Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iran Report: August 11, 2003

11 August 2003, Volume 6, Number 33

KHATAMI'S DEFENSE OF REFORM MOVEMENT WINS PRAISE. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and his cabinet met with members of parliament on 3 August at the presidential office to discuss a number of the country's outstanding political issues. His remarks won praise from reformist commentators because they come at a time when the reform movement is on the ropes legislatively, faces internal divisions, and has lost public support (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July and 4 August 2003).

Khatami defended the two pieces of legislation intended to strengthen the presidency that were introduced last September and which are currently being debated by the parliament and the Guardians Council. He described the legislation as a "minimum requirement" that might, "to some extent, change the climate and make it more favorable to ensuring the rights of the people and the state," state radio reported on 4 August.

Khatami said that although "the constitution is not the same as divine does serve as the basis of the system we have approved." Strengthening the "democratic essence" of the state on the basis of the constitution is a prerequisite to "saving the Islamic republican state," he said. Khatami also called for continuation of the reform platform. Two types of people believe the reform program has failed, according to the president: those who think that any type of reform equals hostility to the state, and those who are hostile to the Islamic Republic of Iran and who think reforms should extirpate religion from people's lives.

An unattributed editorial in the 5 August issue of the reformist "Toseh" daily noted that Khatami's speech might not have fulfilled everybody expectations, but it did point up the country's current political and social realities. Khatami noted that people misuse religion to defend their actions, saying, "Today, the disaster is to use religion and the revolution according to the concepts of fascism, in order to eliminate the rivals accused of liberalism."

The "Toseh" editorial stated that Khatami, in his speech, had effectively presented the opponents of reform with an ultimatum: "To save Iran from drowning in the vortex of crises, all political factions must understand this situation and step towards promotion of the reform movement."

A commentary in the 5 August issue of the "Yas-i No" daily newspaper, which is affiliated with the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party, argued that Khatami's 3 August remarks were significant because of their transparency and because they clarified where the president stands on domestic issues. Some groups have suggested that Khatami has devoted more attention in his second term to external affairs than to the domestic factors that could hinder the reform process, and that he no longer emphasizes his past views. According to the commentary, Khatami's remarks disproved such "oversimplifications." For example, Khatami is reported to have said "It would be a disaster if we used fascistic foundations and interpretations of religion and the [1979] revolution to repel the rivals today." The fascists, the commentary charged, will go to any length to remove their perceived opponents.

Khatami's remarks might have to contend with "narrow-mindedness and radical optimism," or they may be "neglected," it added. Nevertheless, the "Yas-i No" commentary said, the remarks will "help the reform process move faster and with more perfection."

Ismail Azadi wrote in the 7 August "Yas-i No" that the hard-line power seekers should remember that if they defeat the reform movement, "Khatami would constitute the last link connecting religion to democracy in the country." The article said that Khatami's defense of the system is based on the legitimacy it derives from support gained in popular elections. If those seeking power do not acknowledge the legitimacy of the public's demands, the article warned, those demands will be imposed on them.

While the "Yas-i No" writers may have been impressed with Khatami's comments, it may be too late for many of the president's other supporters. Said Elah-Bedashti, a member of the Tehran council of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, said his group is in a tight spot, the "Mardom Salari" daily newspaper reported on 5 August. According to Elah-Bedashti, political factions that want to see his group dissolved are on one side. On the other side, he said, is the passivity of Khatami and the radicalization that has resulted from the refusal of Khatami, the reformists, and the system to respond to the accumulated demands of the students. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI HEARS MINORITIES' DEMANDS. One of the topics discussed by the parliamentarians in their 3 August meeting with President Khatami was the government's failure to meet the expectations of minorities and ethnic groups, the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) reported on 4 August. Minorities' grievances, some of which are long-standing, occasionally come up in the parliament, but the central government has done little to address them.

Eighteen parliamentarians representing mainly Sunni constituencies of Kurds and Baluchis wrote an open letter in late July, complaining about the lack of Sunnis in high government posts, criticizing the appointment of Shia clerics to administer Sunni religious facilities, and bemoaning the absence of a Sunni mosque in Tehran, BBC analyst Sadeq Saba reported on 21 July.

Three sources of emulation issued responses to this letter that were reproduced in the 23 July issue of "Yas-i No." Only one of the three, Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, sounded slightly sympathetic, agreeing that the government should not interfere with Sunni mosques and seminaries. Grand Ayatollah Hussein Nuri-Hamedani suggested a personal meeting.

Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi's response, however, provided little hope. He said that Sunnis are better off now than they were under the monarchy. He advised the Sunnis to relax about the absence of a Sunni mosque in Tehran: "when we go to Mecca and Medina we pray in the mosques with the Sunni brothers and feel no discomfort; indeed this is a sign of our unity." He accused Sunnis of not practicing birth control and of actually trying to change the population's mix. He added that Sunnis buy Shia Muslims' land and property in Sistan va Baluchistan Province. Furthermore, according to the ayatollah, the Sunnis send money to Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf so they can propagandize against Shia Muslims.

Jalal Jalalizadeh was one of the parliamentarians who spoke during the 3 August meeting with Khatami. He wrote in a 23 July commentary in the "Yas-i No" newspaper that the responses by the sources of emulation show that some of them do not agree with the slogan "Iran for all Iranians." Jalalizadeh said Iranian Sunnis preserve law and order but do not receive social justice, and the media ignore them. (Bill Samii)

VOCAL CRITICISM OF WOMEN'S RIGHTS LEGISLATION. Grand Ayatollah Hussein Nuri-Hamedani issued a statement on 2 August about the legislature's recent ratification of a bill on Iranian membership in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July 2003), ISNA reported. The ayatollah described the convention as calamitous and tragic, as well as a Western and U.S. ploy to harm Islam. He said that when the convention was brought to Qom all the religious authorities opposed it because it was contrary to Islam.

Nuri-Hamedani's statement expressed confidence that the Guardians Council, which must vet all legislation's compatibility with Islam and with the constitution, will reject it. It concluded by cautioning that religious authorities, clerics, and seminaries "will never remain silent in the face of moves of this kind that contravene Islam and will perform their Islamic duty and cry out: 'Where is the sixth [parliament] headed?'"

Nuri-Hamedani is perhaps the most senior cleric to speak out, but he is not alone in opposing the legislation. In Tabriz on 1 August, Friday Prayer leader and Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Mohsen Mujtahid-Shabestari voiced his opposition to Iranian adherence to the UN CEDAW, the Iranian Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Qom residents staged a protest rally after the 1 August Friday Prayers, "Iran Daily" reported two days later.

Three scholars -- university lecturer Ms. Ayatollahi, a seminary and university lecturer named Ms. Alasvand, and Mr. Zibainejad, who is in charge of the Qom seminary's office for women's studies and research -- commented on the issue in a studio discussion that appeared on Iranian state television on 2 August. Zibainejad said that the problem with the convention is that it is "based on similarity between men and women [and] equality between men and women." He continued, "We believe that considering that the overall subject of this convention is about equality between men and women, it runs counter to religious teachings."

Ayatollahi said that the convention runs counter to "tens of Koranic verses and hundreds of religious laws." Alasvand posited that developed countries would pressure other countries to abandon their principles.

The bill on membership in the UN CEDAW must go to the Guardians Council for vetting on constitutional and Sharia grounds. In light of such open opposition from the seminaries, approval is unlikely. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENT APPROVES BILL TO FIGHT MONEY LAUNDERING. Illegal activities tend to generate tremendous amounts of money, but this so-called "dirty money" can cause problems for criminals by attracting the attention of law-enforcement organizations. Money laundering, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), is the process by which criminals try to disguise their profits without compromising themselves.

The amount of money laundered in Iran has leapt from about 6 percent of the country's GDP in the mid-1970s to almost 15 percent in the 1980s, and that trend has continued. Iranian Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi noted that 35-40.5 trillion rials ($4.38 billion-$5.06 billion) of drug-related money is laundered in the country annually, IRNA reported on 27 May.

Money laundering is a three-stage process, according to the UNODC. First the money must be moved away from direct association with the crime, then its trail must be disguised to foil pursuit and, finally, the money must be made available to the criminal again with its origins hidden. The three stages of this dynamic process are referred to as "placement, layering, and integration."

The European Union and the World Bank warned Tehran in April 2003 that they would embargo Iran's international bank transactions if the government did not enforce a law against money laundering. The legislature responded on 5 August by approving the general outlines of a bill to combat money laundering, IRNA reported the next day.

Under the bill, property owners must provide evidence on the origin of the funds used to buy real estate or shares on the stock exchange, and those who fail to provide such evidence could have their assets confiscated or be liable for a fine of at least one-fourth of the illegal property's value. The legislation is intended to help identify money originating from illegal activities, such as embezzlement from the government, racketeering, smuggling of goods or drugs, or gambling. Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Tahmasb Mazaheri told IRNA that the legislation would reform the economy, improve investment security, and reduce unemployment.

Iranian experts have reacted positively to the proposed legislation. Alireza Razi, an academic, said on 4 July that such a law would facilitate sound economic activity and contribute to economic growth, IRNA reported. Razi acknowledged that inappropriate application of the law could be harmful, and for that reason he recommended creation of a supervisory system.

Banking expert Mahmud Khorasani said on 7 June that the fight against "dirty money" has increased in importance since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, IRNA reported. He added that a colossal proportion of global trade takes place with assets derived from illegal activities, such as the drugs and arms trades. Khorasani noted that the origin of some Iranians' revenues always remains unclear. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENTARIANS VISIT IMPRISONED HARD-LINE VIGILANTES. Qazvin parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Mohammad Hassan Abu-Torabi and his Tehran colleague Mohsen Safai-Farahani met with Ansar-i Hizbullah leader Said Asqar and four of his colleagues during their 30 July visit to Evin prison, ISNA reported on 2 August. Asqar told the visitors that he turned himself in when he heard that Prosecutor-General Mortazavi wanted to have him arrested, and Mortazavi confirmed this. According to Abu-Torabi, Asqar said he has spent some 33 days in solitary confinement under "the worst possible conditions" and that "he was really annoyed and he complained a lot." The other Ansar-i Hizbullah members complained about the conditions, too, with some saying that police personnel have beaten them up and all saying they have been kept in solitary confinement. (Bill Samii)

CLEMENCY FOR SOME STUDENT LEADERS DETAINED IN TEHRAN AND HAMEDAN. In addition to meeting with Ansar-i Hizbullah's Said Asqar (see above), parliamentarians Hojatoleslam Mohammad Hassan Abu-Torabi and Mohsen Safai-Farahani also met with a small number of students during their 30 July visit to Evin Prison (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 August 2003). A few days later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered judicial officials to "show more leniency toward students who are in detention following the June and July unrest," IRNA and ISNA reported. Khamenei also said that it is up to the centers holding the students to decide how to exercise clemency.

Khamenei was responding to a letter from his Tehran University representative, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Hassan Abu-Torabi, and his representative at the universities, Hojatoleslam Mohsen Qomi. The two officials had written: "Please approve that Islamic compassion should be shown to the small number of students who have been detained because of [their involvement in the unrest due to] their curiosity, or because a dormitory was attacked, or because they have had some demands as students; but have made it clear that they have not been part of [any] conspiracy."

In response to Khamenei's order, the Tehran Public Prosecutor's Office ordered the immediate release of nine students, Reuters reported on 6 August, citing IRNA. This is reportedly just the first stage of releases. Those released include student leaders Abdullah Momeni and Reza Ameri-Nasab, as well as Mehdi Shirzad, who is the son of a parliamentarian. The supreme leader's involvement might have saved Ameri-Nasab's life: According to Amnesty International, Judge Said Mortazavi told Ameri-Nasab's parents that they should prepare a tombstone for their son (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 August 2003).

Seven of the nine released students gave a press conference on 7 August, ISNA reported. ISNA then identified just six people -- Reza Ameri-Nasab, Amir Hussein Etemadi-Bozorg, Masud Karimi, Abdullah Momeni, Morteza Safai-Naini, and Mehdi Shirzad -- who said that they were participating in the press conference voluntarily and would answer "any questions they felt like answering." They said that they were critical of the government but did not intend to subvert it, and they added that there is a serious demarcation between them and the opposition outside the establishment. Two other students scheduled for release -- Ali Akbar Akrami-Araqi and Payman Aref -- did not participate in the press conference.

After the press conference a reporter asked parliamentarian Mohsen Safai-Farahani about accusations that he has revealed things that are going on behind the scenes, state television reported on 8 August. "I am wiser than this and mature enough to know what I am talking about," he retorted. He added that fewer than 26 or 27 students remain in custody.

The Islamic Revolutionary Court issued rulings on six other student activists on 3 August, "Iran Daily" reported the next day. Reza Nuri, Mohammad Sadeqian, Hassan Takabi, and Hassan Tufani were acquitted for their parts in the July student unrest. Arsalan Shemirani was fined 10 million rials ($1250) and received a suspended sentence of 30 lashes, and Mohammad Mehdi Farhangian's sentence included three months in jail and a suspended sentence of 50 lashes. Mehdi Habibi of Amir Kabir University's Islamic Students Association is still in Evin prison, the "Iran Daily" reported.

Meanwhile, the 7 August release from jail of three students from Hamedan means that all those who were imprisoned in connection with the June and July unrest in that province are free, IRNA reported. Fahkredin Heydarian, secretary of the Islamic Students Association, said that nine students from Bu Ali Sina University and Hamedan Medical University had been arrested, and the last three -- Hamid Rahgozar, Reza Kakavandi, and Morteza Husseinzadeh -- were freed after posting 200 million rials (about $25,000) bail each. (Bill Samii)

TOP IRANIAN OFFICIALS MEET TO DISCUSS OUTSTANDING ISSUES. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 6 August met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, cabinet members, parliamentarians, senior military and security commanders, and other national leaders, state television reported. In terms of domestic issues, Khamenei mentioned the importance of the Five-Year Development Plan and said that all activities should take place within a constitutional framework. Khamenei also called on officials and political factions to maintain unity in the run-up to the seventh parliamentary elections, which are due to take place in spring 2004. In terms of international issues, Khamenei warned that the U.S. and Israel are the centers of hostility against Iran and, he added, "Internal cohesion, resistance, and firm resolve for a legitimate and rational defense is the only correct way of confronting the enemies of the nation and the Islamic system." (Bill Samii)

IRAN RELEASES TWO DETAINEES IN CANADIAN JOURNALIST CASE. The Tehran Public-Prosecutor's Office said in a 4 August fax that two female prison guards who were detained during the investigation into the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi have been released on bail, IRNA reported.

Security personnel detained Kazemi, a Canadian of Iranian origin, on 23 June. By 11 July, Kazemi had died of a cerebral hemorrhage allegedly suffered while in detention. The investigation into her death is continuing. Three other people are still being held for further questioning as part of the investigation (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July 2003).

Tehran parliamentary representative Fatimeh Rakei said at a 7 August "Journalists Day" ceremony that "Some people cannot tolerate women journalists," the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. "The fact that Zahra Kazemi was a woman meant that she was confronted more excessively," Rakei added. Rakei continued, "As a woman, what I expect from the government and the [parliament] is that we should try to prevent the repeat of such ugly and inhuman things done to a journalist -- a woman journalist at that." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CONSIDERS NEXT STEPS ON NPT ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL. The Iranian foreign policy process is a fairly hierarchical one, with the Supreme National Security Council presided over by President Khatami making decisions that require final approval by Supreme Leader Khamenei. International concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions has made this aspect of foreign policy part of the public discourse, and this could have an impact on Tehran's decision to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) (for earlier discussions about the NPT, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7, 14, and 21 July 2003).

An anonymous "high-ranking military officer" told the Israeli legislature's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on 4 August that Iran will have the materials needed for making a nuclear bomb by 2004 and will have an operative nuclear weapon by 2005, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 5 August. Also contributing to international concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions is a report in the 4 August "Los Angeles Times," which concludes that Tehran "appears to be in the late stages of developing the capacity to build a nuclear bomb." Experts cited in the article estimate that a bomb could be produced in two to three years.

These reports, in the opinion of many observers, make it even more important that Tehran sign the additional protocol. An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of legal experts discussed the technicalities of the additional protocol with Iranian nuclear experts in Tehran on 4-6 August.

IAEA spokesman Lothar Wedekind told RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel on 5 August what the discussions would entail ( "The experts there are talking specifically about what extra rights of access and information and types of inspections, including short-notice inspections or no-notice inspections that inspectors might have, and what technologies they could use for environmental sampling and other measures that they would need to take to verify the [nature of Iran's nuclear] program."

Another IAEA team is expected to conduct routine inspections in advance of the 8 September IAEA release of its report on Iran's nuclear facilities, according to Reuters on 3 August.

Some Iranian commentators use nationalistic arguments to object to the possibility of more intrusive inspections as an insult, whereas others believe that the additional protocol could improve Iran's international standing.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, the judiciary's foreign affairs adviser, said Iran should sign the additional protocol only after Western governments build four nuclear power stations in Iran, "Resalat" daily newspaper reported on 3 August. Not only is joining the additional protocol not to Iran's benefit, Larijani said, but if Iran is subjected to more pressure it will withdraw from the NPT as well.

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh rejected calls for withdrawal from the NPT during a 4 August press conference, IRNA reported. He added, "we will decide according to national interests on whether to join the Additional Protocol." Ramezanzadeh also reiterated Tehran's desire to have better access to nuclear know-how in exchange for signing the protocol.

Debate over the NPT and its additional protocol is heard from members of parliament, too. Hussein Afarideh, who heads the parliamentary Energy Committee, said on 3 August that signing the additional protocol is "unavoidable," IRNA reported. Withdrawal from the NPT, he warned, would only provide Western countries a pretext for their allegations against Iran's nuclear program.

Iranshahr parliamentary representative Nurmohammad Rabusheh said in a 3 August pre-agenda speech that signing the additional protocol would lead to spies snooping around Iran, ILNA reported, and he warned that if Western governments do not change their ways, a proposal to withdraw from the NPT would soon be on the parliamentary agenda. He said that Islam forbids building weapons of mass destruction; otherwise Islamic countries could have done so because "they are more advanced than you are."

Deputy Parliament Speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami said, in a 5 August reference to the possibility of signing the additional protocol, that closer Iranian cooperation with the IAEA depends mainly on "confidence building," IRNA reported. Khatami was alluding to Tehran's grievance that its access to nuclear technology has been circumscribed despite the fact that it is an NPT signatory. Khatami claimed that Iranian officials are being "truthful" when they deny any intention of building nuclear weapons.

Tehran parliamentary representative Elaheh Kulyai said in the 5 August "Aftab-i Yazd" that signing the additional protocol would eliminate the grounds for propaganda against Iran's nuclear program. She said that the reformist electoral victory in May 1997 improved the country's international credibility, and signing the accord would have a similar impact. (Bill Samii)

PYONGYANG CONSIDERS PROVIDING MISSILE AND NUCLEAR KNOW-HOW TO TEHRAN. North Korea is considering export of its Taepo Dong 2 long-range ballistic missiles to Iran and the joint development of nuclear warheads, Japan's Kyodo World Service news agency reported on 5 August and Seoul's Yonhap news agency reported on 6 August, both of them citing the "Sankei Shimbun" newspaper. The newspaper cited defense sources that said that Seoul and Tehran have been discussing the subject for about a year and expect to reach an agreement in mid-October. North Korea would export missile components to Iran, where they would be assembled, and North Korean experts would provide technological aid for developing nuclear warheads. (Bill Samii)

NONPROLIFERATION CONCERNS SLOW TOKYO-TEHRAN OIL DISCUSSIONS. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi said on 4 August that Iran is negotiating development of the Azadegan oil field with several foreign companies, IRNA reported, but he declined identifying them. Assefi added that Tehran would prefer to sign a contract with the Japanese consortium with which it has already had preliminary negotiations. Tokyo has indicated that it will not sign a contract to develop the oil field if Tehran fails to address international concern about its nuclear activities (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 and 21 July 2003).

Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said in Vienna on 2 August that Tokyo-Tehran discussions on the Azadegan development project are continuing, IRNA reported. Namdar-Zanganeh did not say where these discussions stand, but he described them as a "priority."

Seiji Murata, administrative deputy minister of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, said on 1 August that the Azadegan negotiations would resume soon, the "Sankei Shimbun" newspaper reported on 2 August. He indicated that his ministry is in no hurry to close the deal, saying, "There is a certain gap between the two sides on such questions as future profitability. We are in the process of reviewing the details." Murata also noted that nonproliferation, oil supplies, and Japan-U.S. relations are of equal importance to Tokyo. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN FUNDING OF PALESTINIAN TERRORISTS INCREASES. An anonymous Israeli "senior security official" said on 5 August that Iranian funding of Palestinian terrorists, especially those affiliated with the armed wing of Fatah known as the Tanzim, has increased since a cease-fire went into effect on 29 June, "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 6 August. Much of that money is said to go to Fatah Tanzim units in Tulkaram, Jenin, and Nablus that do not recognize the cease-fire or obey the Fatah political leadership. The anonymous official said a senior Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades commander being sheltered in Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassir Arafat's compound is recruiting personnel and plotting attacks with the help of the Iranian funding. "We know without a doubt that Iran and Hizballah in Lebanon are in contact with elements on the ground, issue orders, and send funds," the source said. Iran operates through Lebanese Hizballah and its Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, which has contacts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and Islamic Jihad is the "most prominent" recipient of Iranian aid. According to "Haaretz" on 5 August, members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades cells receive orders from Iran and are more dependent on Iran and Hizballah than on Fatah. (Bill Samii)

DEFENDERS OF AL-QAEDA MEMBERS HELD IN IRAN SPEAK OUT. Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said during a 4 August press conference that due to security reasons Tehran will not identify Al-Qaeda members it has in custody, IRNA reported.

Mohammad Abu Ghayth, the brother of Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghayth, said in the 5 August issue of "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that he believes his sibling is in Iran. "The Kuwaiti interior minister's remarks indicate he is in Iran. My personal feeling also tells me he is in fact there, despite Iran's denial." Mohammad also said that Suleiman is a peaceful person who does not carry a weapon.

Hani al-Sibai, director of the London-based Al-Maqrizi Center for Historic Studies, said in the 5 August issue of "Al-Hayah" that Egyptian Jihad Group second-in-command Tharwat Shihatah is in Iranian hands. Shihatah, given two death sentences in absentia by an Egyptian court, was living in Iran for two years before the police raided his home and arrested him. Sibai claimed that Shihatah led the wing of the Egyptian organization that is not connected with Al-Qaeda and opposed the alliance created by Ayman al-Zawahiri in February 1998. (Al-Zawahiri allegedly is also in Iran; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 February 2002 and 30 June 2003.) Shihatah is said to have preferred to concentrate on fighting the Egyptian government.

"The New York Times" on 2 August cited anonymous U.S. officials who said Sayf al-Adel, the No. 3 man in Al Qaeda, is in Iranian custody but that Tehran has refused to turn him and other suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists over unless they are exchanged for members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO). Ramezanzadeh denied that Tehran had ever proposed such a swap and said, "We do not make a deal nor act selectively in fighting terrorism." He added that he has no information about the possible extraditions.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked about Al-Qaeda extraditions and the MKO on 4 August, and he replied, "Using appropriate interlocutory, we are in touch with the Iranians on both of these issues," according to the State Department's Bureau of International Programs (

It is still not clear what Tehran intends to do with the Al-Qaeda detainees. Iran is using them as "a bargaining chip in its war of nerves with the U.S.," anonymous "sources in the political establishment" of Iran said in the "The Guardian" on 8 August. Tehran will extradite these individuals only, according to "The Guardian," in exchange for substantial concessions. An anonymous "source familiar with the senior leadership" said of the U.S., "They need us."

Political analyst Said Leylaz asserted in "The Guardian" that some "radical conservatives" advocate cooperation with Al-Qaeda, with the intention of militarizing Iran in order to ensure their own survival.

On the other hand, Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 8 August that the "terrorists" arrested in Iran will be tried in the country's courts, state radio reported.

Yunesi also rejected U.S. assertions that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, saying, "The Americans tell lies over the issue of terrorism; and when they were cooperating with the Taliban, Iran was fighting terrorists." Yunesi did not say when the Americans cooperated with the Taliban, and he did not address Iran's continuing support for Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Arab Islamists based in Europe issued a statement in which they warned Tehran not to extradite the people it holds, "Al-Hayah" reported on 7 August. The statement accused Tehran of trying to win a reward, and it accused Iranian reformists of "leaking information to the media about the detention of some leading Al-Qaeda members in a manner that made the leak look like an advertisement for a public auction to the highest bidder." (Bill Samii)

ISRAEL, IRAN, AND U.S. HAVE SECRET CONTACTS. The public displays of mutual hostility between the governments of Israel, Iran, and the U.S. make it very difficult for any of the governments to engage in normal and open relations, regardless of any shared concerns or interests. This situation results in a lack of transparency in their relationships and necessitates secret contacts -- with at times embarrassing results, as illustrated by three recent cases.

Israel and Iran have been negotiating an exchange of prisoners since May, as reported in the 7 August edition of the Tel Aviv Russian-language daily newspaper "Novosti Nedeli." The contacts initially were an outgrowth of Tehran-Washington discussions begun in Geneva in July. According to the report, the interlocutors were a former U.S. official named Frank Andersen and a former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps officer identified as "Mohammad Khatami." Former government personnel were used in order to ensure the deniability of these official contacts. Tehran expressed a willingness to extradite Al-Qaeda's Sayf al-Adel (see above) in exchange for Mujahedin Khalq Organization leaders, but Washington rejected this offer.

Tehran then tried to get custody of the MKO personnel by involving the Israelis, "Novosti Nedeli" reported. In a meeting with an Israeli intermediary identified as "Amnon Zikhroni," Khatami said that, in exchange for MKO personnel, Iran would deport al-Adel, ensure the release of captured Israeli reserve officer Elhanan Tenenbaum, return the remains of Israeli soldiers captured by Lebanese Hizballah, and seek information on captured Israeli pilot Ron Arad. Washington again rejected the deal, according to "Novosti Nedeli," but the Iranian side insisted that the so-called "Jewish lobby" pressure the White House.

The case of Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, and Iranian prisoners in Israel was added to in subsequent discussions. According to "Novosti Nedeli," some Israelis would like to have the U.S. release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for al-Adel. These discussions reportedly are continuing, but Pollard's release is not open for discussion.

In another recent case, two officials from the Pentagon working for Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith held "several" meetings with notorious Iran-Contra figure Manuchehr Ghorbanifar, "Newsday" reported on 8 August, citing anonymous "administration officials." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confirmed later the same day that the meetings had occurred, but he said they took place more than one year ago, were part of an effort to gather information on Iran, and they had gone nowhere, Knight-Ridder reported.

The White House had not authorized the meetings, and it was only by chance that it, the State Department, and the CIA learned about them, "Newsday" reported. Rumsfeld said that information on the meetings was shared with other government agencies. According to "Newsday's" sources, the "ultimate policy objective of Feith and a group of neo-conservative civilians inside the Pentagon is regime change in Iran." Administration policy, however, is one of engagement over issues such a nonproliferation and the Al-Qaeda extraditions.

An anonymous "senior U.S. official" told Knight-Ridder that Ghorbanifar wanted to be paid for introducing the U.S. officials to Iranian moderates. Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute opened the Ghorbanifar channel, "Newsday" reported, citing a former CIA officer who learned this from current intelligence officers. Neither Ledeen nor Ghorbanifar would comment, according to "Newsday."

Israeli officials introduced Ghorbanifar to Ledeen -- who was a consultant to the National Security Council -- in the mid-1980s. Ghorbanifar claimed at the time to know Iranian moderates. This eventually would become the arms-for-hostages scandal (see Theodore Draper, "A Very Thin Line: The Iran-Contra Affairs," [New York: Hill and Wang, 1991]; see also Michael Ledeen, "Perilous Statecraft," [Scribners, 1988]).

Late on 8 August, an anonymous "senior defense official" said that another meeting with Ghorbanifar took place in Paris in June, and this one resulted from "an unplanned, unscheduled encounter," "The Washington Post" reported on 9 August.

In a different matter, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 7 August that President Khatami has not written a letter to any U.S. official, Fars News Agency reported. Assefi added that Iran has transparent relations with other countries and it does not need to establish secret relations with any country and, in the case of the U.S., "Over many long years, official channels have existed for regulating relations between the two countries and Iran has conveyed its views to the opposite side through these official and legal venues."

Assefi was reacting to a 6 August report in the Saudi Arabian "Al Watan" newspaper which stated that Khatami had written a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Powell calling for the continuation of the secret and official Iran-U.S. talks that are reported to have taken place in Geneva. (Bill Samii)

IRAN-U.A.E TIES CONTINUE TO DEVELOP. The Abu Dhabi customs organization announced on 6 August that Iran was its top trading partner in the first six months of 2003, IRNA reported. The Persian Gulf state re-exported $51.3 million worth of goods to Iran during the period. Three days earlier IRNA reported that Iranian caviar would become available on the U.A.E. market legally for the first time after the Iranian Fisheries Company licensed an Emirates firm. The Fisheries Company had suspended its cooperation with U.A.E. firms because of the absence of regulations governing caviar sales. The first consignment reportedly will weigh 120 kilograms and will be worth about $79,700.

It may not be a coincidence that President Khatami and U.A.E. President Sheikh Zayyid Bin-Zayyid Al-Nuhayyan had a telephone conversation on 3 August in which they stressed that the expansion of ties would contribute to regional peace, stability, and progress, according to an IRNA dispatch. Nevertheless, relations are bedeviled by the two sides' dispute over three Persian Gulf islands -- Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs -- on which Iranian troops have been based since 1971. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN CHARITY REBUILDING BOSNIAN MOSQUES. Representatives of the Iranian charity Birds and Bosnian religious officials signed an agreement in Sarajevo on 5 August for Iranian financing of the reconstruction of mosques in Gorazde, Bratunac, and Janjari, the ONASA news agency reported. Birds Director Mohsen Mirhadi, Tuzla Mufti Hussein efendi Kavazovic, and Gorazde Mufti Hamid efendi Efendic signed the agreement, and Iranian Charge d'affaires Mahmud Heidari said that work will begin in the coming week and should last three months. The first project will be the one in Gorazde, worth 100,000 convertible marks (about $60,000), then Bratunac (26,000 convertible marks), and finally the Janjari mosque, also worth 26,000 convertible marks. Birds will finance half of each project. "Our participation in the reconstruction of religious facilities in [Bosnia-Herzegovina, or BiH] has a message to all BiH citizens that Iran did not forget BiH and that [Iran] will further provide assistance. We hope this will have a positive impact in the [refugee-] return process in BiH," Heidari said. (Bill Samii)

IMAM'S GRANDSON DEFENDS IRAN'S ACCOMPLISHMENTS. Recent statements by grandchildren of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of Iran's Islamic Revolution, have contributed to the insider-outsider debate in Iran.

The 30-year-old Hojatoleslam Seyyed Hassan Khomeini comes across in his statements as a trusted defender of the Iranian political and social system. He said in a meeting with members of the University Basij on the evening of 5 July that public morale should not be harmed by drawing a negative picture of events, "Entekhab" daily newspaper reported on 7 August. He said negative comments by the factions of the left and right do not represent reality and, in fact, many great things have been accomplished since the 1979 revolution. Among them he cited is the increase in the number of university students (from 70,000 to 1.5 million), the acquisition of nuclear know-how, and an increase in electricity generation.

Hassan has carried out representational duties for the current Iranian regime. For example, in July 2001 he was sent to Cuba where he met with President Fidel Castro and members of his delegation participated in an anti-U.S. march across from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. In February 2000, furthermore, he visited Islamabad to participate in a conference called, "Imam Khomeini's Role in Revival of Islamic Thoughts." In February 2002, Hassan criticized President George W. Bush's statement about Iran being part of the "axis of evil" that included Iraq and North Korea.

It would be cynical to suggest that there is a connection between Hassan Khomeini's loyalty to the system and his leadership of the Iran-based Imam Khomeini mausoleum foundation, which is worth millions of dollars. Control of a shrine can become "a trump card to play in the political struggle, even an entry ticket to the political scene," Fariba Adelkhah notes in her 1998 book, "Being Modern in Iran." Hassan may be destined for greater things, then.

In contrast with his cousin Hassan, 46-year-old Hojatoleslam Seyyed Hussein Khomeini has, so to say, "gone off the reservation." The London-based Arabic daily "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 29 July that Hussein had moved from Qom to Al-Najaf to continue his studies, stating that his move to Al-Najaf will contribute to the revival of the Iraqi Howzeh-yi Elmieh (Shia theological schools) at the expense of the politicized one in Qom. According to the Arabic daily, Hussein opposes politicization of the Al-Najaf seminary.

Once in Iraq, Hussein began making highly controversial statements about his former hosts. According to "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 4 August, Hussein supported Iranian President Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr and opposed the Islamists behind Bani-Sadr's 1981 downfall, such as then-Hojatoleslams Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Seyyed Ali Khamenei. Hussein believes that these individuals prolonged the 1980-1988 war with Iraq in order to stay in power. He also termed the Iranian theocracy "the worst dictatorship in the world," according to the "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" report, and said, "If the Americans provide [freedom], then let them come."

Hussein was very critical in an interview that appeared in the 2 August issue of the Netherlands' daily "De Standaard." He described Iran's leaders as "irresponsible and immature," adding that the Iranian people know that evil things are being done in the name of religion. Hussein also called for the separation of mosque and state in Iran. Hussein went on to suggest in the "De Standaard" interview that Iranian intellectuals, nationalists, and freedom lovers would come to Iraq when the situation stabilizes. "Free Iraq will become a place from where Iran's freedom will be prepared."

Hussein has become so worrisome, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 4 August, that an Islamic Revolution Guards Corps assassin has been sent after him. (Bill Samii)