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Iran Report: February 4, 2002

4 February 2002, Volume 5, Number 4

RADIO FREE AFGHANISTAN BEGINS BROADCASTS. Radio Free Afghanistan, which is the Afghan service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, began broadcasting on 30 January. It will initially be on the air for two hours a day with Dari and Pashto language programs, and eventually this will expand to 12 hours a day. RFE/RL President Tom Dine described Radio Free Afghanistan's objectives: "We will be trying to provide the peoples of Afghanistan accurate, balanced, objective information. And with the news and information that we provide, hopefully the peoples of Afghanistan will be able to participate in the re-establishment of their own country." From 1300-1400 GMT, RFA's programs will be broadcast on the following shortwave frequencies of 11920, 15525, and 17725; and from 1700-1800, the programs will be broadcast on the frequencies of 6170, 9785, and 11920. (Bill Samii)

AFGHAN LEADER TO VISIT IRAN. In a 30 January speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Afghan interim administration chief Hamid Karzai said that President Mohammad Khatami had invited him to Tehran, adding, "I promised to visit Iran in the near future." Karzai went on to say that it is natural for Afghanistan to have close relations with its neighbors. Such reassurances from Karzai are unlikely to satisfy either Tehran or Washington, both of whom suspect the others' intentions in Afghanistan.

A major concern for Tehran continues to be the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. On 27 January Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani reiterated this sentiment, saying he is worried about the "excessive U.S. presence" in Afghanistan, Cairo's Middle East News Agency reported. Tehran could not have been reassured, therefore, when President George W. Bush announced, during Karzai's visit to Washington, that the U.S. is going to help build a national Afghan army. Bush said on 28 January, "[W]e're going to help Afghanistan develop her own military. That is the most important part of this visit..."

Tehran also is keen to participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 December 2001), and it has pledged $560 million over five years for this effort. Khorasan Province Governor-General Seyyed Hassan Rasuli said that President Khatami's cabinet has established a committee to coordinate private and public sector firms' activities so they would achieve their long-term economic objectives, IRNA reported on 26 January. Tehran parliamentarian Hussein Nush-Abadi suggested in an interview with the 28 January "Tehran Times" that the U.S. is trying to prevent Iranian participation in Afghan reconstruction.

Iranian motives are fairly straightforward. Reconstruction will provide financial opportunities for Iranian businesses, employment opportunities for Iranians, and an improved international standing for Tehran. Moreover, Afghans are less likely to become refugees in Iran if they have employment opportunities in their own country, and they are less likely to cultivate narcotics if they have other options.

In recent weeks, there have been frequent reports that Al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel are gaining refuge in Iran, either through Iranian special operations or by bribing drug or people smugglers. Iranian officials concede that such escapes could have occurred through the cooperation of criminal elements, but they deny any official complicity, the "Financial Times" reported on 1 February. Nevertheless, locals near Zormat, which is 50 miles south of Kabul, said an Iranian official arrived there after Al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel did, and he had a list of those who would get safe passage to and refuge in Iran, London's "Sunday Times" reported on 27 January.

Concern also has been voiced about the Iranian presence in western Herat Province, and Tehran's special relationship with its governor, Ismail Khan. Diplomats from the United Nations and Europe credit Tehran with persuading Ismail Khan to attend the December inauguration of Kabul's interim administration, according to the 1 February "Financial Times." Yet Ismail Khan repeatedly has expressed his hostility to foreigners in his area of operations (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 November and 17 December 2001), which echoes the Iranian stance on this subject.

Ismail Khan met with International Security Assistance Force chief General John McColl on 29 January, and although details of the meeting were not revealed, Ismail Khan told reporters that he "suggested" to the central government that foreign forces were unnecessary in Herat Province, "The Financial Times" reported on 31 January. According to Toronto's "The National Post" on 31 January, there was much more than a suggestion. Ismail Khan declared that no international troops would be allowed into his territory, and he insisted that any foreign forces should be small in number and play only a limited role in Kabul: "We have agreed that we don't need foreign forces here. If they come here and have an everyday presence, it will bring a reaction against them." Ismail Khan added that he discussed this subject with Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim, and "we agree that there should be only a few of them and they should only be observers."

He reiterated his resistance to foreign troops in a 20 January meeting with UN deputy special envoy for Afghanistan Francis Vendrell, Mashhad radio reported. Despite these apparent coincidences, Ismail Khan has rejected reports of Iranian interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs, Radio Herat reported on 28 January. (Radio Herat went on the air with Iranian assistance.) (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN TANTRUMS TARGET TERROR TAUNT. President Mohammad Khatami called on 29 January for the creation of a special fund to support the Intifada. Khatami demanded, according to IRNA, "a resolute condemnation of the Zionist regime's inhuman acts by the international community and support for the establishment of a fund to collect aid for the Palestinian Intifada." Khatami was speaking to over 100 representatives of 30 countries at a conference sponsored by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and, according to IRNA, "Iran does not recognize the racist Israeli regime and backs the anti-Zionist freedom-seeking struggles in the occupied Palestinian lands."

Later that day, Iran played a prominent part in President George W. Bush's State of the Union address. Bush said a goal of his administration is "to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction," and he added, "Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom." Bush said that states like Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, and their terrorist allies, "constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."

Tehran did not take these comments well. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 31 January said that Washington is "the greatest evil," IRNA reported. Khamenei added, "most of terrors, opposition to popular movements, support for unpopular regimes, sales of lethal weapons, and plundering the wealth of other nations in recent years have all been carried out by America." Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said, "George Bush is inviting every country to battle on behalf of Israel," and he accused the U.S. of creating the Taliban.

Khatami said that Bush's comments were "intervening, warmongering, insulting, a repetition of his past propagation [sic], and worse than all, truly insulting towards the Iranian nation," IRNA reported on 30 January. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi referred to Bush's statements as "arrogant" and "interference in [Iran's] internal affairs," IRNA reported on 30 January. He also canceled his trip to New York as a protest, state television reported. And Sabah Zanganeh, who was described as an adviser to Iran's Foreign Ministry by Al-Jazeera television on 30 January, said, "It seems that [Bush] has fallen into the Israeli trap." Zanganeh added that the White House is pursuing "some sort of media and psychological warfare" and it may be trying to detract attention from the Enron collapse.

Regardless of such denials and counter-accusations, Iranian state support of terrorism has been part of the international scene since 1979, and Iran is termed the primary state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. Department of State. The sympathetic words uttered by Khatami following the 11 September Al-Qaeda attacks against the U.S., however, led some observers to think that a U.S.-Iran rapprochement would be forthcoming. One of the things that seems to have undone this scenario is the 3 January Israeli discovery of 50 tons of weaponry, in boxes bearing Iranian markings, aboard a freighter named the "Karine-A." The ship was seized in the Red Sea by Israeli forces, but allegedly it had stopped at Iran's Qeshm Island and met with an Islamic Revolution Guards Corps vessel. The weapons supposedly were destined for the Palestinian Authority (PA), possibly with Hizballah backing.

PA Chairman Yasser Arafat denied on 19 January that there was any PA connection with the "Karine-A," but 10 days later he ordered the arrest of PA security forces finance chief Fuad Shubaki, deputy PA naval commander Fathi Qazem, and one Adel Adwallah Mughrabi. Arafat also denied on 19 January that there was any military cooperation between Tehran and the PA. Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani rejected reports of Iranian involvement in the "Karin-A" affair six days earlier. He said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran has had no military relations with [Palestinian head Yasser] Arafat, and no steps have been taken by any Iranian organization for the shipment of arms to the mentioned lands," IRNA reported.

Such denials probably carried little weight in Washington. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 10 January, "We think the weight of the evidence is compelling with respect to Iranian and Hizballah involvement in this arms smuggling operation, including in the provision of the weapons and the planning for their delivery." Nor is the "Karine-A" incident the first of its kind. There have been at least two other attempts to smuggle arms by sea to the Palestinians: Israeli forces stopped the "Calypso" in January 2001, and they intercepted the "Santorini" in May.

Tehran was part of all three incidents, and indeed Tehran has been involved in the activities of these groups for quite a while and has tried to coordinate their efforts. Tehran hosted a "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" conference in April, at which many terrorist organization were represented, and it promoted the improvement of relations between HAMAS, the PIJ, Hizballah, and the PA (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 April 2001). Tehran also encouraged cooperation at a meeting of HAMAS, Hizballah, the PIJ, Fatah Tanzim, Force 17, and the pro-Syrian Al-Ahbash (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 June 2001).

One of the common threads here is leading Hizballah figure Imad Mughniyah. He served as the intermediary between Arafat, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, Tel Aviv's "Maariv" reported on 18 January. Mughniyah is in frequent contact with the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, too, according to U.S. Central Intelligence Agency documents cited in the 17 January "The New York Times." Another report in "The New York Times," dated 12 January, said that Tehran purchased American-built Stinger missiles in 1994 and turned them over to a Hizballah offshoot, but the missiles did not work. That purchase was made by the IRGC, and the MOIS tried in 1996 to buy new Stingers but the deal fell through. (Bill Samii)

HAMAS AND PIJ REJECT TERROR ACCUSATION. Among the terrorist groups that Tehran backs are the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, HAMAS, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, and Hizballah. (Tehran does not see any of these groups as terrorist organizations, and many others question the inclusion of Hizballah in this list.) Although it was not referred to directly, the PIJ rejected President Bush's statements and said it was continuing its resistance, AFP reported on 30 January. Ismail Haniyah, who was described as a "HAMAS political leader" by Al-Jazeera television on 30 January, said, "We believe that this speech will provide a greater political cover for the Zionist entity to continue its ugly war..." Haniyah rejected suggestions that HAMAS might want to change its approach: "We are unarmed people. Therefore, no person, whoever he is, can describe the Palestinian people or their movements resisting the occupation and defending them against injustice as terrorist movements."

Nevertheless, HAMAS does not deny its use of violence, nor does it deny that Tehran supports it. Khalid Mashaal, head of the HAMAS political bureau, told Al-Jazeera on 28 January, "The real way out of this dangerous stage is further intensifying resistance, continuing the Intifada, enhancing the national unity by releasing the prisoners immediately, and rallying the people in one trench.... Our language should be biased in favor of the resistance. We should put behind our backs any talk about negotiations, [Director of Central Intelligence George] Tenet, and [former Senator George] Mitchell." "We should not be ashamed of trying to obtain weapons," HAMAS spokesman Mahmud al-Zahar told Al-Jazeera on 28 January, although he said accusations about the "Karine-A" were fabricated.

Mashaal added, in an 11 January speech in Beirut, that settlements and negotiations were bound to fail. The alternative, he said, "lies in the resistance, the Intifada, [and] the Palestinian consensus on it." During the speech, Mashaal singled out Iran, "which sponsored the resistance in Lebanon and sided with the Intifada and the resistance in Palestine." He also cited Lebanon as an example and Syria as a defender of the resistance.

Tehran does more than provide support to these organizations. Iranian state media also supports the Voice of the Palestinian Islamic Revolution, the Voice of the Al-Aqsa Intifada from Tehran, and Qods News Agency. The two radio stations, using Iranian radio's external service transmitters and broadcasting on frequencies that also carry Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's Arabic programs, carry pro-Intifada commentary, glorify violence against Israel, and encourage future acts of "resistance."

In September, for example, a regular VPIR program called "The Crimes of the Jews" claimed that "Jews tore up copies of the Koran in [Hebron's] al-Ibrahimi mosque,... drew a pig, wrote beneath it 'Muhammad,' and hung the posters" and that "Islamic cemeteries have been desecrated by Jews in Palestine." As for Qods News Agency, it is managed by Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur, the former ambassador to Syria who helped found Hizballah and is in charge of Iran's "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" conference (see above). (Bill Samii)

KOFI ANNAN LAUDS FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN IRAN. During his late January trip to Tehran, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "I was impressed with the way in which elections had been held and organized in Iran. I was really astonished to see the degree of the freedom of expression the people enjoy." Annan went on to say, according to Iranian state television on 27 January, "What really astonished me was the massive turnout in the recent Iranian presidential elections. On the whole, this shows that there is greater freedom of expression in Iran and that the principle of freedom of expression has been strengthened."

Political freedom in Iran is a questionable concept. A closed-door trial of 15 nationalist religious activists began in early January, and its sixth session was held on 28 January. Seven of those on trial -- Reza Alijani, Ezatollah Sahabi, Hoda Saber, Saideh Madani, Ahmad Zaidabadi, Taqi Rahmani, and Ali-Reza Rajai -- are journalists. Moreover, their "party" is banned and they are not allowed to compete in elections.

They face charges of acting against national security, planning to overthrow the system, and membership in a banned organization. Some of them also face charges of apostasy, which is a capital crime. According to Human Rights Watch, Sahabi is being held in an unknown location, and all of the detainees have complained about harsh treatment. Sahabi has not been allowed to meet with his physician. A related trial, in which some 30 members of the Freedom Movement (a.k.a. Liberation Movement of Iran, Nehzat-i Azadi) were accused of antistate activities, was held in November.

The reformist 2 Khordad Coordination Council on 28 January condemned the closed-door trial, saying it "demonstrates total disrespect for public opinion and is in contravention of the constitution." The statement, according to IRNA, urged parliament and the president to "apply legal means in order to defend the civil rights of the aforementioned defendants."

Iranian journalists could question Annan's assessment of freedom of expression in their country. "In the period between 1356 and 1360 [1977 and 1981], no journalist went to prison, while today Iran is the world's largest prison for journalists," Association for Defense of Freedom of the Press spokesman Mashallah Shamsolvaezin said recently, according to the 23 January "Azad." Shamsolvaezin, who is the editor of the now-banned dailies "Jameh," "Neshat," and "Asr-i Azadegan," said that under the monarchy it was possible to resolve press complaints through discussion, whereas now such disputes lead to closures.

Indeed, Tehran Mayor Morteza Alviri, who is the publisher of "Hamshahri" newspaper, was summoned to appear before the court on 2 February, "Entekhab" reported on 27 January. "Noruz" daily publisher Mohsen Mirdamadi, who also is a parliamentarian, attended his fifth court hearing on 20 January. Mirdamadi faces charges such as libel, insulting officials, publishing lies, breaching election violations, and trying to incite the public. The Basij, state broadcasting, and the Election Supervisory Board brought the charges against him. And on 19 January, MP Rasul Mehrpur was found guilty of publishing false statements tied to an interview that appeared in "Hambastegi" daily. Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, editor of the banned "Hoviat-i Khish" and "Payam-i Daneshju," was arrested on 19 January after appearing before the Revolutionary Court. Abbas Dalvand, editor of "Luristan" magazine, was arrested on 6 January.

Judge Said Mortazavi, who is involved with all of the above cases, banned "Cinema-yi Jahan" weekly on 24 January, IRNA reported. In a letter to Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ahmad Masjid-Jamei, Mortazavi accused the weekly of publishing "lies aimed at instigating public opinion, pictures and material violating moral decency," and also "defamation and commercial use of female portraits intended to make the country's press environment insecure." "Guzarish-i Film" monthly, whose managing editor is Karim Zargar, was shut down on 27 January.

In what appears to be an unrelated case, IRNA reported on 8 January that the managing editor of "Neda-yi Maku," a biweekly from northwestern Iran, was summoned to court. At that time, Editor Reza Monsaref said that he did not have exact information about the charges against him, but when he was freed from jail on 14 January after posting 5 million rials in bail, he seemed to have a better idea, with IRNA reporting that the provincial police department had accused him of lying. In another case, "Hayat-i No" journalist Ahmad Qabel was arrested on 31 December on the orders of the Special Court for the Clergy. Qabel had just given an interview to RFE/RL's Persian Service in which he blamed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for the Judiciary's activities. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN COMMEMORATES REVOLUTION'S ANNIVERSARY. From 1 to 11 February, the Iranian government is celebrating the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, an event known as the Ten-Day Dawn. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told members of the headquarters in charge of organizing Ten-Day Dawn events that the country's unemployment rate now stands at 9 percent, down from 15.5 percent in 1989, due to the reconstruction period after the 1980-88 war with Iraq.

President Mohammad Khatami, however, must actually try to deal with joblessness, and he told parliament on 23 October that the unemployment rate stood at 13.8 percent (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 October 2001). Moreover, according to November information from the Iran Statistics Center, at least 15 percent of the Iranian population lives in absolute poverty, which is defined as having an income of less than $1 a day. Iranians' per capita income is 7.177 million rials a year (about $900 at the unofficial rate, or $4,100 officially), and the annual income of rural and urban households dropped by 20 percent from 1984 to 1998. Thirty-three percent of the population was considered poor in 1978, according to economist Fariborz Rais-Dana, whereas 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line now.

The current minimum daily wage is 1,896 rials ($1.08 at the official rate, or less than 25 cents at the open rate). Workers' salaries should be doubled, according to parliamentarian Alireza Mahjoub, who is also secretary-general of the state-affiliated Workers House and a founder of the Islamic Labor Party, IRNA reported on 30 January. He explained that this would be necessary to keep up with the rise in the official rial:dollar exchange rate. The official rate currently stands at 1,750:1, but it will be increased to 7,700:1.

Previously, dissatisfaction about such basic issues could be subsumed through appeals to patriotism and the revolutionary imperative. In the weeks before the revolution's anniversary, however, it has become increasingly clear that people are fed up, as teachers demonstrated for better salaries, benefits, and working conditions. "For years they cheated us by saying that we have a sacred job," a teacher said in the 23 January "The New York Times," "But that is not going to work anymore. We want action now."

In Shiraz on 31 January, teachers clashed with police. Around 2,000 teachers had gathered in front of the local education ministry offices, chanting slogans against the minister of education. The teachers also held protests in Arak, Boir-Ahmad, Isfahan, Kermanshah, and Tehran. The teachers called for a 25 percent increase in their salaries and the right to establish unions, and they complained that they have the lowest government salaries and that other workers get better health, housing, and welfare benefits.

State officials appear to be taking steps to address the teachers' complaints. President Khatami, in response to Education and Training Minister Morteza Haji-Qaem's request for help, ordered the preparation of a report on the situation by a committee consisting of the vice president for management and planning, the minister of housing and urban development, the minister of economic affairs and finance, the minister of education and training, and the central bank governor. Additional members of this committee will come from the parliament, IRNA reported on 24 January.

One of the means by which the government has attempted to address the difficulties associated with unemployment and low incomes is by subsidizing many consumer goods. This sometimes backfires. In the new budget, about $13 billion is allocated to the petroleum sector for subsidies, management expert Mohammad Hassan Qadiri-Abyaneh said in the 11 January "Iran Daily." And people are using so much cheap gasoline, which is priced at about 100 rials a liter (about 6 cents at the official rate) that the government has been forced to allocate $800 million to import it. Qadiri-Abyaneh said that this amount equals the budgetary requirement for generating 2 million jobs.

And as it has in the past (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 February 2001), the state will make development and job-creation projects operational during the Ten-Day Dawn. According to a 30 January IRNA report, for example, over 1,000 water, power, and sewage projects will start, and they will serve villages in Azerbaijan, Hormozgan, Kerman, Khorasan, Mazandaran, and Sistan va Baluchistan provinces. (Bill Samii)

CORRUPTION TRIAL CONTINUES. The gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, contributed to the Iranian people's dissatisfaction with the monarchy; and although this gap narrowed after the revolution, it still exists. Corruption contributes to income disparities, as individuals use their political connections to enrich themselves. In the words of Kermanshah Province's reformist front, "Among the causes of poverty in society are financial corruption, the abuse of positions, patronage, and the presence of unearned wealth," ISNA reported on 29 January.

The current bribery trial in Tehran -- in which defendant Shahram Jazayeri has implicated parliamentarians, high-ranking officials, and their relatives -- emphasizes this issue (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 January 2002). The implicated officials have rejected Jazayeri's claims. Deputy Mohammad Shahi-Arablu denied receiving a mobile telephone from Jazayeri, saying, "I only got a television." The Fuman representative said, according to the 23 January "Aftab-i Yazd," that he gave his mobile phone to a government department in his constituency and gave the monetary equivalent of one television to two martyrs' families. And Seyyed Hadi Khamenei said that he has documentation to prove that he gave the money he received to a charity.

A politically biased cover-up has started, too. Thirty pages of the statements made during the investigation have disappeared, with Judge Hadi Husseini explaining that this was done to protect the people named in those pages. The 30 January "Noruz" asked why the reputations of these people are so important, when the names of many officials named by Jazayeri have been publicized in the press.

There are demands for transparency, rather than cover-ups or denials. The Kermanshah reformist front said, "We call on the [parliamentary] deputies from Kermanshah Province, whose names have been mentioned in this case, to explain for the benefit of the people -- explicitly, clearly and rapidly before it is clarified in court -- their connection with Jazayeri." The group blamed the hard-liners for creating this scandal to discredit the reformists. (Bill Samii)

BODY-SNATCHERS BACK IN QOM? A 25-year-old seminarian from Qom named Seyyed Mohammad Nazemzadeh claimed that he was kidnapped and then subjected to physical and mental torture from 17-24 December. Nazemzadeh said that during this time he was forced to read out a statement in which he admitted being Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi's liaison with Radio Kol Israel and the BBC, and he also had to admit to receiving money from foreigners, according to the 15 January "Noruz." Eventually, Nazemzadeh was released in Tehran.

The Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) rejected this account on 27 January, saying that Nazemzadeh was in Mashhad from 18-23 December and that he stayed at the Khorasan Hotel on Adarzgu Street. He headed for Tehran on 23 December. Seyyed Asqar Nazemzadeh, the young cleric's father, claimed on 27 January, according to ISNA, that his son was forced to confess that he was in Mashhad after he was detained from 24-25 January.

An editorial in the 28 January issue of the hard-line "Kayhan" daily claimed that the reports of Nazemzadeh's kidnapping were followed by detective work worthy of Miss Marples but which subsequently resembled that of Inspector Gadget. According to the "Kayhan" editorial, the supposed kidnapping was really an effort to detract attention from the corruption trial in Tehran in which several reformist parliamentarians have been implicated. And the 29 January "Resalat" complained that the reformist press has not only ignored the MOIS expectation that the media not exaggerate issues, but it even has accused the MOIS of pressuring Nazemzadeh to change his story. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN ENERGY SECTOR CONTINUES OUTREACH. Most sectors of the Iranian economy are growing haltingly, as are Iran's efforts to export its products and attract foreign investment, but the energy sector continues to forge ahead. Norwegian energy companies are coming to Iran. Norsk Hydro and Statoil are active there, according to Oslo's "Aftenposten" on 23 January, and more than 30 Norwegian suppliers are involved in the Iranian market for oil and gas supplies. Statoil is working on a plan to increase oil production in the Ahvaz, Bibi Hakimeh, and Marun oil fields, IRNA reported on 13 January. Moreover, Statoil may win the contracts for phases nine and 10 of the South Pars gas field, and it recently expressed an interest in phases 11 and 12, IRNA reported on 29 December.

Iranian Minister of Petroleum Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh was in Athens on 31 January, at which time Greek Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos said that Greece wants to import natural gas from Iran through an extension of the Iran-Turkey pipeline, adding that this gas would serve not only Greece but would go to the rest of Europe, too. Tsochadzopoulos said he would go to Tehran soon to arrange the final details. Linkage of the Greek and Turkish gas grids could benefit other Caspian gas exporters, such as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Moreover, Turkey is facing a recession and a gas glut, since supply exceeds demand by about 5 billion cubic meters. Turkey does not have the funds to pay the fines it would face for refusing to take the gas to which it has already committed itself.

Iran inaugurated a natural gas refinery in the South Pars field on 24 January, with Namdar-Zanganeh referring to it as part of a long-term, multi-phase project to develop natural gas production and distribution.

Two days earlier, Zanganeh and his Turkish counterpart, Zeki Cacan, inaugurated a $20 billion natural gas contract at the Bazargan border crossing. The contract requires that Iran deliver 228 billion cubic meters of gas over 25 years. The first gas flows began in early December. This is significant not only because it is the first Iranian gas export to a neighbor, but also because the deal's completion was delayed for several years for political reasons. Turkey was expected to buy only 165 million cubic meters of gas from Iran by the end of 2001, but the volume will rise to 4 billion cubic meters by the end of 2002 and will reach 10 billion in 2007, Cakan said.

Tehran, meanwhile, has agreed to consider New Delhi's request to grant some equity in Iranian oil fields to Indian firms. Indian Petroleum Minister Ram Naik said on 15 January that his talks with Zanganeh improved the possibility of their two countries having closer ties. India currently imports about two-thirds of the crude needed for its 17 refineries, and it has been seeking equity in oil ventures abroad as domestic production is declining and no significant discovery has been made for more than a decade. By the middle of 2002, Iran and India are due to complete a feasibility study on a gas pipeline linking the two countries, Pakistani Energy Minister Usman Aminuddin said on 9 January. Under this plan, a foreign consortium would buy gas from Iran and sell it to India over the next 30 years, and Pakistan would receive transit fees. The gas would originate in the South Pars field. (Bill Samii)