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Iran Report: June 10, 2002

10 June 2002, Volume 5, Number 21

KHATAMI TO VISIT KABUL. In a 5 June message to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Afghan interim-administration chief Hamid Karzai expressed his condolences on the 13th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, IRNA reported. That message followed an announcement by Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad on 3 June that Khatami would visit Kabul before the Loya Jirga commences, IRNA reported on 4 June. The Loya Jirga was scheduled to start on 10 June, though it has been delayed for at least one day. Samad said that the topics under discussion would include Iran's role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, international terrorism, extremism, and regional development, according to IRNA. Karzai came to Iran on 24 February for a two-day visit (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 February 2002).

Mashhad radio on 6 June cited an "informed source in the Iranian Foreign Ministry" who said that Khatami would visit Afghanistan after the Loya Jirga is convened. (Bill Samii)

DOMESTIC AFGHAN BROADCASTING INCREASES. Afghanistan's interim administration overturned the state monopoly on radio and television in late February, but so far no Afghan producer has managed to raise the funds to establish an independent network, "The Boston Globe" reported on 19 May. And the competition is getting stiffer.

Radio Afghanistan resumed broadcasting to all parts of the country on 1 June, according to Mashhad radio the next day. Previously, its broadcasts only covered Kabul. There are five hours of programming daily: two hours in the morning and three hours in the early evening. A local official added that Radio Afghanistan is also available on short-wave. Radio Afghanistan's broadcasting capacity has been improved by the contribution of technical equipment and a new 500-watt transmitter by Germany, Japan, the U.S., and several international organizations. Nevertheless, the Afghan station needs more equipment, money, and technical assistance, according to Mashhad radio.

There are only 100,000 television sets in the entire country, Sayed Jan Sabaoon writes in the Institute of War and Peace Reporting's Afghan Recovery Report on 28 May. Nangarhar TV, which recently went back on the air, is transmitting for two hours a day and most of its programming consists of music shows and war dramas. Nangarhar TV suffers from problems common throughout the entire country: a dearth of funds, equipment, and programs. Radio engineer Abdul Rawof Rodwal explained, according to the Afghan Recovery Report, "Our salaries are not paid and we have children at home." He continued: "We work in the morning for the station and do other jobs after that. That is how we run our lives." (Bill Samii)

MASHHAD BROADCASTING CHANGES ITS TUNE. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's Mashhad station broadcasts the news in Dari twice a day. Each show is 30 minutes long. In all, Mashhad radio transmits for 11 hours a day. During the period covered previously (17 April-10 May; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 May 2002), the three main international themes in the news broadcasts were: (1) anti-U.S. commentary; (2) anti-Israel commentary; and (3) how much Iran is doing for Afghanistan. A survey of the 44 news broadcasts from 14 May-5 June shows some changes in this pattern.

There were 69 reports or commentaries that were hostile to the U.S. Some of these were fairly straightforward. In the 5 June evening broadcast, a report that the U.S. had referred to Iran as part of an "axis of evil" was followed immediately by a commentary criticizing allegations that Tehran supports terrorism. In the morning of 3 June, Mashhad radio reported that more than 5,000 Afghans have been killed by U.S. bombing. And on 29 May, there was an item about Amnesty International's report regarding losses sustained by Afghan civilians as a result of U.S. bombing. There were reports about civilian casualties in Khost Province during the 18 May and 17 May broadcasts, and on 15 May, it was reported that a cleric was killed by the bombings. A 14 May commentary said that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is responsible for explosions in Karachi.

Sometimes, the U.S. was portrayed as the enemy of Islam, which is the predominant faith in Afghanistan. This was the case on 31 May, when part of the Tehran Friday Prayers sermon was transmitted on the news program, and again on 30 May, when Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a speech regarding the intifada. During this speech, Khamenei said, "Today the people of Palestine have realized the depth of that usurping regime's [Israel's] enmity, ferocity, and barbarism and its partner, that is, America." Mashhad radio also reported on the 24 May Friday Prayers, when Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said that considering talks with Washington was stupid and shameless, and he rejected accusations of Iranian involvement in terrorism. An Iranian official on 27 May said that any crime anywhere in the world is the result of U.S. interference.

But Iranian officials were not the only source of such comments, and Mashhad radio cited foreign sources that shared its views. On 27 May, an "American official" criticized U.S. policy toward Iran, and on 22 May, unnamed congressmen questioned the White House's Afghanistan policy. On 26 May, Russian officials rejected claims about their provision of arms to Iran. A 24 May report about Russian protests against the visit of U.S. President George W. Bush was followed immediately by a commentary that the U.S. is dictating to Russia on its policy toward Iran. There was a 19 May report about anti-American demonstrations in Japan, and on the morning of the previous day, filmmaker Michael Moore criticized American society, according to Mashhad radio.

There was greater subtlety in other cases. A 30 May report that the Afghan people oppose the U.S. military presence in their country was immediately followed by a report that the U.S. is using the Afghan issue as a pretext for maintaining a presence in Central Asia and the Caucasus. A 23 May report about American bombing raids was followed by a report that the U.S. soon would establish a special military headquarters in Afghanistan. In the 14 May evening broadcast, a coalition of Pakistani clerics asked their government not to allow the establishment of U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation offices; then there was a report that American forces would be deployed in the border regions, and this was followed by a report that U.S. forces disguised as Afghans had launched operations in Pakistan's tribal areas.

There were at least 50 reports about Iran's contributions to Afghanistan during the 14 May-5 June period. On the morning of 5 June, a meeting between Afghan interim-administration chief Karzai and an Iranian Foreign Ministry official in Almaty was described, and the Iranian official said that his country would assist Afghanistan's rehabilitation. On 31 May, an official from Luxembourg praised Iran for its work in Afghanistan, and on the previous day, there were reports about Iran's role in rebuilding Afghan roads and about a prize given to the Dari-language programs at IRIB.

There were more reports about roads, transport, and trade on 29, 28, 27, and 19 May. The 18 and 17 May broadcasts discussed a conference on Afghanistan's reconstruction that was held in Tehran. There were reports about flights from Zahedan to Kabul and Tehran to Kabul during the 17, 16, and 15 May broadcasts.

Iranian contributions in the educational sector were emphasized by Mashhad radio. On 4 June, the rector of Kabul University described the presence of Afghan students in Iranian institutions of higher learning, and on 23 May, there was a report about the donation of books by Iranian children to their Afghan counterparts. On 22 May, the Iranian education minister described his country's willingness to help Afghanistan, and an Afghan official was interviewed about Kabul's interest in Iranian assistance. On 21 May, the Afghan education minister called for Iranian assistance in medical training. The 16 May broadcasts carried similar reports.

Iran is also portrayed as a defender of the Islamic faith. On 4 June, a Lebanese official was quoted as saying that Muslims should emulate Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini if they want to live proudly, and in the morning of 3 June, the first five stories were about religious issues. On 30 May, a Pakistani official was interviewed about the Islamic unity celebrations in Iran

The extent of anti-Israel reporting was relatively limited during the 14 May-5 June period. There were at least eight reports that specifically focused on Israel, and several of these were reports about the Tehran Friday Prayers. On 31 May, for example, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said that if: "the neighboring countries had helped the Palestinian Muslims, Israel would have not been created and this cancerous tumor would have not grown in the heart of the Islamic and Arab states for the past 40 years or more. As a result of the division [among Muslims], all Muslim peoples are now suffering and paying the price."

During the earlier period covered by the "RFE/RL Iran Report," Mashhad radio's reports about domestic Afghan themes covered: (1) refugee repatriation; (2) news about Herat Province and promotion of its governor, Ismail Khan; (3) counternarcotics news; and (4) Loya Jirga news. In the 14 May-5 June period, there was a change in this pattern, with news about the Loya Jirga greatly increasing in frequency. As the Loya Jirga was scheduled to start on 10 June and selection of delegates to the assembly preceded this event, this development is not unexpected. There were 82 reports about the Loya Jirga during the 14 May-5 June period.

Mashhad radio carried at least 36 reports about refugee issues. There were seven reports about problems encountered by Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Refugees in Iran, on the other hand, were portrayed as receiving better treatment from official institutions. On 26 May, for example, it was reported that Tehran and Kabul are cooperating on repatriations. The absence of United Nations High Commission for Refugees representatives in Pakistan, furthermore, was contrasted with their presence in Iran. On 24 May, there was a report about voluntary repatriations from Iran.

Mashhad radio carried about 25 reports about Herat Province during the 14 May-5 June period. Most of these reports dealt with celebrations there, reconstruction in the western province, or its preparations for the Loya Jirga. Governor Ismail Khan did not figure as prominently in the broadcasts during this period as he did during the 17 April-10 May period. On 16 May, there was a report that CENTCOM chief General Tommy Franks had met with Ismail Khan during a visit to Herat.

There was only a handful of narcotics-related reports by Mashhad radio during the 14 May-5 June period.

Ayatollah Mohammad Assef Muhseni of the predominantly Shia Harakat-i Islami movement received slightly more coverage by Mashhad radio than other Shia leaders. He announced his support for Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan's next leader in a 5 June report, and in 19 and 18 May reports, he discussed the importance of choosing politically aware individuals for the Loya Jirga. One of Afghanistan's other Shia parties, the Hizb-i Wahdat, was also discussed on 5 June, when it endorsed Karzai. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN TRAINS AFGHAN JOURNALISTS... Iran is providing journalism training for its Afghan neighbors, including a four-week workshop at the Islamic Republic News Agency's (IRNA) School of Media Studies. At the 28 May closing ceremony of the workshop, IRNA managing director Abdollah Naseri told his audience that they play an influential role, and that the mass media is important in maintaining regional stability. Naseri went on to say that such workshops would promote cultural cooperation between Tehran and Kabul, and IRNA is ready to host more courses for Afghan journalists. Mohammad Taqi Rowghaniha, Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry press and media affairs adviser and course instructor, told the audience that courses like this one would "promote links and expand cooperation between Iran and Afghanistan in news and data dissemination."

Journalists are in demand nowadays. There has been a flourishing of publications in Kabul -- there are about 100 of them now -- and their coverage runs the gamut from news reporting to women's issues to satire. Hamida Usman, deputy editor of a monthly magazine for women called "Malalai," said in the 19 May "Boston Globe" that she seeks out the faces of unseen women. For example, she profiled a widow who became a beggar because the Taliban barred women from working.

Afghan journalists may not have problems finding employment, but the Iranian training may help polish up skills that have become rusty. Dastgir Hojabr, speaking on behalf of the Afghan students at the IRNA ceremony, said that they had qualified as journalists 10 years ago and had not kept abreast of developments in the field, so the course had brought them up-to-date. The Afghan journalists also presented a "plate of honor" to the widow of IRNA correspondent Mahmud Saremi, who along with nine Iranian officials was killed by Taliban elements in Mazar-i-Sharif in August 1998. (Bill Samii)

...AND COULD HELP AFGHAN STUDENTS. The Afghan interim administration's minister for higher education, Sharif Fayz, visited Iran in mid-May. Fayz said that Iran could help improve Afghanistan's libraries, provide assistance on entrance exams, and help ties with universities, Mashhad radio reported on 16 May. Kabul University rector Mohammad Akbar Popal added that Afghans could use Iranian education and research books easily because they speak the same language (Persian). In February, IRNA reported that Iranian books are very popular in Afghanistan. Most of those that are available, however, are low-quality copies from Pakistan.

From 27 April to 3 May, the "A Gift, A Book" program was held in Iran. Under this program, Iranian children and young adults contributed one book and one gift to their Afghan counterparts, IRNA reported on 28 May. Iran also supplied Afghanistan with textbooks for primary and higher education on the basis of agreements between the Iranian government and private philanthropists with the Afghan interim administration. According to the 25 April "Aftab-i Yazd," the Iranian-supplied books were sent back to Iran after more than 10 million textbooks arrived from the U.S. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN AND LEBANESE OFFICIALS EXCHANGE VISITS. The month of May saw visits to Lebanon by Iranian politicians and visits to Iran by Lebanese cabinet members. A party of officials from the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Party left for Lebanon on 29 May in response to an invitation from Hizballah. Deputy speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami led the party, which included IIPP's Ali Shakuri-Rad, Zahra Ahmadinezhad, Asadollah Amini, and Said Shariati, "Noruz" reported. During the trip, Khatami met with several leading Lebanese officials.

Hizballah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah met with Khatami on 2 June, Hizballah's Manar Television and IRNA reported. Afterwards, Khatami said: "We see the role of the resistance grow day after day. We also hope to see in the near future the victory of the Palestinian people's intifada, God willing. The victory of the Islamic resistance in southern Lebanon has had a great effect on the Palestinian people's intifada."

The Iranian delegation visited southern Lebanon on 1 June. During the trip, Khatami said that Iran is ready to support the "Lebanese resistance movement, as well as the Palestinian intifada," and the world's Muslims are religiously obliged to provide "material and moral support for the intifada," IRNA reported. And after Khatami met with President Emil Lahud on 30 May, he was asked about "martyrdom-seeking operations," IRNA reported the next day. Khatami responded, "The Palestinian people are the victims of the Zionist regime's aggressive policy and as long as the root of this violence is not dried up, nobody can disregard the people's right to self-defense." Khatami also met with Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and Lebanese National Assembly speaker Nabih Berri.

Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah spoke about Iran during a 23 May speech that was broadcast live by Manar Television. He warned that the enemy is threatening Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. He went on to describe: "the danger that is coming to Lebanon, Palestine, Syria of Al-Assad, Muslim Iran, and all the honorable parties in this region. We know that there is an all-out war, wholesale or retail, which the United States is waging, and we should be prepared for it, in months or years." Nasrallah said that the victory of the Lebanese resistance was partly due to support from Iran and Syria, and, "These two countries still support the people of Palestine."

Hizballah Political Council member Mahmud Al-Qamati also discussed Iran in an interview published by Qatar's "Al-Watan" on 27 April. He denied that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi had called on Hizballah to demonstrate "self-restraint" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 April 2002). Al-Qamati explained, "Clearly, the idea was to curb Israel and prevent it from escalating the situation toward war."

Several Lebanese officials visited Iran in the preceding weeks. Lebanese Minister of Education, Youth, and Sports Abd-al-Rahim Murad was there on 21 May, and Lebanese Minister of Culture Ghassan Salamah came to Tehran on 1 May for a five-day visit. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN DELEGATIONS VISIT SYRIA. Representatives of the Iranian legislature, executive branch, and the supreme leader have visited Syria in recent weeks. The delegation of Islamic Iran Participation Party officials led by Deputy speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami went to Syria from Lebanon. Khatami met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on 3 June, IRNA reported. The Iranian parliamentarian said that, "We totally support the Palestinian intifada, as well as the Lebanese and Syrian resistance, and believe that a peaceful solution of the regional issues is not possible without the consensus of the Arab and Islamic countries." Iranian Ambassador to Syria Hussein Sheikholeslam also attended this meeting, according to Damascus TV.

On 2 June, Khatami met with Arab Socialist Baath Party Assistant Secretary-General Abdallah al-Ahmar, Damascus TV reported. They discussed the Palestinian uprising and "stressed the need to face the challenges posed to the Arab and Islamic nations, led by the expansionist Zionist scheme and the U.S. bias toward this aggression." Khatami met with People's Assembly speaker Abd-al-Qadir Qaddurah and Vice President Abd-al-Halim Khaddam on 4 June.

Iranian Minister of Agricultural Jihad Mahmud Hojjati arrived in Damascus on 17 May for a four-day visit, IRNA reported the next day; in Damascus on 25 April, Iranian Minister of Housing and Urban Development Ali Abdol-Alizadeh signed agreements dealing with industry and health, according to IRNA. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Sadr delivered a letter on 24 April from President Mohammad Khatami to President Assad, Damascus radio reported. During the talks, it emerged that Damascus and Tehran held "identical views" regarding the need to support "the Palestinian people's resistance and struggle against the Israeli occupation army."

Officials representing Iran's supreme leader have also been in Damascus. Hasan Akhtari, chief of the international relations department at the supreme leader's office, met with President Assad on 4 May, Damascus radio reported, and they discussed bilateral relations and the situation in the occupied territories. Hojatoleslam Mohammadi Golpayegani, who heads the supreme leader's office, was in Damascus on 27 April to address a gathering of Syrian, Iranian, Iraqi, and Lebanese devotees of the household of the Prophet, Iranian state television reported. Golpayegani told his audience about the importance of struggle as exemplified by Hizballah, and he added that Iranian policy is to "strengthen and support the front line of resistance against the Zionist regime." (Bill Samii)

HOUSING MINISTER NARROWLY AVOIDS INTERPELLATION. Iranian Minister of Housing and Urban Development Abdol-Alizadeh survived a parliamentary censure motion on 2 June after answering questions related to the performance of his ministry, IRNA reported. Out of 245 members of parliament present, 119 voted in Abdol-Alizadeh's favor, 114 voted against him, and 12 abstained. According to state television, furthermore, five parliamentary deputies spoke for two hours at the morning session on the reasons for the motion against Abdol-Alizadeh. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said at a 2 June press conference that he had tried to "resolve the issue" beforehand, "Noruz" reported. Karrubi said he opposed the housing minister's interpellation, but interpellation is a parliamentary right and he would be impartial.

One day later, "Iran News" recalled that Abdol-Alizadeh had gotten the second-lowest number of votes when his nomination for the cabinet was approved by the parliament in August 2001. He survived that process, the daily reported, because provincial representatives supported him. Moreover, it was believed that his ministry is not politically sensitive, and he was criticized for professional rather than factional reasons. Unnamed "political experts" suggested that Abdol-Alizadeh was saved again by a coalition of ethnic and tribal elements from several Azeri-speaking and northern provinces. Abdol-Alizadeh's survival, according to "Iran News," "appears to put the whole issue of impeaching other ministers on the back burner for the foreseeable future." (Bill Samii)

OFFICIALS AGREE ON JOB CRISIS, BUT NOT ON CAUSE OR SOLUTION. There are about 3 million unemployed people in Iran, according to Interior Ministry statistics cited by IRNA on 6 January, and the country needs to create about 700,000 jobs a year to address the double-digit unemployment rate. All Iranian officials, from the supreme leader down, are aware of this issue and discuss it often. But statements about this problem in May by President Mohammad Khatami, his officials, and workers' representatives on the one hand, stand in sharp contrast to those by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the other hand.

Khatami discussed unemployment and job creation frequently during his mid-May trip to Mazandaran Province. Before heading back to Tehran, Khatami told local officials that the country needs foreign investment and assistance. "To utilize foreign potential is not a sign of dependence and misery, and we must use any possible opportunities in the world for the development and progress of our society and resolving the existing problems," Khatami said, adding that, "Misery and dependence is to have a group of unemployed and educated people in need of their square meals and we officials have failed to find a solution." The president said that there must be efforts to attract foreign investors, IRNA reported on 17 May. He also criticized the educational system for training people in subjects that are not in line with the country's needs.

In Mazandaran specifically, Khatami mentioned its potential for tourism and flower cultivation, IRNA reported on 15 May. He also called for infrastructure development and greater attention to agriculture and industries, state television reported on 14 May. In Sari, Khatami said that the government has allocated money to help the textile industry, and in the next two years a dam would be inaugurated in Qaemshahr.

"Combating unemployment is the top priority of the state," Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said during a visit to Kermanshah Province, IRNA reported on 31 May. Yunesi recommended sending workers to other countries, which would "reduce the number of unemployed and would also expand our national culture in other countries."

The government also has an "emergency plan" that would create 1 million jobs in the coming year, "Entekhab" reported on 14 May. The Third Development Plan identifies 700,000 jobs, and another 300,000 would be created through an initiative in which the government would lend 30 million rials ($3,750 at the open rate) at a low interest rate for every new employee a firm hires. Management and Planning Organization chief Mohammad Satarifar said that 1 million jobs are needed because the government is lagging behind its job-creation targets, IRNA reported on 9 May.

Unemployment is not the only problem facing Iranians and their government. "Kar va Kargar" (Labor and Laborers) reporter Behruz Qezelbash told RFE/RL's Persian Service that workers object to the government's privatization methods through which individuals take control of factories, fire the employees, and sell the assets. Qezelbash said it would be better to transfer the shares to the workers themselves.

Former labor activist Sadeq Kargar told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the Islamic labor councils are just obedient official organizations. Hassan Sadeqi, who heads the national workers council association, cited the arrest of 430 council members during the last year as proof that they are not submissive and they do fight for workers' rights. The problem, Sadeqi told RFE/RL's Persian Service, is that human-resource contractors have, in effect, been set up in the state-owned factories, and this has pushed wages downward and eliminated job security. Moreover, Jabbar Ali Salimian, the Iranian workers' representative at the International Labor Organization, said that some employers do not permit the creation of workers' councils in their firms, IRNA reported on 2 May.

Islamic Labor Party official Afshin Habibzadeh criticized the parliament's rejection of a proposal to pay unemployment compensation to young people. Habibzadeh said: "Studies show that the majority of those who participate in urban unrest are unemployed people. The army of unemployed is very rebellious and quite discontented, and at any given moment it might create an incident," the 24 April "Kar va Kargar" reported. More than two-thirds of Iran's unemployed are under the age of 28, Tehran parliamentarian Alireza Mahjub said, according to the 18 April "Javan."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei discussed the problem of unemployment during a 21 May meeting with the Supreme Employment Council. He said that funds are needed for job creation, state television reported, but money alone could not solve the problem. He said that the government must deal with other factors related to unemployment and "it should pass the necessary laws with the help of the parliament." Khamenei also criticized delays in implementation of aspects of the third five-year plan that relate to job creation. Khamenei also mentioned the problems of corruption and smuggling, and he warned that imports should not undermine domestic industries.

Ayatollah Khamenei also spoke about unemployment in his 1 May speech to workers and teachers. State officials, he said, according to Tehran radio, are trying to deal with this issue but are being distracted. "There are people who have been paid and whose sole aim is to divert the attention of the country's officials from the major issues and direct their minds toward other matters. Unfortunately, some of the press exerts great influence in this area.... They freely write and publish material that is not true. And in the end, [they] scream that they have no freedom." (Bill Samii)