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Iran Report: June 3, 2002

3 June 2002, Volume 5, Number 20

TEHRAN HOSTING ANOTHER INTIFADA CONFERENCE. Another "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" conference was held in Tehran on 2-3 June, with earlier ones being held in April 2001 and in December 1990. Representatives of Hamas, Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- General Command (PFLP-GC) participated in this most recent event, just as they did in the earlier conferences. Also in attendance were over 160 officials from Iran and 23 other countries, according to IRNA.

The conference had three aspects: the intifada, "the recent crimes committed by the Zionist regime and American support for such crimes," and Zionism and the Islamic world, Tehran television reported on 2 June. PIJ Secretary-General Ramadan Abdallah Shallah, Hizballah Deputy General-Secretary Sheikh Naim Qasim, and PFLP-GC General-Secretary Ahmad Jibril heard a warning from conference Secretary Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur: "Dissension, discord, and despondency among Islamic governments will contribute to the growth of that cancerous tumor, Israel."

PIJ's Ramadan Abdallah claimed that America has declared war on Islam and the freedom-loving people of the world, according to Tehran TV. He said, furthermore, "Contrary to popular perceptions, America is trying to annihilate the ideal, as well as the land, of Palestine." He also said that "martyrdom operations" (a euphemism for suicide bombings) would continue, saying "We have the right to sacrifice our bodies for something that is more sacred than our own lives and America does not have the right to oppose this."

PFLP-GC's Ahmad Jibril warned of a plot to end the Palestinian uprising. Jibril said, according to Tehran TV, that the only way to liberate Palestinian lands is to "act on the basis of the ideas of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

A message from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned against negotiating with Israel, IRNA reported. "Failures of the Zionist regime and its accomplice, the United States, have forced these criminals to resort to new tactics in order to save themselves from plunging further into the current quagmire. The new strategy of bringing the Palestinians back to the negotiation table is only intended to divide the Palestinian groups, thus quelling the flames of intifada."

Iran's parliament speaker, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, told the conference, IRNA reported on 2 June, that Islamic states should support the intifada. Karrubi also called on oil exporting countries to cut their oil supplies to Israel and its allies. "Oil-rich countries are called upon to use oil or other means in their hands as weapons against Israel by refusing to sell it to those governments which assist the Zionist regime." (Bill Samii)

KURDISH ISLAMIST VISITS TEHRAN. Mala Krekar, leader of the Supporters of Islam in Kurdistan (Peshtiwanani Islam le Kurdistan, PIK, but which also has used the names Ansar al-Islam and Jund al-Islam), arrived in Iran on 20 May, "Hawlati" reported on 27 May, but it is not known if it is an official or a personal visit. The Kurdish daily emphasized that Iran clandestinely supports the PIK, and the visit comes at a time when relations between the PIK and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are strained. Tehran supports the PUK, so the visit may be intended to resolve the Kurdish groups' differences.

The PUK and PIK were involved in negotiations in which the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) served as an intermediary, according to "Hawlati" on 13 May. Among the PIK's demands are that the PUK turn over any PIK prisoners it may hold and it also should provide money to the IMK as surety until their negotiations are complete.

The PIK also accompanies these demands with threats. Mala Krekar made his threats in a 26 April sermon, according to "Kurdistan Newsline" on 20 May. Krekar said, "PUK is maneuvering to avoid a fight but Ansar al-Islam is eager to take them on in a decisive battle." He continued: "I advise our militants who want to conduct suicide operations to be patient as the coming battle will be of several rounds. We should choose the time and place for suicide missions. We shall teach PUK a lesson stronger than the ones inflicted on the Israelis by the Palestinian suicidal elements." The PIK allegedly is behind an early-April assassination attempt against KRG head Barham Salih, furthermore.

PUK chief Jalal Talabani called on the PIK to give up terrorism, "Kurdistan Observer" reported on 17 May. Talabani said, "we are looking forward to resolving our matters through dialogue and peaceful manners." Talabani said that the PUK is not weak and it is ready to fight, but it would rather talk about their problems. Talabani said that the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) hold similar views on this issue.

According to the 22 May "Financial Times," Ansar al-Islam's origins are in a merger of two or three factions of the IMK, which in turn had close ties with Iran. But KRG's Barham Salih denies that the PIK has a relationship with Iran. Commanders in the field have another view, and they say that the Kurdish Islamists crossed Iran from Afghanistan and they received logistical support from Iran. The PUK's relationship with Tehran precludes a confrontation with the Islamists. "We cannot stand against Iran on the matter of the Islamists," said a PUK commander in the same "Financial Times."

There are allegations that the PIK is linked with Al-Qaeda and with the Iraqi intelligence service, as well as the allegations of links with Iran. A senior official of the Kurdish "Asashi" security apparatus who refused to be identified said in the 14 May issue of the Kuwaiti "Al-Watan," that "the Iraqi government secretly provided Jund al-Islam with funds and training to use it in implementing a scheme to weaken the Kurdish administration and undermine security in the Kurdish region." The leader of the Kurdistan Islamic Group, Ali Bapir, denied in the 6 May issue of Suleimanieh's "Komal" publication that the PIK is connected with Al-Qaeda. Nor is the PIK associated with Baghdad, Bapir said. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN AND KRG DISCUSS SMUGGLING AND TRADE. A delegation of Iranian officials met with a delegation from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan-led (PUK) Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the Suleimanieh Palace Hotel on 26 May, according to reports the next day from the "Hawlati" and "Kurdistani Nuwe" newspapers. The main topic of the talks was ways to end narcotics and alcohol smuggling and stricter border controls, and secondary topics were improvement of relations and increased cooperation in the cultural, sports, and educational fields. Participants in the meeting were Al-Suleimanieh Governor Aso Shaykh Nuri, Kirkuk Governor Rizgar Ali, the public revenue director at the KRG's Finance Ministry, a Kurdish regional security official, the PUK representative in Kermanshah, Diyari Galalayee, and high-ranking officials from Iran's Kermanshah Province.

Three weeks earlier, a delegation of KRG officials led by Abdullah Haji Said, the PUK leader's assistant for trade affairs, headed for the Iranian city of Sanandaj. The KRG delegation visited a number of Iranian factories and met with local trade and business leaders. They signed an agreement regarding trade movement through the Bashmakh border point and a mid-May trade fair in Suleimanieh, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 11 May. (Bill Samii)

FACTIONALISM REACHES ASSEMBLY OF EXPERTS. The popularly elected, 86-member Assembly of Experts, which has the constitutional task of supervising and selecting Iran's supreme leader, held its most recent session on 12-13 March. As has occurred in the past, there were complaints about the secrecy surrounding this meeting, but late-May statements by two of its members suggest that the political discord seen elsewhere in Iran is affecting that body, too.

Ayatollah Ali Meshkini said during the 12 March opening session that Iran is ready to support the Afghan people, IRNA reported, and he added, "The people of Afghanistan should know that America is not their friend and that America's war and peace with all other countries are based on its own interests." The statement issued at the end of the sessions called for "greater understanding between state officials and the cooperation of all [political] factions," state television reported on 13 May, because such cooperation is necessary if Iran is to achieve its objectives. Support for the anticorruption effort was indicated, and there were warnings about American intentions in the region.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed the assembly on 14 March, according to state television, and he too spoke of factional differences and warned that Iran's enemies could exploit them. He said that the enemy is trying to frighten the system's officials and weaken their resolve. Officials should be cautious when expressing their views, Khamenei said. Therefore, he explained, "Officials and those believing in the Islamic system and the constitutions must, as before, assume correct stances and safeguard the principles of the system's sovereignty."

Apart from these official reports, there was little information about the closed-door sessions. Abolfazl Musavian, a religious scholar in Qom, told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 12 March that assembly head Ayatollah Ali Meshkini reportedly told the first closed-door session that God does not grant people the right to select their religion or to elect the country's Leader. Another assembly member, Ayatollah Namazi, said that the assembly received a report of undisclosed contents by a committee of unnamed membership about the performance of the leader during the past six months. Musavian told RFE/RL that if the Guardians Council allowed more candidates to compete in its elections the assembly would be accountable to the voters.

But in an unexpected development, "Noruz" on 16 May reported that deputy assembly head Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini had said one day earlier that "Society is exploding and the people are extremely anxious and unhappy with the situation." Amini described the promises made by clerics even before the 1979 revolution and he said that the people are frustrated that those promises remain unfulfilled. "Thought must be given to this predicament," he said, "and not believing everything the people say is wrong."

Another member of the assembly, Eastern Azerbaijan representative Ayatollah Ali Orumian, had another perspective. He said, according to ISNA on 27 May, that foreigners influence the people who want to change the constitution, and these people want to eliminate the vilayat-i faqih (Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult). He added, "our constitution is based on Islamic jurisprudence. There are no flaws in it and if there are any flaws, they will be eliminated because we have a leadership." Orumian criticized the reformist 2nd of Khordad movement (named after the date of Khatami's May 1997 election) and implied that it was causing factional strife. Orumian criticized the reformists' stand on social corruption, too, saying that "They only think about relations with foreign countries. So, one day, the people will express their hatred for them. The people have had nothing but despondency, hopelessness, and abnormality."

When the Assembly of Experts held its sixth session during the first week of September 2001, the official reports indicated that the members discussed many of the same things they talked about in May 2002. The final statement was issued on 5 September, and it described the importance of vilayat-i faqih and the country's theocratic system, according to state television. The final statement also noted that "the country has not yet achieved what it deserves in terms of progress and development," and it expressed regret that while Iranians are trying to achieve state policies, "destructive tensions are darkening the country's climate and thus taking away the best opportunities for resolving the main problems of the country." The solution to this problem, the statement said, is for "all establishments to accept the rule of law and to eliminate elements bent on promoting division and sedition."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressed the assembly on 6 September, and state radio broadcast his speech the next day. He said that "America and other arrogant machinery" are frightened of Iran because they fear the power of Islam in comparison to other political systems. Khamenei accused Iran's enemies of wanting to "uproot the Islamic system" and targeting people's faith. The focus of these attacks is Iran's Constitution, he said, and "they are trying to degrade the [notions of] Islamic government and the Guardianship of the Jurisconsult." Khamenei criticized Iranians who argue among themselves "over minor issues to such an extent that the main enemies find safety on the sidelines."

President Mohammad Khatami is not a member of the Assembly of Experts, but he also addressed the assembly on 6 September, IRNA reported the next day. He urged the assembly to be more aware of and responsive to young Iranians' demands, because otherwise they would be alienated. He warned, "If we fail to understand the youth and try to deny their demands or treat them harshly, we will make them look beyond the system." Young people favor "evolution and renovation," he said, and "This could strengthen the government and the society and encourage the youth to pay more attention to the [Islamic and national values] issues."

In its September 2001 session, the assembly discussed some other topics. Hojatoleslam Qorbanali Dori-Najafabadi said that the assembly would be more active in supervising organizations under the supreme leader's authority, "Resalat" reported on 9 September. Assembly members, he added, would be more active in provincial affairs, cultural issues, and international and security affairs. Ayatollah Musavi-Tabrizi said in the 3 September "Iran" newspaper that the supervisory function is very important, but assembly members have differing views about it and the majority of members have voted against extending supervision.

Around this time complaints about the assembly's secretiveness were seen in some reformist newspapers. Presidential adviser Rasul Montajabnia agreed that the meetings must be closed in cases where classified or secret issues are discussed, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 9 September. The assemblymen are elected representatives, however, so the people who elected them must know how they perform their duties. Failure to make this information available, Montajabnia said, eventually would make people indifferent and they would lose their trust in their representatives.

Nishabur's parliamentary representative, Hussein Ansari-Rad, issued a similar call for accountability of the people's representatives in the 8 September "Toseh." So, too, did a commentary in the 8 September "Siyasat-i Ruz." In the 3 September "Iran" newspaper, Assemblymen Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari and Ayatollah Mohsen Musavi-Tabrizi also called for greater openness.

Secrecy also has its defenders. Assemblyman Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami said in the 12 September daily "Resalat" that the meetings had to be secret because they discussed the leadership and Iran's enemies might use this information. He pointed out that meetings of the Expediency Council, the Supreme National Security Council, and other governmental bodies are secret, too. Assemblyman Hashem Hashemzadeh Harisi said in the 9 September "Entekhab" that he favors greater openness in the assembly's meetings, but the majority of its members are against this. (Bill Samii)

SATELLITE DISH TALLY ANNOUNCED. Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Colonel Hasan Deyhim, who commands the Tehran Province headquarters responsible for promoting virtue and prohibiting vice, announced that his unit confiscated 11,191 satellite dishes last year, "Iran" newspaper reported on 26 May. In 1994 the interior minister declared dishes illegal unilaterally, and a law banning satellite dishes went into effect in 1995. The law has been unevenly enforced. The government blamed satellite-television broadcasts for October 2001 riots and resumed confiscating private satellite dishes in Tehran at that time, although some Iranian parliamentarians called for an end to the ban on receiving satellite television (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 October 2001). (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN SATELLITE LAUNCH APPROACHING. Minister of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone Ahmad Motamedi announced on 25 May that the launching of the Zohreh satellite would bring about major changes in Iran's communication system, the "Iran Daily" reported two days later. The satellite would improve telephone communications in remote areas, he said. Initial steps to purchase the satellite from Russia's Uoya Export company are complete, he said, and the contract is worth $125 million. In April, Motamedi said that the building and launch would take two-and-a-half years, and at that time members of parliament criticized the purchase of a Russian satellite, called for a deal with a major international satellite producer, and said that the project does not make technical or economic sense (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 May 2002).

The 8 May "Jomhuri-yi Islami" also questioned the value of the Zohreh project and it called for a re-evaluation of Iran's policy on using satellite technology. The daily asked if the satellite would offer global coverage or would it be just for Iran, opining that only global service would be economical. It went on to say that Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting could cover most of the country using the available relay stations. The daily wondered if there is enough capital to develop Iran's land stations and other facilities. Other questions were about the longevity of the satellite's technology, its security from foreign sabotage, and the danger of dependence on foreign technology. (Bill Samii)

IRAN TO REAPPEAR ON THE INTERNATIONAL BOND MARKET. Iran is planning to return to the international bond market for the first time since 1979, according to the 29 May "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung." In the next few months, the Central Bank of Iran will issue up to 500 million euros in a five-year Eurobond. Germany's Commerzbank and France's BNS Paribas will handle the issue jointly. The FAZ quoted analysts as saying that the dividend is likely to be "considerably higher" than average due to possible political instability. Moody's and Fitch assigned Iran a foreign risk rating of B2 and B+, respectively. (On 4 June, Moody's announced that it is dropping it's credit ratings of Iran because of the U.S. government's concern that such ratings are inconsistent with Washington's sanctions against Iran, Reuters reported. Moody's said in a statement that the U.S. concerns "have been raised despite the fact that Moody's has no commercial relationship with Iran and has received no compensation for the ratings.")

Moody's long-term debt ratings are assigned to specific debt instruments, such as bonds, to reflect the firm's assessment of: (1) Credit Risk -- the future ability of an issuer to repay its long-term debt obligations; and (2) Indenture Protection -- the level of legal protection afforded to the holder of a specific security based on that security's indenture provisions relating to senior/subordinate status, security negative pledge clauses, guarantees, etc. Bonds that are rated B, according to the Moody's website, "generally lack characteristics of the desirable investment. Assurance of interest and principal payments or of maintenance or other terms of the contract over any long period of time may be small." A bond is in the "speculative" or "noninvestment grade" categories if Fitch rates it as long-term BB or short-term B.

The Central Bank of Iran said that the bond issue would allow Iranian firms to tap into international capital markets, IRNA reported on 28 May. Moreover, the CBI said that the bond issue is meant to raise funds that are forecast in the Iranian budget. CBI Vice Governor Mohammad-Jafar Mojarrad told the 27 May "Financial Times" that Iran is confident the eurobond issue would be well received given the strong state of its external finances. (Liz Fuller, Bill Samii)

AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN, TURKMENISTAN SIGN PIPELINE AGREEMENT. The leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan -- Hamid Karzai, Pervez Musharraf, and Saparmurat Niyazov -� were in Islamabad on 30 May and signed a memorandum of understanding to proceed with a feasibility study for the construction and financing of a gas pipeline from Dovletabad in Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan, "RFE/RL Newsline" reported. The cost of the 1,460-kilometer pipeline is estimated at between $2 billion and $3.5 billion. Iranian state radio's English-language external service commented on 29 May that the pipeline project could create 12,000 new jobs in Afghanistan. This would benefit Afghanistan, it said, and would expand regional cooperation. "This is especially important because the Caspian Sea and Central Asia contain huge reserves."

Preliminary talks on building such a pipeline between the Turkmen and Pakistani governments and the Taliban on one hand and two successive Western oil companies (Bridas and Unocal) on the other hand collapsed in 1998 after the Taliban's behavior and political instability made such a project unfeasible. Unocal has said that it is not interested in the new project (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 December 2001), but there are unconfirmed reports that Bridas, Gazprom, and Itera are interested. Some thought has been given to extending the pipeline to India, too (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 May 2002). (Bill Samii)

LOYA JIRGA COMMENCING SOON. Afghanistan's Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, is scheduled for 10-16 June and is to choose a president, an organizational structure, key ministers, and a 111-member parliament to hold power until a permanent government is elected 18 months later. There is a possibility that the assembly could go beyond 16 June, but the only fixed deadline is 22 June, when the transitional government is to be inaugurated. Selection of assembly representatives began in April, and organizers say that about 60 percent of the elections were complete as of 31 May and that all the names of the elected delegates should be decided by the middle of the first week of June.

Ahmad Nader Nadery, the spokesperson of the UN-assisted Special Independent Commission for the Convening of the Emergency Loya Jirga, said that the last of the local elections would take place in Herat, according to an RFE/RL correspondent. Nadery said: "We will have the final election in Herat on the 4th and 5th of June and then we will have completed our entire election process and we will have the total number of elected [delegates] as well as those who will come from civil society groups and [as representatives of] the refugees outside the country."

Yet the case of Herat exemplifies some of the problems with the Loya Jirga process. The UN complained in a letter to Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan that in the first phase of choosing candidates, a district head (Mohammad Nahim Haqjo of Karokh district) forced seven people to resign and threatened to kill them, Mashhad Radio reported on 28 May. Moreover, a group of Herat women complained that they were not even informed about the elections to the Loya Jirga, Mashhad Radio reported on 29 May. One of the protesters told a UN official that women had educated themselves secretly during the Taliban period. "Now, when a day has arrived for the participation of all sections of society in their sociopolitical destiny why are we, who passed many days in deprivation and fear, deprived of this legitimate right?" She added that the majority of Herat women were kept unaware of the elections and only learned about them on television.

In another case, voters elected northern warlord and Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum. Loya Jirga organizers have not challenged his election, although it appears to conflict with guidelines meant to bar the participation of any commanders responsible for killing civilians during Afghanistan's two decades of warfare. Moreover, there have been incidents of violence in Kandahar, Kabul, and in the western Ghor Province.

Shahzadah Massoud, a top adviser to Afghan interim administration head Hamid Karzai, said earlier in May that fraud has been reported in up to 10 percent of the polls. He said that "in about 5 to 10 percent of cases there have been some difficulties involving the use of money and use of force."

Nevertheless, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan that is helping to organize the Loya Jirga, characterizes the election process as largely democratic despite its problems. Almeida said: "The Loya Jirga process is not a perfect one. There have been attempts at intimidation, some people sometimes talked about corruption, but overall you have had a tremendous level of popular participation."

An RFE/RL correspondent reports from Kabul that many expect Hamid Karzai to be the likeliest candidate for the next head of government, largely due to his strong support from the international community. Karzai is an ethnic Pashtun, but there is resentment over the power of ethnic Tajiks from Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley �- they head the Ministries of Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs. The central drama of the coming assembly could be the conflict over top positions between the Panjshiris and the Pashtuns. (Bill Samii)