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Iran Report: May 6, 2002

6 May 2002, Volume 5, Number 16

KHAMENEI NIXES U.S. TALKS AGAIN. In a fiery 1 May speech, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei again ruled out the possibility of ties with the U.S., something that he had done in a mid-March speech, too (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 March 2002). But rumors that he has authorized the opening of a dialogue with Washington persist.

Khamenei's speech to a group of workers and teachers was broadcast by state radio. First he accused Washington of intending to keep "this cancerous tumor [Israel] at all costs" and planning to use force, then he praised suicide bombings and reiterated his support for suspending oil exports if everyone does it. He also said that American statesmen are hostile to Iran because it will not forego its independence.

Khamenei said that "negotiations and relations do not prevent America from making threats, exerting pressures, perpetrating acts of mischief, and engaging in greedy behavior. Negotiations are not going to solve any problems." He continued, "Talks would not solve any problems. Talks with America are, of course, fruitful for America.... Talks would enable the American government to pour on the head of the officials of our country more of the same threats it is sending from far way and the same unjustified and arrogant expectations that it is setting forth now in interviews and speeches." According to Khamenei, America wants to dominate Iran at the cost of its independence.

The Supreme Leader's words stand in sharp contrast to a 24 April report in London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that Khamenei had stressed that the issue of relations with the U.S. is within President Mohammad Khatami's prerogative, and it also contrasts with a report in the 2 May "Financial Times" in which an anonymous "senior official" said that Khamenei had sanctioned the formation of a committee to review relations and possible talks with the U.S.

Nevertheless, it is not impossible that Khamenei has authorized such activities. The combination of defiant rhetoric and behind-the-scenes discussions would exemplify the practice of "taqiyah" (dissimulation), which justifies a cleric's acting in any manner or saying anything in order to mislead strangers about his true beliefs or intentions. By openly denouncing the possibility of discussions with U.S. and at the same time talking to Washington, Tehran would get the potential benefits (for example: the end of sanctions, access to the World Trade Organization) and at the same time it could deny having anything to do with the U.S. The Iranian government could, therefore, maintain that it is independent of the U.S. and it has not succumbed to it. Iran and the U.S., furthermore, already maintain or have had contacts in the context of Afghanistan, Iraq, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Tajikistan. (Bill Samii)

...BUT THE POSSIBILITY BRINGS OUT OLD FACES. As Iranians again debate the wisdom of engaging Washington in a dialogue, there also are reports from Tehran that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has given the go-ahead for secret contacts and Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has approved of parliamentary interaction with the U.S. Similar clandestine meetings in the past were a disaster and could be again, especially when some of the same names were involved with the arms-for-hostages deal of the mid-1980s.

In mid-April 2002, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani met with 45 parliamentarians to discuss the possibility of their holding discussions with the U.S. The weight of his opinion on this subject is second only to that of the Supreme Leader, because the Expediency Council is tasked with determining what would be best for the country, regardless of Islamic law or the constitution. Rafsanjani told the 45 deputies that they would be free to meet with their counterparts, "Entekhab" reported on 16 April, but talks with the Americans would not be in Iran's interest as long as the U.S. is making threats.

Rafsanjan parliamentarian Ali Hashemi-Bahramani described this meeting for "Entekhab." Hashemi-Bahramani is a former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) officer who met in 1986 with U.S. government officials who were trying to secure the release of Americans held hostage by Iran's Lebanese proxies and the IRGC (see Theodore Draper, "A Very Thin Line," [1991], p. 400). His presence, as well as the involvement of Hashemi-Rafsanjani, serves as a reminder of the pitfalls of using back-channels to deal with Tehran.

Or is there already a Second Channel in use? An anonymous parliamentarian said in the 14 April "Bonyan" that the Supreme National Security Council had designated a group to lobby with the U.S., and on the same day "Entekhab" reported that Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei and two Expediency Council members had gone to Cyprus and spoken with U.S. diplomats. An anonymous source close to Masjid-Jamei denied the existence of such a team, "Entekhab" reported on 17 April, and government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh denied the establishment of a committee to review relations with the U.S., "Bonyan" reported on 23 April.

This affair turned into "Cyprus-Gate" and became another excuse for factional squabbling. An anonymous reformist deputy said on 23 April, "Resalat" reported the next day: "some prominent members of the [Islamic Iran Participation Party, IIPP] have said in some circles that Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani had sent one of his relatives to Cyprus to negotiate with the Americans...They have even spread a rumor that the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council [Hassan Rohani] and Dr. [Mohammad] Javad Larijani had traveled to Cyprus to meet the Americans." "Entekhab" on 6 May reported that Hashemi-Rafsanjani's son Mehdi Hashemi (another name that cropped up during the Iran-Contra hearings) and former Ambassador to Germany Seyyed Abolfazl Musavian were the emissaries to Cyprus.

Another anonymous deputy said that the parliamentary research center had come up with the idea of meeting with the Americans, but now some people are trying to accuse their rivals of planning a trip to Cyprus for negotiations. The next day, a deputy said that "A prominent member of the [IIPP], along with his family, spent a few days of the New Year vacation in Cyprus, and possibly had some political negotiations," according to the 25 April "Resalat."

Around the same time, Deputy Foreign Minister for Education and Research Sadeq Kharrazi left his post, amid speculation about his resignation or dismissal and rumors that he had overstepped his remit. Kharrazi had been tasked with formulating a plan for a secret six-member committee, according to the 22 April "Iran," and his plan described how to engage American legislators and opinion-makers in talks to be held in Europe. When asked about this subject and the possibility of talks with Americans, Deputy Ali Shakuri-Rad said that he could not give an authoritative answer, but "it is not unlikely that talks were held." Kharrazi himself refused to answer any questions about this issue, ISNA reported on 26 April.

The possibility of Iran-U.S. dialogue has prompted a few interesting reactions from government officials, parliamentarians, and the political elites. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said: "if America's attitude, behavior, and language change and it shows its good will in practice and not only with words, we have not said that we will not talk with America forever," Tehran TV reported on 23 April.

Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said it is within the Supreme Leader's jurisdiction to decide on ties with the U.S., IRNA reported on 28 April. Shahriar representative Mohammad Ali Kuzegar said negotiation is normal, even in times of war, and it does not amount to establishing formal ties, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 24 April. Tehran's Mohammad Naimipur said that the taboo of relations with the U.S. must be broken, "Iran" reported on 22 April, but that does not mean foregoing national interests. Mohsen Mirdamadi said that there are no obstacles to talks with the U.S., and the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee would not sanction such meetings, IRNA reported on 22 April.

Reformist figure Hamid Reza Jalaipur said in the 21 April "Bonyan" that he favors "official, direct, and public" talks with the U.S. under the aegis of the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Jalaipur suggested that Iranian hard-liners do not want the Khatami administration to get the credit for restoring ties with the U.S. Hamid Reza Taraqi of the hard-line Islamic Coalition Association said the issue of holding talks with the U.S. is just a CIA plot, ISNA reported on 21 April.

Ayatollah Abbas Vaez-Tabasi, guardian of Mashhad's Imam Reza Shrine, said that any relations or dialogue with the U.S. is against the system's interests, the "Tehran Times" reported on 30 April. Karaj Friday Prayer leader Hojatoleslam Ramazani said that holding talks with the U.S. would "not bring us anything other than humiliation and loss of independence," ISNA reported on 26 April. Assembly of Experts chief Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Meshkini-Qomi said, " not want, nor do we intend to, compromise with America." Meshkini added, ISNA reported on 24 April, "the best countries are those whose leaders fight the enemies, particularly America." Hojatoleslam Hussein Musavi-Tabrizi said that a peaceful relationship with America is acceptable, but he warned that "America is a maverick superpower and, therefore, it should be approached cautiously," "Azad" reported on 28 April.

With all this discussion about secret meetings in Cyprus and parliamentary committees, it is possible that Iranian officials' hostile statements about the U.S. are just pro forma and a smokescreen for something that already is happening. Nevertheless, secret meetings with Iranians can be treacherous and have backfired in the past. The possibility that these most recent secret meetings, if they actually occurred, included a figure from the arms-for-hostages deal of the 1980s should serve as a powerful warning to the United States. (Bill Samii)

RICE REITERATES 'AXIS OF EVIL' CHARGE. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi said on 30 April that earlier comments by Condoleezza Rice, U.S. President George W. Bush's national security adviser, were "ill considered," according to IRNA. He said that Iran is against weapons of mass destruction, its foreign policy is based on "the axis of stabilization of peace and security," and its policies are transparent. He also demanded that the U.S. provide a definition of terrorism that is free of bias.

The previous day, Rice said that she is dubious about the possibility that Iranian policies would be changed internally. Rice said, "there may be some positive forces within it [Iran], [but] those positive forces are not quite yet capable of changing the nature of Iran's behavior." Rice added that Iran's support for terrorism and its efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction placed it "squarely in the axis of evil," according to Reuters. Rice added, "Iran's behavior continues to be a major problem in international politics." (Bill Samii)

AMERICAN ENVOY IN ARMENIA CONCERNED ABOUT IRAN. U.S. Ambassador to Yerevan John Ordway told RFE/RL Armenian Service correspondent Emil Danielyan on 2 May that it is understandable that neighbors such as Iran and Armenia have relations. In his words, "Maintaining solid trade and good neighborly border relations with Iran is critically important for Armenia. We have nothing against that." Nevertheless, Ordway said, the U.S. does expect Armenia's support in countering Iranian efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction and in disrupting the Middle East peace process. Ordway told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that Yerevan should block the transit of nonconventional weapons through its territory and it should voice its objections to Iranian activities. American provision of training and equipment for Armenian border guards has been focused on the frontier with Iran.

Regardless of American concerns, Armenia-Iran relations appear to have a military dimension, and Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani visited Yerevan in early March. Armenian Defense Minister Serzhik Sarkisyan said on 5 March that there are bright prospects for Tehran-Yerevan defense cooperation, and he said that the most important axes of the two sides' defense and military cooperation would be educational, technical and industrial, IRNA reported. On 14 March, however, Armenian President Robert Kocharian denied that there is a military aspect to their relations, and he also denied that Armenian policy to Iran would change because of Washington's stance on Tehran. Kocharian said, "Armenia is not looking to capitalize on the conflicts between different countries, trying instead to find ways of watering down those conflicts," Noyan Tappan reported on 15 March. (Bill Samii)

MOHAJERANI DISCUSSES U.S. AND THE REGION. Tehran parliamentary representative Jamileh Kadivar said on 24 April that it is too early to discuss the possible candidacy of her husband, former Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani, for the 2005 presidential election, "Resalat" reported the next day. "Noruz" had mentioned this possibility the previous week, and the 21 April "Entekhab" daily reported that the Islamic Iran Participation Party had nominated Mohajerani as its candidate. Mohajerani currently serves as the head of the Center of Dialogue Among Civilizations, but his recent statements about regional politics and the U.S. do not indicate an interest in dialogue.

Mohajerani told students at Arak University, "Iran" newspaper reported on 2 May, that "At present, in view of the American statesmen's despotic stance, the climate for conducting negotiations with America is by no means ready." Mohajerani did not rule out discussions, however, saying that there would be no obstacles to them if the negotiations would be open, if their results would be conveyed to the public promptly, and if they guaranteed Iran's interests.

Mohajerani rejected any sort of dialogue with the U.S. in an earlier interview that appeared in the 3 April "Al-Hayat," and he criticized reformists who think that such a dialogue would help solve Iran's problems. Mohajerani added that the White House believes that it can "monopolize international decision-making and change situations in accordance with its whims anywhere in the world." Mohajerani believes that there is a U.S. scheme that started with Afghanistan, then targeted Palestine, will move on to Iraq, and then on to Iran. He did not explain the objective of this scheme. As for the current Middle East crisis, Mohajerani spoke approvingly of the "unity between all jihad movements, such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, and the rest of the Palestinian people."

MONTAZERI BACKS SUICIDE BOMBERS. Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, who has a significant following despite being under house arrest during much of the last decade, in a recent statement backed Palestinians' suicide bombings and criticized Islamic states for not using the oil weapon against Israel. "Do these people have any choice other than suicide attacks," he asked in a statement reprinted in the 22 April "Noruz," when world leaders and international organizations "do nothing but utter empty words and slogans." Montazeri also said that powerful countries' economies are based on energy supplies from Muslim countries, and he asked why these countries' leaders do not use this power for a short time. The Islamic powers that do not break diplomatic relations with Israel, he said, will have to answer to God and the Prophet. (Bill Samii)

AUSTRIA SIGNS DEFENSE AGREEMENT WITH IRAN. Austrian Defense Minister Herbert Scheibner signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in defense matters during his 29-30 April visit to Tehran, according to IRNA. And during their joint press conference that day, Iran's Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani said that it is time for inclusion of the defense sector in relations between Iran and European states. The previous day, Scheibner visited an exhibition of Iranian military products. Among the items on display were missiles, artillery, armored hardware and machinery, and chemical defense equipment.

Minister of Industries and Mines Ishaq Jahangiri told Scheibner on 30 April that there should be a better balance in Iran-Austria trade. Jahangiri said that in the last Iranian year (21 March 2001-20 March 2002), 95 percent of the trade consisted of Austrian exports to Iran, IRNA reported. The Ministry of Industries and Mines' public relations department said that the volume of mutual transactions exceeded $300 million a year.

Shamkhani said on 30 April that Iran-Austria cooperation in the international campaign against terrorism formed the major part of his talks with Scheibner. Scheibner met on 30 April with Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi and with First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref. (Bill Samii)

MKO AND PKK RECOGNIZED AS TERRORISTS BY EU. The European Union on 3 May recognized the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK, Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan) as terrorist groups. The MKO (which uses as cover the names National Council of Resistance, National Liberation Army of Iran, People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, Organization of the People's Holy Warriors of Iran, and Sazeman-i Mujahedin-i Khalq-i Iran), is based in Iraq and launches attacks against Iranian targets, and it is described as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. The EU, however, did not include the NCR in its designation, according to dpa. The PKK (which recently changed its name to the Congress for Freedom and Democracy in Kurdistan, HADEK) also is viewed as a terrorist organization by the State Department, which asserts that it receives safe-haven and modest aid from Iran, Iraq, and Syria. (Bill Samii)

AN UNUSUAL PRESS FREEDOM DAY. Only in the Islamic Republic of Iran could the courts ban the official government newspaper on the day after World Press Freedom Day. The Tehran Public Court on 4 May temporarily banned the dailies "Iran" -- published by the Islamic Republic News Agency -- and "Bonyan" � which is identified with leading reformist Alireza Alavi-Tabar and whose managing editor is Seyyed Mohsen Ashrafi. The managing editor of "Iran," Abdol Rasul Vesal, said that the daily is facing some 96 complaints, IRNA reported. The previous week, seminarians in Qom demonstrated against "Iran" because it published an article that was perceived as insulting Mohammad. Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi lifted the temporary ban on "Iran," it was announced on 5 May, according to IRNA.

Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the spokesman for the Association of Iranian Journalists, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that only 56 issues of "Bonyan" had been published, and although its managing editor had appeared before the court twice, "Bonyan" was closed without a warning.

"Bonyan" was banned on the basis of a complaint from Ali Ansari, who is the managing editor of an Isfahan weekly called "Bonyan." According to a fax from "Bonyan" newspaper's lawyer, Gholamali Riahi, "Bonyan" of Isfahan is a student publication and the press law only applies to publications published with the permission of the Press Supervisory Board. That provision does not apply to the student weekly, Riahi said, according to the Iranian Students News Agency.

Journalist Siamak Purzand, meanwhile, has received an eight-year prison sentence, his daughter Banafsheh Purzand told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 4 May. Purzand told his daughter that he would not appeal the sentence. "Payam-i-Qom" Editor Hojat Heidari received on 1 May a four-month suspended jail sentence and an eight-month ban from press activities. Heidari told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Qom Judiciary, and the Fatemieh medical university in Qom filed complaints against his weekly. (Bill Samii)

IRAQ CAUSES MORE IRANIAN CASUALTIES. Ghoncheh Basirati of Vardeh village and Taher Nasseri of Kani Zard village on 22 April became the most recent victims of Iraqi military activities. In separate incidents in the West Azerbaijan Province, according to IRNA on 23 April, they both lost limbs in explosions of mines leftover from the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Indeed, mines from the war remain all along Iran's western border. Brigadier General Mohammad Nabizadeh of the Iranian Army's ground forces discussed mine-clearance activities in the 17 April "Resalat."

Nabizadeh compared the work of the deminers with a type of warfare, saying "it is not clear whether or not they will easily emerge from the battle with the enemy hidden underground." Nabizadeh explained that it is taking a long time to find all the mines and unexploded ordinance because the Iranians do not have good maps of the nonstandard minefields. He added that mines move around when they are in soft or sandy ground because of rain, or more earth covers them up. In some cases, the mines are in inaccessible areas, and in other cases barbed wire obstacles make them hard to reach.

Nabizadeh gave a possible explanation for the 22 April tragedies in West Azerbaijan Province. In the northwest of the country, he said, clearance was coordinated with regional governments and the border towns were given a higher priority. In southern regions, he continued, "we have cleared the affected areas."

The areas with the greatest number of mines are Khuzestan Province, followed by Kermanshah and Ilam Provinces, and minefields are more dense the closer one gets to the border with Iraq. Colonel Amir Mahmudi of the Army ground forces pointed out that Iran does not have the most sophisticated demining equipment, according to the 17 April "Iran," although work on robots is continuing. In some of the more remote regions, he said, the troops must use shovels, plows, or their hands to unearth the mines and, because there are no roads, they must walk several miles with the mines on stretchers, in backpacks, or in wheelbarrows to get them to vehicles. Mahmudi explained how many of the civilian casualties occur: migrating tribes enter restricted areas to graze their sheep; curious children set off mines; smugglers try to cross restricted areas; and people enter the restricted areas to collect scrap metal. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENT QUESTIONS SATELLITE PROJECT. Minister of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone Ahmad Motamedi said on 18 April that the building and launch of the Zohreh satellite would take two-and-a-half years, state radio reported, and he added that this would save foreign currency, improve the country's telecommunications system, complete radio and television coverage of the country, and expand overseas broadcasting.

Members of parliament are underwhelmed. Motamedi had to meet with the legislature's Industries Committee because its members believe that the project does not make technical or economic sense, according to the 15 April "Hayat-i No" report on the 14 April session. The committee also intends to question Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani about the purchase of a satellite from a Russian firm. Motamedi apparently told the deputies that a Russian firm called Uoya Export had won the tender but another Russian firm actually would build the satellite. Parliamentarian Ali-Akbar Musavi-Khoeniha told a press conference that Uoya is only a middleman and has not concluded the satellite deal, IRNA reported on 21 April, and he urged the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone to make a deal with a major international satellite producer. (Bill Samii)

MORE UNREST OVER PLAN TO DIVIDE PROVINCE. A resident of Ferdows was killed during four days of demonstrations in late-April over the division of Khorasan Province, in a repetition of previous unrest over the same issue ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 September 2001 and 11 February 2002). Khorasan Governor-General Hassan Rasuli said that use of the police and a firm hand was necessary to prevent the unrest from spreading to Beshruyeh and Sarbisheh, "Noruz" reported on 22 April. He urged provincial officials to avoid partisan political stances on this issue and he asked the media to avoid inflaming passions.

Legislation introduced in February creates a Northern Khorasan Province, with Bojnurd as its capital; a Southern Khorasan province, with Birjand as its capital; and Mashhad, which currently is the capital of Khorasan Province, would become the capital of Khorasan Razavi Province. Parliamentarian Javad Etaat told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 20 April that 43 population centers are demanding to be turned into provinces, although turning 18 large cities into new provinces during the past two decades has had little impact on their development. Etaat went on to say that Khorasan has a cohesive history and culture and its budget could be increased without a division. Birjand deputy Mehdi Ayati says that Khorasan Province suffers from underdevelopment, "Aftab-i-Yazd" reported on 28 April, but he sees its division as the only solution. Whatever town in Iran one goes to, he warned, "it is possible to agitate emotions and [local] identities in order to exploit tribal and ethnic ideas." (Bill Samii)

MULLAH OMAR REAPPEARS? Taliban leader Mullah Omar appeared in Kandahar on 3 May, said a prayer for the dead at the graves of some Arabs, and left for parts unknown on a motorbike, Rawalpindi's widely respected daily "Nawa-i-Waqt" reported on 6 May. Mullah Omar allegedly asked locals to continue their jihad. Meanwhile, an anonymous "senior security source" said in the 29 April issue of Kuwait's "Al-Qabas" independent daily that Al Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu-Ghayth "is alive and well" after escaping to Iran with some companions. Abu-Ghayth now is disguised and is moving around the Iran-Afghanistan border. The security source added that Iranian border surveillance is weak to nonexistent.

President Mohammad Khatami, however, said that "None of the Al-Qaeda members have come to Iran," according to state television on 26 April. He was less definite in February when he said, "One could say that these elements do exist. But as far as I know, they do not include any officials or key figures" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 March 2002).

The "senior security source" cited by "Al-Qabas" also said that the Pakistani border is porous. Indeed, U.S. Special Forces are looking for Al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel who have made that trip. Pakistani and American forces raided a one-time Taliban religious school in Miran Shan, western Pakistan, on 26 April, and there could be similar operations in the future. Moreover, some 1,000 coalition troops are engaged in Operation Snipe in the area around Afghanistan's southeastern border with Pakistan. The operation's objective is to eliminate Taliban and Al-Qaeda personnel who are still hiding in Afghanistan or who might try to move back and forth across the border with Pakistan. (Bill Samii)

NEW PROSPECTS FOR AFGHANISTAN PIPELINE. American company Unocal put in a serious effort from 1995-1998 to build a gas pipeline across Afghanistan -- hiring influential American consultants and cultivating relations with officials from Pakistan, the Taliban, and Turkmenistan. The project fell apart because of the Afghan regime's links with terrorism and vociferous opposition from women's groups in the U.S. Because Afghanistan was no longer a potential route, Turkmenistan and Pakistan discussed a new project in which Turkmen gas would be transported to Pakistan via a pipeline passing through Iran. After Afghanistan was liberated from the Taliban, a Unocal spokeswoman said that her firm is not interested in it as a pipeline route (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 December 2001).

Nevertheless, Afghan interim administration chief Hamid Karzai and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov agreed during a 19 April telephone conversation to meet in May to discuss a trans-Afghan pipeline, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said on 22 April that he too would attend the meeting in Ashgabat (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 25 April 2002). This new project would cost $2 billion and have a pipeline with a capacity of 15-30 billion cubic meters. The possibility of extending the pipeline to India is under consideration.

Turkmen President Niyazov has promoted the pipeline's potential to contribute to Afghanistan's reconstruction. He said on 24 April, "This is one of the measures that will permit the stabilization of Afghanistan. It is a large project that will create jobs and income for the population." Niyazov wants the UN to approve the pipeline, and such approval could clear the way for loan guarantees from institutions such as the UN Development Program.

Discussions about such a pipeline, let alone its construction, are likely to cause alarm in Tehran. Tehran and Islamabad have been in long-running talks about a gas pipeline from Iran's South Pars fields to Multan that might be extended to Hazipur-Bijapur-Jagdishpur in northern India. After Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi visited Islamabad in late November there was an announcement about a committee that would plan for the pipeline from Iran to Pakistan and maybe India, and in December Tehran selected consultants to conduct a feasibility study for the proposed gas pipeline.

The alarm may be premature. It is still not clear where funding for the pipeline through Afghanistan would come from, and it will be a long time before Afghanistan is secure enough for a pipeline. (Bill Samii)