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Iran Report: August 18, 2003

18 August 2003, Volume 6, Number 34

EIGHT KILLED IN CENTRAL IRAN RIOTS. Weekend riots in central Iran left a number of dead and wounded. Usually such provincial displays of anger are connected with unhappiness over an absence of public services (such as water shortages) or redistricting plans and their associated economic costs. In this case it appears that local grievances are more deep-rooted and the central government already had military forces on the scene.

Mehdi Taheri, the Isfahan governor-general office's director-general for political-security affairs, said that eight people, including two policemen, were killed and 150 were injured during the 16 August riots, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported the next day. The original protest was against the amalgamation of Semirom's Vardasht village with the neighboring town of Shahreza into the newly created administrative region of Dehaqan. "But the demonstration turned into a riot when a number of agents provocateurs entered the scene," Taheri said. "A number of the town's youngsters and adolescents also joined in the riots for the sake of entertainment," he added.

Tehran radio reported earlier in the day that houses and vehicles were damaged by fire, and shop windows were broken. Another official in the governorate, Mr. Shafii, told state radio that the amalgamation plan has been reversed.

An anonymous provincial official claimed that tribal enmities were inflamed by the proposed redistricting, Reuters reported. AP, on the other hand, reported that people took to the streets out of concern about the economic impact of redistricting.

Local grievances are more chronic than that, however. Last autumn, a letter from the people of Vardasht to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami questioned the presence of the military's counterinsurgency forces, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 3 October. The letter said that security forces have arrested locals and municipal council members, searched people's houses, and created an "atmosphere of terror and persecution." "Some people are leaving the area because of fear," it added. Other grievances noted in that letter were plans to pump water from Vardasht and transfer it to Shahreza, which would make even less water available for agriculture. As it is, the letter noted, 20 villages in the region do not have drinking water and 7,000 locals are unemployed. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN OFFICIALS TRY TO IGNORE ECSTASY ABUSE. It is difficult for some people to imagine the extent of drug abuse in Iran, an Islamic theocracy. Yet on 21 July an official in Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, Mohammad Hussein Khademi, said almost 3 million people out of a total population of about 67 million have addiction problems, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on 27 July. And on 12 August Mohsen Vazirian, an official with the Ministry of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education, described the distribution of free syringes to Tehran drug addicts in order to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS and other contagious diseases, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported.

Sharing a border with Afghanistan, the world's biggest opium producer, means that narcotics will always be available in Iran. Iranian officials, after a period of denial, have faced up to the problem posed by narcotics and are addressing the issue to the best of their ability through a combination of supply intervention and demand reduction. But now they face a new problem, synthetic drugs, and the official practice of denial has resumed.

Synthetic drugs such as Ecstasy (MDMA), GHB, Ketamine, LSD, methamphetamine (crank), and Rohypnol are just some of the "club drugs" that young people in the West use at all-night dance parties (raves), dance clubs, and bars. When asked about reports of such substances being seized in Iran, both "Resalat" and "Iran" reported on 29 August 2002 that the officer in charge of Iran's police counter-narcotics effort, Brigadier General Mehdi Aboui, denied the actual discovery of any synthetic or manufactured drugs. Aboui acknowledged reports of the presence of such substances, suggested that Iranians who travel to the West purchase synthetic drugs for personal use, and said that the insignificant amount such imports represent does not warrant official concern. Aboui then warned against discussing the topic, because it would create curiosity among young people.

Less than a year later, an official with the drug-abuse department of the State Welfare Organization, Atekeh Tehrani, said that Ecstasy and LSD use is on the rise (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 May 2003).

A reliable source in Iran told "RFE/RL Iran Report" that Ecstasy began to find a niche in the Tehran market in early to mid-2002. By November 2002, around 40 brands of Ecstasy were available, with "Mercedes Benz" and "BMW" considered among the most popular. Prices at the time ranged from $3.75 to $4.00 per pill. These prices began to drop by January 2003, and among the cheaper brands of Ecstasy were "James Bond," "007," and "Channel." More brands entered the market in the following months.

"Ecstasy Spray" appeared in Tehran in May 2003. Each can of the aerosol costs about $200. The host of a party empties the spray into a room of 50 or 60 people, reportedly duplicating the effect of consuming Ecstasy pills for all those present.

Ecstasy is not the only synthetic drug being abused in Iran. A new amphetamine called "Shaba" hit the scene in January 2003, at prices between $7.50 and $8.75 a pill. A pill known as "Power Powder" turned up in February. Each pill, which is usually divided into two or three pieces by consumers, measures 5 centimeters by 8 centimeters and costs about $35.00.

In April, 10-milliliter ampoules of Ketamine turned up on the Tehran market, at a cost of about $25 per ampoule. Also known as K, Special K, Vitamin K, and Kit Kat, Ketamine is a central-nervous-system depressant and has some hallucinogenic qualities.

The official Iranian response to synthetic drugs is noticeably different from the government's approach to the narcotics trade, which is highly public. For example, Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi announced on 29 July that Tehran has signed relevant agreements with 30 countries, IRNA reported, and discussions are under way with 26 other countries. Hashemi discussed counternarcotics efforts with Turkmen officials in Tehran on 21 July, while he met with Georgian security officials in Tehran on 16 July for the same reason, according to IRNA.

Brigadier General Aboui said on 16 July that the amount of narcotics crossing the eastern border has increased significantly, according to IRNA, with 29,700 traffickers and distributors arrested and almost 75,000 addicts detained in the first quarter of the year, he said. After making much of Iranian efforts to interdict the smugglers, Aboui chided Western powers for their lack of cooperation with Iran.

Why, then, is Tehran silent in comparison about Ecstasy, Ketamine, and amphetamines?

Tehran's role in the war on drugs originating in Afghanistan has been greeted with international praise, and in some cases, Western countries have provided Iran with assistance. Counternarcotics efforts serve as an entree into the international community for Iran. And Tehran can blame Iranians' drug abuse on proximity and say that supply has created demand.

Synthetic drugs, on the other hand, can be made in Iran or are imported from the West. Abuse of these substances cannot be blamed on proximity, therefore, and it also poses a greater law-enforcement challenge. Iranian officials frequently cite unemployment as the reason people turn to opiates. Nobody has explained the newfound interest in club drugs, but it could be that young Iranians turn to Ecstasy and amphetamines and participate in rave parties because they want to escape from the realities of daily life. They want to feel good and have fun, even if it is only for a short time and is likely to have serious adverse health consequences. (Bill Samii)

OPIATES REMAIN THE BIGGEST DANGER TO IRANIANS. The Ecstasy problem in Iran is an indication of problems to come. For now, opiates remain the biggest narcotics-related danger facing the country, and recent reports indicate that the situation will get worse.

A report in the 10 July "The Washington Post" warned that "Afghanistan appears poised to produce another bumper crop" of opium-based narcotics. The article noted that morphine- and heroin-processing laboratories are "sprouting at an unprecedented rate." The article also cited "analysts and observers" as saying that "politicians, police officers, and military officials" profit from the narcotics business.

Afghanistan produces most of the world's opium, and much of that opium makes its way to the rest of world after being smuggled through Iran. Iran has reported the world's largest opiate (opium, heroin, and morphine) seizures since 1988. Iran confiscated more than 81,000 kilograms of opium in 2001 (76 percent of the world's seizures), and it confiscated 12,669 kilograms of heroin and morphine (19 percent of world seizures), according to the UN Office on Drug and Crime's (UNODC) "Global Illicit Drug Trends Report -- 2003" (

Most of the opiates are intended for Western markets. They get there via the "Balkan Route" or the "Northern Black Sea Route," both of which pass through Iran, or via Pakistani ports. The former starts in Afghanistan, goes through Iran and Turkey, and separates into different branches in the Balkan Peninsula. One branch of the latter route begins in Afghanistan, goes through Iran to the Caucasus, Russia, and then Western Europe; the other branch goes through Central Asia to Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, and Western Europe.

Speaking in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan va Baluchistan Province, Colonel Abdullahi of the police said that the police and the border patrols had strengthened their presence on the eastern frontier, Mashhad radio reported on 13 August. For that reason, he said, smugglers were bypassing Iran and shipping their goods through the Gulf of Oman.

A statement by Brigadier General Mehdi Aboui, the officer in charge of Iran's police counternarcotics effort, shows that the Afghan opium crop is already having an impact. He said on 16 July that police had seized 45 tons of narcotics in the first three months of the year, an amount that is 32 percent higher than during the same period the previous year.

Hamedan Province Governor-General Ali Asqar Zebardast said on 16 July that the main reason drug abuse is spreading in Iran is that most of the world's opium is produced in Afghanistan, IRNA reported. He also said that the prevalence of drugs is a "well-orchestrated ploy" by Iran's enemies.

As noted above, it is estimated that up to 3 million Iranians now abuse drugs. Ms. Mariam Kazemi-Nejad, an official in the Luristan Province Drug Rehabilitation Organization, said on 27 July that the rate of drug addition is increasing 8 percent a year, IRNA reported. Hamedan Governor-General Zebardast said on 16 July that the decreasing age of drug abusers is becoming a "serious menace to the nation," IRNA reported.

Senior counternarcotics officers from Pakistan and Iran met in Tehran on 12 August to discuss ways to confront armed trafficking gangs that operate on their respective sides of the border with Afghanistan, state television reported. Brigadier General Aboui said that the traffickers' activities have been disrupted thanks to the cooperation of the Iranian and Pakistani police forces. He added that part of the Iranian government's counternarcotics plan is the reorganization and training of the Afghan police forces and the creation of an Afghan counternarcotics force. Iskandar Ali, deputy head of Pakistan's Anti-Narcotics Force, said that the fall of the Taliban did not eliminate the drug-trafficking problem and he complained that Western promises to destroy the trafficking networks have not materialized. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI: TWIN BILLS WILL NOT GO TO EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL. Iran's Guardians Council on 12 August rejected a bill to amend the election law -- one of the "twin bills" submitted by the presidency last September, this one was intended to reduce the Guardians Council's ability to reject candidates for elected office; the other gives the president the power to overrule other branches of government. And on 17 August, Guardians Council spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said that the council would never reach a compromise with the parliament on the presidential-powers bill, IRNA reported. Elham said the law would give the president power over the other branches of government and this is against the constitution.

Referral to the Expediency Council would be the normal course of events when there is an impasse between the parliament and the Guardians Council, but President Khatami said on 13 August that he would not forward the twin bills to the Expediency Council. Khatami expressed the hope that the legislative bodies could resolve their disagreement before the upcoming parliamentary election, which is scheduled for February, IRNA reported.

Guardians Council spokesman Ebrahim Azizi explained on 12 August that the parliament had not addressed discrepancies that resulted in rejection of the bill previously, and he added that in some cases the perceived inconsistencies had gotten worse, IRNA reported.

At least one parliamentarian, Jafar Golbaz, has reacted to the Guardians Council's rejection of the election law by calling for a national referendum, ILNA reported. Golbaz said that rejection of the bill does not come as a surprise because the Guardians Council is "like a book that has been printed a million times and everyone is familiar with it." Nevertheless, he said, the parliament had done its utmost to follow the normal legislative process. Golbaz said such an issue could be put to the public.

Article 59 of the constitution permits direct recourse to a popular vote on extremely important matters, if such a request is approved by two-thirds of the legislature. Article 177 states that the constitution can be revised through a referendum. In light of the Guardians Council's stance on the twin bills, a referendum may be the only remaining option. (Bill Samii)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH OPPOSES PROVINCIAL SCREENING OFFICES. The Guardians Council's creation of provincial supervisory offices is particularly relevant to understanding the tensions between Iran's elected and unelected institutions, because the supervisory offices reflect the Guardians Council's effort to expand its authority at the same time that the executive branch and legislature are trying to curtail those same powers. The controversy over the offices began in early July and is continuing (for earlier arguments for and against these offices, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July 2003).

The executive branch has now voiced its concern about these offices. Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi said on 13 August that the Guardians Council's establishment of provincial supervisory offices runs counter to the constitution, and he added that the Management and Planning Organization (MPO) also objects to creation of these offices, IRNA reported. "We expect the Guardians Council to review the legal requirement for setting up the representative offices and stop illegal operation of such offices," he said.

Moreover, Interior Minister Abdol-Vahed Musavi-Lari instructed provincial governors to close provincial supervisory offices created by the Guardians Council, AP reported on 10 August, citing the "Iran" newspaper. Musavi-Lari said those offices' activities are illegal because neither the legislature nor the Supreme Administrative Council has approved them.

Some reformist members of parliament also object to the creation of the provincial supervisory offices. Tehran representative Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari pointed out that the third development plan calls for a 5 percent reduction in the number of government employees, whereas creation of such offices expands the bureaucracy, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 11 August. Ansari added that the creation and expansion of organizations requires MPO approval, which has not been forthcoming.

An unattributed commentary in the 12 August issue of "Yas-i No," a reformist daily, said that the Guardians Council's supervisory offices are a sign that this institution is becoming a separate government that opposes the official one. When it was created, the Guardians Council was a straightforward 12-member body, according to "Yas-i No," but now it is a gigantic bureaucracy that has accumulated new duties and expanded its authority over time. The Guardians Council does not consider itself a parallel organization to the executive or legislative branches, "Yas-i No" writes -- it considers itself independent of, and a replacement for, the entire elected governing establishment. (Bill Samii)

GUARDIANS COUNCIL REJECTS WOMEN'S RIGHTS LEGISLATION. The Guardians Council on 12 August rejected a bill on Iranian membership in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, state radio reported. Guardians Council spokesman Ebrahim Azizi explained that the bill violated Islamic law and the constitution. Rejection of the bill was not a surprise to observers, particularly after senior clerics led a recent outcry against it (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July and 11 August 2003).

Yet in interviews that appeared in the days after the bill's rejection, scholars and political commentators defended the bill. Ayatollah Hadi Marefat, who is a member of the Association of Scholars and Teachers of Qom Religious Seminary and also is a professor of international law in the Qom Higher Education Institute affiliated with the University of Tehran, said that approving the convention and eliminating discrimination against women would be rational, "Nasim-i Saba" reported on 13 August. Only minor parts of the convention are at odds with Islamic law, and when joining exceptions can be made to those parts of the convention.

University professor Mahmud Akhundi also said that the convention does not contravene the law, "Nasim-i Saba" reported. Akhundi explained: "The laws of the Islamic Sharia are like pure water that can be poured into any dish and that can adjust itself to the shape of that dish. It is mainly our fault that, in each age, we create restrictions and narrow interpretations for ourselves."

Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi said that rather than rejecting the bill, Iran could have joined the convention and then opted out of certain objectionable clauses, "Iran" reported on 14 August. Rejecting the bill, he said, is harmful to the country's international image.

Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur said in a 15 August speech at Mashhad's Ferdosi University that just two out of the convention's 50 clauses were contrary to Islamic law, ISNA reported. Those two clauses relate to equality in blood money and inheritance for males and females. While the latter clause violates the Koran, sources of emulation such as Ayatollah Yusef Sanei have passed fatwas calling for equal blood money. Mohtashami noted that some of the Persian Gulf littoral states have opted out of clauses in the convention that are contrary to Sharia, and he said Iran could do the same thing.

Amnesty International expressed regret about this rejection on 13 August. Amnesty stated that this undermines Iran's commitment to uphold international human rights standards and the aspirations of all Iranian women. (Bill Samii)

GUARDIANS COUNCIL REJECTS ANTITORTURE LEGISLATION. The Guardians Council on 12 August rejected a bill on Iranian membership in the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The legislature had approved the bill on 23 July, IRNA reported (for more on the convention, see (Bill Samii)

CONTROVERSIAL CLERIC RELEASED FROM JAIL. Mohammad Madah, who heads the office of former Isfahan Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Jalal Taheri, was released from jail on 9 August, ILNA and the Iranian Student's News Agency (ISNA) and reported the next day. Madah was arrested on 19 July on the basis of a warrant issued by the Special Court for the Clergy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 August 2003). He told ISNA that he is charged with acting against the country's internal security. Madah said he was released after paying 250 million rials in bail (about $31,250), and that a trial date will be announced later. (Bill Samii)

IRAN COMMEMORATES JOURNALISTS' DAY. Iran marked Journalists' Day on 8 August this year, and on that day members of Iran's Journalists Association held a sit-in to protest their plight, IRNA reported on 9 August. Rajab-Ali Mazrui, who heads the journalists' guild, announced the same day that his organization has sent a letter to Iran's judiciary asking to meet with imprisoned reporters.

Azam Taleqani, secretary of the Islamic Revolution Women's Society, announced on 9 August that she would hold a sit-in near Tehran's Evin prison on 12 August to protest government officials' failure to provide answers in the case of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, ISNA reported on 9 August. Kazemi died under mysterious circumstances after being held at Evin prison (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 July 2003). ILNA reported on 12 August that Taleqani protested the absence of protection for prisoners during the sit-in.

State-imposed media harassment continued uninterrupted, however, during the commemorations of Journalists' Day. The case of "Iran," the daily produced by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), exemplifies the situation. IRNA reported on 3 August that the newspaper's managing director, Abdulrasul Vasal, was charged after a complaint was filed about an article relating to the jailed director of a tourist service agency.

One week later, on 10 August, Vasal was charged with propagandizing against the establishment and publishing false news, but he was released on 500 million rials bail, "Iran Daily" reported the next day. These charges related to the newspaper's reporting on the death of Canadian journalist Kazemi. Vasal was interrogated again on 11 August and was instructed to provide proof of statements made by the reporter and statements made by some members of the parliament. IRNA director Abdullah Nasseri was summoned on 12 August in connection with the case, according to IRNA.

Other publications also ran into trouble during this time. Fereidun Parvinian, head of the Qazvin Press Court, told IRNA on 9 August that he had closed down "Nameh-yi Qazvin" weekly for the second time, on charges of "promoting depravity and publishing lies." The weekly was previously charged with discrediting clerics as well.

The managing directors of the Iranian dailies "Kayhan," "Siyasat-i Ruz," and Etemad" -- Hussein Shariatmadari, Ali Yusefpur, and Elias Hazrati, respectively -- appeared in court on 13 August to face complaints against their publications, IRNA reported. Shariatmadari had to answer questions relating to a complaint filed by the Blood Refining and Research Company. Yusefpur had to explain a report in his newspaper about the resignation of Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin-Najafabadi. Hazrati faced questions stemming from a complaint about an insulting photo and article that was filed by the Armed Forces General Headquarters.

Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei said on 9 August that his ministry is drawing up a draft document on the professional security of journalists, IRNA reported. Events have shown that something more concrete is needed. (Bill Samii)

IRAN'S MARKAZI PROVINCE GETS NEW GOVERNOR-GENERAL. Abdol Mohammad Zahedi was introduced as the new governor of Markazi (Central) Province on 13 August, ISNA reported. Zahedi replaced Ali Jabbarian-Hamedani in a ceremony that was held in Arak and attended by Interior Minister Abdol-Vahed Musavi-Lari. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DISAVOWS ARMS DEALER'S MEETING WITH AMERICANS. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 11 August that Iranian arms dealer Manuchehr Ghorbanifar is not authorized by Tehran to negotiate and meet with U.S. officials, state television reported. Western news agencies had reported on 8 August that two officials from the Pentagon, working for Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, held "several" meetings with Ghorbanifar, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confirmed that the meetings had occurred but said that this happened more than one year ago (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 August 2003). Rumsfeld said a purpose of the meetings was to gather information about Iran. Assefi said on 11 August: "There is clear evidence that American officials are confused about Iran. This new scenario is also proof of this fact."

According to anonymous "senior [Defense Department] officials" cited in the 18 August issue of "Newsweek," the two Pentagon officials met with some Iranians in Italy, who offered to provide information on terrorism. When the two U.S. officials realized that Ghorbanifar was there they argued that he should leave. One of these officials ran into Ghorbanifar again in Paris by chance. The White House had authorized the Italian meeting, officials told "Newsweek." (Bill Samii)

CONTROVERSY OVER IRAN'S HANDLING OF AL-QAEDA MEMBERS. Washington would like access to Al-Qaeda members that Tehran claims it is holding. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said on 12 August while on a trip to Canberra, Australia, "We would like to get access to them and interrogate them to try and head off whatever plans they have in the works," Reuters reported.

Yet Tehran has refused to extradite them to the U.S. and it apparently is not cooperating with other countries on this issue. Tehran reportedly hopes to exchange the Al-Qaeda members for members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 August 2003). There are allegations, furthermore, that some Al-Qaeda members have now fled Iran.

Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi was quoted in the 9 August issue of "Entekhab" daily as denying an interest in swapping prisoners. He added that Al-Qaeda members who have been stripped of their nationality and could not go back their country of origin would be tried in Iran. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 11 August confirmed that any Al-Qaeda members who are not wanted in their home countries would be tried in Iran, IRNA reported.

Assefi refused to identify the terrorists by name. An anonymous "Saudi counterterrorism official" said in the 12 August "The Washington Post" that up to 15 Al-Qaeda members -- including Saad bin Laden, Sayf al-Adel, Suleiman Abu Ghayth, and Abu Musab Zarqawi -- are in Iran. Tehran is "dragging its feet" on Arab governments' requests for extradition and for months has denied knowing these individuals' identities. The Saudi official added that it is not clear if the Al-Qaeda members are detainees or guests.

President Khatami on 13 August dismissed Saudi claims of Iranian intransigence on handing over a Saudi Al-Qaeda member, saying, "Given joint cooperation and constant negotiations between the two states, if that is the case, there will be no problem." He also said that there is no chance of the U.S. being allowed to interrogate the Al-Qaeda members in Iran, IRNA reported.

Iranian observers have had mixed opinions on what to do with the Al-Qaeda members. Tuiserkan representative Mohsen Tarkashvand, a member of the legislature's National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, said on 11 August that Iran should extradite any Al-Qaeda members it arrests or hand them over to an international court, Fars News Agency reported. State officials' obscure remarks about the Al-Qaeda detainees, furthermore, contribute to allegations of Iranian support for terrorism, he said.

Another parliamentarian, Hassan Qashqavi, advocated trying the Al-Qaeda members in Iran because he believes that the U.S. would torture them, Fars News Agency reported on 13 August. Qashqavi added, "We are more opposed to Al-Qaeda than any other country and we do not even see the United States as an enemy of Al-Qaeda because America itself was one of the main supporters of Al-Qaeda."

In the midst of all this excitement an unidentified "source close to" the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) said in the 13 August issue of "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that Ayman al-Zawahiri has left Iran already but Saad bin Laden and Saif al-Adel were still there. According to this source, Intelligence Minister Yunesi assigned personnel to track down the Al-Qaeda personnel and arrest them after al-Adel's role in the May bombings in Riyadh became known. This alarmed the IRGC's special operations unit, the Qods Force, because it had provided safe houses for the Al-Qaeda members in Gilan, Markazi, and Sistan va Baluchistan provinces and in Tehran. Al-Zawahiri got out of Iran with help from IRGC deputy commander General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr; they apparently knew each other from the IRGC's days in Sudan.

An anonymous Foreign Ministry official rejected this report on 14 August, according to ISNA. He said that the people identified in the "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" article were never in Iran, there are no links between the IRGC and Al-Qaeda, and all the arrested members of that organization remain in detention.

And in a possible effort to drum up support for trials in Iran of Al-Qaeda members, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani told a 16 August conference of Iran's ambassadors, "The members of this group had organized wide-scale activities for terrorist operations inside Iranian territory but thanks to the steps taken by security and intelligence bodies, their plans were uncovered and neutralized," state radio reported. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN OFFICIALS WANTED BY ARGENTINA. Argentinian Judge Juan Jose Galeano on 13 August ordered the arrest of eight Iranian officials for their roles in the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Reuters reported. The attack killed 85 people, and another 265 people were injured. According to Reuters, the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires said in a statement: "Iran objects to and rejects these declarations and believes they result from international Zionism's plan to manipulate Argentina." Galeano previously signed international extradition requests to bring to justice four suspected organizers of the attack: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, then-President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, then-Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and then-Ministry of Intelligence and Security chief Ali Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 March 2003). (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ COULD BE A MILITARY OFFICER. The Iranian cabinet has approved the Foreign Ministry's request to open three consulates in Iraq, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 10 August. Scheduled to open after 21 March 2004, the consulates will be located in Basra, Karbala, and Al-Sulaymaniyah.

Greater obscurity and controversy surrounds the choice of an ambassador to Iraq. Currently, Tehran is represented by a charge d'affaires, Ali Reza Haqiqian. He accompanied Hussein Sadeqi, who heads the Iranian Foreign Ministry's Persian Gulf desk, during an early August visit to Iraq. "Etemad" daily newspaper on 6 August described this as "the first official Iranian delegation to visit Iraq after Baghdad's downfall."

It appears that the Iranian executive branch is under pressure to appoint a military officer as the ambassador. Ahvaz parliamentary representative Mahmud Kianush-Rad said that this is being considered in the Supreme National Security Council, "Hambastegi" reported on 21 July. Kianush-Rad said that such a choice would be unwise at a time when Iran is being accused of interfering in Iraqi affairs. Langrud parliamentary representative Mahmud Akhavan Bazardeh said that because Iraq is Iran's neighbor a seasoned diplomat should have the ambassadorship, not a military officer, "Iran Daily" reported on 31 July. One person being considered for this slot is Brigadier General Reza Seifullahi, according to the 29 July issue of "Al-Sharq al-Awsat."

Seifullahi is the IRGC officer who handles the Iraqi opposition account. Such a choice would not be unprecedented. The current ambassador to Kabul, Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian, previously handled the Afghan mujahedin account, and he also was ambassador to Sarajevo from 1994-98, when Tehran was channeling arms and combatants to the Balkans. (Bill Samii)

NUCLEAR INSPECTORS ARRIVE IN IRAN. An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokesman announced on 12 August that an IAEA inspection team had arrived in Iran to conduct routine nuclear inspections, AFP reported. The inspectors will collect water, air, and soil samples and take them back to Vienna for evaluation. The inspectors' mission will end on 14 August, but the controversy over the possibility of Iran's signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's (NPT) Additional Protocol, which would allow more intrusive inspections, is likely to continue.

A team of IAEA legal experts visited Tehran in the first week of August to discuss the technicalities of joining the Additional Protocol (for earlier discussions about this issue, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7, 14, and 21 July, and 4 August 2003). Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi in an 11 August briefing with reporters described the meeting as "helpful" and urged Westerners to remember that Iran has "legitimate worries." Assefi was adamant that Iran will not yield to outside pressure. "No matter whether the pressures are increased or decreased, the Islamic Republic of Iran will make a decision on the basis of its national interests as well as its principles and values with realism and wisdom," he said.

Iranian Vice President for Atomic Energy Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi told reporters after a 13 August cabinet meeting that he is satisfied with the previous week's visit of the IAEA legal experts adding that many issues were clarified but that talks should continue. He predicted that a second meeting would take place soon but could not specify a date for the meeting. Aqazadeh said that the possibility of Iran's leaving the NPT has not been raised yet and it is not on the government's agenda, IRNA reported. Some conservative commentators have called for such a step as a reaction to international pressure on Iran to sign the Additional Protocol of the NPT.

Rudsar parliamentary representative Davud Hasanzadegan said on 10 August that Tehran should wait until the September meeting of the IAEA board of governors before making a decision on joining the Additional Protocol, "Tehran Times" reported on 11 August. He warned that rash comments beforehand could lead to additional international pressure, and he also warned that Tehran could lose the opportunity to reap the benefits of IAEA membership, such as access to nuclear expertise. Hasanzadegan said that this issue has become part of the internal conflict between domestic political factions.

Shiraz parliamentary representative Seyyed Ahmad Azimi said on 9 August that Iran wants concessions for signing the Additional Protocol of the NPT, and added that signing is in Iran's interest, Mehr News Agency reported. He said Iran has acted within the framework of IAEA regulations and advocates the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and, at the same time, Iran believes it has the right to use nuclear energy. Azimi noted that European countries broke the sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran's oil industry, but that European countries will not support Iran now. (Bill Samii)

PLANNERS SAY IRAN'S ECONOMIC FUTURE LOOKS GRIM. According to a report from the Management and Planning Organization, economic conditions in Iran will deteriorate in the coming decade if current trends continue, "Iran Daily" reported on 11 August. Some 5.3 million people will be jobless in 2015, the report says, translating into an unemployment rate of 17.5 percent. It adds that inflation will hit 22 percent, and there will be a 19.8 percent trade deficit. GDP will grow by 3.9 percent annually, it predicts, and the amount of non-oil exports will increase. The ratio of non-oil-to-oil exports is expected to remain the same, however.

According to a Central Bank of Iran report, per capita income in Iran reached $1,650 the previous year, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 27 July. And according to the United Nations, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported, per capita income grew at a rate of 0.6 percent from 1975-2001. In a comparison, the newspaper noted that Singapore's per capita income was half of Iran's two decades ago, but now Singapore's per capita income is 18 times greater than Iran's. (Bill Samii)

GOVERNMENT STABILIZES FOOD PRICES. The Iranian government has taken steps to stabilize and even reduce the price of basic commodities, as a reaction to politicized complaints from conservative publications and real complaints from Iranian consumers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 July 2003). The government already provides subsidies for many products.

State bakeries pay 40 rials ($0.005) for 1 kilogram of flour, "Entekhab" reported on 14 August, adding that the government decided that the bakeries would keep their prices at the same level as the previous year (1381). State radio reported on 13 August that the bakeries would also get electricity, water, and gas at the previous year's prices. According to "Iran" newspaper on 9 August, several meetings were held at the Commerce Ministry to discuss this issue and suggestions of any increase in the price of bread were rejected -- even to compensate for a rise in employees' wages.

Mohammad Fayaz, director of the Tehran municipal organization of fresh fruit and vegetable merchants (Sazeman-i Miyadin Miveh va Tarehbar-i Shahrdari-i Tehran), said the price of chicken would be reduced from 18,000 rials ($2.25) to 12,750 rials ($1.60) per kilogram, "Entekhab" reported on 14 October.

These new prices are artificial and would be unsustainable without government intervention. If left to the market, consumer prices would increase naturally because of hikes in the producer price index (PPI). A report from the Central Bank of Iran showed that compared to the previous year, the PPI had increased by 11.8 percent in the 21 April-21 May 2003 period. Compared to the previous month, the PPI for foodstuffs and beverages rose by 2.5 percent, while the PPI for the production, processing, and conservation of chicken rose by 7.1 percent. (Bill Samii)

SEVERAL PRIVATE INSPECTORATES OPERATING IN IRAN. Seyyed Ali Seyyed-Abrishami, chief of the bureau of quantitative measurements and industrial research, told a gathering of industrialists in East Azerbaijan Province that some 250 unofficial inspectorates were created during the previous year, "Entekhab" daily reported on 14 August. Seyyed-Abrishami said their activities are helpful to his organization. For example, according to Abrishami, these companies inspect firms that do piecework on automobiles, build boilers, and work on elevators. (Bill Samii)