23 June 2003, Volume 6, Number 26
IRAN AND REGION FEEL IMPACT OF AFGHAN OPIUM. The United Nations Security Council heard on 17 June that counter-narcotics activities in Afghanistan are not going well. Afghan officials have been voicing the same sentiments, and the resurgence of opium cultivation in Afghanistan is having an impact in Iran, Tajikistan, and Pakistan.
Qolam Said Daqiq, the head of the Herat Province drug-control department, said in a 7 June interview with Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service that narcotics smugglers have stepped up their activities since the opium-harvesting season began. Daqiq warned that smuggling would increase if his department does not receive needed communications equipment, transportation, and funding. He said no foreign organization or country has given his department the assistance it requires.
Afghan Antidrug Commission head Abdul Hai Elahi, in a 12 June interview with the Pashtu-language service of Iranian state radio, said that foreigners are urging Afghan farmers to cultivate opium, and that farmers, in turn, have accepted these demands because of the difficulties they face. Elahi criticized the international community's failure to do what is needed to combat drug production and smuggling, and appealed to the Afghan government to take the necessary steps.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte said on 17 June that international efforts to end opium cultivation in Afghanistan are inadequate, RFE/RL reported. "The resurgence of opium cultivation further erodes the security environment in Afghanistan and threatens reconstruction efforts. The message here is that we should do more, and we should do it better."
The government in Kabul has banned opium production, but its crop substitution plan and other antinarcotics activities have not been very successful so far ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 April, 10 February, and 20 January 2003). Opium production in Afghanistan currently is at the same level as it was during Taliban rule in the country. A long-standing tradition for some farming communities, others are forced into opium growing by a lack of viable options. Opium requires less water than food crops, so it is easier to grow under drought-like conditions. Opium sales are more remunerative than sales of other crops, and farmers borrow money against future crops. The government is unable to enforce its policies beyond the capital, furthermore. The proposed National Army is under strength -- of the projected 70,000 troops, only 4,000 have been trained -- and most of the new army recruits are loyal to Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, and not to the central authorities.
Kabul's problems were exemplified on 15 June, when seven Afghans in charge of destroying opium-poppy crops were killed in Oruzgan Province, according to Tribal and Frontier Affairs Minister Mohammad Aref Nurzai as reported by Reuters on 16 June. Nurzai said that "local [poppy] farmers were behind the ambush," but he did not rule out the possibility of ethnic and sectarian reasons for the killings. According to Nurzai, the farmers were Shia Hazaras while the team tasked with eradicating their poppy crops comprised Sunni Pashtuns.
The flood of narcotics across Afghanistan's borders has an impact on neighboring states. The Iran-Afghanistan border is more than 900 kilometers long. Up to 2 million Iranians abuse drugs, according to official reports, and Iran leads the world in tonnage of seized opium. Police in Iran's Yazd Province on 16 June announced that since 21 March they have seized 608 kilograms of narcotics and arrested 1,451 traffickers, according to Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Hormuzgan Province police chief Ahmad Reza Fatehi-Fuladi said on 21 June that over 65 kilograms of hashish were seized the previous day, according to IRNA.
There are 8,000 registered heroin addicts in Tajikistan, which has a 1,400 kilometer long border with Afghanistan. Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency spokesman Avaz Yuldoshev told RFE/RL correspondent Farangiz Najibullah that the drug flow has increased in the last 18 months. "Last year more that seven tons of drugs -- including four tons of heroin -- were seized on the territory of Afghanistan by the Tajik forces and Russian border guards. In the past five months they seized 4,680 kilos of drugs, including 3,159 kilos of heroin," Yuldoshev said.
Narcotics trafficking is causing a regional health crisis, too. In Iran, 4,846 people have been diagnosed as HIV-positive as of mid-2003, although there are unofficial estimates that up to 23,000 people in the country have AIDS. The sharing of contaminated needles, especially by imprisoned heroin addicts, accounts for 65 percent of the cases. Abdullah Kodiorov, the acting head of the Drug Rehabilitation Center in Tajikistan's Sughd Province, told RFE/RL's Najibullah that at least 10 young people died from heroin overdoses in his province alone.
Pakistan is facing a health crisis, too. Pakistan's deputy ambassador to the UN, Masood Khalid, told the Security Council on 17 June that his country needs international assistance, according to RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon. "Neighboring states like Pakistan are in the frontline of the war against drugs and the brunt of its consequences. It is they who require, after Afghanistan, the most assistance in counter-narcotics, especially in bolstering their law enforcement capacities." (Bill Samii)
IAEA ENCOURAGES IRANIAN NUCLEAR TRANSPARENCY... The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 19 June declared its unhappiness with the lack of cooperation provided by Tehran to date, Reuters reported. The IAEA board of governors debated an internal report for two days before criticizing Tehran's failure to comply with related agreements (see "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," available at www.iaea.org/worldatom).
"The board shared the concern expressed by [IAEA Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei] in his report at the number of Iran's past failures to report material, facilities, and activities as required by its safeguards obligations," the IAEA said. The IAEA board encouraged Iranian transparency and willingness to accept inspections at short notice, thereby allaying concerns that Iran is using its nuclear-power program for weapons development. The board also discouraged the introduction of nuclear material at the Natanz enrichment facility.
While attending the European Union summit in Greece, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told journalists on 19 June that Iran is risking international isolation, RFE/RL reported. "Iran wants to improve trade, educational, technological, and scientific links with the whole of the rest of the advanced world," he said. "If they want that then they have to respond, as we do, for example, by accepting fully inspections of their nuclear facilities." He also said "there is increasing impatience inside the European Union about Iran's failure to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency."
Greece currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, and Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said on 19 June that "we will take our lead from the IAEA," the London-based "Financial Times" reported on 20 June. "At the same time, we will keep talking to Iran, asking it to accept the additional IAEA protocol," he said. "There is a need for full transparency." (Bill Samii, Steve Fairbanks)
...WHICH WILL NOT BE FORTHCOMING. Two days after the IAEA report was released, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aghazadeh-Khoi said that allowing IAEA inspectors to take environmental samples at the Kelaye Electric Company in Tehran could result in many similar requests, Reuters reported on 21 June. "We've had no problem concerning environmental samples, but we've been telling the IAEA that this location is a non-nuclear location," Aghazadeh said. "If we accept to operate outside the framework of the protocol [on inspections], it will have no ending...and tomorrow 10 other locations may be named," he said.
Iranian representative to the IAEA Ali Salehi had told reporters on 17 June that he received no new instructions from Tehran regarding whether it will sign the IAEA's Additional Protocol that would allow the agency to conduct more intrusive, short-notice inspections. However, he repeated Tehran's oft-articulated position, expressed in recent days by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and others, that Iran would not do so unless first given access to Western nuclear technology, according to Reuters. (Steve Fairbanks, Bill Samii)
MOSCOW PUTS POSITIVE SPIN ON IAEA STATEMENT. Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a Moscow press conference on 20 June that President Mohammad Khatami reassured him recently that Tehran has no plans to develop nuclear weapons, Russian and Western media reported. Putin said that, according to information available to him, Iran has agreed to sign the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Additional Protocol to expand international inspections of Iran's nuclear program.
Putin said that Russia's position on Iran's nuclear program is much closer to that of the United States than many seem to think. Both Washington and Moscow, Putin said, expect all countries to comply with international nonproliferation regimes, especially countries like Iran that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Russian Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Nikolai Shingarev said on 19 June that the major provisions of the IAEA statement coincided with the Russian position, ITAR-TASS reported. "This statement opens the way to closer cooperation between Iran and the IAEA and gives hopes that Iran will sign the Additional Protocol," Shingarev said, adding that the IAEA's position and Iran's desire for greater transparency in its nuclear program opens the way for even greater Tehran-Moscow cooperation in nuclear engineering.
Moreover, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said the IAEA statement would not negatively affect Iran-Russia relations, according to ITAR-TASS. (Bill Samii, Victor Yassman)
WHITE HOUSE SAYS WORLD WILL NOT TOLERATE IRANIAN NUKES. U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters at the White House on 18 June that the world must not let Iran have nuclear weapons, international news agencies reported. "The international community must come together to make it very clear to Iran that we will not tolerate construction of a nuclear weapon," Bush said. "Iran would be dangerous if they have a nuclear weapon."
In Tehran, meanwhile, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami defended Iran's right to acquire "advanced nuclear technology" for producing nuclear energy, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. He dismissed U.S. allegations of an Iranian program to acquire nuclear weapons as "groundless accusations and pressures" that are politically motivated. He pledged Iran's continued cooperation with the IAEA.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters aboard Air Force One on 19 June that the IAEA statement pressing for greater Iranian cooperation (see above) is a welcome one, the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (usinfo.state.gov) reported. The IAEA statement reinforces U.S. President George W. Bush's message that the world is against proliferation and wants to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, Fleischer said. "If the Iranians are pursuing peaceful nuclear energy, as they claim they are, then they have every reason to comply with the IAEA's request, particularly the two specific requests to take the environmental sample and to sign the Additional Protocol" of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Fleischer said. Fleischer reiterated President Bush's stance that the international community "will not tolerate Iranian development of nuclear weaponry, which is exactly what the IAEA report is all about." (Bill Samii, Steve Fairbanks)
U.S. IS 'CRUSHING WATER IN A MORTAR.' 217 members of the reformist-dominated Iranian parliament on 17 June signed a letter of protest regarding recent U.S. statements of support for demonstrators in Iran, IRNA reported. Using a Persian expression for futility, the parliamentarians said the U.S. government is "crushing water in a mortar" by attempting to interfere in Iran's internal affairs.
A White House statement issued on 14 June had said, "The United States views with great concern the use of violence against Iranian students peacefully expressing their political views." The statement added, "Iranians, like all people, have a right to determine their own destiny, and the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom. It is our hope that the voice of the Iranian people and their aspiration for democracy and the rule of law will be heard." (Steve Fairbanks)
TEHRAN GROWS QUIETER. The Tehran protests that began on 10 June and flared on 14 June faded out in the following days, according to Western media. Uniformed police were taking action on 16 June against plainclothes vigilantes who attacked protesters with clubs and chains on previous nights. In order to keep away automobiles carrying onlookers and supporters, law enforcement forces closed the streets leading to the Tehran University dormitory, the site of the disturbances, Fars News Agency reported.
Crowds numbering only in the hundreds were subdued on 17 June compared to previous nights, probably out of wariness of vigilante attacks, Reuters reported. The sound of car horns largely replaced the anti-regime slogan shouting of recent nights; police spray-painted red the cars of those who honked too often.
Government officials, meanwhile, have remarked on the demonstrations. Judiciary head Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi on 16 June told a group of "high-ranking judiciary officials" that "it is natural for students to stage rallies to ask that their demands be met," IRNA reported. He added that those demands, "if deemed logical, must be responded to in an appropriate manner." Unfortunately, he said, the recent rallies have been "abused by certain individuals who were not students."
Reuters reported on 20 June that the situation was quiet. Riot police and Basij militia were located at places where protests had erupted previously, and in contrast with previous nights, traffic flowed normally.
The Baztab website confirmed this on 21 June, when it reported that nobody responded to Democratic Front leader Heshmatollah Tabarzadi's call for a million-man protest at Tehran's Azadi Square on 19 June. Baztab also reported that only 26 people responded to NITV's call for a 20 June rally at Azadi Square, and after about 10 minutes there were only 15 people remaining. (Steve Fairbanks, Bill Samii)
PROVINCIAL FLAREUPS CONTINUE. As Tehran grew quiet there were continuing incidents of unrest in the provinces, with incidents being reported in Isfahan, Kermanshah, Sabzevar, Shiraz, Tabriz, Yazd, and Zanjan, according to the 21 June issue of "The New York Times." The U.S. daily cited a student website as reporting that students at the University of Sistan va Baluchistan were calling on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to turn power over to an elected body.
Unrest continued in Isfahan, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 21 June, with a petrol bomb being thrown at a women's theological institution on 20 June, and branches of the Melli Bank being attacked. Rioters set fire to a bus on Nasser Khosro Street and groups of 20-60 people gathered around the city. Participants in these gatherings chanted slogans, set fire to tires, and smashed the windows of passing cars.
Isfahan Province Governor Qodratullah Noruzi on 16 June confirmed reports of unrest in that city the night before, ISNA reported. He spoke of scenes of unrest in the southern districts of the city, where rioters attacked bank branches, automobiles, and other public property; some 50 rioters were arrested. Meanwhile, the governor of the small neighboring town of Meymeh, Mohammad Hussein Qazanfari, told ISNA on 16 June that some 100 rioters, mainly "youngsters who were duped," were arrested for attacking public buildings and banks the previous night. (Bill Samii, Steve Fairbanks)
GOVERNMENT MOVES AGAINST VIGILANTES. There were rallies on 17 June in Hamedan, Isfahan, Karaj, Kerman, Kermanshah, Mashhad, and Tabriz to protest the attacks of hardline vigilantes -- members of the Ansar-i Hizbullah -- on students, according to IRNA. And the next day, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said the Iranian government would not tolerate the vigilante groups, IRNA reported. "We recognize the right to protest, but we do not intend to confront our opponents with violence and force," he said.
Ansar-i Hizbullah gets backing from Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, makes use of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) resources, and is funded by the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation. Khatami promised that police would hunt down the vigilantes who have attacked student dormitories and injured students, but in light of the high-level protection and support the vigilantes have, there is some reason to question whether the recent actions against them will have a real impact.
Interior Ministry Security Affairs chief Asghar Ahmadi said on 16 June that the police cracked down on the plainclothes vigilante groups, IRNA reported. He added that their leader, Said Asqar "should be put on trial." He added that "no one" supports "these wayward vigilantes," who he said sometimes try to pass themselves off as Basijis or members of the IRGC.
Tehran Justice Department head Abbasali Alizadeh said on 19 June that Said Asqar and his cohorts would be tried soon, IRNA reported. Alizadeh said he does not know how many of the vigilantes were arrested, nor does he know if their trials will be open or closed.
Asqar received a 15-year prison sentence for shooting reformist ideologue Said Hajjarian in March 2000 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 March 2000 and 29 May 2000), but he was out on bail when he participated in the recent unrest. Ansar-i Hizbullah's high-level connections did not arise during Asqar's previous trial, and in the trial relating to hard-line violence at Tehran University in July 1999 none of the people believed to back or direct Ansar-i Hizbullah were mentioned.
There are Hizbullah branches throughout Iran. Security and law enforcement forces arrested an Ansar-i Hizbullah leader in Mashhad named Hamid Ostad on 10 June, leading to speculation about a crackdown on the vigilantes (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 June 2003). But an interview with Mohammad Hussein Niazmand, who was identified as the Ansar-i Hizbullah leader in Mashhad, appeared in the 18 June "Toseh" newspaper, leading one to assume that the crackdown is not all that serious.
Niazmand said that three groups are responsible for the recent unrest in Iran. One group is trying to cause disturbances; another group gets involved out of religious concern; and the third group "consists of mercenaries who receive their directives from [foreign] radio stations, the satellite [television networks], and the enemies."
Hizbullah will act on the supreme leader's orders and will defend the system, Niazmand explained: "Hizbullah will be a punch on the mouth for those idle talkers who tend to strike blows at Islam. At the right time, we will smash the teeth of the United States and its local agents. Our stances are same as those of the leader." Niazmand added, "Be assured that if the leader issues the order, Hizbullah, by means of a surgical operation, will remove all the agents of America, regardless of their post and position, from the body of the regime." He concluded with a brief description of his organization's stance on foreign and domestic issues, saying, "Our people deny any room for America in this country.... Our people support the regime and the leader. Our people are those who participate in the rallies." (Bill Samii, Steve Fairbanks)
GOVERNMENT ARRESTS MANY PEOPLE, INCLUDING JOURNALISTS. Interior Ministry Security Affairs chief Asghar Ahmadi said on 16 June that more than 250 people have been arrested in the Tehran unrest, IRNA reported. "All those arrested," he said, "with the exception of about 35 percent who are counterrevolutionaries and hooligans, have been freed."
Ali Akbar Mohseni, managing director of security at the Science, Research, and Technology Ministry, said on 18 June that about 25 people have been arrested since the most recent bout of unrest began in Tehran, ISNA reported. However, he then said he has no information about the number of arrests made by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). Mohseni added that only the MOIS and the police are authorized to make arrests, and that four or five "illegal detentions" took place off-campus.
MOIS chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said after an 18 June closed parliamentary session that the detainees are being questioned, state television reported. "However, it might be proven at this preliminary stage that they have been arrested by mistake," he said. "In that case, these persons will be released."
In a 22 June meeting at the legislature, a group of students said that since 19 June, 87 students had been arrested in Tehran, 250 in Urumiyeh, 105 in Sabzevar, and 30 in Hamedan, Reuters reported. One of the students, Said Razavi Faqih, warned, "We will not accept despotism at all. Even if they send us to prison and take us to solitary confinement, there are others who have more daring slogans than us and they will confront the system with more violent methods." "Iran" newspaper on 22 June quoted a police official as saying that a total of 520 protesters are in prison and awaiting trial for participating in the previous week's demonstrations, according to dpa.
It is not only students who are being arrested, however. The Iranian Labor News Agency reported on 18 June that national-religious activists Mohammad Rezai and Ali Asghar Sadeqi were arrested the previous night. ILNA did not mention who made the arrests, and it reported that Sadeqi has been transferred to an unknown location.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 18 June protested against the arrests of six journalists over a three-day period. Ensafali Hedayat of "Salam" was detained on 16 June, and Mohsen Sazgara of the www.alliran.net website and "Gulistan-i Iran" Editor Amin Bozorgian were detained on 15 June. Three journalists -- Taqi Rahmani of "Omid-i Zanjan," "Iran-i Farda" Editor Reza Alijani, and "Iran-i Farda" staff member Hoda Saber -- were detained on 14 June. Vigilantes abducted Bozorgian and Hedayat, and their families have not heard any news of them since, according to RSF.
ISNA Director-General Abolfazl Fateh complained that on 13 June police beat him with batons after he objected to their throwing stones at protesting students, the Baztab website reported on 14 June. Rajab-Ali Mazrui, who heads the journalists' guild, complained in letters to the Interior Minister and the police chief about the recent harassment of journalists by vigilantes, IRNA reported. RSF on 14 June also expressed concern that journalists had been beaten, detained by the police, and had their cameras confiscated. (Bill Samii)
250 IRANIAN TEACHERS AND WRITERS DESCRIBE REGIME'S SYSTEM AS 'HERESY.' Some 250 dissident "academics, students, journalists, and political and cultural activists" released a pro-democracy statement critical of Iran's unelected leaders, ISNA reported on 16 June. ISNA did not indicate for whom the statement was meant, but AP reported that it was directed toward Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. According to ISNA, the statement asserted that "sovereignty is the right of the people, which they temporarily grant to rulers," whom they can dismiss if they are dissatisfied with their performance. In what appeared to be an attack on the supreme leader, the statement said a system that places people in "the status of deity, or in an unaccountable position, is clear heresy toward the lofty status of humanity." (Steve Fairbanks)
TEHRAN WELCOMES FRENCH MKO RAIDS AND ARRESTS. "Paris, with this move, has acted according to its commitments as a member of the European Union," President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said as he praised France for its 17 June arrests in Paris of members of the Iranian opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), IRNA reported on 18 June. The EU, like the United States, has designated the MKO as a terrorist group. However, Khatami said Washington has "suspicious" links to the group, apparently reflecting continuing unease in Tehran over the U.S. military's cease-fire agreement with MKO forces in Iraq at the end of the recent war in Iraq, as well as suspicions that the Pentagon has plans to use the group against the Iranian government.
Some 165 members of the MKO were detained after more than 1,200 French security personnel raided thirteen MKO sites north and west of Paris on 17 June. The raids were ordered by France's leading antiterrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, after an investigation, which lasted several years, into "criminal association with a view to preparing acts of terrorism and financing a terrorist organization," AFP reported. At one of the sites, police seized a safe containing $1.3 million in $100 bills, a large quantity of computer equipment, and 100 dish antennas, dpa reported. Meanwhile, AP quoted an unidentified investigator as saying that "ultra-sophisticated transmission systems" were also seized in the raid. Thirty Persian-speaking interpreters will question the detainees, according to AFP.
A prominent detainee is Maryam Rajavi, who served as joint leader of the MKO in the late 1980s and was nominated as the "president-elect" for a future Iranian government in 1993 by an MKO front known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). This woman is married to MKO leader Masud Rajavi, whose whereabouts remain unknown since his sponsor, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, lost power. French antiterrorism judge Bruguiere on 19 June extended by 48 hours the time that Rajavi can be held by the police, AFP reported.
Saleh Rajavi, Maryam's brother, was also detained during the 17 June raid on NCRI headquarters, the BBC reported. MKO spokesman Ali Safavi told AFP that the allegations against the group "are absolutely preposterous." Safavi accused France of "trying to curry favor with the Islamic government in Iran," and called the arrests part of a "concerted conspiracy" between the two governments, the BBC reported.
Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, head of France's DST counterintelligence agency (the Territorial Surveillance Directorate), told a news conference on 18 June that the MKO was planning attacks on Tehran's embassies in Europe, Reuters reported. "We know they had the intention to commit attacks outside Iran, including in Europe, against Iranian interests and even against diplomatic representations," he said. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN HOSTS CENTRAL ASIAN LEADERS. The presidents of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan's Transitional Authority met in Tehran during the third week of June to discuss many issues of mutual concern. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov arrived in Iran on 16 June for a three-day visit, Uzbek President Islam Karimov arrived in Tehran on 17 June for a two-day visit, and Afghan Transitional Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai arrived in Tehran on 18 June for a three-day visit.
Rakhmonov held talks with the top Iranian leadership on promoting increased economic cooperation between the two countries, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 17 June, quoting Rakhmonov's press spokesman Zafar Saidov. Agreements have already been signed on road and power plant construction that, according to Rakhmonov, will help resolve many of Tajikistan's problems. Rakhmonov asked for additional bilateral projects in transportation and energy development. Iran has offered Tajikistan $5 million in credits for the construction of a tunnel at Anzob that would link the northern and southern parts of Tajikistan, thus facilitating travel in winter, and has indicated interest in helping complete the Sangtuda power plant. Rakhmonov also asked Iran to join a Tajik initiative for the creation of a coalition against drug trafficking, Saidov said.
During a visit to Tabriz on 18 June, Rakhmonov promoted closer ties between that city and the northern Tajik city of Khujand, saying that direct flights between the two cities are to be started soon and that he expects that tourist contacts and historic ties will lead to economic cooperation between Khujand and Iranian Azerbaijan, IRNA reported the same day.
President Mohammad Khatami received Karzai at the airport, IRNA reported, and they met later with Rakhmonov and Karimov to discuss regional development, border security, and the fight against opium-poppy cultivation. Karzai met with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 18 June, IRNA reported. Khamenei said stability in Afghanistan is in Iran's interests and cautioned that the superpowers have attempted to change Afghanistan's culture and Islamic identity to prolong their domination of that country. Khamenei advised Afghans to be vigilant in guarding against the "subversive schemes" the big powers seek to implement in their country, IRNA reported. Karzai said the future Afghan constitution would be based on the principles of Islam.
Karimov's visit is the most intriguing, because Uzbek-Iranian relations are somewhat strained. Tashkent suspects Tehran of aiding Central Asian terrorist groups such as the Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Tehran is suspicious of Tashkent's pro-Western orientation and military cooperation with Washington, RFE/RL correspondent Charles Carlson reports. The main focus of Karimov's visit appears to be a transportation project known as the Rahgozar corridor that would give landlocked Uzbekistan access to the Persian Gulf.
Alex Vatanka, editor of the London-based "Jane's Security Assessment Binder for Russia/CIS," told RFE/RL's Carlson that the meeting reflects the two governments' pragmatism, because they are not natural allies. Discussing the transport corridor, Vatanka said, "Any kind of new route is good news essentially, and I think that's what they are doing, but I don't think we should read too much into it. I don't think this would involve a major shift in how the Uzbeks view the Iranian Islamic government in Tehran or vice versa. This is pragmatism, and it will not change much in terms of overall bilateral relations."
Khatami, Karzai, and Karimov on 18 June signed a memorandum of understanding under which they agreed to open transport routes linking the three countries, IRNA reported. According to the agreement, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan would be linked to Iran via a highway, thus giving them access to the open sea. Karzai said that the new understanding on the transit route would contribute to the development of Kabul-Tehran relations and help in the development of Afghanistan, IRNA reported.
Khatami said that the national rail networks of the three signatory states should also be linked, and he expressed the hope that funding for the road project could be obtained from the Islamic Development Bank. The same day, Khatami and Karimov signed agreements on expanding trade between Uzbekistan and Iran and on cooperation between their respective security services, uzreport.com, Interfax, and IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)
TURKMENISTAN STRENGTHENS CONTROLS ON IRANIAN BORDER. Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov has told the heads of the "power" ministries that they should boost controls along Turkmenistan's borders with Afghanistan and Iran, Deutsche Welle reported on 18 June. The number of customs officials and border guards at border crossing points is to be doubled, shipments of goods are to be checked more carefully, and the number of Afghan and Iranian citizens admitted to Turkmenistan is to be limited. The number of police checkpoints on main highways within Turkmenistan is to be doubled, and security officials are supposed to prevent any expressions of discontent by citizens. According to an unnamed Turkmen security official, the reason for the tightened security measures on the borders and within the country is Niyazov's concern about recent events in Iran, as well as tensions with Russia over the dual-citizenship issue. (Bess Brown)