13 October 2003, Volume 6, Number 41
TEHRAN DENIES CONTACTS WITH WASHINGTON. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 5 October that Tehran and Washington have not had any secret meetings in Geneva or exchanged any diplomatic messages recently, dpa reported.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in a 3 October interview with reporters from "The Washington Post" had said: "We have received a number of indications from Iran and we are responding to those indications.... But I think it's encouraging that they are sending out these signals and we are responding to the signals." "Their signals are not simply going into the ether," he added, "They are hitting a reflector and going back."
The "Los Angeles Times" reported on 4 October that anonymous "senior U.S. officials" said that Iran wants to resume behind-the-scenes Tehran-Washington discussions that were abandoned in May. "We've seen some signs and heard from others that the Iranians want to talk," a "senior State Department official" said. "We're sending some signals back." (Bill Samii)
ACTIVIST'S NOBEL PEACE PRIZE BEFUDDLES TEHRAN. The awarding of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize to human rights and democracy activist Shirin Ebadi on 10 October has presented the Iranian government with a dilemma -- how can it take credit for the recognition of a regime opponent? Conservative and hard-line commentators are critical, reformists have politicized the issue, and state media is playing it safe.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee's citation noted Ebadi's focus on "the struggle for the rights of women and children," the Nobel website reported (http://www.nobel.se/). "As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist, she has spoken out clearly and strongly in her country, Iran, and far beyond its borders. She has stood up as a sound professional, a courageous person, and has never heeded the threats to her own safety." She has also promoted nonviolence and the need for a community's supreme political power to be based on democratic elections. The committee noted with pleasure that Ebadi is a Muslim. The statement concluded, "We hope that the people of Iran will feel joyous that for the first time in history one of their citizens has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and we hope the Prize will be an inspiration for all those who struggle for human rights and democracy in her country, in the [Muslim] world, and in all countries where the fight for human rights needs inspiration and support."
The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) provided factual reports on Ebadi's award when it hit the news. State television reported that the award took particular note of her efforts in children's rights. They failed to mention the time she spent in the Islamic Republic's prisons or the trumped-up accusations she has faced. Nor did they say that, before the revolution, she was a judge and afterwards women were deemed too unstable to be judges.
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh initially reacted happily to the news. "We are happy that an Iranian Muslim woman was qualified to be noticed by the world community for her activities in bringing about peace," he said according to AFP. "We hope that we could use her expert views more in Iran." Ramezanzadeh later retracted his statement and described it as his personal view only.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said that the award indicated the "high status of women" in Iran, and Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh referred to the award as a "token of dynamism of Iranian women," IRNA reported on 10 October. Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei sent a note to Ebadi congratulating her, IRNA reported on 10 October. "Your peaceful activities were based upon taking advantage of our country's cultural and social potentials," he wrote. He continued disingenuously: "The internal situation in Iran has been conducive to holding extensive cultural discussion and presenting outstanding works. Thus it will continue to enable Iranians to achieve other important goals in the future."
Tehran parliamentary representative Elaheh Kulyai viewed the award as an indication of the international community's interest in Iran's domestic development and the democratic trend in the country, ISNA reported on 11 October. The recognition of Ebadi is a point of pride for all Iranians, Kulyai said.
The hard-line "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily noted on 11 October that Ebadi participated in the 2001 Berlin conference, which led to several reformists' arrests, and added that she has a criminal record. "She is an ex-convict," maintained contacts with foreign organizations, was involved with anti-Islamic Republic activities, worked with Elaheh Hicks of Human Rights Watch, and her husband is in jail, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported. The daily stated falsely that Ebadi is in the U.S., whereas she actually is in France.
"Entekhab" managing editor Taha Hashemi said on 10 October that there are many more deserving Iranians, ISNA reported. People with ulterior motives are trying to belittle the efforts of such Iranians, and "if the world had been telling the truth, it would have given the prize to Mr.[President Mohammad] Khatami before giving it to anyone else." Hashemi added, "The prize would never have been given to Ebadi without taking into consideration the views of Americans and their express wishes."
But if anybody deserves recognition for his ability to take advantage of an issue, it is Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Abtahi. He said that the promotion of human rights anywhere is praiseworthy. He continued: "In the same way, the emphasis of the reform movement has, since its outset, been on the realization of the people's rights and all legitimate rights.... Any behaviors restricting these freedoms have always been resolutely criticized [by] the reformist groups within the government." (Bill Samii)
RUSSIA REFUSING TO SUPPLY IRAN WITH NUCLEAR FUEL. Gholamreza Shafei, the Iranian ambassador to Russia, said on 8 October that Tehran would sign the protocol on the return of spent nuclear fuel "soon," ITAR-TASS reported. "Negotiations to agree on technical issues are now under way. We hope that the protocol will be signed soon, in Tehran or in Moscow," he said. He hoped that cooperation on the Bushehr nuclear power plant would continue.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had said on 5 October that Moscow would not supply fuel for the Bushehr facility until Tehran signs an agreement on returning the spent fuel to Russia, Interfax reported.
Iranian and Russian officials met in Moscow in early September to discuss this issue (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 September 2003). Some Russian officials said at the time that the process was delayed because Iran did not have emergency procedures in place for the transportation of the spent fuel, while other Russian officials said commercial matters were to blame. Tehran reportedly sees the spent fuel as its property and wants to be paid for sending it back to Russia for storage and reprocessing.
Ivanov said on 10 October that Russia would continue to seek to improve its economic relations and other forms of cooperation with Iran, Interfax reported. "Moscow rejects all attempts to characterize our cooperation with Iran in the nuclear field as a threat to nonproliferation," he added. "Such a charge is used in the commercial contest with the aim of squeezing us out of this market." (Bill Samii)
WHITHER THE ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL AND FUEL ENRICHMENT? Tehran parliamentary representative Elaheh Kulyai said on 5 October that the legislature's National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee does not have any information on whether Iran will sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol, ISNA reported. She explained that in the previous (fifth) parliament, the head of the committee attended Supreme National Security Council meetings, but this is no longer the case. Kulyai said she gets all her information from the Internet or the news media. She therefore knows the following.
Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 4 October that Iran accepts the Additional Protocol on the conditions that Iran's national sovereignty and dignity are respected, IRNA reported. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said during the 3 October Tehran Friday prayers that Iran's conditions for signing the Additional Protocol are probably the same as those of the United States, state radio reported. "Firstly, the protocol must not jeopardize our country's security, secondly not to harm our values and sanctities, and finally, it should not lead to disclosure of secrets that are not related to this issue [nuclear energy]."
Iranian representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ali Akbar Salehi said in an interview that appeared in the Saudi "Al-Watan" daily on 5 October that the Additional Protocol was not discussed when an IAEA delegation visited Tehran in early October. Salehi said that Iran rejected surprise visits, which is one of the clauses of the Additional Protocol. He added that this would be meaningless given what he sees as continuous inspections and the presence of cameras on the reactors.
Salehi said on 7 October that the negotiations with visiting IAEA officials had gone well, ISNA reported. "We have peace of mind and they are satisfied as well." The Additional Protocol is a separate matter, Salehi said, "[and] our officials are studying the matter and the government will announce its decision in due course."
Salehi's claims of IAEA satisfaction were, apparently, inaccurate. IAEA Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei on 9 October warned Tehran that time is running out and called on Tehran to speed up its cooperation, the "Financial Times" reported on 10 October. El-Baradei said that inspectors dispatched to Iran the previous week were given access to sites they wanted to see and were provided with fresh information, but it just was not enough. "They've promised information will be forthcoming but it has not yet been provided," he said. "The central question is whether Iran has any uranium-enrichment activities that we have not been informed about. On that question I haven't got satisfactory information."
Salehi said during a 7 October roundtable at Tehran's Sharif Industrial University that Iran needs to control the complete nuclear fuel cycle so it can supply its reactors, ISNA reported. "Nevertheless," he said, "we will need 10 years to generate good-quality reactor fuel in this country." He added that although Iran has access to uranium-enrichment technology, the technology needs further research.
Two members of parliament, Hussein Afarideh and Ahmad Azimi, stressed the importance to Iran of having an enrichment capability, Mehr News Agency reported on 3 October. Afarideh said that enriching uranium is essential to any country trying to satisfy its electricity needs. Azimi cited the scientific benefit of such activities. (Bill Samii)
IRAN WON'T PULL OUT OF NPT. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said during a meeting of Friday prayer leaders on the evening of 6 October that Iran has no intention of forsaking the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), IRNA and state radio reported on 7 October. Iran would only withdraw, he said, if it were deprived of its right to use nuclear technology, particularly its right to enrich nuclear fuel. "We cannot ignore our capability to generate nuclear-reactor fuel. This capability has been attained thanks to the efforts of Iran's scientists and children. No one has the right to deprive us of that right." Kharrazi said that Iran does not fear inspections because it has nothing to hide.
Kharrazi added that Iran was one of the initiators of the concept of a nuclear-free Middle East, and he added that Iran would like to eliminate all the nuclear weapons in the region, especially Israel's. "Israel is the biggest threat against peace and stability in the region," he said. "So long as that regime remains armed with the nuclear weapons, we cannot hope for the prevalence of lasting peace in the Middle East." (Bill Samii)
MORE MOVEMENT IN THE CABINET. The Iranian legislature on 8 October gave a vote of confidence for Jafar Tofiqi Darian as the new minister of science, research, and technology, ISNA reported. At the time of voting, 203 out of 290 parliamentarians were present and 198 cast votes -- 163 were in favor, 27 were against, and eight were undecided. President Mohammad Khatami spoke in favor of his nominee, IRNA reported. Khatami proposed Tofiqi on 1 October; Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin submitted his resignation in late July, and the legislature did not confirm the president's first nominee for Moin's job, Reza Faraji-Dana (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 August, 8 September, and 6 October 2003).
Some parliamentarians meanwhile are trying to interpellate Minister of Roads and Transport Ahmad Khoram. An interpellation motion signed by 50 parliamentarians was submitted to the parliamentary presiding board on 6 October, IRNA reported. "Mardom Salari" and "Siyasat-i Ruz" quoted Qazvin representative Nasser Qavami as saying that the reason for the motion is Khoram's poor performance on the job. Qavami cited Khoram's failure to fulfill his promise to resolve problems in the aviation sector, his inability to allocate credits for aviation development projects, and his promotion of officials who have been found guilty of misconduct. Other complaints relate to a recent rise in air-ticket prices and an increase in road accidents.
Qavami complained on 7 October that the parliamentary presiding board is resisting the motion to interpellate Khoram, "Tehran Times" reported on 8 October, citing Mehr News Agency. Khoram expressed confidence that more parliamentarians would sign the interpellation motion. (Bill Samii)
TEACHERS DEMONSTRATE IN TEHRAN. A group of teachers gathered outside an Education and Training Ministry building in Tehran on 5 October and called for greater attention to their salaries and pensions, as well as a greater focus on education in the fourth five-year plan, which will start in 2005, Mehr News Agency reported. Mahmud Beheshti-Langerudi, head of the teachers' trade union, said, "Officials have tried to console teachers with promises and assurances...but no practical step has been taken to resolve the many problems of this hard-working segment of the population." He added that the Management and Planning Organization is supposed to submit legislation to make teachers' salaries more uniform by 5 November, and he warned that if this is not done the teachers' trade union has something planned for 7 November. (Bill Samii)
INTELLIGENCE MINISTER SAYS OPPOSITION UNDER SURVEILLANCE AND STUDENTS UNDER CONTROL. Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi told a 6 October gathering of Iran's Friday prayer leaders that the opposition is being watched and anything it does to threaten Iran's national security will fail, IRNA reported on 7 October. "The [MOIS] has full grip over the issues related to the national security of Iran and is fully aware of all moves and intrigues made by the antirevolutionary forces, which have been relatively intensified recently," he said. Yunesi claimed that Iran is the target of a "heavy psychological war" and the opposition is part of this. "The United States needs to heighten the level of that cold war against Iran currently in order to justify its broad presence in this part of the world," he added.
After discussing the security organizations' activities in the run-up to the anticipated unrest of last July, he turned to the school year that has just begun. "We have started this academic year in a position of total control over the situation, and we will neutralize any kind of counterrevolutionary movement throughout the world," ISNA reported. (Bill Samii)
TRIAL OF CANADIAN JOURNALIST'S ALLEGED KILLER BEGINS. The trial relating to the death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi began on 7 October, and IRNA reported that Canadian Ambassador Philip MacKinnon was present in the courtroom. Detained in late June while taking photos outside Evin prison, Kazemi died in the hospital on 11 July of a cerebral hemorrhage resulting from a blow to the head (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 and 21 July and 4 and 11 August 2003). In late September, the Tehran Prosecutor's Office charged an MOIS official with murdering Kazemi (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 September 2003).
Mr. Bashirirad, the Tehran Province Justice Department's public relations director, said that the judge might not allow videotaping of the court sessions, ISNA reported on 4 October, but there would not be any restrictions on audio recordings.
Tehran Deputy Prosecutor-General Jafar Reshadati said during the hearing that the defendant, Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi, spent many hours alone with Kazemi, and he later refused to answer some questions about her treatment, AP reported. Ahmadi pleaded innocent and requested more time to study the indictment, and Ahmadi's lawyer, Ghasem Shabani, said that the indictment contradicted information provided by the MOIS. Shabani also said that the MOIS has documents written by Kazemi that discredit the prosecutor's arguments. The judge, Rasul Ghanimi, granted the request for more time, according to AP, and it is not clear when the trial will resume.
Meanwhile, the MOIS has issued a statement asserting that according to Kazemi's handwritten notes, she was beaten at Evin prison upon her arrest, ISNA reported on 7 October. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN OPPOSES THIRD-COUNTRY SITE FOR ARGENTINIAN BOMBING TRIAL... Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 5 October that any proposed mediation between Iran and Argentina in the case of former Ambassador to Buenos Aires Hadi Suleimanpur is "unacceptable," IRNA reported. "The Argentinian judiciary is serving the interests of the Zionist regime," Assefi added. Mediation is not, however, what has been suggested.
Argentinian Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa has proposed that the trial relating to the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires should be held in a third country, the Argentinian daily "Clarin" reported on 29 September. The precedent for this is the trial of Libyan intelligence officers in the Netherlands for the 1988 destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. A Scottish court held the trial under Scottish law.
In this case, Bielsa said in the 3 October issue of "Forward" weekly magazine, Argentinian judges would handle the case in a country approved by Tehran and Buenos Aires. Bielsa doubts that London will extradite Suleimanpur because the evidence against him is weak and because Tehran might be providing the British with intelligence on other issues. Argentinian Jewish groups oppose the proposal and suspect the Foreign Ministry of trying to avoid a confrontation with Iran.
Bielsa said on 6 October that his proposal eliminates any Iranian argument for not discussing the issue, the government-owned Telam news agency reported. One possible place for the trial is Morocco. (Bill Samii)
...AS DEFENDANT'S NAME SURFACES IN ISRAEL-HIZBALLAH PRISONER-SWAP TALKS. Former Ambassador Suleimanpur has been mentioned in the possible exchange of prisoners between Lebanese Hizballah and Israel (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 September 2003). Reacting to such linkages, Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said that this is proof that Israel is behind the entire case against Suleimanpur. Assefi said during his 28 September press conference, "We have announced from the beginning that the case of Iran's ex-envoy to Argentina reached this stage due to the performance of [the] Argentinian judicial system [and] Israel's proposal to exchange Mr. Suleimanpur was an indication of its complicity in the issue," IRNA reported. Assefi said that Iran has nothing to do with Israeli prisoners of war.
In the Israel-Hizballah deal, Israel reportedly wants information on the whereabouts of air-force navigator Ron Arad, missing since 1986 and presumed to be in Iran; the remains of three Israeli soldiers, missing since October 2000; and Israeli reservist and businessman Elhanan Tenenbaum, kidnapped by Hizballah in October 2000. Hizballah wants all Lebanese and some Palestinian and Arab detainees to be released from Israeli jails -- including Hizballah's Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, seized in 1989, and Believers Resistance leader Mustafa Dirani, who was seized in 1994.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not think that Hizballah has any information on Arad, political correspondent Udi Segal said on Jerusalem's Channel 2 TV on 3 October. He will therefore emphasize the release of Tenenbaum and three soldiers, but this process could take several weeks. Arad's case is being pursued through different channels.
Chen Arad, Ron's brother, said that Ron is in Iran according to a confidential Israeli government report, "Haaretz" and "The Jerusalem Post" reported on 7 October. Arad added that the report shows a direct connection between Dirani and the missing navigator. Dirani reportedly captured Arad and sold him to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps in 1988.
An anonymous Israeli official said that the efforts of Arad's family are likely to foil the prisoner swap, "Haaretz" reported on 11 October, but Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said on 10 October that negotiations with Israel are in their final stages. Tehran again disavowed any knowledge of Arad's whereabouts, this time through Ambassador to Lebanon Masud Idrisi, IRNA reported on 11 October.
Occasionally mentioned in the context of a possible prisoner swap are four Iranian officials -- Charge d'Affaires Seyyed Mohsen Musavi, diplomats Ahmad Motevaselian and Taqi Rastegar-Moghaddam, and IRNA photojournalist Kazem Akhavan -- who disappeared in Lebanon in 1982. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said during a 9 October meeting with the officials' families that evidence shows that Israel is responsible for their capture, IRNA reported. Kharrazi said that the Foreign Ministry is working on the case. (Bill Samii)
LEBANESE HIZBALLAH SPEAKS OUT FOR IRAN. Hizballah has officially adopted a policy of silence towards recent criticism of Iran by a former party leader, but unofficially it backs Iran, Lebanon's "Al-Mustaqbal" newspaper reported on 2 October. Former Hizballah Secretary-General Subih Tufaili had said in an early-September speech in Brital, in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, that Iran has betrayed the revolution's founding principles, and he denounced current Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah as an Iranian agent, "The Daily Star" reported on 9 September. He also accused Iran of cooperating with the U.S.
Anonymous Hizballah officials dismissed Tufaili's comments and said that the coincidence of Iranian interests in Iraq and Afghanistan with those of the U.S. is not indicative of submission, according to the 2 October "Al-Mustaqbal" report. The reality of the relationship is indicated by U.S. pressure on Iran regarding the nuclear issue and Iranian opposition to U.S. activities in Iraq, they said. Moreover, the Hizballah officials asked, "If the Americans themselves are accusing Syria and Iran of supporting the Iraqi opposition or facilitating its operations, how can it then be correct to accuse them of dealing with the Americans?"
Tufaili's criticism of Hizballah also seems far-fetched. The organization is listed as a "foreign terrorist organization" by the U.S. State Department, it is connected with the 1983 suicide bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, and the kidnapping of many Americans and other Westerners.
Secretary-General Nasrallah, however, denies that Hizballah is a terrorist organization. "Hizballah is a Lebanese resistance group. It has fought and is ready to fight," he said in the 28 July issue of "The Times" of London. "Hizballah has offered martyrs and is ready to offer more martyrs to defend its people and country."
Tufaili also has criticized Hizballah for its participation in the Lebanese political system, a process that began when Hizballah fielded candidates for the 1992 parliamentary race. There are now almost 10 Hizballah members in the legislature.
Anonymous Hizballah officials reject such criticisms. They said that there is absolutely no connection between their interest in domestic affairs and the retreat of the resistance or an end to its military role, "Al-Mustaqbal" reported on 8 July.
According to another report, in the 3 July "Al-Nahar" from Beirut, Hizballah ideology requires it to continue fighting until Israel no longer occupies any Lebanese territory (a reference to the Shabaa Farms). Any indications of a retreat on the party's part are in fact based on the need to reassess regional developments after Operation Iraqi Freedom and in light of U.S. challenges to Iran and Syria. If Iran pushes Hizballah to act against Israel right now, according to "Al-Nahar," Iran would suffer the consequences.
Nasrallah himself sounds far from conciliatory, nor does he seem to have abandoned armed struggle, as Tufaili suggests. Nasrallah said in May, according to the 1 June issue of Manama's "Al-Wasat," "We must continue resistance." He continued: "We are at a stage in which there is no room for capitulation. We have been here for 20 years and have not surrendered or weakened. Killing made us stronger, the blood of martyrs made us stronger, the shackles of Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, Mustafa Dirani, and other prisoners in the enemy jails made us stronger." (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN CONDEMNS ISRAELI AIR STRIKES IN SYRIA. Israeli military aircraft on 5 October attacked the Ayn al-Sahib base in Syria after a female suicide bomber killed 19 Israelis and wounded 60 other people at Haifa's Maxim restaurant one day earlier. Voice of Israel said that Tehran financed the base, which is used for training by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, described the operation as a message that nobody can strike Israel with impunity, and added, "There is an axis of terror that begins in Iran and it reaches the Gaza Strip, and its main crossroads is in Syria," "The Washington Post" reported on 6 October.
Tehran reacted angrily to the Israeli attacks, although it did not address the allegations about its support for terrorism. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 5 October, "Israeli attack against Syria is an attempt to divert the public opinion from the sufferings of Palestinian people arising from occupation of their country and the subsequent legitimate defense of the Palestinian nation against the occupying force," IRNA reported. "By resorting to such aggressions, the Zionist regime posed a threat to the security of the Middle East region."
Iran's United Nations representative, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said during a 5 October Security Council session that this was just the latest Israeli violation of international law, IRNA reported. He referred to Israel as the biggest obstacle to Middle East peace and the world's biggest sponsor of state terrorism.
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was less definitive on 6 October, when he said, "The Zionist regime had the audacity to violate international laws and commit an act of aggression against a large and civilized country such as Syria...this is regrettable," state radio reported. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi expressed similar sentiments on 7 October, IRNA reported.
Hamid Reza Taraqi, an official from the conservative Islamic Coalition Association, on 5 October described the Israeli accusation of Iranian involvement in terrorism as a "totally baseless claim [that is] the best proof of Syria's innocence and the aggressive nature of the Zionist regime," ISNA reported.
Abu Usamah, the Hamas representative in Tehran, denied on 5 October that his organization or the PIJ have any bases in Syria, ISNA reported. "We do not have any headquarters, bases, or camps outside the occupied territories," he said. He acknowledged that they had political bureaus in Syria but said these had been closed. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN DEBATES SCIRI'S ROLE IN IRAQ. Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) Chairman Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim had a very busy schedule during his 5-10 October trip to Tehran. He met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi; participated in the third conference of the Ahl al-Bayt (the Household of the Prophet) organization; and gave the pre-sermon speech at the 10 October Friday prayers. Like his hosts, he repeatedly expressed his interest in seeing an end to the occupation of Iraq, according to Iranian news agencies. Behind the scenes, however, everything was not so united. Al-Hakim's visit comes at a sensitive time for Tehran-SCIRI relations.
When al-Hakim arrived in Tehran on 5 October he told reporters that the main reason for his visit is to thank Iran for its years of support for the Iraqi nation, ISNA reported. Al-Hakim said he has received invitations from "many countries," but, "because of Iran's principled policies toward Iraq over the years, I preferred to visit Iran before visiting other countries."
While it is true that SCIRI was the main recipient of Iranian backing for the Iraqi opposition during Saddam Hussein's reign, the situation has changed since the U.S.-led international coalition destroyed the Iraqi dictator's military. Tehran now finds itself surrounded on all sides by the U.S. and it does not like what it sees. This could explain its new relationship with the upstart Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a relationship that may have been cemented when al-Sadr visited Iran in early June (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 June 2003).
Outspoken in his opposition to the coalition and in his hostility to the U.S., al-Sadr declared during the 10 October Friday prayers in Kufa that he is forming his own cabinet, and one of his associates said it would include a ministry for the promotion of virtue and prohibition of vice. "Although this might entail some danger to my person, I have created some cabinet posts in our government," al-Sadr said, according to "The Washington Post" on 12 October.
Al-Hakim resents the support given to al-Sadr by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and the supreme leader's office, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 8 October. Alireza Nurizadeh writes in the Arabic-language London daily that al-Hakim has been under pressure to declare his fealty to Supreme Leader Khamenei ever since the late-August assassination of his brother, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. Moreover, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim does not have sufficient standing to fill the religious vacuum in SCIRI left by the killing of the ayatollah, and Tehran does not want SCIRI to become a wholly political organization. Some Iranian officials, therefore, are backing Ayatollah Ali al-Haeri as SCIRI's religious leader.
"Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported that al-Hakim came to Iran in response to President Khatami's invitation, and Khatami and other reformists had refused to meet with al-Sadr. Other news reports did not include such information or place the visit in the context of Iranian power politics.
Al-Hakim met with Khatami on 6 October, IRNA reported, and they discussed Tehran-Baghdad relations. "Jane's Foreign Report" reported on 9 October, three days later, that it had "learned" that al-Hakim was in Tehran on 6 October and had met with Khatami to discuss the Iraqi Governing Council.
Al-Hakim met with Foreign Minister Kharrazi on 6 October, ISNA reported. Kharrazi said: "The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that the sovereignty of Iraq must be handed over to its people as soon as possible under the supervision of the UN. The occupiers have no choice other than handing over the management and political destiny of Iraq to leaders chosen by its people."
Judiciary chief Hashemi-Shahrudi called for an end to the occupation when he met with al-Hakim on 6 October, IRNA reported the next day. "By continuing the occupation of Iraq, the Americans are ruining their reputation before the world public opinion more than ever."
Al-Hakim met with Supreme Leader Khamenei on 7 October, IRNA reported. Khamenei described the end of the occupation as one of the Iraqis' main demands. During the Ahl al-Bayt conference on 9 October, Khamenei said that the occupation is the main problem facing Iraqis.
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told al-Hakim on 7 October that free elections under the aegis of the United Nations would pave the way for the withdrawal of occupation forces, IRNA reported. Al-Hakim told his host that the U.S. is incapable of establishing security.
Al-Hakim said at an 8 October memorial ceremony in Tehran for his assassinated brother that there is international pressure on the U.S. to withdraw its troops and for it to specify a withdrawal date. "Of course, we support the international community in this demand and for the U.S. to limit the duration of its occupation of Iraq." He said on 9 October during the Ahl al-Bayt event that the Iraqi people have started a major battle to liberate their country from the occupation and the remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime, Tehran radio reported on 10 October.
Al-Hakim also discussed the assassination of his brother. He told reporters on 5 October that the investigation is continuing and there is no definitive conclusion yet, ISNA reported. "What is clear, however, is that the former Iraqi regime and its supporters had a hand in this crime." Al-Hakim added, "Of course, there are people who have argued that foreign groups were also involved in committing this serious crime." (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN BROADCASTING ACTIVE IN BAGHDAD. Of the 59 AM radio broadcasts audible in Baghdad on 7 October, broadcasts originating in Iran could be heard on 33 AM frequencies. Four of the frequencies broadcast programming in Arabic, one was in Kurdish, and 28 were in the Persian language. Reception varied from poor to good. Four FM broadcasts originated in Iran, including Tehran radio's Arabic service, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's Voice of the Mujahedin, and Tehran's youth-oriented Javan radio. The newest entry is Tehran's Voice of the Palestinian Islamic Revolution. Voice of Rebellious Iraq apparently transmits from Ahvaz on AM for seven hours a day.
Four Iranian television channels can be seen and heard in Baghdad. The Arabic-language Al-Alam news channel and the Sahar news channel are audible and offer good-quality video, while Sahar's English broadcasts can also be heard. Al-Alam is available via the Arabsat, Asiasat, Telstar, and Hot Bird satellites, and can be received in the Middle East, Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, and the U.S. Iran's Al-Thiqalayn Television transmits religious programming to Iraqi viewers. The SCIRI's Resistance Channel television is based in Tehran; it broadcasts for six hours a day and can be received via satellite.
Ali Larijani, director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, described the Arabic-language broadcast products in a 22 July meeting with clerics from Al-Najaf. He offered to help the Iraqis establish a TV station, according to state television. "The Voice and Vision is prepared to supply the cultural means and the necessary equipment for the establishment of an independent television station in Iraq." (Bill Samii)
SURVEY FINDS HIGH RATE OF CORRUPTION IN IRAN. Iran placed poorly in Transparency International's "Corruption Perceptions Index 2003," which was released on 7 October (http://www.transparency.org/pressreleases_archive/2003/2003.10.07.cpi.en.html). In its debut in the annual corruption ranking, Iran was listed in 78th place, along with Armenia, Lebanon, Mali, and Palestine, out of 133 countries and administrative territories. Iran had a score of 3.0 on a scale of 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt), which, according to Transparency International, "relates to perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people, academics, and risk analysts" in and out of the country. Iran's score was based on four other surveys, and its scores in those surveys ranged from 1.5-3.6. BS
ANOTHER NORWAY-IRAN CORRUPTION CASE? The Umoe Schat-Harding company (http://www.schat-harding.com) sent approximately $172,000 in 1997 to an Iranian-owned consulting company as a "return commission" in order to resolve a dispute about the sale of nine lifeboats to a state-owned Iranian company, TV2 from Norway reported on 8 October (http://pub.tv2.no/nettavisen/english/article143808.ece) and "Aftenposten" reported on 9 October (http://www.aftenposten.no/english/business/article.jhtml?articleID=643786), both citing Norway's "VG" newspaper.
The lifeboats, purchased by the Iranian Offshore Engineering and Construction Company (IOEC), were damaged when they were being transported, so the Iranian company refused to pay the remaining costs of approximately $1 million. The National Iranian Oil Company and the Industrial Development and Renovation Organization are the shareholders in IOEC.
Umoe Schat-Harding paid an unnamed Iranian-owned consulting company in 1997 and subsequently received about $718,504 from IOEC, according to "VG." A document signed by Jarle Roth, who was the Norwegian firm's top manager at the time, said that the money "took care of people who needed special attention in this case." "VG" reported that Mehdi Hashemi, the son of former president and current Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, was involved in the 1997 deal. At the time, Mehdi Hashemi headed IOEC, an energy-sector expert told "RFE/RL Iran Report." Mehdi Hashemi's name has been mentioned in connection with a recent corruption scandal involving Norway's Statoil (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 and 29 September and 6 October 2003). (Bill Samii)