Details were unavailable. (Bill Samii)
PARLIAMENTARIANS VISIT AGHAJARI. Delijan and Mahallat parliamentary representative Ali Asghar Hadizadeh said on 6 February in a letter to Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi that a delegation from the legislature had visited Hashem Aghajari in his Hamedan prison, IRNA reported. Political activist and university professor Aghajari, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy and is awaiting the outcome of his appeal, is reported to have told his visitors that his general conditions are satisfactory and, according to the letter, denied reports that his requirements are not being fulfilled.
Saleh Nikbakht, Aghajari's lawyer, told IRNA on 8 February, "The initial ruling against Aghajari has been reconsidered. However, no information has been given to me in that regard." And contradicting positive reports about Aghajari's confinement, Nikbakht said that his client's appeal was addressed to Supreme Court chief Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammadi-Gilani in order to "inform him of the way that Mr. Aghajari had been maltreated," ISNA reported on 26 January. "The verdict issued by the judge, in its entirety, reflects an extremist approach, and it is against the law," Nikbakht said. (Bill Samii)
IRAN PREPARES FOR FOOD SHORTAGES. The Agriculture Jihad Ministry recently reported to President Khatami that the price of strategic food items, such as sugar, wheat, and rice, is rising; unchecked population growth is contributing to the rise in food consumption; and demand could soon surpass supply, "Iran Daily" reported on 5 February. Moreover, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization forecasts that the Middle East will become a major food importer within the next 10 years. The Agriculture Jihad Ministry called on Khatami to implement its 10-year plan for attaining self-sufficiency in food production. Khatami, in turn, ordered the High Institute for Education, Management, and Planning Research to develop a strategy for inducing a "leap in agricultural production." (Bill Samii)
UNODC ASSESSES IMPACT OF AFGHAN OPIUM ON IRAN. The Iranian authorities in 2000 identified 90 places in Khorasan Province and 50 places in Sistan va Baluchistan Province where opiates from Afghanistan enter the country, according to a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report titled "The Opium Economy in Afghanistan" that was released on 3 February (http://www.odccp.org/pdf/afg_opium_economy_www.pdf). The border-crossing pattern shifted in 2001, with locations in Sistan va Baluchistan being used more frequently.
Most of the opium that enters Iran is meant for domestic consumption, while the heroin and morphine is usually intended for foreign markets and leaves via the border with Turkey, Iran's southern coast, and the borders with Azerbaijan and with Turkmenistan. Nevertheless, some 29 tons of heroin is consumed in Iran annually. Iran's Drug Control Headquarters estimates that counternarcotics efforts cost the country as much $1 billion a year. According to the UNODC report, Iranian criminal groups make more than $1 billion a year in gross profits from Afghan opiates.
Iranian Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi said on 8 February that the police, judiciary, and Prisons Organization are participating in a project to round up drug addicts who have been released, IRNA reported. Hashemi said that other parts of the national counternarcotics project include international cooperation, private-sector involvement, reforming relevant laws, interdiction, and treatment. Hashemi said that 267,500 people were arrested for drug-related crimes in the March 2002-January 2003 period, and the drug haul of 113 tons is 15 percent higher than for the same period last year.
The Afghan government is trying to eliminate the opium-poppy crops but is meeting resistance from locals who have few viable alternatives to poppy cultivation. Authorities in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province on 2 February arrested "more than 100 farmers and local elite" who refused to destroy their crops, causing strong protests from locals, Karachi's "Islam" publication reported on 4 February. Mashhad radio on 4 February reported a toned-down version of events, saying that dozens of farmers were detained for protesting against the crop-eradication program. According to Iranian radio, the farmers also claimed that they would fight counternarcotics forces if they do not receive compensation for the destroyed crops. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN CLAIMS THAT AMERICANS UNWELCOME IN AFGHANISTAN. Official Iranian news media are conveying the impression that Afghans welcome Iranian activities in their country, whereas U.S. activities in Afghanistan are unwelcome and are a danger. These Iranian claims are part of long-running state-media campaign against U.S. efforts to help the people of Afghanistan, and Tehran is trying to inflame local passions.
The Iran Clinic was inaugurated in Herat Province on 6 February, Mashhad radio reported. Intended to serve the inhabitants of Herat city, the clinic has two operating rooms, a laboratory, a radiology room, and 30 beds. This is not the only Iranian contribution to health care in Afghanistan. The Iranian Red Crescent Society opened a clinic in Nimruz Province on 25 October, according to Mashhad radio. Provincial Governor Karim Barahowi said at the time that work on the clinic began one year earlier and that the clinic provides emergency services and disease treatment.
A delegation from the Iranian Education and Training Ministry on 3 February signed an agreement in Kabul to pay for the construction of five schools and for the renovation of 10 others in Afghanistan, according to an Afghan Education Ministry press release cited by IRNA and Kabul Television. The Iranian delegation also said that Iran is prepared to provide pedagogical training and physical-education training and that it is ready to rebuild the Afghan Education Ministry's publishing house and to launch an educational television channel. According to IRNA, only 3 million of Afghanistan's 4.5 million primary-school-age children had enrolled in schools by 21 December 2002.
A group of nongovernmental organizations from Iran's Isfahan Province on 5 February protested against U.S. aid activities in Afghanistan, Mashhad radio's Dari-language service reported. In an apparent reference to Provisional Reconstruction Teams, which consist of Special Forces, psychological-operations, and civil-affairs personnel, as well as security detachments from the 82nd Airborne Division, the Iranian NGOs claim that the U.S. military is attempting to achieve its objectives by distributing aid. Mashhad radio added that U.S. aid activities in Afghanistan face domestic and international objections, and it added that people in Kabul have demonstrated against U.S. activities in Afghanistan and demanded a U.S. withdrawal from the country.
A 5 February Pashtu-language commentary on Iranian state radio cited U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Robert Finn as saying that the U.S. military would stay in Afghanistan for up to seven years. According to the Iranian commentary, "the majority of experts" believe that the United States is pursuing colonial goals in Afghanistan and Central Asia and that the United States wants to use Afghanistan as a base -- "The allocation of $3 billion to build permanent military bases inside Afghanistan demonstrates America's intentions." Reports about remaining Taliban and Al-Qaeda are only a pretext for a long-term U.S. presence, according to the commentary, which concludes by stating that, "The lasting presence of American forces in Afghanistan will not only lead to failure to ensure security in this country but also add to the lack of security and give rise to more confrontations."
"The U.S. military have increased their interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan," Mashhad radio announced on 7 February. It described the establishment of a U.S. civil affairs facility at Jalalabad airport, and concluded, "The U.S. military's interference in Jalalabad's internal affairs has aroused opposition from local officials." (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN PARTICIPATION IN MUNICH CONFERENCE COULD BE A SIGNAL ON IRAQ. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Gholamali Khoshroo, Foreign Ministry political director Amir Zamani-Nia, and Ambassador to Germany Seyyed Shamsoddin Khareqani arrived in Munich on 8 February to participate in the 39th Munich Conference on Security Policy, IRNA reported. Conference organizer Horst Teltschik confirmed Iran's participation on 4 February, according to IRNA, saying, "Iran is a key country in the Persian Gulf region." Teltschik added that the German government concurs with Iranian participation in the meeting. (For more on the conference, see http://www.securityconference.de.)
A conference spokesman had said previously that Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi would be in attendance and that Iranian participation is important in the context of Persian Gulf security (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 January 2003), but conference spokesman Klaus Treude said on 7 February that Kharrazi would not make the trip.
Iranian participation will make this year's conference significant, New Delhi's "The Indian Express" predicted on 4 February. "A [U.S. Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld-Kharrazi handshake in front of worldwide TV could become the first blow, [unidentified] analysts here say, against the autocratic citadel that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has built around himself," the daily reported. Kharrazi's presence also sends a signal to the Iraqi Shia population that Iran would support its uprising against Hussein, according to "The Indian Express." An unidentified Iranian Foreign Ministry official, on the other hand, said on 1 February that the Iranian and U.S. delegations would not meet during the conference, IRNA reported.
Such a meeting may have a symbolic value, but more substantive issues have already been addressed. U.S. officials said on 7 February that officials in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush met with Iranian envoys in Europe in January to discuss Iranian assistance for downed U.S. aviators and to ask Tehran to deny sanctuary to fleeing Iraqi combatants, "The Washington Post" reported on 8 February. The U.S. envoys also reassured the Iranians that they would not be targeted in a war for control of Baghdad. The Iran-U.S. meeting coincided with a gathering on the future of Afghanistan. (Bill Samii)
DOES AL-ZARQAWI HAVE IRAN LINKS, TOO? Iraq's former UN ambassador Said al-Musawi said at a 6 February press conference in Baghdad, "We have no links whatsoever with [Al-Qaeda collaborator and associate] Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi or Ansar al-Islam. We don't know Mr. Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi; we don't know his whereabouts." U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had said in his 5 February address to the UN Security Council that Iraq is harboring al-Zarqawi's network, and Powell's presentation showed a photograph of a facility in northeastern Iraq that is run by al-Zarqawi's network (Powell's comments are available at http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2003/17300.htm, and the presentation is at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/pix/events/secretary/2003/c8390.htm).
Last year, unidentified senior U.S. and Israeli officials asserted that al-Zarqawi was in Iran, according to "The New York Times" on 24 March and "The Washington Post" on 30 June and 29 October. It is possible that al-Zarqawi transited Iran on his way to Iraq, but it is still not clear if he received help from Iranian officials while making his trip. For some unknown reason, "National Review Online" on 6 February 2003 claims, "Michael Ledeen introduced the name on NRO on December 12, 2002" (http://www.nationalreview.com/ledeen/ledeen020603.asp). (Bill Samii)
IRAQI REFUGEES ARE NOT WELCOME. Ahmad Husseini, the Iranian Interior Ministry official responsible for refugees, said on 26 January that Iran has a "closed-door policy toward Iraqi refugees," Iranian state television reported. Husseini added that Iran has not allocated any funds toward helping Iraqis who would be displaced by a conflict in their country. "The Iraqi government and the UN are responsible for the allocation of funds for housing Iraqi refugees," he added. "Iran can only assist in the transit of goods and sending international assistance to Iraq." Husseini also said that up to 200,000 Iraqi refugees could be accommodated in 19 camps that would be established within 10 kilometers of the Iran-Iraq border in the event of a war, IRNA reported. Husseini predicted that up to 800,000 Iraqis could head toward Iran if there is a war in their country. (Bill Samii)
IRAN EXTRADITES ALLEGED TURKISH ASSASSIN. Officials from Turkey's national security organization (Milli Istihbarat Teskilati, or MIT) on 1 February announced that the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security has extradited Islamic Great East Raiders Front (IBDA-C) member Yasar Polat, Istanbul's "Radikal" daily reported on 2 February. Polat allegedly planned the IBDA-C's January 1993 assassination of Jak Kamhi, and he eventually fled to Iran (see Ely Karmon, "Radical Islamic Political Groups in Turkey," MERIA v. 1, No. 4, December 1997). Officials from the MIT and Ministry of Intelligence and Security met to discuss the matter, and then the MIT provided the ministry with Polat's Iranian address and photographs of him in Iran. The ministry handed him over at the Turkey-Iran border. Turkey has previously accused Iran of backing the IBDA-C, and the MIT has documented alleged IBDA-C assassinations of Iranian oppositionists in Turkey and accused it in the October 1999 assassination of Turkish intellectual Ahmet Kisali (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 1999 and 24 January 2000). (Bill Samii)
FADLALLAH DESCRIBES RIFT WITH IRAN. Lebanese Shia spiritual leader Shaykh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah said that his leadership position among the Shia community is causing discomfort in Iran, "Al-Hayah" reported on 25 January. Fadlallah said that Hizballah sees spiritual leadership in Iran and in the person of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He complained that he has been the target of character assassination in which he is accused of hostility to the Shia faith and the line of the Prophet Muhammad's family.
Significantly, Hizballah Secretary-General Shaykh Hasan Nasrallah on 7 February gave a speech at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut that mirrored Tehran's official view, Beirut's Al-Manar Television reported. "Any assistance to the Americans, even by the enemies of Saddam Hussein, is not assistance against Saddam Hussein. They would be working against the entire nation; against Palestine and its intifada; against Lebanon, Syria, and against all the Arab and Islamic countries," he said. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN BALLISTIC MISSILE APPEARS ON TELEVISION. Iran's single-stage, solid-fuelled Fateh A-110 (formerly Mershad) short-range ballistic missile has been shown on Iranian television, "Jane's Defence Weekly" reported on 3 February. It was the first visual evidence of this missile's existence. According to the report, the missile has an inertial guidance system that uses global-positioning-system (GPS) technology, and its control fins can shape its trajectory for low-level flight and maneuvering. It is believed to have a range in excess of 200 kilometers. The missile is know to have been launched from a fixed platform, but it is believed that a mobile, wheeled launcher has been developed for it. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN DENIES GIVING INDIA BASING RIGHTS. "India will get access to Iranian military bases in the event of a war with Pakistan," Stanley Wiess of Business Executives for National Security opined in the 6 February "International Herald Tribune." Wiess added that a partnership between Iran and India could serve as the foundation for regional stability The Iranian Embassy in New Delhi on 5 February denied the existence of an agreement to allow Indian use of Iranian bases for operations against Pakistan, IRNA reported.
The denial was made in response to a 23 January report by defensenews.com, which said that an agreement signed when Indian naval chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh visited Iran in January called for India to support warship construction at Chahbahar; to station engineers at Iranian air bases; to refit and maintain Iranian tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and artillery pieces; and to train Iranian troops. In exchange, according to the defensenews.com report, India wants to deploy troops, armored personnel carriers, tanks, and light armored vehicles to Iran during crises with Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 February 2003). The Iranian Embassy cited a clause in the Iranian Constitution that forbids use of its land, airspace, and ports by the armed forces of foreign countries, according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)
END NOTEIRAN'S DISTANT 'SECOND REVOLUTION'
By Stephen C. Fairbanks
Iranian officials this week once again are vainly trying to rekindle revolutionary fervor as the country marks the 24th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. They are mobilizing crowds of conscripts, low-level bureaucrats, and other cheerleaders to commemorate the "Ten Days of Dawn," the days of revolutionary transition that began with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's 1 February 1979 return to Iran. But many Iranians are simmering with discontent, and the conservative clerics wielding the reins of power have lost the legitimacy they once derived from public support. The revolution's moral, social, and economic promises remain undelivered by a corrupt and dysfunctional government.
But if the revolution has failed, there are no prospects on the horizon for its overturn. Many outside Iran expected otherwise when university students across the country last November and December protested the death penalty against outspoken liberal professor Hashem Aghajari. At the same time, the power struggle between the regime's major factions was intensifying and perennial hopes for a "second revolution" soared, at least among Western journalists and a few Washington officials. Some Iranian expatriates used satellite television to urge their fellow countrymen to join the students, but few did so other than those who went to make sure that their children did not get arrested.
Political apathy once again dominates Iran's mood. The public's enthusiasm for new political upheaval appears to be no greater than its long-faded zeal for the Islamic revolution.
One reason the student activists failed to attract wider support is that Aghajari's death sentence was simply not an issue that affects most people's lives. It was dreadful to be sure, even if it has not been carried out, but most people have gotten used to the harsh judgments and penalties (although rarely death sentences) imposed by the conservative courts against Islamic modernists and reform-minded activists.
Similarly, few Iranians consider that the relentless economic stresses of life in the Islamic Republic warrant mounting an open challenge to the regime. The steep housing prices and pervasive corruption, the high rates of unemployment and inflation, and other chronic problems wrought by governmental economic mismanagement could breed widespread discontent, but Iranians are used to gradually worsening daily living conditions. They have not been hit by the sort of sudden economic catastrophe, such as a steep drop in oil prices, that would be much more likely to breed serious unrest.
As for the so-called student movement, expectations in the West that it poses a serious threat to the regime are clearly too high. Compared to their counterparts in the United States, Iranian university students are keenly interested in politics, but those willing to put their academic futures on the line by joining in demonstrations are relatively few. Western journalists covering the demonstrations of late last year reported fewer than 5,000 participants at the largest rallies. That does not amount to much in a total university population exceeding 1 million.
There is no nationwide coordinating mechanism that would make the students an effective force. The main student organization on most campuses, the Office for Strengthening Unity, may enable students to air views on some controversial issues, but ultimately it functions to support the ruling order. It secures official permits for student demonstrations in apparent return for ensuring that the students do not get out of hand. The student protests against Aghajari's death sentence were tolerated, but chants of "Death to Khamenei" are not, and the student-organization leaders try to prevent such occurrences.
Without independent institutions, civil society cannot be established, and no viable opposition can develop. Institutions in such civil sectors as education, religion, labor, law, and women's rights, like the students' Office for Strengthening Unity, are connected to the government, either through direct funding or by intimidation. There is at present no means for workers to generate a general strike, nor is it yet possible for the more modernist, dissident clerics to become an organized threat when their seminaries in Qom are government-connected.
The government, although riven by factional conflict, is not on the brink of collapse. The two main political trends remain in a deadlock that keeps the conservatives in power and the reformists perpetually frustrated. The conservatives have no popular legitimacy and no hopes of winning elections in the manner that President Khatami and the reformist parliamentarians have, but they hold all the coercive reins of power and are constantly able to thwart reform efforts.
In a political maneuver meant to give an appearance of fighting back, President Khatami last year proposed two bills that would strengthen him vis-a-vis the conservative judiciary and curtail the Guardians Council's role in vetting election candidates. The council is certain to reject the bills if they ever emerge from parliament. It is doubtful that Khatami, who rarely speaks about the two bills now, feels seriously enough about them to resign in the event of their rejection, as some reformists say he should. Khatami has not carried out his own, earlier threats to resign during his troubled presidency. Above all he wants to avoid fomenting domestic chaos. In his view, according to reformists disillusioned with him, order is more important than freedom.
Disillusionment with Khatami is now widespread, and at present the outlook for political reform is grim. Some conservatives talk of closing remaining reformist newspapers and of disbanding major reformist parties such as the Islamic Iran Participation Party, one of whose leaders, Abbas Abdi, was sentenced to eight years in prison this week. A U.S.-led war with Iraq could make the situation worse if, as reformists fear, conservatives adduce domestic security needs in order to further crush Iran's democratic impulse.
Stephen C. Fairbanks is an RFE/RL regional analyst on Iran.