28 July 2003, Volume 6, Number 31
KHATAMI'S LEGISLATIVE MEASURES AT A STANDSTILL... Almost a year has passed since President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's administration introduced two pieces of legislation (the "twin bills") that would strengthen the elected presidency vis-a-vis the unelected institutions that actually run the country's political affairs. The likelihood of these bills actually becoming law seems, however, increasingly remote.
One of the bills, to reform the election law with the objective of eliminating the "approbatory supervision" (nizarat-i estisvabi) power used by the Guardians Council to reject candidates for elected office and overturn election results, was introduced on 1 September 2002. The second bill, which would enhance presidential authority, was introduced on 24 September 2002. This latter piece of legislation would give the president the right to warn or punish officials in the executive, legislative, or judicial branches, and it would empower a committee of experts chosen by the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary to overrule court verdicts. (On these bills, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 September 2002.)
It might seem pointless to introduce legislation that would reduce the Guardians Council's power, when it is up to the Guardians Council to vet the compatibility of all legislation with the constitution and with religious law. Indeed, the Guardians Council rejected the bill to reform the election law on 1 April and rejected the second bill on 9 May, citing religious and legal shortcomings in both cases. After the second bill was returned to the parliament for modification, some legislators threatened to quit and Khatami complained, "without the bill, the president is not that much effective in office" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 April, 19 May, and 26 May 2003). He complained in late May that currently, "the Guardians Council has limited the presidential powers to an extent that in certain respects the authority of the president is much less than that of an ordinary citizen," IRNA reported on 23 May.
The parliament and the Guardians Council began negotiations to resolve their dispute in June (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 June 2003). Referring to one of the first such meetings, Behshahr parliamentary representative Ali-Asqar Rahmani-Khalili said that Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati's comments were encouraging, "Mardom Salari" reported on 28 June, and Shushtar representative Mohammad Ali Sheikh said that such joint meetings lead to a resolution of disagreements. In a 6 July interview with ISNA, government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said, "We are still defending the generalities of the bill, as well as the changes the parliament has made to them."
Three days later, Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi sounded less optimistic. According to a 9 July IRNA report, Abtahi said that there have been no new developments but the cabinet's expectations are falling.
As the recent parliamentary recess ended, there was a renewed focus on the twin bills. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said on 20 July that legislators must get on with resolving the dispute and developing an acceptable draft of the legislation, IRNA reported. "The problem is quite clear; we must carry out our task with speed and care and send the bills to the Guardians Council," he said. Reformist parliamentarians, on the other hand, delivered a letter to President Khatami on 20 July in which they argued that they had modified the bills and done their best to reach an agreement with the Guardians Council, IRNA reported. According to IRNA, the reformists accused the council of inflexibility. Karrubi conceded, on 22 July, "some friends in the Guardians Council have unfortunately acted in a biased manner," IRNA reported.
Guardians Council Secretary Jannati said that the legislation reviewed on 20 July did not take into account the council's previous objections, state radio reported on 23 July. Jannati added that the council would not give in to outside pressure, and he also denied that the council is acting factionally. Further detail was provided by council spokesman Ebrahim Azizi in the 21 July "Jomhuri-yi Islami," when he said that a Guardians Council representative participated in three meetings of the committee reviewing the legislation. Fewer than three of the questionable parts of the legislation were discussed at these three meetings, and the representative was not invited to any other meetings.
Khatami is keen to avoid having the bills go to the Expediency Council, which is the normal course of events if the Guardians Council and parliament cannot reach a compromise. In a 1 June letter to parliament speaker Karrubi, Khatami urged the parliament not to refer the twin bills to the Expediency Council, state television reported. Doing so would be tantamount to admitting that the bills have legal or religious shortcomings, he wrote, and he is not prepared to accept responsibility for legislation that many would thus consider to be flawed. Khatami also noted that the differences between the two sides on the bills are insignificant, and the election law is not meant to undermine the Guardians Council.
Khatami's reluctance could be connected with what appears to be a continuing struggle between the executive branch and the Expediency Council, which is a vehicle for Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's power. Indeed, Khatami was so outraged when the Expediency Council allotted much more money to the Guardians Council than the government had requested (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 March 2003) that he and Karrubi walked out of the Expediency Council session.
Possibly because of his eagerness to avoid the normal course of legislative procedure, President Khatami has been tight-lipped on the progress of negotiations on the two bills, and has instead taken to sounding like a cheerleader for the bills. On 2 July, for example, he said, "I call, right here, on the dear parliamentary deputies and the esteemed members of the Guardians Council, to resolve the issue by reaching agreement over it," state television reported. "Each side could differ in their views but we could reach a good balance over this issue, and I beg these two departments to reach an understanding for the sake of the interests of the country...."
Khatami said in a 24 July speech in Firuzkuh, a town near Tehran, that working in line with the constitution will strengthen the nation, IRNA reported. In a reference to the twin bills, he said, "That's why I earnestly insist on executive procedure to guarantee the constitutional rights of the people." "The legal provision will enable the president to stop violation of the constitution and give confidence to the people that everything is being done within the boundaries of the constitution," Khatami said.
As of this writing (25 July 2003), progress on the two pieces of legislation appears to have stopped -- although anything is possible in the backroom politics of Tehran. The subject continues to be relevant to President Khatami and to reformist members of parliament, and it continues to be discussed in the press. But is this legislation important to the public?
The bills were seen as a necessity when they were introduced in September 2002, Sergei Barsefian writes in the 14 July issue of "Etemad" newspaper, a reformist daily that is licensed to Rasht parliamentarian Elias Hazrati. The general public, however, currently sees the issue as a struggle for power among the political elite. Immediately after Khatami's 1997 election the reformists needed more seats in parliament to achieve their goals, and they turned to the public for help. They did not, however, take advantage of public pressure when it came to the twin bills and relied instead on a strategy of political bargaining. Barsefian writes that, if the reformists had adopted the strategy of "pressure from below, lobbying from above" that they employed from 1997-2000, and had rallied public opinion to their cause, they might have enjoyed more success with the twin bills. (Bill Samii)
...AS GUARDIANS COUNCIL SPREADS ITS WINGS. At the same time that President Khatami's government is trying to clip the Guardians Council's wings, the council is trying to increase its authority by establishing supervisory institutions at the provincial and local levels. These efforts are proving just as controversial as the March 2003 decision of the Expediency Council to significantly increase the Guardians Council's budget (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 March 2003).
Deputy Interior Minister Morteza Moballegh said in the 7 July issue of the "Yas-i No" daily newspaper that some Guardians Council officials already have started issuing letters of appointment and inventing posts such as liaison officer, cultural director, and election overseer. Yet none of these people can do anything, Moballegh said, because their appointments have no legal validity. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said after the 9 July cabinet meeting, furthermore, that expansion of the supervisory boards is illegal, ILNA reported. A law professor at Shahid Beheshti University, Mohammad Hashemi, added that making such institutions permanent, rather than temporary on the basis of an election, is illegal, "Yas-i No" reported on 12 July.
The Management and Planning Organization (MPO) also objects to the creation of these new bodies. According to IRNA and "Yas-i No" on 16 July, the MPO states that creation of the new bodies as permanent institutions contradicts the election law. In addition, the MPO pointed out that they impose a new financial burden at a time when the government has consolidated other institutions (e.g. the Ministries of Reconstruction Crusade and of Agriculture are now the Ministry of Agricultural Jihad) to improve effectiveness and reduce size.
Some members of parliament also have voiced objections to the creation of the new supervisory institutions. Mohsen Armin said in the 15 July "Yas-i No" that the new Guardians Council institutions would interfere with the executive branch's role in elections and, in theory, could even be used to replace a provincial governor. Fatimeh Haqiqatju suggested filing a complaint against the Guardians Council with the judiciary, "but I am not hopeful that the outcome of such an action would be promising." Urumiyeh's Shahrbanu Amani said in the 13 July "Yas-i Now" that the Guardians Council is acting illegally and imposing unnecessary costs on the public treasury.
Hadi Pazhuhesh, the deputy governor-general for security affairs in Khorasan Province, said that the Guardians Council's effort to establish provincial supervisory offices is not legally justified, according to an interview in the "Iran" newspaper on 23 July. He said that the creation or expansion of an administrative body requires a permit from the MPO, and the MPO has not issued such a permit. Comparing these offices with the permanent ones of the Interior Ministry is not reasonable, he added, because supervising elections is not a permanent function. The Guardians Council seeks to prepare dossiers on potential candidates for elected office, he said, and the establishment of these offices is likely to discourage people from running for office or from voting.
The Guardians Council expansion does have its defenders. Hojatoleslam Ali Saidi, who is a member of the central council of the conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mubarez-i Tehran), said in the 15 July "Yas-i No" that it is illogical to expect the Guardians Council to continue to obtain its information only through currently available channels without creating its own facilities. He added, "The establishment of these offices will bring success for the Guardians Council in its duties, and ensure religious democracy for our religious system."
Hojatoleslam Musa Qorbani, the parliamentary representative from Qaenat, said in the 19 July issue of "Kayhan" that creating these offices would make the Guardians Council's job of supervising elections less difficult, and he claimed that the funding for them was budgeted by the president's office. And Mohammad Jahromi, who is in charge of election affairs at the Guardians Council, dismissed allegations that these provincial offices have some sort of intelligence or security function. "There is so much open information available in the country that there really is no need for any security work."
A commentary in the conservative "Siyasat-i Ruz" daily on 16 July dismissed the uproar over the provincial offices as a reformist attempt to get its candidates into the elections to the seventh parliament (which should take place in Spring 2004). "After they lost all hope of getting the twin bills approved...the rabble-rousers escalated their attacks and assaults versus the legal and supervisory options practiced by the Guardian Council." The people are "distrustful and skeptical" towards elected officials, "Siyasat-i Ruz" editorialized, because they have not realized "essential reforms," including "the elimination of poverty, corruption, and discrimination." (Bill Samii)
YAZDI RESIGNS AS PRAYER LEADER. Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi has resigned as a substitute Tehran Friday prayer leader due to poor health, Fars News Agency reported on 20 July, citing Friday-prayer headquarters head Javad Maqsudi. A replacement has not been selected yet. Formerly head of the judiciary, Yazdi now serves on the Guardians Council. It is not known if he will resign from this body as well. (Bill Samii)
PARLIAMENT SLOW ON UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS. The Iranian legislature on 22 July refused to upgrade to "urgent" a bill on the provision of unemployment benefits, IRNA reported. The legislation is based on the constitution's Article 29, which says that the government must provide unemployment benefits and financial support for every citizen, and on the Third Five-Year Development Plan. An urgent bill is discussed only once by the relevant committee before being voted on, but bills that deal with the budget cannot be submitted as urgent.
One day earlier, Gholi Sheikhi, an adviser to Labor and Social Affairs Minister Safdar Husseini, said that 3.2 million Iranians are jobless and the unemployment rate in the country is 15 percent, IRNA reported. Sheikhi said that his ministry is not responsible for creating jobs and called for proper planning to reduce the number of unemployed people. Sheikhi warned that failure to tackle what IRNA termed "the staggering unemployment rate" would cause serious problems in the near future, due to Iran's high rate of population growth. (Bill Samii)
PARLIAMENT RATIFIES BILL OPPOSING GENDER DISCRIMINATION. The Iranian legislature on 23 July ratified a bill on Iranian membership in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, IRNA reported. The bill states that Iranian membership is conditional on the convention not contradicting Islam, and Iran does not have to abide by the convention's article on the settlement of disputes through an international court. Iranian parliamentarian Elahe Kulyai said, according to IRNA, that 168 countries are members of the convention -- including Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia -- and Iran could benefit from the experience of Islamic members.
According to the UN's Division for the Advancement of Women, the convention "defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination" (http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/).
Isfahan parliamentary representative Akram Mosavari-Manesh said recently that there is a lot of opposition to the legislation (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 July 2003). The Guardians Council must still approve the bill on Islamic and constitutional grounds before it can become law. (Bill Samii)
MORE IRANIAN JOURNALISTS JAILED. "Guzarish" monthly Managing Director Abolqasem Golbaz was arrested on charges of propagandizing against the system, spreading lies, presenting a black picture (siah nemai) of the internal situation, and justifying toppling of the system, "Iran" reported on 21 July. Golbaz has been sent to Evin Prison, and "Guzarish" journalists Nadir Karimi and Ismail Amini, as well as photographer Hojatollah Sepahvand, have been summoned for questioning. Two other "Guzarish" editorial board members were arrested on the evening of 23 July, ISNA reported on 25 July. They are caricaturist Arash Nurchian and front-cover designer Mohammad Amin Golbaz. Afshin Molavi wrote in "The Washington Post" on 26 July that 14 pro-reform journalists have been arrested this month, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security is giving editors gag orders more frequently. (Bill Samii)
CANADIAN JOURNALIST'S DEATH BECOMING A POLITICAL HOT POTATO. The Public Relations Office of Tehran Public and Revolutionary Court announced on 26 July that five individuals who were involved in the case of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi have been arrested and jailed, ISNA reported. ISNA did not identify these individuals. Prompt and fair resolution of the case could reduce its adverse domestic and international impact.
Parliamentarian Mohsen Armin, a member of the reformist Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, told the legislature on 20 July that Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi is responsible for Kazemi's death, ISNA reported. Armin said Mortazavi issued the warrant for Kazemi's arrest, and after two days of questioning she was handed over to the police for more questioning. She told the police she was hit in the head while at the Prosecutor's Office. Later that day, Mortazavi had her returned to his office, and several hours after that he asked the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) to take her. MOIS personnel told Armin that they declared Kazemi's arrest unnecessary, but Mortazavi refused to send her home.
At midnight on 26 June, she was transferred to a hospital where she slipped into a coma the next day, according to Armin. He said Mortazavi should explain why Kazemi was arrested and added, "I declare that Judge Mortazavi and his supporters should be removed from power and a court should investigate their actions."
Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi announced at the weekly meeting of judiciary officials on 21 July that the Tehran prosecutor-general (Said Mortazavi) should promptly and legally investigate Kazemi's death, Iranian state radio and IRNA reported. An official report presented to the presidential cabinet on 20 July determined that Kazemi died of a cerebral hemorrhage caused by a blow she sustained while in custody.
Judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham on 22 July rejected questions about Mortazavi's involvement in the inquiry into Kazemi's death, ISNA reported the next day. Elham said that the prosecutor's office is acting legally when it detains someone suspected of violating the law and then questions that person. An investigation is required if the suspect dies, Elham said. He also said, according to IRNA, that the prosecutor's office has completed its work and any further work is within the jurisdiction of the military court.
The head of the Armed Forces Judicial Organization, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Niazi, said on 24 July that the Kazemi case does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Tehran Military Court, Fars news agency report. An anonymous Prosecutor's Office official said on 25 July that Judge Javad Ismaili would head the new probe into the case, AP reported, and had begun the preliminary investigation with a visit to Evin Prison.
From the way people are trying to avoid involvement in the case it is clear that it has become something of a political hot potato. One person who is not very excited by the case is Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani. He said in the second sermon of the Tehran Friday prayers on 25 July, according to state radio: "A journalist had problems and something happened. Well, things like that happen all the time. Such comings and goings occur all the time and someone might have problems. Someone might die." He continued: "Then suddenly there is a debate about human rights. Then this and that radio start screaming about it." (Bill Samii)
OTTAWA WANTS FOLLOW-THROUGH ON JOURNALIST'S DEATH. Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham described Canadian photojournalist Kazemi's death as a "horrific act" and said the Iranian government's report raises serious questions, Reuters reported on 21 July. "We now ask the Iranian government to take the next step and proceed with the full and swift prosecution of those responsible for Ms. Kazemi's death to clearly demonstrate...that its officials are not allowed to act with impunity and to deter any future violations," Graham said.
Graham also said: "There should be no further delay in having [Kazemi's] remains returned to Canada. It is unacceptable that authorities in Iran continue to refuse to accept the agreed wishes of the family."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 21 July that only the Iranian judiciary could decide on the final destination of Kazemi's remains, dpa reported. IRNA reported that she was buried in her hometown of Shiraz on 23 July.
The previous day, IRNA cited a fax from Kazemi's mother, Ezat Kazemi, which said, "In order to prevent any misuse of the tragic incident, I want my beloved daughter's body buried in Shiraz." Stephan Hachemi, the photojournalist's son, told reporters in Montreal on 22 July that his grandmother told him that the authorities "forced" her to authorize the burial in Iran, Reuters reported. And according to dpa on 22 July, the family said that Tehran wants to avoid a Canadian autopsy of the body.
Ottawa said on 23 July that it is considering trade sanctions and travel restrictions on Iranians who want to visit Canada as a protest against the Iranian regime's burial of Kazemi, "The Globe and Mail" reported on 24 July. Trade between the two countries was worth more than $500 million in 2002, with Iran exporting oil and petroleum products and buying Canadian wheat. Canadian credit assistance to Iran was worth some $156 million. Foreign Minister Graham said that Canada is encouraging its European allies to impose sanctions. Prime Minister Jean Chretien told reporters after a cabinet meeting: "I am very unhappy that they would take a journalist and kill a journalist. It is unacceptable and I protested very strongly, but there is nothing I can do to bring her back to life." Chretien and Graham will press for Kazemi's exhumation and return to Canada. Ottawa has recalled its ambassador to Iran, Philip MacKinnon.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said on 23 July that Canada's reaction to Kazemi's death is not justified, ISNA and IRNA reported, and he expressed the hope that Canada would not say anything "hasty and irrational" about her death. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN ACCUSES OTTAWA OF COVER-UP IN VANCOUVER DEATH. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi accused the Canadian government of covering up the killing of one Iranian male and the wounding of another -- Keyvan Tabesh and Amir Aqai, respectively -- in Vancouver on 22 July, IRNA and state television reported on 24 July. Assefi accused Ottawa of imposing strict censorship following the incident and referred to a "news blackout," accused the Canadian police of committing a "criminal act," and added that this has frightened the Iranian community in Canada.
Assefi apparently did not have the full story. The machete-wielding Tabesh was shot on 14 July by the plainclothes police officer he was attacking in the Vancouver suburb of Port Moody, Toronto's "The Globe and Mail" reported on 25 July. Port Moody police department spokesman Constable Brian Soles had said that Tabesh used the machete to rip into the side of a vehicle that had blocked his way, and police began looking for his vehicle after the incident was reported, "The Globe and Mail" reported on 18 July. Tabesh's parents acknowledged that he always carried something to defend himself because he had been attacked previously and the family received death threats.
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Reynald Doiron said that the Tabesh case and the death of Zahra Kazemi in Iranian custody are not legitimately comparable, according to the 25 July report. Tabesh's family registered surprise at the Iranian government's interest in the case and has asked relatives in Iran to contact the broadcast media there and tell it to stop broadcasting the story. "We don't want the government to use our family," Keyvan's sister, Rita Tabesh, said.
Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 25 July that his ministry feels, in IRNA's words, "duty-bound to safeguard and protect rights of Iranian nationals all over the world," and he announced that the ministry is investigating the case. The Foreign Ministry summoned the Canadian charge d'affaires the next day, according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)
AZERI IRREDENTISTS CLAIM MASSIVE REPRESSION IN IRAN. The irredentist National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan claims that its activists are the subject of "massive arrests and repression," Baku's "Bizim Asr" reported on 22 July. Hundreds of the Azeri activists reportedly have been arrested in Ardabil, Hamedan, Khoi, Tabriz, Tehran, Urumiyeh, and Zanjan.
Timur Eminbayli, who heads the Baku office of the Congress of Azerbaijanis of the World, said that the Tabriz Revolutionary Court sentenced student leader Faramarz Mohammadi to death a month ago and she was executed "a couple of days ago," Baku's "Khalq Gazeti" reported on 22 July. After her execution, Eminbayli said, Mohammadi's remains were taken to Ardabil. "She delivered radical speeches against Iran's Persian and mullah regime. She was arrested by the [Ministry of Intelligence and Security] immediately after the establishment of the student movement. She was ethnic Azeri and 19 years old." (Bill Samii)
RAFSANJANI REPORTEDLY IN SECRET TALKS WITH U.S. "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 23 July that Iranian and American officials met on the sidelines of a recent seminar in London on "Investment Opportunities in Iran" that was organized by the Royal Institute for International Affairs. Representing the Iranian side were Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Tahmasb Mazaheri, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps founder Javad Mansuri, and Petroleum Ministry adviser Hussein Kazempur-Ardabili (formerly ambassador to Japan, he was accused by Japanese police of illegal weapons exports; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 March 2000). These individuals were acting as envoys of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and President Khatami only learned about the meeting a week later.
The topics of discussion were Iranian nuclear activities, Iranian support for terrorist groups, Iranian activities in Iraq, and the Iranian human rights record, according to "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." The Iranian envoys tried to convey the impression that only Hashemi-Rafsanjani can secure acceptance of Washington's demands, and this would be done in exchange for U.S. backing of Rafsanjani's bid for the 2005 presidential election. The U.S. side -- reportedly represented by an unofficial White House envoy named Kurt Wilden, an anonymous American "close to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice," and an anonymous "senior U.S. intelligence officer" -- was unenthusiastic about the offer and about such secret dialogues. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN, HAVANA DENY INTERFERING WITH U.S.-BASED SATELLITE BROADCASTS. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said during a 21 July press conference that Tehran and Havana have not held talks on jamming satellite-television broadcasts originating in the United States, dpa reported, citing IRNA. Cuba's Foreign Ministry denied in a 19 July statement that it is blocking broadcasts from the United States meant for a third country, RFE/RL reported. Cuban jamming activities are limited to blocking U.S. radio and television signals that are intended for the Cuban people, according to the statement. Cuban National Assembly of People's Power President Ricardo Alarcon on 17 July said recent reports of Cuban interference with satellite communications to Iran are part of a new anti-Cuban maneuver, Havana's official AIN news agency reported.
Jamming of Persian-language satellite-television stations intensified on 6 July, when VOA Television began broadcasting a new program to Iran. This has also affected the broadcasts of private Los Angeles-based Persian-language satellite-television stations. International media reported on 11 July that the jamming appears to originate in Cuba (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 July 2003). (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN AND CUBAN MILITARY OFFICIALS MEET IN NORTH KOREA. Abdullah Hamidi Benam, the Iranian military attache to Pyongyang, and Giraldo Abreu Morales, his Cuban counterpart, on 25 July visited the site from where President Kim Il-Sung led the Communist Party and the North Korean Army from 1951-1953, the official KCNA news agency reported. The Iranian military official wrote in the visitors' book, according to KCNA, that "thanks to the wise leadership of Kim Il-Sung, the people and the army of the DPRK could achieve a brilliant victory in the war."
The next day, the Iranian military attache delivered a floral basket and congratulatory letter to North Korean leader Kim Chong-Il via People's Armed Forces Minister Kim Il-Chol, KCNA reported. Abdullah Hamidi Benam made the presentation on behalf of the entire military attache corps. (Bill Samii)
KHAMENEI DISCUSSES MATERIAL WORLD AT MISSILE EVENT. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei visited the Fath logistical air base of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) on 20 July to oversee the ceremony at which the Shihab-3 missile, Sukhoi-25 fighter aircraft, and different types of rotary-wing aircraft were delivered to the IRGC air force, state television reported (for more on the Shihab-3, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 October 2002 and 14 July 2003). The Shihab-3 is built in Iran, but the report did not indicate the origin of the aircraft.
Although some observers see Iranian possession of a missile with a 1,300-kilometer range as an ominous development, Tehran is adamant that such concerns are misplaced. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi told reporters on 21 July that delivery of the missile is not a new issue and it is for defensive purposes only, IRNA reported. Assefi dismissed concern about the Iranian threat as "propaganda of the Zionist regime." "The Zionist regime has no right to question why Iran is developing the Shihab-3 missile because it is not in a position to comment in that connection given that it, itself, possesses hundreds of nuclear warheads," Assefi added.
Such a reaction from Tehran is expected. More noteworthy are the comments of the supreme leader and of IRGC officials at the 20 July event.
IRGC Commander-in-Chief Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi praised all the IRGC's units. He described "missile units" that will foil enemy plots, "not just in our own land, but where they are actually being hatched," and pilots who will "fly like fast-flying hawks to any area they wish to and they will astonish and surprise the enemies of Islam." The IRGC navy has long-range shore-based and sea-based missiles, he said, and it is " ready to turn the blue waters of the sea to red waters tainted with the blood of enemies." Rahim-Safavi also praised the IRGC ground forces.
As for the Basij Resistance Force, which is part of the IRGC, Rahim-Safavi described it as "the very fabric of the country's defense capability." The Basij has, he said, "turned every corner of our country into a focal point of popular resistance." "Today, one can see that every part of this holy land will be in a position to fire upon the enemies of God on land."
IRGC air force commander Brigadier General Kazemi spoke next and described the importance of training and education, state radio reported. He said that the IRGC has created institutions that provide basic and advanced training, and specialized lecturers and trainers work at these facilities.
In his speech, Ayatollah Khamenei said that Iran and its armed forces combine material and divine power and are prepared to confront the enemy. Material power permits oppression, ignorance, humiliation, occupation, and deprivation, he said. "America's arrogant system was a blatant example of material power...America's main objective...is to secure its arrogant interests without giving value to human rights and morals." Iran's Islamic Republic system, on the other hand, is an example of divine power that is based on the people and the defense of their values. The speech was later broadcast in its entirety by state radio, and in that transmission Khamenei said: "America's imperialist face has been exposed. The Islamic revolution stamped the expiry date on the forehead of that imperialistic and nihilistic government which espouses nihilism." Khamenei added, "Its true nature has been exposed to the entire world." (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN REJECTS EU CONCERNS ABOUT NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES AND TERRORISM. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said on 22 July that Tehran's talks with the European Union should be based on trust, and preconditions or threatening language are "unacceptable," IRNA reported. Assefi added that Tehran adheres to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments and its nuclear activities are transparent.
Assefi was reacting to a joint declaration that was issued after the EU foreign ministers' meeting on 21 July in Brussels. The foreign ministers expressed concern about Iran's nuclear activities and said closer economic ties are dependent on Iranian progress in human rights, counterterrorism, nonproliferation, and the Middle East peace process, Reuters reported on 21 July and the "Financial Times" reported on 22 July.
The statement said further cooperation would be considered in light of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei's September report on Iran to his board of governors. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Iran's acceptance of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol would be a "strategic choice."
Fraser Cameron, director of studies at the European Policy Center in Brussels, told RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas that he believes Iran will act to avoid international isolation. "I get the impression from talking to Iranian [officials] that they think that they can comply with the EU conditions. Obviously, there are disputes going on within Iran at the highest level about the future course of Iranian policy, but I think that the EU and, indeed, the U.S. are now working much closer together on this than they were in the past. And I think the prospect of bringing about some changes -- as a result of the combined pressure -- is reasonably good," he said.
The EU prefers to "critically engage" a country, Cameron said, rather than isolating it. If that fails and Tehran does not cooperate with IAEA inspectors, Cameron voiced confidence that the EU would stop the trade talks. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN SAYS WASHINGTON BACKS TERRORISM. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 21 July denied that Iran supports terrorism and claimed, "It is America that supports terrorists," state radio reported the next day. Kharrazi mentioned the United States' signing of an accord with the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) as evidence and added, "America supports the conduct of terrorist groups abroad that are opponents of Iran," ISNA reported on 22 July, citing Germany's "Die Presse." Kharrazi's comments were in response to a 21 July statement by U.S. President George W. Bush. "Today, Syria and Iran continue to harbor and assist terrorists. This behavior is completely unacceptable and states that support terror will be held accountable," Bush said, according to RFE/RL.
The United States government is not the only one that is concerned with Iranian involvement with terrorism. The United Kingdom's Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed Iranian involvement with terrorism in his 17 July speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress (http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/texts/03071701.htm). "Iran and Syria, who give succor to the rejectionist men of violence, [must be] made to realize that the world will no longer countenance it, that the hand of friendship can only be offered them if they resile company from this malice," he said.
British Conservative Member of Parliament Michael Ancram said during an 8 July House of Commons debate that when he met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen), he learned that the biggest problem is "Iranian-sponsored and directly funded support for terrorist activity in both the West Bank and Israel itself," according to Hansard (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmhansrd/ cm030708/debtext/30708-02.htm#30708-02_spnew12). Ancram asked if Foreign Secretary Jack Straw agrees "that Iran, with its stated aim of trying to destroy Israel, poses a very real threat to the peace process, and did he raise the matter when he was in Iran last week?"
Straw replied that he had raised the subject while in Iran, "and I pointed out that the situation is unacceptable not only because of disruption to progress toward the implementation of the road map, but because it is counterproductive for Iran." Straw said that the EU would decide on its trade and cooperation agreement with Iran partly on the basis of Iran's continuing support of "unacceptable rejectionist terrorist groups in Israel and the occupied territories." "We continue to press, and to apply pressure on, the Iranians," Straw said.
During a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Abbas also mentioned the Iranian role in regional terrorism, according to the Leshabat supplement in the 4 July issue of "Yediot Aharanot" daily newspaper. Abbas said: "I want to point out the fact that part of [the] incitement emanates from outside the territories. We have information that Iran is responsible for initiating and planning terrorist attacks, as well as for the incitement." (Bill Samii)
MORE DEVELOPMENTS IN 1994 BUENOS AIRES BOMBING CASE. Argentinian President Nestor Kirchner, who took office on 25 May, is already pushing for answers in the still-unsolved case of the 18 July 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of AMIA, the Jewish Community Center. "The New York Times" reported on 13 July that new testimony could come in the case as early as August that could answer lingering questions about the Argentinian security agency's possible foreknowledge of the event. The attack killed 85 people, and another 265 people were injured.
Earlier this year Argentinian Judge Juan Jose Galeano signed international extradition requests to bring to justice four Iranians suspected of organizing the attack: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, then-Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and then-MOIS chief Ali Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 March 2003). Efforts are under way to have former Iranian intelligence officer Abolghasem Mesbahi -- a.k.a. "Witness C" -- testify, too. Mesbahi previously told investigators that former Argentinian President Carlos Menem received money from Iran to hide evidence of Iranian involvement in the 1994 case and in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 July 2000, 29 July 2002, and 5 August 2002).
Yet Mesbahi's appearance in Argentina, which was scheduled for early July, is being delayed, Buenos Aires's "Pagina/12" daily reported on 10 July. Mesbahi also is supposed to provide information in Switzerland about an Iranian government account at a bank in Geneva, but this trip also is delayed. According to Mesbahi, money from this account was paid to Carlos Menem so he would hinder the investigations into the 1992 and 1994 bombings. (Bill Samii)
'LARGE NUMBER' OF AL-QAEDA SUSPECTS HELD IN IRAN. Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said at a 23 July news conference following that day's cabinet meeting that Iranian has detained some Al-Qaeda members, ISNA reported. "We have so far arrested a large number of these individuals. We have also deported some of them, and are holding a number of them in custody," he said. White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded to this report at the White House news briefing later in the day, RFE/RL reported. "The statements [from Iran] would appear to confirm what we and others believe to be a significant Al-Qaeda presence in Iran, to include members of its senior leadership. These terrorists, we've made very clear, must be brought to justice." According to an ABC News report cited by Reuters, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has confirmed that Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghayth and Al-Qaeda security chief Saif al-Adel are in Iran. Iranian officials had acknowledged in late June that they are holding Al-Qaeda members (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 June 2003). (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN REPATRIATION OF IRAQI REFUGEES TO BEGIN SOON. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers said on 22 July that following his discussions in Iran it was decided that the repatriation of Iraqis there would begin within 10 days, IRNA reported. Insecurity is the main reason for delays, he said. While visiting Dezful's Ashrafi Tehrani Refugee Township on 21 July, he said, "Your return to Iraq will take a relatively long time, due to the existence of a number of problems, but I will do my best to meet your righteous demand, that is nothing but safe return to your country, as soon as possible," IRNA reported. Lubbers said that he was impressed with Iranian efforts to help the refugees during the last 11 years. An anonymous Iranian Interior Ministry official announced on 21 July that Iran is fully prepared to repatriate 200,000 Iraqis, state radio reported, but that the officials ruling Iraq oppose this. (Bill Samii)
SCIRI DENIES TEHRAN OFFICE-CLOSURE RUMORS. Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) official Muhsin al-Hakim denied that the organization would soon close its Tehran office, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 17 July. He was reacting to a report in the 16 July issue of the newspaper "Etemad" that said the SCIRI warned its Tehran staffers they would be fired if they failed to return to Iraq by 23 July. Al-Hakim told "Aftab-i Yazd" that the SCIRI office in Tehran will continue its activities and that "there might only be a change in the number of staff members." Al-Hakim suggested that SCIRI is trying to transfer its personnel to Iraq as quickly as possible so they can serve the Iraqi nation. (Bill Samii)