17 November 2003, Volume 6, Number 46
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL Iran Report" will appear on 8 December 2003.
TEHRAN ACCEPTS ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL AS IAEA SUBMITS REPORT. Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on 11 November delivered a letter to IAEA Director-General Mohammad ElBaradei in which Tehran accepted the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), according to the IAEA website (http://www.iaea.org). Salehi also told ElBaradei that Iran has decided to suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. The IAEA Board of Governors is expected to consider Iran's application at its 20 November meeting.
Also on 11 November, ElBaradei released a "restricted circulation" report to IAEA member states on the status of NPT safeguards' implementation in Iran, according to the IAEA website. That 30-page report was leaked in full to the Reuters correspondent in Vienna, home of the IAEA, one day earlier. It showed that Iran conducted nuclear research clandestinely for decades and four countries had helped it. Although Tehran engaged in activities like plutonium production and uranium enrichment -- using laser and centrifuge enrichment -- that are associated with making nuclear weapons, the IAEA had not found any evidence of an Iranian atomic weapons program. "To date there is no evidence that [Iran's] previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to above were related to a nuclear weapons program," the IAEA reported. In light of Iran's record of concealment, however, "it will take some time" before the IAEA can be sure that Iran has a peaceful nuclear program.
Some observers were incredulous. "The report's assertion is simply impossible to believe," U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said at a 12 November dinner for the "American Spectator" magazine. If anything, Bolton said, the report reaffirms Washington's belief that "the massive and covert Iranian effort to acquire sensitive nuclear capabilities makes sense only as part of a nuclear weapons program," Reuters reported. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said at a 13 November press briefing in Washington, "I think that the IAEA report raises very serious concerns about what has been going on in Iran and what might be continuing to go on in Iran," the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs reported (http://usinfo.state.gov). Rice suggested that any agreement signed with Tehran should take into consideration its past record of concealment and deception.
Nongovernmental specialists in the nuclear field also sounded skeptical. Former IAEA inspector David Albright, who now heads the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, said in the 11 November "Washington Post," "Overall, Iran's cooperation is a good sign, because it shows that a combination of pressure and incentives is leading to real results. But by no means can you have confidence that the whole picture is known."
Thomas B. Cochran, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, was more forthright. "It's dumbfounding that the IAEA, after saying that Iran for 18 years had a secret effort to enrich uranium and separate plutonium, would turn around and say there was no evidence of a nuclear weapons program," he said according to "The New York Times" on 11 November. "If that's not evidence, I don't know what is." (Bill Samii)
INITIALLY NONPLUSSED, TEHRAN RESORTS TO EMPTY THREATS. The IAEA Board of Governors is expected to discuss the report on Iran's nuclear program at its scheduled 20 November meeting. Iranian officials initially tried to put the best face on the situation when they discussed the report. This changed when Washington's criticism of the report became more vocal and there was speculation in the media that the U.S. would try to have the issue taken to the United Nations Security Council.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza admitted to reporters in Tehran on 12 November that the IAEA report "could have been better," according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). On the positive side, he added, the report proved that the Iranian nuclear program is peaceful and Iran is cooperating with the IAEA transparently. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said on 11 November, "this [IAEA] report shows the U.S. and Israeli propaganda against Iran was baseless and Iran did not violate the NPT and also that its nuclear activities were not for military purposes," Reuters reported, citing Iranian state television. And Iran's representative to the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, told state television, "The failures attributed to Iran are insignificant and are at the level of gram and microgram of nuclear materials."
Tehran resorted to threats as criticism of the report increased. Salehi warned on 13 November that if Iran's nuclear program is referred to United Nations Security Council there would be an international crisis, AFP reported. Salehi was not specific in his threats, but he said, "We will be facing unpredictable consequences. It will not be conducive to the peaceful resolution of the issue." "There are many things Iran can do," he said, although withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is not one of them. "We have a lot of leverage."
London-based analyst Hazhir Teimourian told RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari that the Iranian threats are mainly for internal consumption. "I expect that this is for internal purposes. In other words, the hard-liners who run the government of Iran need to appear strong, need [to be seen] not to be giving in to the external pressure." Teimourian said that Tehran cannot follow through on its threats. "Iran can do very, very little. We all know that Iran is in a very weak position since the attacks on America, when America's heart was violated on September 11, 2001. The world has changed, and now Iran finds itself surrounded by pro-American states on all sides -- in the north even, in the former Soviet Union even." (Bill Samii)
WHITE HOUSE CONTINUES 'NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO IRAN.' Because U.S. relations with Iran have yet to "returned to normal," President George W. Bush on 12 November authorized for another year the continuation of his country's "national emergency with respect to Iran," according to the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov). President Jimmy Carter originally declared this national emergency on 14 November 1979 by Executive Order 12170, "to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the situation in Iran." (Bill Samii)
ICJ RULING GOES AGAINST IRAN AND U.S. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 8 November criticized a recent International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on a case involving Iran and the United States, IRNA reported. The ICJ ruled on 6 November that the United States does not have to pay reparations for destroying three offshore oil platforms belonging to the National Iranian Oil Company in October 1987 and April 1988, because the two platforms destroyed in the first attack were under repair and not operational, and by 1988 all Iran-U.S. trade in crude oil had been suspended, the "Financial Times" reported. The ICJ also rejected the U.S. claim that its actions were necessary to protect U.S. security interests. "There are contradictions in the ruling," Assefi said, stressing that the U.S. should compensate Iran for the damage he claims it has inflicted. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN REJECTS U.S. CALLS FOR DEMOCRACY. Recent statements by the U.S. leadership about the future political development of Iran appear to have upset the Iranian government.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a 10 November speech at City College of New York that the Iranian people want to be free, but this freedom would not be at the expense of Islam. "They do not want to banish Islam from their lives. Far from it," Powell said according to AP. "They want to be free of those who have dragged the sacred garments of Islam into the political gutter." Powell noted that thousands greeted Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi when she returned to Iran, and he judged that Iran's rulers should take this as a warning. "We all know what this means.... The hidebound clerics of Iran know what it means, too. Should they be worried? Does morning follow night? They should be."
Iranian state radio on 11 November described Powell's speech as "extremely offensive." "Colin Powell has spoken against Iran on many occasions," the report concluded, "but this is the first time that he has worn the cloak of an Islamologist to criticize the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi reacted to Powell's comments on 11 November by retorting, "The interpretations of the U.S. officials about Islam and the Muslims clearly proves that they have the least knowledge about Islam, such as the situation in the Middle East, Iraq and democracy," IRNA reported. Assefi added, "It is surprising that the US administration which has seized power through a distorted election, speak about democracy and the rights of the people."
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said on 12 November that Powell's comments were "nothing new to us," state radio reported. They were not diplomatic, cordial, or rational, he said.
In a 7 November statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi condemned recent remarks about Iran by President George W. Bush as "obvious interference in Iran's internal affairs" that is in violation of previous U.S. commitments, IRNA reported. President Bush said in a 6 November speech at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington: "In Iran, the demand for democracy is strong and broad.... The regime in Teheran must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people, or lose its last claim to legitimacy," according to the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov).
Assefi countered, "No individual, or group, has ever commissioned Mr. Bush to safeguard their rights, nor is he responsible for supporting anyone here, and basically, keeping in mind the dark record of the United States in suppressing the democratic movements around the globe, he is not in a position to talk about such issues."
In an 8 November Iranian television roundtable, a participant identified by IRNA as Dr. Mohammadi said this is the most absurd of Bush's statements, adding that "democracy" for Bush means doing what the United States wants. American University Professor Hamid Mowlana said Bush's remarks should not be taken seriously. (Bill Samii)
LONDON DECIDES NOT TO EXTRADITE FORMER DIPLOMAT. Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said on 13 November that he is pleased with the British decision not to continue with extradition proceedings against former Iranian diplomat Hadi Suleimanpur, ISNA reported.
Most recently pursuing graduate studies at Durham University, Suleimanpur was the Iranian ambassador to Argentina when the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires was bombed in 1994. He was detained in England in August pursuant to an Argentine extradition request relating to the bombing (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 September 2003). Home Secretary David Blunkett reviewed 6,000 pages of evidence before deciding not to permit a full court hearing on the extradition request because the evidence is insufficient, AP reported on 12 November.
Assefi said the British decision to drop the case "confirmed our previous suspicion regarding the Argentinean court's tainted ruling and lies propagated by the Zionist regime." Assefi continued: "the agents of the Zionist regime had plotted the attack.... The politically motivated act was orchestrated by the Zionist regime... The British ruling shows that all the Zionists' allegations against Iranian citizens regarding the AMIA attack have been baseless, lack legal credibility, and are politically motivated." (Bill Samii)
TIGER WOMAN UPSETS QOM. Qom Province police commander Alireza Taheri told Fars News Agency on 11 November that rumors had circulated for a week in Qom's Nirugah district that "a woman had been spotted in one of the villages around Arak whose upper half resembled a tigress." Some photography shops fabricated photos of this creature and distributed them, Taheri said. Then it was rumored that the police had arrested the tigress lady, and people gathered at the police station and demanded to see her. The police dispersed the crowd, Taheri said, but on 7 October another rumor emerged that the woman would be executed. A crowd of 2,000 gathered at Nabovat Square and called for the tigress woman to be executed and this time the police could not get them to go home. Subsequently, Taheri said, "opportunists" provoked the crowd and threw stones. A special police unit arrived and "cordially led the people to the adjacent streets." Taheri said that 40 people, including the three people who made the photograph of the tiger woman, have been arrested and their motives are being investigated. (Bill Samii)
GUARDIANS COUNCIL REJECTS PRESS LAW AMENDMENT. The Guardians Council, which confirms the compatibility of all legislation with Islam and the constitution, has rejected an article of the amended Press Law that would allow jury trials in an open court for journalists, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 10 November. The council noted that the article contradicts Article 57 of the constitution -- which calls for the separation of powers between the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive branch, functioning under the supervision of the Supreme Leader -- as well as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's August 2000 letter to the legislature. Khamenei said in his letter that the Press Law protects the system from infiltration by "the enemies of Islam, the revolution, and the Islamic system" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 August 2000).
An unattributed commentary in the reformist daily "Yas-i No" on 10 November criticized this decision of the Guardians Council as contradicting Article 168, which states that "political and press offenses will be tried openly and in the presence of a jury." The commentary warned that if the establishment cannot allow the free flow of information and protect journalists, then information will be secured from abroad and foreign media will make up for perceived weaknesses in the domestic media. (Bill Samii)
LEGISLATURE REJECTS HARD-LINE CANDIDATES FOR GUARDIANS COUNCIL. The legislature on 12 November rejected the judiciary's candidates for membership on the Guardians Council, "Iran Daily" reported the next day. The council is made up of six clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader, along with six jurists selected by the judiciary chief who must be confirmed by the legislature. The candidates were put forth to fill the seat vacated by council jurist Mohammad Reza Abbasifard, who recently resigned -- possibly to stand as a candidate for parliament.
One of the judiciary's two nominees was Fazlollah Musavi; only 90 people voted in favor of him. The other candidate was Gholamhussein Elham, the judiciary spokesman and former Guardians Council Research Center chief. For these reasons, Radio Farda's Siavash Ardalan reported, the reformists know Elham well, and this is why only four out of the 199 ballots cast by the parliamentarians were in his favor. The legislators said afterwards that if the judiciary had consulted with them it would have known that Elham would never win approval, especially since he was rejected twice before, Radio Farda reported. Elham claimed in a speech to the legislature that he does not want the job, either, but hinted that it is the Supreme Leader's choice. (Bill Samii)
STATE BROADCASTING CRITICIZED FOR BIAS AND FINANCIAL IMPROPRIETIES. Most Iranians get their news and entertainment from the state broadcasting organization, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), which is also known as Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic (VVIR). The content of IRIB programming has never been considered the most entertaining, which explains in part the popularity of programs transmitted by exile satellite stations. And since the 1997 presidential campaign, IRIB's hard-line bias in news programs has been a regular source of irritation for much of its audience, thereby explaining their quest for alternative news sources.
The IRIB Supervisory Board, which monitors state radio and television, criticized on 27 October what it described as a failure to behave impartially, as well as lobbying for a political party, IRNA reported. This went against IRIB's role as the "national media," the board announced, and it called on IRIB Director Ali Larijani to ensure impartiality in coverage of legal or real entities, particularly parliamentarians.
A concrete example of this biased coverage was described in "Mardom Salari" on 25 June. The article said that IRIB did not report on that month's unrest and rioting in Tehran until 10 days after it had ended, and the report that was broadcast tried to connect the riots with satellite channels based outside the country and with the U.S. leadership. Moreover, IRIB merely showed "pictures of broken windows and thrown stones on the ground," while it "forgot about the universities and students." On that program, furthermore, a citizen complained that his telephone cable was disconnected -- but there was no mention of the violent and bloody attack at Allameh University.
"Mardom Salari" asked if any IRIB programs examined the demands and complaints of the students. For that matter, the daily asked, did any television program discuss or look into the role of plain-clothes security agents in the unrest?
It is not only biased programming that has caused unhappiness. The final report of an investigation into IRIB's financial activities, opened by the legislature in July 2001, was submitted to parliament this spring. The 228-page report, read out during parliament's 7 May session, blamed senior IRIB officials with major infractions such as concealment of revenues, insufficient documentation and accounting, and failure to pay customs and duties. The head of IRIB dismissed this report as being cursory, denied all charges of financial misconduct, and said he would turn to the judiciary. (See "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 May 2003.)
Mahallat parliamentary representative Ali Asqar Hadizadeh was quoted in the 21 October "Mardom Salari" as saying the judiciary was to follow up on the improprieties described in the report, but the entire issue has been ignored for the last six months. Hadizadeh speculated that the investigation would not be concluded by the end of the sixth parliament (May-June 2004).
If the conservatives emerge victorious in the February 2004 parliamentary election, such embarrassing reports about IRIB's programs and its financial activities are likely to disappear. Yet out of sight is not out of mind, and viewers and listeners will continue to seek more balanced information and better entertainment from international sources. And as long as the corruption continues, Iranians will be reminded that one set of rules exists in their country for average citizens -- and a different set of rules for the elite. (Bill Samii)
PARLIAMENT SPEAKER HOSPITALIZED. The 12 November morning session of the legislature came to a halt when Parliament Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi fell ill, ILNA reported. He felt nauseous and was taken to the hospital, Mehr News Agency reported. Karrubi's son Hussein later told reporters that his father fell ill because of low blood sugar. It later emerged that the speaker has a heart disorder, according to IRNA, although Hussein said his father does not have a history of heart problems. He described his father's situation as stable and said he must remain under medical supervision for 48 hours. Less than three hours after Karrubi fell ill, President Mohammad Khatami was by his side. Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani sent his son, Mohsen Hashemi, to visit Karrubi later in the day, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)
IRAN IS WORLD LEADER IN AUTOMOBILE FATALITIES. The Coroner's Office in Iran announced in a 10 November statement that Iran has the most traffic fatalities in the world, IRNA reported. Road deaths numbered 7,933 people over the summer, representing a 20.5 percent increase on the same period last year; the number of injuries increased by 34.1 percent over the same period. Meanwhile, Traffic Council official Mohammad Raufi told provincial traffic administrators that 21,870 Iranians died in traffic accidents in the last Iranian year (21 March 2002-21 March 2003). Most of the accidents are due to reckless driving and bad roads. The government is campaigning for people to wear seat belts. (Bill Samii)
IRAN FACING UP TO HIV/AIDS 'TIME BOMB.' The first official case of AIDS in Iran was identified in 1987 in a 6-year-old boy who contracted it from HIV-contaminated blood brought in from abroad. So far, about 700 people are believed to have died from AIDS in Iran. These figures are still low by international standards, but officials and experts say the number of people infected with HIV/AIDS is increasing. To date, Iran has identified about 5,000 people -- mostly prison inmates -- who are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But health officials say the real number of Iranians who are HIV-positive is much higher.
Doctor Mohammad Mehdi Gouya is head of the disease management department of the Iranian Health Ministry. In an interview with Radio Farda correspondent Farin Assemi, he estimates the real number of HIV-positive people in the country could be up to five times higher than officially acknowledged. "The [patients on the] official registries have undergone three tests, after which we declare them as being infected. There is a big gap between the registered statistics and the estimated ones. [Sexually transmitted diseases] are considered hidden diseases because no one admits to their deeds. Hence, the estimated statistics are important. We estimate that in Iran, there are between 23,000 to 25,000 cases of people infected with HIV."
Officials say the majority of those Iranians infected with HIV are drug addicts. Iran is a major transit route for drugs being trafficked from neighboring Afghanistan to Europe. According to official figures, up to 70 percent of HIV-positive people in Iran have used infected needles. Of the more than 2 million addicts in Iran, 300,000 are intravenous drug users. Iranian health officials estimate that only about 12 percent of those infected acquired HIV through sexual contact.
Doctor Arash Alaei and his brother established the first counseling and care center for HIV-positive patients in Iran a few years ago, in the city of Kermanshah in western Iran. Alaei was recognized by the World Health Organization for his HIV/AIDS work and is credited with helping Iran become more open in addressing HIV/AIDS problems. Alaei believes the spread of HIV through sexual contact will become a more serious problem in Iran. "We should not neglect this issue. For example, a drug addict who spent some time in jail and became infected after using a common dirty needle could have sex after being released. Therefore, I anticipate that, in the future, AIDS transmission through sexual contact will increase."
Officials in the country have only recently begun to speak openly about AIDS, however. Alaei says many doctors in Iran are still not comfortable treating AIDS patients. He explains: "As a doctor, I would suggest to you that among my colleagues in the health system, as in a segment of society, there is fear about AIDS. There is fear about treating an infected patient. For example, we had a case who had a broken arm and while being transferred to the operation room for surgical treatment, the operation was canceled because [it was learned] he was infected with AIDS."
Alaei says many in the general public share the doctors' attitudes: "In the other classes of society, AIDS awareness is also still limited. There is fear and maybe they consider it as a social stigma." Iran's Health Ministry has urged health workers not to turn away HIV-positive patients and to give them proper treatment.
The Health Ministry's Doctor Gouya says more AIDS counseling centers have been created across the country. "It is imperative that health centers and clinics across the country make it easier for those who acted recklessly to come forward and receive proper counseling and even undergo tests, if necessary. This can now be done in medical universities across the country."
Alaei says that, in his center, HIV-positive patients are treated anonymously. "We don't probe into the background of those who have been infected. We don't ask their names or their addresses. Our only goal is to help people who are facing addiction, people who have sexually transmitted diseases or who are infected with AIDS."
Health officials liken AIDS in Iran to a "time bomb," and some 400 people are diagnosed as HIV-positive every three months.
Alaei says that if a serious awareness campaign is not launched, the spread of AIDS will be disastrous for the country. In his words, "If we neglect raising awareness among people and among the youth, and if we don't accept infected people and don't confront the stigma, then in the future it will turn into an uncontrollable human and health disaster with economic, social and health losses." The Education Ministry announced recently that information on sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, will be included in school textbooks. (Golnaz Esfandiari)
TEHRAN KEEN FOR EXPATRIATES' RETURN. The Iranian government is eager for the return of expatriates. It recently signaled a renewed effort to encourage expatriates to return to Iran and invest in the country. One reason for the new emphasis is that Iran would like to benefit from the expertise of foreign-trained Iranians. Another reason is to counter the flood of money exiting the country. According to Ministry of Intelligence and Security and Ministry of Commerce documents cited in the reformist "Aftab-i Yazd" daily, approximately $2.5 billion a year leaves Iran, Radio Farda reported on 12 November. Almost $31 billion has left the country since the 1979 revolution, Radio Farda reported, citing "Iran."
Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 10 November announced the formation of a "coordinating committee for expatriate affairs," IRNA reported. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami will chair the committee, and its other members will be the ministers of economic affairs and finance, of education and training, of foreign affairs, of health, treatment, and medical education, of Islamic culture and guidance, of labor and social affairs, and of science, research, and technology. The committee's objective is to establish more extensive contacts with Iranians living outside the country in order to contribute to Iran's socioeconomic development by benefiting from their knowledge, technological capabilities, and investments.
The Iranian Embassy in Brussels announced in an 8 November press release that any citizen could return to Iran "without any problems or difficulties," IRNA reported. The embassy announcement came in reaction to a demonstration in Brussels that day, when 2,500 people marched to protest the Belgian government's rejection of some 300 Iranians' asylum applications, according to IRNA.
The Iranian government made foreign travel very difficult in the 1980s, Tara Bahrampour writes in the 10 November issue of "The New Yorker," and expatriates, in turn, did not go back out of fear that they were blacklisted or out of ideological opposition to the regime. The situation eased after 1989, and thousands of Iranian expatriates have returned to the country since then without any untoward incidents.
According to Article 41 of the constitution, "Iranian citizenship is the indisputable right of every Iranian, and the government cannot withdraw citizenship from any Iranian unless he himself requests it or acquires the citizenship of another country." Article 42 states, furthermore, "Foreign nationals may acquire Iranian citizenship within the framework of the laws. Citizenship may be withdrawn from such persons if another State accepts them as its citizens or if they request it." Such conditional terminology ("cannot" vs. "will not;" "may be withdrawn" vs. "will be withdrawn") suggests that it is up to the Iranian government to determine whether or not an individual is still an Iranian citizen. If one is an Iranian citizen, then one is subject to Iranian laws and one's entry and exit from the country can be controlled by the Iranian state.
Such legal conditions, as well as some recent incidents, underline the difficulties expatriates could have if they return to Iran.
Take Dariush Zahedi, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen who was arrested during a summer visit to Iran; the Iranian government has not explained the scholar's detention, but people familiar with the case say he was arrested on espionage charges (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 October 2003). Zahedi was released from Evin prison late on 8 November or early the next day after four months in jail, Reuters reported on 9 November. Edwin Epstein, Zahedi's colleague at the University of California - Berkeley, said that he learned of this release through Zahedi's stepfather and brother. "He's out of prison and he's on bail, but what the terms of the release are we don't know at this time," Epstein said. Epstein said Zahedi would be able to leave Iran, Reuters reported.
An anonymous Tehran Prosecutor's Office representative told IRNA on 10 November that Zahedi was released on 2 billion rials bail ($250,000) but would not say if Zahedi could leave the country. "Zahedi must appear at the court on a date that the judge handling his case has set or he will lose the bail," the anonymous official said.
Then there is the case of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-born Canadian photojournalist who was beaten to death by her captors at Evin prison this summer.
The July 2002 case of Mohammad Khordadian also could make expatriate Iranians reluctant to visit the country. After more than twenty years outside Iran, Khordadian returned in April 2002 to visit his ailing father. Khordadian was arrested shortly before he was to board his return flight to Los Angeles; he spent 21 days in solitary confinement and another 40 days at Evin prison. The dance instructor was charged with promoting moral corruption, because videos of his aerobics routines had been broadcast into Iran. The judge banned him from teaching dance, and although he was allowed to leave Iran, the judge said he would have to serve prison time if found guilty on similar charges again. (Bill Samii)
STATOIL INTERESTED IN DEVELOPING IRAN'S AZADEGAN OIL FIELD. Statoil spokesman Kai Nielsen on 9 November denied that the Norwegian oil giant is partnering with France's Total in a bid to develop Iran's Azadegan oil field, AFP reported. "Statoil has no relationship with Total, and there is no cooperation between the two companies," Nielsen said. Nielsen allowed that Statoil is interested in independently winning contracts to develop Azadegan.
Ali-Akbar Vahidi al-Aqa, director of the engineering department at the Petroleum Engineering and Development Company (a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company), said on 8 November that Statoil and Total have announced that they will participate in the tender, as had Italy's Eni and Royal Dutch Shell, IRNA reported. Eni withdrew because it could not afford the project, al-Aqa said. Shell, however, withdrew because it had partnered with Japanese companies. In July, Tokyo announced that it would not sign a contract for the Azadegan oil-development project if Tehran fails to address international concern about its nuclear activities (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 July 2003). (Bill Samii)