6 October 2003, Volume 6, Number 40
EU, IAEA CALL FOR IRANIAN COOPERATION ON NUKE ISSUE. The European Union and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have called for greater Iranian cooperation on nuclear issues. As Tehran ponders its next step, a report from a U.S. nonproliferation organization warns that Iran could make nuclear weapons within two years.
That report -- by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), according to Reuters on 1 October -- asserts that the Iranian nuclear program is dangerous and could encourage other states to pursue their own nuclear-weapons programs. The report opposes military action against Iran or an effort to bribe the Iranian government. Instead, it recommends a long-term "hearts and minds" campaign that would undermine Tehran's efforts to demonize the U.S. It also recommends that, after finding Iran in violation of its international obligations, the UN Security Council should authorize interdiction by member states of anything that might contribute to Iranian development of nuclear weapons or their delivery systems.
The report recommends forcing Iran to make a choice between giving up its nuclear program and its support for terrorism and the benefits of international interaction. To this end, the major international powers should offer Tehran security, diplomatic, and economic incentives -- but only if Iran first dismantles its nuclear facilities, ends its ties with terrorism, and gives the IAEA full access. If Iran continues to pursue its nuclear program, the NPEC report suggests, the U.S. and its allies should strengthen their regional military capabilities, including a covert operations capability.
International concern with Iranian nuclear activities, of course, predates the publication of the NPEC report. European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels on 29 September, called on Tehran to stop all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities before the 31 October deadline established by an IAEA resolution, EUobserver.com reported. They also urged Tehran to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol, according to Reuters, and warned that failure to comply with their demands could jeopardize trade ties.
Having grown accustomed to European Union inaction, Tehran reacted aggressively to the EU demands. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 30 September denounced the EU statement as "inappropriate" and "political," IRNA reported. He said, "[The] EU's behavior is contrary to the Islamic Republic of Iran's constructive and transparent cooperation with [the] IAEA and the principles of bilateral cooperation. [The] EU was expected to act independently regardless of [the] current atmosphere," the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Assefi added, "Iran expects [the] EU to recognize Iran's legitimate right for acquiring nuclear technology for peaceful use and to try to eliminate the barriers on the way of expansion of bilateral cooperation within the frameworks of NPT."
Deputy Parliament Speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami said on 30 September that the Europeans had gone too far and added that Tehran has the right to use nuclear energy for its economic development, IRNA reported. "Iran has not obtained nuclear technology from European countries so European refusal to support Iranian nuclear program will not cause any difficulty," he said.
That the EU statement would elicit such a reaction from Iran was clear. Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh had said on 29 September, according to IRNA, that Iran has fulfilled all its NPT commitments, and "it is not at all prepared to accept any restrictions on its peaceful use of nuclear energy." Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 28 September that "Abandoning nuclear activities or enrichment is not something that Iran is ready to compromise on," Reuters reported.
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said, in an interview with the American television network ABC that was broadcast on 28 September, that Iran is willing to accept the additional protocol as long as it can continue enriching uranium, Reuters reported. Reports appeared in the international press in the previous week that traces of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) were discovered at the Kelaye Electric Company (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 September 2003). Iran's representative to the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, asserted on 30 September that the HEU must have come from abroad, ISNA reported.
The IAEA also has become more vocal about Iran lately. IAEA chief Muhammad el-Baradei on 30 September had said that he would not be able to describe the Iranian nuclear program as purely peaceful if Tehran does not cooperate fully with the agency, Reuters reported. "If we cannot have full cooperation, full disclosure, unfortunately I'll have to say that I am not able to verify the Iranian statements," he said. He said that Iran has not answered any of the questions raised in the 12 September IAEA Board of Governors' resolution on Iran (http://www.iaea.org/worldatom/Press/Focus/IaeaIran/gov2003-69.pdf). Understanding the uranium-enrichment program is the "number one priority," he said.
Foreign Minister Kharrazi told ABC that the extent of future cooperation with the IAEA depends on upcoming negotiations with the IAEA. A delegation from the IAEA met with Iranian officials in Tehran on 2 October, and Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Saber Zaimian predicted that the discussions could take up to three weeks, AP reported. Ali Akbar Salehi said on 4 October that an understanding was reached with the visitors, IRNA reported, but he did not describe the nature of the understanding.
A high-level committee of Iranian government officials met on the evening of 1 October to decide on the wisdom of signing the additional protocol, the "Entekhab" daily newspaper reported on 2 October. Committee members include Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani, and Ali Akbar Velayati, the supreme leader's foreign affairs adviser.
Yunesi said on 4 October in Mazandaran that Iran accepts the additional protocol on the conditions that Iran's national sovereignty and dignity are respected, IRNA reported.
NPEC Executive Director Henry Sokolski, however, is skeptical of the effectiveness of such agreements and recommends a complete dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program. "The Iranians have a bomb making option as long as they have a reactor," he said, "USA Today" reported on 1 October. "You are whistling past the graveyard of political and technical reality if you leave any fissile production capability in that country." (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN SPY SENTENCED IN GERMANY. The Supreme Court in Berlin on 29 September sentenced an Iranian man to two and a half years in prison for spying on Iranian opposition groups in Germany, Deutschlandfunk radio reported. The trial of the Iranian spy, identified previously as "Iraj S.," began in late August. During the trial, "Iraj S." testified that he reported to the Ministry of Intelligence and Security on the activities of Iranian royalists from 1991-2002 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 July and 1 September 2003).
Hamid Khorasandi was arrested in Germany in July 1999 for trying to infiltrate Iranian opposition groups on Tehran's behalf from 1995 until his arrest. In January 2000 a German court gave him an 18-month suspended sentence and fined him $2,600. Tehran released imprisoned German businessman Helmut Hofer one day later (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 24 January 2000). (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN IMMIGRANTS ARRESTED AT U.S. NUKE PLANT. Three Iranian men equipped with digital cameras were arrested on the grounds of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts on 27 September, "The Enterprise" reported three days later (http://enterprise.southofboston.com). The middle-aged men -- Fariborz Motamedi, Amir M. Lashgari, and Hamid H. Ahmadi -- told the federal and local authorities who arrested them that they were hiking. After what the Boston-area publication referred to as "extensive questioning," the authorities released the three men. These were not the first arrests of persons violating the territory of the power station -- others have included fishermen and a kayaker. (Bill Samii)
REFORMISTS PLANNING ELECTION STRATEGY. Iran's reformist parties, collectively known as the 2nd of Khordad Front after the date of President Mohammad Khatami's May 1997 election, are trying to decide on an effective approach to the February 2004 parliamentary election. The obstacles confronting them are considerable and include legislative impasses and intrafactional divisions.
Deputy Parliament Speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is also the secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), said on 24 September that the party's decision on participating in the upcoming parliamentary election will be announced at its congress on 17 October, IRNA reported. The IIPP is Iran's leading reformist political organization, and Khatami hinted that it would field candidates for parliamentary office. "We are already prepared to announce our dynamic presence at those elections on condition that the required political atmosphere would be arranged, and free and fair elections would be possible," he said.
The deputy speaker sounded a pessimistic note when he said that the reasons for poor participation in the February 2003 municipal council elections have not changed, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on 25 September, and he predicted that participation would decrease in February 2004. "The only difference is that the kind of behavior that the people showed during the council elections in larger cities is probably spreading to the average or even the smaller towns," he said.
President Khatami met with reformist parliamentarians and his allies in the government in August, and at that time he sought to reassure them about the continuity of the reform movement (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 August 2003). The doubts that surfaced in the weeks and months before that meeting have resurfaced. An anonymous member of parliament said that President Khatami and the 2nd of Khordad groups will meet on 2 October to discuss the "twin bills" and the conditions under which the reformist groups will compete in the 20 February election, "Entekhab" reported on 1 October. A report from ISNA on 2 October merely confirmed that the meeting took place, with one of the participants, Ardabil parliamentarian Ali Mohammad Gharibani, adding that the meeting focused on ways to encourage public participation in the election.
The twin bills were introduced by the executive branch more than a year ago. If implemented, one of the bills would have a direct impact on the election because it aims to reduce or eliminate the Guardians Council's role in vetting candidates for elected office. Although the legislature has approved the twin bills, they have been rejected several times by the Guardians Council, which must approve all legislation on religious and constitutional grounds.
A brief front-page report in the 2 October "Entekhab" noted that some parliamentarians have threatened to resign over the issue, while others have called for a public referendum. Although these subjects undoubtedly would be discussed at the meeting, according to "Entekhab," how much they will be resolved remains questionable.
President Khatami's confident tone in discussions of the twin bills has faded recently. He acknowledged in a 30 September speech to provincial governors, "We must assume that the new election law will not be ratified or will be rejected," state television reported on 1 October. "What we have now is the current election law."
Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Abtahi, who regularly deals with legislative issues, also sounds far from confident about their fate. He said, "With regard to the [twin bills], on several occasions I have said that there is no hope for their ratification," "Iran Daily" reported on 28 September. "I believe the trend is not positive."
As the twin bills remain subject to the ebb and flow of factional politics, the makeup of election supervisory boards also threatens the reformists' election efforts. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said after the 1 October cabinet meeting that he is concerned about the factional orientation of the election supervisory boards, the Islamic Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. "We think that we are going to face difficulty when it comes to approving the qualifications [of candidates for the parliamentary election]," he said. In some places, he said, the boards are biased and favor a particular faction. Musavi-Lari suggested that there is little his ministry can do about the situation, saying, "Supervision is not in our control. They have already made their choices and done their work."
The central Election Supervisory Board appointed Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati as its chairman on 20 September, state radio reported. Jannati is secretary of the Guardians Council, which is tasked with supervising elections.
Factional divergences are another issue that will affect the election. Journalist Emadedin Baqi predicted that there would be more factional splits, and these would increase the distance between progovernment, radical, conservative, and independent reformists, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 21 September. "Even some reformers that are presently within the government may part company with the Islamic system."
Mohammad Atrianfar, a member of the Executives of Construction Party's central council, said on 17 August that the party has suspended its activities in order to avoid contributing to the country's political turmoil, IRNA reported. "We do not want to take a step that might worsen the unstable political conditions," he said. Atrianfar added that this is a temporary measure. "Still, this never means that we are withdrawing from Iran's political arena," he said. "It is only a political tactic."
Iranshahr parliamentary representative Nurmohammad Ruzbeh said that a new conservative faction, called the Islamic Revolution Forces Coordinating Council, has been created in all the provinces, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 28 September.
Although the election is not scheduled to take place for another five months, campaigning reportedly has already begun in Ardabil, Gilan, Kerman, and Tehran. In some cases, according to the 21 September "Etemad," this is the result of sitting parliamentarians declaring that they will not seek re-election -- such as Hussein Marashi from Kerman, or Mohammad Baqer Nobakht-Haqiqi from Rasht, for example. (Bill Samii)
STUDENT ASKS TO GO BEFORE DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE OVER JUNE ARREST. Meisam Julai, a student who was arrested in June, said on 2 October that he will appear in court that day, "Mardom Salari" reported. He said that he has done nothing wrong but the Prosecutor's Office at Evin prison has accused him of acting against domestic security and causing disorder. Julai expressed the hope that the case will be transferred to the university disciplinary committee.
Meanwhile, Qazvin parliamentary representative Hassan Abu-Torabi, who also serves as the supreme leader's representative at Tehran University, said on 30 September that no university students remain in prison, Fars News Agency reported. He said the disciplinary committees are dealing with their cases, and this makes judicial action unnecessary. The committees are trying to be lenient but in some cases the nature of a student's actions precludes this, he said.
These disciplinary committees (komiteh-yi enzebati) are described as "a means to punish students for participating in political protests," Human Rights Watch stated in a 1 October press release. They have suspended some students and expelled others, according to HRW. (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI NOMINATES NEW SCIENCE, RESEARCH, AND TECHNOLOGY MINISTER. In a 1 October letter to the legislature, President Mohammad Khatami proposed Jafar Tofiqi Darian as the next minister of science, research, and technology, IRNA reported. Voting on Darian's appointment is scheduled to take place on 4 October. Tofiqi currently serves as deputy for educational affairs in the ministry. Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin submitted his resignation in late July, largely over the rejection by the Guardians Council of a bill to restructure his ministry. In early September, the legislature did not confirm the first nominee for Moin's job, Reza Faraji-Dana (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 August and 8 September 2003). (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN HOSTS INTERNET CONFERENCE. The International Gathering on Internet and Satellite Communications began in Tehran on 1 October, IRNA reported. President Khatami's special envoy for information technology (IT) and information and communications technology (ICT) affairs, Nasrollah Jahangard, said at the conference that information exchange is the most important aspect of globalization. Jahangard said that some 3.5 million Iranians regularly use the Internet and another 3.5 million use it less frequently. He added that the exchange of goods and investments can be controlled but no government can limit the exchange of information, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)
IRAN CONTENDS WITH HIV/AIDS. Dr. Arash Alaei and Dr. Kamiar Alaei, who are credited with Iran's openness in addressing the relationship between HIV/AIDS and drug abuse, are scheduled to speak at the Asia Society in New York on 3 October. The two physicians established Iran's first counseling and care center for HIV-positive patients and injecting drug users and, according to a program distributed by the Asia Society (http://www.asiasociety.org/events/calendar.pl?rm=detail&eventid=14143), they will discuss "the successes and challenges of HIV/AIDS in Iran and the implications for the region."
The extent of the challenge is impressive. Health Ministry official Mohammad Mehdi Guya estimated on 10 August that 23,000 to 25,000 Iranians are HIV positive, IRNA reported. According to Health Ministry statistics cited in the state news agency's report, some 3,397 people were infected with HIV by injecting drugs, 402 got it through sexual intercourse, 201 through blood transfusions, 19 people were born with it, and 1,032 contracted the virus through unknown means. Those at high risk for infection include addicts in refugee camps and prisons, AIDS patients' spouses, the offspring of women with AIDS, prostitutes, transit drivers, and sailors.
And the situation appears to be getting worse. "Iran News" on 30 September editorialized that the country's public health officials "have never taken the matter seriously and are clueless on strategy" in dealing with the HIV/AIDS problem. The editorial cited Health Ministry statistics of 5,780 known HIV-positive cases, and warned that the real figure is probably higher given the combination of a young population, "awful" economic conditions, and "social and cultural restrictions." The editorial called for distribution of sterile needles among addicts as one way to reduce the number of cases and it recommended "transparency, information, and education."
One of the means by which the Iranian government has dealt with the problem is by establishing more than 70 HIV monitoring facilities in correctional institutions (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 July 2003). Moreover, the cabinet approved by-laws for an anti-AIDS program, IRNA reported on 23 August, citing the Iran Red Crescent Society. The Red Crescent Society trained more than 561,677 people on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in 2001-2002. (Bill Samii)
SUPREME LEADER CLAIMS U.S. AGAINST ISLAM. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 28 September address to the winners of the 20th international contest of Koran reciters and interpreters in Tehran that the U.S. and other countries have created an anti-Islamic coalition, state radio reported. "Today, the Satanic and despotic powers, with America at their head, are the source of mischievous and seditious behavior aimed against the humanity," he said. "They have formed a coalition against the world of Islam." Khamenei said that unity is the solution to this problem and he warned against the harmful effects of divisiveness and infighting. (Bill Samii)
AUTHORIZED IRANIAN PILGRIMS LEAVE FOR IRAQ. A second authorized caravan of Iranian pilgrims will leave for Iraq on 6 October, Khuzestan Province Governor General Fatollah Moin said on 30 September, according to IRNA. The first officially-permitted caravan of Iranian pilgrims left on 29 September, from Shalamcheh, Khuzestan Province, IRNA reported. Khorramshahr Governor Mohammad-Ali Shirali said the Iranians would visit the Iraqi cities of Al-Karbala, Kazemin, Al-Najaf, and Samara, and he added that regulation of the pilgrimages would preclude the negative consequences of illegal visits.
Those negative consequences were demonstrated the previous week. Javad Salari, head of the Ilam Province coroner's office, said on 29 September that land mines killed nine people trying to make the pilgrimage to holy sites in Iraq on 27 September, IRNA reported. Salari said that the victims were part of a 160-person group that intended to cross into Iraq illegally. He added that two of the victims were Afghans and the nationality of two others is undetermined.
Nemat Nazparvardeh, a local official in Qasr-i Shirin, Kermanshah Province, said on 22 September that land mines killed eight people the previous day, IRNA reported. Nazparvardeh described the victims as illegal pilgrims. Many other Iranians who have tried to make the pilgrimage illegally with unqualified or unethical guides have died (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 September 2003).
Khuzestan Governor-General Moin said in Abadan on 28 September that health and passport offices have been established to facilitate legal pilgrimages, IRNA reported.
Yet even without these facilities and in the absence of official permission, thousands of Iranians were crossing the border. Troops from the U.S. Army's 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, have detained and repatriated more than 14,000 Iranians who tried to cross into Iraq illegally, AP reported on 1 October.
Some of these Iranians are not genuine pilgrims. L. Paul Bremer, who heads the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, said that U.S. forces are holding 248 non-Iraqis, most of who came from Syria, according to a 28 September report in "The Washington Times." The second-largest group of detainees, however, is Iranian.
It is believed, furthermore, that many of the purported pilgrims from Iran are in fact Islamic Revolution Guards Corps personnel, according to "The Washington Times." The daily reported that "hundreds" of Iranian agents have to come to Al-Najaf and Al-Karbala to foment unrest. Iraqi National Congress official Abdul Aziz al-Kubaisi said, "They are provoking sectarian divisions, inciting people against the Americans and trying to foment conflict and anarchy."
Other "pilgrims" turn out to be criminals. Karbala Governorate's police director, Colonel Karim Hajim Sultan, described the arrest of Iranians who had entered the country illegally and were involved with drug and alcohol trafficking, according to the 1 October issue of the Iraqi "Al-Nahdah" newspaper. Karbala Governorate spokesman Husayn Rahim described the arrest of two Iranian women in Imam Hussein's shrine who were carrying 20 kilograms of hashish, the Kurdish "Jamawar" newspaper reported on 1 September. Other Iranian visitors were described as "groups of mafia" intent on robbery. "Nasim-i Saba" on 1 September cited Iraqi Interior Ministry sources who said that 34 Iranians were arrested for drug trafficking in Karbala.
IRNA reported on 3 October that a convoy of 11 buses transporting 400 Iranians left for Al-Basrah and then Al-Najaf on 3 October. Unlike the regular pilgrims, they are expected to participate in the cheheleh (commemoration of the 40th day after death) of assassinated Iraqi Shia leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. This is a legal trip, according to IRNA. Some 20,000 Iranian pilgrims participated in al-Hakim's funeral procession, IRNA reported on 4 September. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN CULTIVATES TURKISH ALEVIS. Four schools of Shia Islam are practiced in Turkey, and the biggest of these is the Alevi school. Turkish Alevi students have studied at Twelver Shia theological institutions in Iran since the 1940s, but Tehran is trying to extend its influence over Turkish Alevis.
The Iranian Embassy in Ankara offered financial assistance in exchange for permission to set up a stand at the Haji Bektash Veli commemoration ceremony in 1996-1997, Hacibektas Mayor Mustafa Ozcivan said in the 21 June 2003 issue of Istanbul's "Cumhuriyet" daily newspaper. Haji Bektash reportedly was born in Khorasan around 1248 and his name is connected with the Bektashi Sufi order (for more on this order, see http://www.hermetics.org/bektashi.html). He lived in the Turkish town now known as Hacibektas.
The Turkish mayor said that officials from the Iranian embassy requested the stand, but he rejected their approach. "I refused because I knew their true intentions.... They wanted to export their regime. What were they going to do at their stand but advertise Iran and promote its journals and pictures?...We have nothing in common with Iran." The mayor then warned President Suleiman Demirel about the Iranians' actions and he added, "If I had acted weakly and gotten involved with these people then once they had gotten their foot in the door there would be no moving them." The Iranian officials even invited the mayor and his wife to visit Iran.
This Turk resisted the Iranians entreaties, but others have not. "Gulag Oz," reported that an Iranian Embassy official working for the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry recently invited many leading Alevis to Iran and offered to pay for all their expenses in Iran, "Cumhuriyet" reported on 20 June. The leaders of the Hussein Gazi Association in Ankara, the Hacibektas Veli Association in Eskisehir, and the Kartal and Gazi Alevi Community Houses reportedly accepted the invitations and went to Iran. (Bill Samii)
NATIONAL SECURITY REQUIRES AGRICULTURAL INDEPENDENCE. President Khatami said in a 23 August speech to officials from the Management and Planning Organization, Iran Statistics Center, and the Agricultural Census Bureau that agricultural self-sufficiency is a national-security objective, IRNA reported. IRNA cited official figures that state that the agricultural sector supplies more than four-fifths of the domestic-food supply. Until self-sufficiency is reached, however, Iran will continue to import essential goods such as rice and wheat. Actions by the state contribute to the challenges faced by the agricultural sector.
Abdul Rahim Janoo, chairman of the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP), announced on 27 September that Iran will resume importing Pakistani rice, the "PakTribune" reported. Janoo said that a REAP delegation that visited Iran recently was able to finalize a deal for 22,000 metric tons of rice worth $12 million. Iran used to be the biggest buyer of Pakistani Basmati rice, Janoo said, but unexplained "misfortunes" had hindered trade.
Iranian Deputy Commerce Minister Mujtaba Ansari had announced on 14 September that his ministry intends to import 400,000 tons of rice, IRNA reported. According to the news agency, this rice would be supplied to universities and charities or distributed among the public as a subsidized commodity. Three days later, Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari denied that excessive rice imports would jeopardize the interests of those who grow rice domestically, IRNA reported on 17 September. Shariatmadari said that his ministry would provide price supports and it would buy the farmers' surplus output at the market price. He pledged that the level of imports would decrease as domestic production rises.
Agricultural Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati said on 17 September that Iran must rely on imports to offset a 500,000-ton wheat shortage, IRNA reported. Hojjati put domestic wheat consumption at 10.2 million tons (per year, presumably), and he added that the government has supported farmers by buying up to 9.8 million tons of wheat. Another Agricultural Jihad Ministry official, Mohammad Reza Eskandari, said on 6 July that Iran would have to import 1.5 million tons of wheat, IRNA reported.
In the past, Iran has imported wheat from Argentina, Australia, Canada, and European countries such as France. Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Tahmasb Mazaheri said on 4 August that Iran is looking towards Central Asia, Almaty's Khabar Television reported, and the Kazakh and Iranian governments have already held negotiations for such sales. "If the quality and price of Kazakh wheat meet our demands," he said, "we will be buying it in Kazakhstan." In addition, according to Interfax, the Roskhleboprodukt company of Russia's Agros agricultural group began exporting wheat to Iran on 25 March. The contract for 50,000 tons of wheat was signed with Iran's Government Trading Corporation.
Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari warned President Khatami against not paying domestic producers of wheat and other essential commodities for their subsidized products, "Resalat" reported on 23 September. According to Shariatmadari's letter, only 24.9 percent of the approved money has been paid to the producers of commodities such as wheat, sugar, rice, meat, milk, and cheese.
Agricultural Jihad Minister Hojjati discussed the future of Iranian wheat farming in the 5 August issue of "Mardom Salari." A ten-year plan to increase wheat production from 21 March 2002 to 21 March 2012 has been prepared, he said. Irrigated wheat production would increase from 7.2 million tons to 12.8 million tons, and the output from nonirrigated farming would rise from 3.4 million tons to 4.4 million tons. In overall terms, wheat production would reach 17.25 million tons in 2012. In 2002, Hojjati said, wheat was produced on 6.118 million hectares of land, marking a 9.4 percent increase from the previous year.
As the Iranian economy is dominated by the state, the effects of this domination are felt in the agricultural sector, as well. For example, the Energy Ministry is building a dam in Sabzkuh as well as a tunnel from Sabzkuh to Choghakor to supply water to the Choghakor Dam. In turn, the water from Choghakor would be supplied to the Mobarekeh steel plant and the city of Borujen in Isfahan Province, Shar-i Kord's "Zardkuh" reported on 16 August. An open letter from farmers in the Sabzkuh area to President Khatami warned, "this will cause all our orchards, rice fields, and arable lands that are irrigated from the Sabzkuh River to dry out and thus make us poor and deprived and leave us no choice but to migrate." The farmers said in their letter that the ministry did not consult with them despite the impact of its actions.
The Zeydun section of Khuzestan Province lies next to the Zohreh and Kheirabadi Rivers, but local farmers still use traditional irrigation methods, Ahvaz's "Nur-i Khuzestan" newspaper reported on 15 August. Mr. Razavi, a local Agricultural Jihad manager, said that the absence of adequate irrigation resources affects 3,800 hectares of land and has led to 5.7 billion rials (about $712,500) in damages. Razavi said the area needs concrete canals, the construction of watersheds, and the leveling of the land.
Farmers in the southern part of Ilam Province want banks to extend the time in which they can repay loans, because they have not been able to harvest their crops this year. The region is suffering from drought-like conditions, "Peyk-i Ilam" reported on 7 August but, according to Dehloran Governor Hussein Kalantari, "Ilam has not been included on the list of provinces that have suffered from drought." Kalantari said that because the province is not on the list, banks are trying to collect farmers' loan payments on the normal schedule. Farmers in Abadan, Dehloran, and Mehran have also asked the government for help, especially regarding the loans. (Bill Samii)
PISTACHIOS REQUIRE BETTER PACKAGING AND MARKETING. Sohrab Javadi, the deputy chief of the pistachio department of the Agricultural Jihad Ministry, said that Iran produces some 145,000 tons of pistachios a year, IRNA reported on 25 June. This is about 60 percent of world production and makes Iran the world's top pistachio producer. Yet Iran's position in the global pistachio market is not commensurate with its total output.
According to the governor of Rafsanjan city, Abdol Mahdi Ansari, Iranian pistachios sell for less on the international market than American ones ($3.30/kilo vs. $3.60/kilo), and this is due to inferior packaging, IRNA reported on 13 September. Ansari added that Iran should use more effective advertising in order to compete with rivals from Greece, Spain, Turkey, and the U.S. The head of Iran's Export Promotion Center, Deputy Commerce Minister Khosrotaj, said on 22 September that the successful entry of goods such as pistachios into global markets requires high quality, improved packaging, and adherence to international standards, IRNA reported.
There are pistachio orchards in Arak, Birjand, Damghan, Kashmar, Qazvin, Qom, Saveh, and Tehran, as well as Fars and Sistan va Baluchistan provinces. Most pistachio orchards are located in Kerman Province. Mr. Izadi, an Agricultural Jihad manager in the Yazdanabad section of Kerman, said that about 12,000 metric tons of first-quality pistachios will have been harvested by the end of the month, "Ettelaat" reported on 18 September. A late frost and temperature fluctuations had damaged some 55 percent of the crop. (Bill Samii)
IRAN'S PEANUTS GO TO MARKET. Gilan Province farmers have made their first shipments of dried peanuts, "Ettelaat" reported from Rasht on 18 September. Gilan's peanut production, which is now over 21,000 metric tons, has been increasing annually to satisfy the growing demand for this product in candy and desserts. Another boon to peanut farmers is a growing market for peanut oil and powdered nuts. Gilan currently has about 3,000 hectares under cultivation, 80 percent of which are irrigated by diversions from the Sefid Rud River. The yield is high, about four metric tons per hectare. About 4,500 farming families are involved in the growing of peanuts. (Jack Helm)
LOW PRODUCTIVITY HINDERS IRANIAN INDUSTRY. Low productivity is hindering the Iranian industrial sector, Industries and Mines Minister Ishaq Jahangiri said at Sharif Technical University in Tehran on 27 September, IRNA reported. Jahangiri ascribed this problem to the workforce's low level of education and of skill. He said the average Iranian industrial worker is less educated than the average worker in other sectors of the economy. (Bill Samii)
IRAN TO JOIN MIGA. Iran has commenced activities to become a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Mohammad Khazai said on 29 September, according to IRNA. MIGA is affiliated with the World Bank and its mission is to promote "foreign direct investment into emerging economies to improve people's lives and reduce poverty," according to the agency's website (http://www.miga.org). This is accomplished by the provision of political risk insurance and by helping countries attract and retain private investment.
Khazai said that MIGA cover could protect investors' capital, and MIGA membership provides access to technical assistance and promotion of Iranian investment overseas. Iranian legislation passed in July authorizes the government to subscribe to 1,659 shares of MIGA stock worth $17.5 million.
MIGA Executive Deputy Director Louis Dureau said on 1 October at the Isfahan Chamber of Commerce that MIGA membership would attract foreign investment to Iran, IRNA reported. Dureau reportedly said that MIGA could inform other countries about Iranian investment laws, and foreign investors can use MIGA investment guarantees. Dureau also encouraged Iranian investment in neighboring countries. He said that MIGA serves all sectors except the tobacco and defense industries. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN LOOKS INTO STATOIL CASE. Tehran has asked the Norwegian police and Statoil for documents relating to a case involving the Norwegian oil company and a consulting firm reportedly connected with the son of former Iranian President and current Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, "Upstream" reported on 26 September.
Statoil signed a contract worth more than $15 million with Horton Investments, which is incorporated in the Turks and Caicos Islands and owned by an Iranian living in London named Abbas Yazdi. Yazdi introduced Statoil officials to Mehdi Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the managing director of a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company called the Organization for Optimization of Energy Consumption.
Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said after an OPEC meeting in Vienna that "Iran will take action if there is any evidence of wrongdoing," "Upstream" reported. He denied that NIOC had any knowledge of the Horton-Statoil arrangement and vowed that any NIOC employee would be punished for wrongdoing. Several top Statoil executives already have been dismissed over what is being viewed as a case of bribery (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 and 29 September 2003). (Bill Samii)