8 December 2003, Volume 6, Number 47
MAJORITY OF IRANIANS REPORTEDLY BACK SUICIDE BOMBINGS. According to an opinion poll conducted by Iranian state broadcasting's Center for Radio Program Research, Study, and Evaluation, 86.3 percent of people surveyed in Tehran support Palestinian suicide bombings ("martyrdom operations") and 76.3 percent support continuation of the "Palestinian people's struggle and resistance," state television reported on 18 November. Three days later, Iranians commemorated Qods Day (Jerusalem Day), which Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had declared would be marked annually on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan.
Iranian state television reported from Qods Day demonstrations in cities across the country on 21 November. The broadcasts showed thousands of marchers carrying anti-American and anti-Israeli placards, burning effigies of U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and chanting slogans.
Participants in the Tehran rally, staged to "voice the hatred of Iranians toward the world hegemony and international Zionism," chanted "death to Israel" and "death to America," the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi attended the rally in Tehran, IRNA added.
A statement was read out at the end of the Tehran rally, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. It called for an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, compared Zionism to apartheid and condemned it for "the organized killing of the innocent people of Palestine," and stated that the United States supports Israel and is responsible for its "crimes" in the region. The statement also called on the leaders of Muslim countries to sever relations with Israel and impose sanctions against it, to prevent U.S. occupation of and interference in Islamic countries, and to support Jihad groups. The statement called for the use of the "oil weapon" against Israel.
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani gave the Friday prayers sermon that preceded the rally. Rafsanjani denied any anti-Semitic sentiments, saying, "we are not like those who say that we will throw the Jews into the sea," state radio reported. Rafsanjani also said that all Palestinians should vote to elect their preferred form of government. "Jews, Muslims, and Christians must coexist," he added. Such coexistence contributes to global calm and would demonstrate that followers of the three divine religions can live together, he said.
Iran was not the only site of Qods Day rallies, as demonstrations also took place in Bahrain, Iraq, Pakistan, and Lebanon. Al-Manar television, affiliated with Lebanese Hizballah, aired the three-hour parade in southern Beirut live. Iran's ambassador to Lebanon, Masud Edrisi-Kermanshahi, sat in the seat of honor next to Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. Also in attendance were representatives of Lebanese President Emile Lahud, Speaker of the House Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and other military, religious, and ethnic leaders. Buildings along the parade route were draped with paintings of Ayatollah Khomeini and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as banners with their sayings on Jerusalem.
In his speech at the Beirut rally, Nasrallah urged people to send money to Palestinians so they would have the means to buy "weapons and explosives for training martyrdom seekers and fighters." (Bill Samii)
U.S. COURT HEARS TESTIMONY ON IRANIAN ROLE IN KHOBAR TOWERS BOMBING. Louis Freeh, former director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified briefly on 2 December in a trial relating to the 25 June 1996 bombing of U.S. military housing in Saudi Arabia, AP reported. The bombing of the Khobar Towers killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel and wounded hundreds of other people. The victims' families are seeking compensation for their losses. Iran is referred to almost 40 times in the June 2001 indictment relating to the bombing, and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said at the time, "[T]he charged defendants reported their surveillance activities to Iranian officials and were supported and directed in those activities by Iranian officials" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 June 2001). (Bill Samii)
IRAN DENIES SAUDI REPORT ON AL-QAEDA PRESENCE. The Iranian Embassy in Riyadh on 24 November issued a press release denying a report in a Saudi daily on the presence of Al-Qaeda personnel in Iran, IRNA reported. Jeddah's "Ukaz" newspaper had reported on 23 November that Al-Qaeda military leader Saif al-Adel had given instructions for the early November bombings in Riyadh. Citing anonymous "informed sources," "Ukaz" added that al-Adel is in northern Iran and he gave the order to Saudi terrorists via a Thuraya satellite telephone.
The Iranian Embassy said the "Ukaz" report is false and baseless and added, according to IRNA, "The Islamic Republic of Iran, while denying these baseless and false claims, declares that it has itself repeatedly been the target of terrorist elements." The embassy stated that Al-Qaeda personnel captured by Iran have been extradited to their home countries, and those accused of committing offenses in Iran would be tried there. The embassy said "Zionist and arrogant circles" are behind such accusations against Iran. (Bill Samii)
PARLIAMENTARIAN SPEAKS OPENLY ABOUT NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM. Isfahan parliamentary representative Rajabali Mazrui told reporters on 30 November that there must be an open discussion of nuclear issues, IRNA reported. "Anyone who speaks about nuclear technology has slogans chanted against them in the streets, but this subject requires debate and examination," he said. In light of the expenses associated with building nuclear power plants, furthermore, Mazrui suggested that issue requires further study.
But it was not the economy of nuclear pursuits that brought about a recent uproar. Rather, it was the comments of Isfahan parliamentarian Ahmad Shirzad about an Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Shirzad said during the 24 November legislative session that "contrary to its claims, the regime is secretly preparing to produce weapons of mass destruction," the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. Shirzad also said that the regime did not believe that its activities would be discovered. The appearance that Iran had covered up its nuclear activities during the last 18 years had undermined its position as a peaceful member of the international community, and he criticized the government for this, state television reported on the same day and "Iran Daily" reported on 25 November. Shirzad also said that officials promoted overly ambitious and unnecessary projects.
Shirzad's comments elicited a sharp reaction -- but no denial -- in the legislature, according to reports on the parliamentary proceedings that appeared in "Sharq" and "Resalat" on 25 November. Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said, "My inference from your speech was that the Islamic system in general tells lies, and America and Israel tell the truth." Khodabandeh representative Morovatollah Parto, Poldokhtar representative Seyyed Mehdi Shahrokhi, and Qom's Mohammad Mohammadi protested against Shirzad by chanting the slogan "Death to hypocrites." Mirmohammadi also said, "A parliamentary representative must not repeat America's and Israel's allegations brought against Iran in the parliament."
A demonstration against Shirzad took place at the Imam traffic circle in Isfahan on 26 November, state television reported. (Bill Samii)
WASHINGTON WARNS IRAN ON NUCLEAR PURSUITS. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Mohammad ElBaradei on 4 December rejected criticism of the nuclear watchdog's failure to detect clandestine Iranian nuclear activities, Reuters reported. "Yes, Iran has been successful in doing research and laboratory activities and this we were not able to detect, and I don't think we will be able to detect in the future," ElBaradei acknowledged. "But...if a country moves from research...to an industrial scale to develop weapons," ElBaradei said, "I think the system, with all the technology that we have, makes it highly unlikely that this kind of program would go on undetected."
The previous day, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi, had described U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton's comments about Iranian nuclear activities as "rude, undiplomatic, and due to numerous defeats of the U.S. unilateral policies," IRNA reported. Assefi also accused the United States of arrogance and bullying.
Bolton had said in a 2 December speech that the United States is concerned about Iranian nuclear activities and may act to counter them. "For our part, the United States will continue its efforts to prevent the transfer of sensitive nuclear and ballistic missile technology to Iran, from whatever source, and will monitor the situation there with great care," he said according to Reuters. Bolton described Iran, as well as Cuba, Libya, North Korea, and Syria, as "rogue states" that are "hostile to U.S. interests," the "Financial Times" reported on 3 December. "If rogue states are not willing to follow the logic of non-proliferation norms, they must be prepared to face the logic of adverse consequences," Bolton said. "It is why we repeatedly caution that no option is off the table."
Concern about Tehran's nuclear pursuits is understandable in light of a 10 November IAEA report that describes clandestine nuclear research by Iran and its conduct of activities associated with making nuclear weapons (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 November 2003 and http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2003/gov2003-75.pdf).
The IAEA Board of Governors' resolution, which was adopted on 26 November (http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2003/gov2003-81.pdf), continued in the same vein, noting Iran's failure to meet its obligations on the reporting of nuclear material, the reprocessing and use of such materials, and on the facilities used for reprocessing and storage. The resolution also noted, "Iran enriched uranium and separated plutonium in undeclared facilities, in the absence of IAEA safeguards." Iran's pattern of concealment and pattern of inaccurate reporting were noted, too.
Washington welcomed the IAEA resolution. U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Kenneth Brill said in a statement, "The board has expressed the international community's unity in rejecting Iran's policies of denial, delay, and deception, and acknowledged Iran's past behavior as noncompliance, according to the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (http://www.usinfo.state).
Tehran welcomed the resolution, too. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani said on 27 November, "This resolution is a clear sign that America and Israel have failed to implement their premeditated plan against the Islamic Republic," IRNA reported. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi discussed the resolution on state television on 27 November, describing it as a "great success." (Bill Samii)
GOVERNMENT BRACES FOR STUDENT DAY... Student Day ceremonies took place in Iran on 7 December (16 Azar in the Persian calendar). The Iranian government acted beforehand to limit potential related unrest by trying to contain any gatherings to the university campuses.
Mehdi Aminzadeh of the Office for Strengthening Unity's Allameh faction said on 30 November that the Tehran Governor-General's Office refuses to issue a permit for a demonstration at the Husseinieh Irshad meeting hall in Tehran, ISNA reported. Ali Talai, an official from the Tehran Governor-General's Political-Security Affairs Directorate, had told ISNA on 24 November that any rallies should be confined to the university campuses.
Mehdi Shojai, an Office for Strengthening Unity leader at Amir Kabir University, questioned this decision and asked when in the past there had been adequate security for rallies that did have permits, according to ILNA. Shojai noted that several other rallies that did have permits were nevertheless attacked by plainclothes thugs. He suggested that hard-line regime supporters do not have to secure permits for their rallies, whereas reformists have no choice but to get them. (Bill Samii)
...WHICH IS EVENTFUL, NEVERTHELESS. The Tehran police department's chief information officer, Mohammad Reza Turani, told ILNA that events at Tehran University passed without incident and that he had no information about any arrests. Speaking earlier, Turani said that the police dispersed all the plainclothes vigilantes who were hanging around the campus. ILNA had said of the vigilantes that they were "ensconced in the west wing of Tehran University."
Iranian state television noted that several student events took place in Tehran, and it cited foreign news agency reports on criticism of President Mohammad Khatami and judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi. State television, however, preferred to concentrate on a ceremony at the Shahid Chamran Hall of the Technical University that was organized by the Student Basij. This ceremony focused on the original Student Day, 7 December 1953, when Iranian police shot and killed three students -- Mustafa Bozorgnia, Mehdi Shariat-Razavi, and Nasser Qandchi -- demonstrating against Vice President Richard Nixon's visit to Tehran.
Approximately 100 of the students who had gathered at Tehran University then marched on Enqelab Avenue and chanted in favor of an election boycott and called for a referendum, ILNA reported.
The Islamic Association of Tehran University and Tehran Medical Sciences University issued a resolution, according to ILNA, asserting that the official non-reaction to hard-liners' attack on the Tehran University campus in July 1999 encouraged hard-liners in their May 2003 attack on the university dormitory. The resolution also criticized the Guardians Council's power of "approbatory supervision," by which it vets candidates for elected office and even reverses election results. According to IRNA, about 1,000 people participated in this gathering.
A similar number of demonstrators was described by Reuters, which reported that they chanted ''Free all political prisoners'' and ''Death to despotism.'' Some students reportedly carried photographs of their imprisoned cohorts. Others voiced disgruntlement with the people they elected. ''Reformists used our votes as a political tool and in return we got broken promises. They forgot us,'' student leader Matin Meshkini told Reuters. Meshkini predicted that Khatami and the reformists would not get the students' support any longer.
AFP reported that about 1,500 students took part in the demonstration. Its dispatch otherwise corresponded with the one from Reuters. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN PARLIAMENT OPPOSES GUARDIANS COUNCIL NOMINEE. Parliamentary presidium member Ebrahim Amini said on 4 December that the legislature's leadership is against putting election of Guardians Council jurists on its agenda, Mehr News Agency reported. 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. One of the council jurists resigned recently, and on 12 November the legislature rejected two recommended replacements -- Fazlollah Musavi and Gholamhussein Elham (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 November 2003).
In a 30 November letter, IRNA reported, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi again proposed Musavi, as well as Mohammad Hadi Sadeqi. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami described the proposal of a rejected candidate as an insult to the legislature and added that according to parliamentary standing orders, something that has been rejected by the legislature cannot be discussed again for another six months.
Amini said on 4 December that the speaker of parliament, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, would urge Shahrudi to nominate somebody other than Musavi. Amini added that a jurist nominee must receive an absolute majority of the legislature's votes. Only 90 parliamentarians voted for Musavi on 12 November.
The legislature also refused to approve conservative Guardians Council nominees in August 2001. At that time Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei authorized the Expediency Council to determine the course of events. The Expediency Council ruled that candidates for the Guardians Council only needed a relative majority of the votes, so although most of the deputies cast blank ballots, two of the candidates rejected previously were elected in the second round of voting. (On this issue and its impact on President Mohammad Khatami's inauguration, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 August 2001). (Bill Samii)
PARLIAMENT'S CREATION OF A 'WELFARE MINISTRY' CRITICIZED. The Iranian legislature on 2 December approved the creation of a Welfare and Social Security Ministry in what IRNA referred to as "part of efforts to implement a comprehensive plan to promote the country's social welfare status." Creation of the ministry is reportedly connected with reform of the country's social security system.
Parliamentarian Mohammad Mirmohammadi said on 2 December that such a ministry could not manage all the country's welfare and social security organizations on its own, "Tehran Times" reported the next day. Mirmohammadi recommended the creation of a "supreme council" to coordinate and organize social security issues. Mirmohammadi predicted that creation of the ministry would be harmful to low-income groups, and he said creation of one ministry that is distinct from the Health, the Housing, and the Labor ministries would reduce to one the voices speaking for welfare and social security in the government. He also noted that creation of the ministry enlarges the size of the government, a measure that goes against the Third Development Plan, and he warned that the new ministry will be inefficient and bureaucratic. (Bill Samii)
ANOTHER IRANIAN JOURNALIST RECEIVES PRISON SENTENCE. The Islamic Revolution Court on 4 December sentenced reformist activist and journalist Emadedin Baqi to a year in jail for propagandizing against the system and for activities in favor of opposition groups, ISNA reported. Baqi refused to defend himself because he considered the court to be illegitimate, but said on 9 November that "the court, however, ignored my protest, telling me that the proceedings were legal," ILNA reported.
Baqi was imprisoned from May 2000 until February 2003 for "undermining national security" and "putting out false news" after he editorialized about the death penalty and Islam (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 February 2003). The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has described Iran as the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN STATE BROADCASTING STARTS INTERNET BUSINESS. A new Internet content provider (ICP) affiliated with the Iranian state broadcasting organization, the Sorush Interactive Network (http://www.sinet.ir), was inaugurated by Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi on 2 December, state radio reported the next day. According to the news report, network subscribers will have access to live television programming and to films. The network will facilitate e-commerce and provide links to other domestic networks. According to the website, furthermore, Sorush will also offer web hosting, dial-up services, and high-speed connections.
This development comes as the Iranian government continues to block citizens' access to websites that it sees as immoral or politically threatening, a process that began in early 2003. A committee formed by the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution occasionally provides ICPs with a list of sites that should be filtered. An anonymous ICP manager said in the 25 November "Farhang-i Ashti" newspaper that this list is logical because it focuses on pornographic sites and those that are anti-regime. A compact disc distributed to ICPs by the Data Processing Company of Iran (http://www.dpi.net.ir), however, listed thousands of websites, even "ordinary and useful" ones such as the U.S.-based search engine Google. If all these sites were filtered, the manager said, "It would have been more feasible to shut down everything." (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN MARXIST PARTY TO ESTABLISH SATELLITE TELEVISION CHANNEL. An anonymous "source close to the leadership of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq" said in the 1 December issue of the Kurdish weekly "Jamawar" that it and the Worker-Communist Party of Iran (WCPI) intend to establish a 24-hour satellite television channel and that the party has already raised 23,000 British pounds ($39,913) of the 25,000 pounds needed for startup. According to an announcement on the WCPI website (http://www.wpiran.org/english.htm), however, 60,000 pounds of a required 90,000 have been raised and broadcasts will commence in January 2004. The Iranian and Iraqi parties reportedly will share airtime. The Worker-Communist Party of Iraq owns Ila al-Amam radio, which broadcasts in Arabic and English and is heard in Kirkuk, Arbil, and Mosul, and Voice of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, which is heard in Baghdad. The WCPI broadcasts a daily Persian-language Radio Anternacional-e shortwave program and produces a weekly satellite-based program, "International TV." (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN PROMOTES GAS PIPELINE TO INDIA. Tehran and New Delhi signed a memorandum of understanding in 1993 to build a natural-gas pipeline between the two countries, and in 2002 Pakistan signed an memorandum of understanding to conduct feasibility studies on the pipeline, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's "Iran Country Analysis Brief" (http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/iran.html). The project has faced delays, however, because of the rocky relationship between India and Pakistan, and this has led to suggestions of the possible export of Iranian liquefied natural gas to India by ship or via a direct undersea pipeline. Nevertheless, Iran continues to push for the overland route, not only because this will help Iran financially and because this is the most economically sensible plan, but also because an overland pipeline would contribute to regional security.
Deputy Petroleum Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, who also serves as chairman of the National Petrochemical Company, said on 3 December in New Delhi that the proposed gas pipeline from Iran to India would lead to a reduction in gas prices on the Indian domestic market, the "New Delhi Business Standard" reported. He added that there are many opportunities for Indian firms in Persian Gulf onshore and offshore activities. Nematzadeh said that Iran-India bilateral trade stood at $2.2 billion in 2002 -- a figure that has been increasing since 1998.
Deputy Commerce Minister Mujtaba Khosrotaj said at the 3 December meeting of India's First Exclusive Exhibition in Tehran that implementation of the gas project would serve as the axis for the two countries' bilateral relations, IRNA reported. Khosrotaj criticized the lack of private sector involvement in bilateral economic and commercial relations. He also noted that Indian firms are active in projects at the South Pars refinery, in oil and gas exploration in Iran, and in petrochemical projects. In 2002, Khosrotaj said, Iran's non-oil exports to India amounted to $190 million, and Indian exports to Iran amounted to $720 million.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hussein Adeli said on 24 November at a session on "Energy: Its Unexploited Potential" at the 19th India Economic Summit in New Delhi that the pipeline could help resolve India's chronic gas deficit, IRNA reported. In an 18 November meeting with the new Indian Ambassador to Iran, Krishan Chander Singh, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani noted that the two countries could boost their cooperation in the energy sector, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)