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Iran Report: August 5, 2002

5 August 2002, Volume 5, Number 29

STUDENTS TURN TO DISSIDENT CLERICS. In a possible reflection of their frustration with the country's current political leadership, representatives of Iran's largest political student organization, the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU, Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat), recently have shown an interest in two iconoclastic religious leaders -- Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri-Isfahani and Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi. This is even more noteworthy because both of these religious figures are vocal critics of events in the country and they have questioned the qualifications of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

OSU members met with former Isfahan prayer leader Taheri, whose resignation weeks earlier caused a great deal of controversy, to discuss recent political developments. Student Davar Nazari described for Taheri the important role of independent clerics in Iran's social and intellectual development over the last century, "Iran" newspaper reported on 27 July. Nazari added: "The pressure on independent clerics has increased. At the present juncture, I am really concerned about the increasing isolation of the Imam's [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's] close associates." Taheri responded by calling for patience: "Be patient because for religious faith, patience is like the head of a human being. The two things need each other."

On the same day, OSU members sent an open letter to President Mohammad Khatami in which they said that ending the house arrest of Montazeri is a religious and legal duty. The letter challenged Khatami: "You have always raised the slogan of freedom, justice, and citizens' rights, and you have taken an oath [to this end]; you must strive to put this slogan into practice."

The students' letter said that the main pretext for Montazeri's confinement was a public lecture he made in November 1997 at his home, and reformist theoreticians and activists now are raising many of the points Montazeri made at that time. Portions of Montazeri's speech were reproduced in London's Persian-language "Kayhan" and Arabic-language "Al-Hayat" on 4 December 1997, and there are many similarities between the topics he raised and those raised in Ayatollah Taheri's resignation letter, which was published in the 10 July "Noruz."

In his speech, Montazeri criticized the Guardians Council for its vetting of candidates for political office, saying that "no one has the right to decide who can and who cannot run in the elections." Montazeri criticized the thuggish Ansar-i Hizbullah, saying that "Hizbullah is not mere slogans and demonstrations and noise that peters out before long. That cannot be the party of God, Hizbullah." And he came out against the use of force in the political process, warning that "one cannot work in the world by wielding clubs any longer. The government of clubs will no longer work in the world. People have been enlightened." Every one of these points was repeated in Taheri's resignation.

But so far Montazeri has been the most senior religious leader to question the qualification of Iran's most powerful political and religious figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In his November 1997 speech, Montazeri said that "at the head of the country, there should be a fully qualified religious jurist." Montazeri said that the people must elect the government and run the country, while "the 'religious guardian,' provided he is the most knowledgeable, the most knowledgeable independent religious jurist, who is an administrator with initiative, must supervise to see that the affairs are not carried out contrary to religious rulings and the law.... But the religious guardian -- if he meets the qualifications -- must supervise." Montazeri also seemed to address Khamenei directly, saying, "You are not at the level and status of being a source of emulation." Indeed, Montazeri said that in 1994 he urged Khamenei to excuse himself from answering religious questions by saying that he is too busy. Khamenei ranked as a hojatoleslam until being selected as supreme leader, and then he was given the higher title of ayatollah despite failing to meet all the requirements.

Taheri in his recent resignation did not question directly Khamenei's qualifications to be the supreme leader, but he did question the grounds on which Montazeri has been confined since 1997 and he also said Montazeri's theological record is unmatchable. Taheri asked: "On the basis of what logic, account, narrative, verse, convention, religion, or politics can the house justified? Which jurisconsult and religious authority can match the laudable record and qualifications of His Eminence Ayatollah Montazeri, may his shadow extend?" (Bill Samii)

ELITE DISPUTE RESURFACES. The long-running dispute between former Interior Minister and current Tehran parliamentary representative Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur and Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati resurfaced during the last weekend of July. This argument over public support for the Guardians Council is a prime example of the cleavages now dividing the ruling elite.

Mohtashami-Pur said, according to the 27 July "Hayat-i No," that during the previous day's Tehran Friday prayers sermon, Jannati had falsely claimed that the nationwide anti-American rallies one week earlier (on 19 June) were in support of certain hard-liner-dominated institutions, such as the Guardians Council, the Expediency Council, and the Judiciary. Mohtashami added that these institutions are themselves responsible for a lot of public dissatisfaction and that many people have criticized them. Mohtashami explained that the people do not approve of the Guardians Council vetting candidates for most elected offices or of the need for Guardians Council approval of all parliamentary decisions before they can become law (see below). Furthermore, according to Mohtashami, a lot of people just went home after the anti-American demonstrations.

During the 26 July Friday prayer sermon, which were broadcast by state radio, Jannati had said during a discussion about journalist Siamak Purzand's televised confession, "Admit that your [Purzand and reformist newspapers] plans include attacking the Guardian Council, attacking the Judiciary, attacking the head of the Judiciary; attacking the Expediency Council."

Jannati responded to Mohtashami's comments in a letter that was reproduced in the 28 July "Aftab-i Yazd." The purpose of the demonstrations was to demonstrate anti-Americanism, and Jannati said that he never claimed that the demonstrations were staged to support certain institutions. Mohtashami's interpretation, Jannati wrote, "was wrong and you must have made a mistake. If you had paid sufficient attention to everything I said, you would not have interpreted the matter like that." Jannati explained that he was saying that a political current is trying to further foreign interests and that it plans to attack state institutions and officials. (Bill Samii)

UNACCOUNTABLE STATE AGENCIES INCREASE POWERS. A hallmark of the current Iranian political system is the relative powerlessness of elected officials, such as parliamentarians and the president, in comparison to unelected ones. The unelected officials and the bodies on which they serve, furthermore, are unaccountable and their decision-making processes are obscure. Two of these bodies, the Guardians Council and the Expediency Council, recently have tried to assume greater powers.

Some of the disputes between the legislature and the Guardians Council relate to the latter body's function of determining whether or not legislation conforms to religious law and the constitution (per Article 94 of the constitution). Any legislation that does not meet its standards must be reviewed again by the parliament, and if a compromise of some sort is not achieved, the legislation is referred to the Expediency Council. Currently, 19 pieces of legislation are awaiting an Expediency Council decision. "It is the Guardians Council which has created a situation in which these bills have to go and wait there," Zanjan representative Abolfazl Shakuri said according to the 29 July "Entekhab."

Legislators seem to think that this situation has gone far enough, and they have submitted a bill requiring that Guardians Council deliberations be made public so people would know the reasons for the rejection of legislation. The public is informed about parliamentary deliberations, Zahedan representative Jafar Kambuzia said according to the 28 July "Hayat-i No," whereas the Guardians Council does not provide the same level of disclosure. Kambuzia predicted that the Guardians Council would reject this bill, too, and he suggested that the public would be interested in the reason for this.

The other main dispute about the Guardians Council's activities relates to its supervision of elections. The Guardians Council interprets Article 99 of the constitution as giving it power over every stage of elections, from approving candidates to supervising the polls to overturning the final results of the vote. Its most recent effort to extend control over elections involves the establishment of permanent provincial supervision offices. Isfahan parliamentarian Rajabali Mazrui said in the 22 June "Toseh" that this would be illegal and he did not understand how the Guardians Council had come up with a budget for this plan. Mazrui added that the Third Development Plan tries to downsize the government, and he speculated that the Guardians Council is trying to set up "a parallel intelligence organ." And Kashmar representative Mohammad Reza Khabbaz said in "Toseh" that the course of elections already is specified, so there is no need to change the law.

The Expediency Council is trying to take on more responsibilities, too. It already is very powerful, being constitutionally tasked with adjudicating in legislative disputes between the parliament and the Guardians Council (Article 112) and with advising the supreme leader on amendments to the constitution (Article 177). In March 1997, furthermore, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a decree increasing the Expediency Council's membership in order to "enable the council to discharge its important task in shaping the general policies of the system and to examine all important problems that are normally faced by the country."

The most significant Expediency Council activity is its promotion of a directive that would place it above the parliament and the presidency, but on 22 July it shelved the directive for one month in the face of strong opposition from the legislative and executive branches. Parliamentarians Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari and Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi convinced fellow members of the Expediency Council that the directive as written was unworkable. The presidential branch has proposed an alternative draft, Ansari told IRNA, but so far the contents of both drafts have been kept secret.

Discussing the legislation beforehand, Rasul Montajabnia said in the 15 July "Hambastegi" that the assumption of such powers would be in direct contravention of the constitution, which specifies that there are only three sovereign powers in Iran. And not only would such legislation be in violation of the constitution, Montajabnia said, it would be a violation of the people's rights. Rajabali Mazrui in the 10 July "Mardom Salari" also complained about the ambiguities of such a move. Other commentators voiced their opposition to the proposal in June and July.

The Expediency Council may take a more active role in foreign relations, too. According to a report in the 19 July "Etemad," the Expediency Council soon will open an office in Berlin as the first of several it plans for Europe, and Expediency Council chief Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's son Mohsen Hashemi will head it. Former parliamentarian Ahmad Salamatian told the RFE/RL Persian Service on 19 July that the Expediency Council would be duplicating the work of the Foreign Ministry, and the need for two different Iranian envoys showed the level of mistrust within the regime. (Rafsanjan parliamentarian Ali Hashemi said that Mohsen Hashemi had turned down the post of ambassador to Germany, "Hayat-i No" reported on 22 July, and he also rejected the report about an Expediency Council office in Germany.)

Former Interior Ministry official and Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization member Mustafa Tajzadeh blasted the Expediency Council in a 24 July editorial in "Imruz." He wrote that individuals with little public support were trying to impose their will over the majority, and this was causing apathy, passivity, and reducing public participation. Tajzadeh added that with its current composition, the Expediency Council is rejecting parliamentary measures that defend citizens' rights and civil society. (Bill Samii)

COURT BAN ON POLITICAL MOVEMENT CRITICIZED. Tehran's Revolutionary Court on 27 July dissolved the Freedom Movement (a.k.a. Liberation Movement of Iran or Nehzat-i Azadi) and any groups affiliated with it and ruled that their activities are illegal, according to Iranian state radio. The court also sentenced 21 of the movement's members to jail terms ranging from nine to 10 years; 12 members received jail sentences ranging from two to four years and monetary fines; eight members were fined monetarily; and the court acquitted 11 people. A statement from the Revolutionary Court said that the files of other movement members remain open. The group was found guilty of acting against national security by trying to change the Islamic republic system, and some of the defendants were found guilty of contacts and relations with foreign political parties and diplomats. They were convicted of spreading lies, discontent, divisions, and agitation; they kept weapons, drugs, and classified government documents; and they insulted Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Many of the Freedom Movement members were arrested in nationwide operations in March 2001, and some of the people arrested then, such as Militant Muslims Movement (Junbish-i Musalmanan-i Mubarez) leader Habibullah Peyman and Taqi Rahmani, were not released on bail until more than a year later.

Deputy Speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami on 28 July spoke out against the court's verdict, IRNA reported. He said that the law requires an open hearing before a jury, whereas such conditions did not exist. Under such circumstances, Khatami said, "we are not informed of the evidence available to the court and cannot judge on [evaluate] the verdict." Parliamentarian Hussein Ansari-Rad said that studies conducted by the legislature's Article 90 Commission found that neither the detentions, the investigation, nor the trial were conducted legally, "Iran Daily" reported on 29 July. Parliamentarian Mohsen Armin of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization on 31 July told fellow legislators that the ban on the movement and the imprisonment of its members came at a bad time -- "when we are a constant target of American criticisms on human rights [practices] and the lack of political and social openness." Armin added, according to AFP, "Not only these decisions do not benefit us [sic], they worsen the atmosphere."

The Islamic Republic News Agency on 3 August published a letter from the Freedom Movement in which it said that it would appeal the order to disband and that it would appeal its members' prison sentences, AFP reported on 4 August. Revolutionary Court Chairman Hojatoleslam Ali Mobasheri urged the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry to warn IRNA against publishing the Freedom Movement's statements, "Kayhan" reported on 4 August. Mobasheri asked why the resources of the state news agency are "put at the disposal of an illegal opposition group." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN OBJECTS TO RUSSIA'S CASPIAN MANEUVERS. Russia on 1 August commenced two-week Caspian Sea naval exercises that will involve more than 60 warships, some 30 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, and 10,000 men. Two ships from Azerbaijan and four Su-27 aircraft from Kazakhstan will participate in the exercises, too. Russia rejected an Iranian request to participate in the exercises, AFP reported citing RIA-Novosti, but Iranian and Turkmen representatives have been invited as observers.

Tehran has voiced its objections to such naval maneuvers before (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 July 2002). A 1 August commentary on Iranian state radio said that the naval exercises relate to Russia's general policy in the Caspian Sea, which is its "wish to maintain control over the sea's security...." Russia also is worried about the activities of foreign powers -- such as Turkey and the U.S. -- in the region, so "the exercise is in fact a warning to those regional countries that are trying to side with the powers outside the Caspian Sea region." Although Tehran approves of the Russian desire to keep foreign powers out of the region, according to the commentary, such a policy is "like a double-edged sword." The commentary continued, "while we reject interference from outside powers, it is not acceptable to witness a total hegemony of one of the littoral states of the sea. The best solution is proposed by Iran, which says the Caspian Sea should be a sea of peace and friendship." (Bill Samii)

MILITARY TRADE WITH IRAN CAN BE RISKY. Russian Deputy Defense Minister in charge of logistics Mikhail Dimitriev said on 25 July that his country is ready to supply Iran with conventional weaponry and to modernize hardware in the Iranian armed forces inventory, Moscow's Military News Agency (AVN) website reported. Dimitriev added that most of the equipment in the Iranian inventory was made in the U.S., therefore, "Large amounts of supplies are out of the question, but there are some prospects for us."

Dimitriev was in Iran in late June to participate in the second round of the Tehran-Moscow joint defense cooperation commission and to inspect Iranian defense industries facilities (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 July 2002). At that time he said that Russia would not submit to pressure to limit its relationship with Iran and the two countries' military cooperation would continue. The Russian official said in July that his country would not violate international arms control agreements by engaging in clandestine relations with Iran.

Other countries have been far less cautious, however, and business entities in them have been penalized for dealing with Iran. On 9 July the U.S. government imposed sanctions on nine Chinese entities and one Indian individual for their contributions to Iranian and Iraqi efforts to acquire "chemical weapons or destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher announced on 24 July. The sanctions, which are based on the Iran-Iraq Arms Non-Proliferation Act of 1992 and the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, do not apply to the Chinese or Indian governments. In early May Western news media reported that the Bush administration would also impose sanctions on Armenian, Chinese, and Moldovan companies for assisting Iran's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN PLEASED WITH U.S. FAILURE TO HINDER ITS NUKE PURSUITS. White house spokesman Ari Fleischer reacted to Russia's announcement that it intends to build three more nuclear reactors at Bushehr and another nuclear facility with two 1,000 MW power units at Ahvaz (Interfax, 26 July) by saying on 30 July that the U.S. is continuing to work with Moscow on preventing nuclear proliferation. Early August commentary from Tehran indicates some pleasure that this "work" does not seem to be yielding results.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton arrived in Moscow on 30 July, and on 31 July they met with Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev to discuss American concerns. Abraham's comments during a 1 August press conference suggested that the two sides were not seeing eye-to-eye on the danger of Iranian nuclear activities. "No one should be under any impression that we treat this as anything except of the utmost concern and those concerns have been frankly directed during our meetings here. We are in the middle of sensitive discussions on this matter," he said according to "The Times" 2 August from London. Abraham also said that these matters have been reviewed at "the highest levels."

Back in Washington on 31 July, deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Marshall Billingslea expressed the belief that the Bushehr project is "a pretext for the creation of an infrastructure that is designed to help Tehran acquire atomic weapons." Billingslea described for a Senate subcommittee American doubts about Iran's purported need for a nuclear facility, according to a VOA report: "The truth of the matter is that Iran is a major natural-gas-producing country, but they are flaring or venting six times more natural gas than any other major gas-producing nation. The energy equivalent of the gas they are flaring or venting off is three times what they are going to get out of that one reactor at Bushehr. So they could for a fraction of the Bushehr plant simply capture three times as much energy if they wanted to. So there is clearly something else going on here."

Nearly two years have passed since another U.S. government official questioned, in similar terms, Iran's nuclear requirements. Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Robert J. Einhorn testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 5 October 2000: "Among the persistent indicators that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons development program is the fact that Iran is attempting to obtain capabilities to produce both highly enriched uranium and plutonium -- the critical materials for a nuclear weapon. Neither of these capabilities is necessary to meet Iran's declared desire to have a civil nuclear power program to generate electricity, which is itself suspicious in light of Iran's abundant oil resources."

Iranian state radio commentaries indicated skepticism about the Americans' visit to Moscow and pleasure about the final result. On 31 July the commentary said that "America's main aim is to disrupt the relations between Iran and Russia," and concern about nuclear activities is "only a pretext for American interference in Iran and Russia's foreign affairs." If the U.S. really is concerned about nuclear proliferation, according to the radio commentary, it should first confront Israel and its "vast nuclear arsenal."

Regarding Moscow's decision to continue its nuclear cooperation with Tehran, Iranian state radio commented on 1 August, "Russia is determined to continue its independent foreign policy." The program added that Russia is certain about the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program because of reassurances from International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. Moreover, Russia benefits from diplomatic, economic, commercial, and technical cooperation with Iran. On 2 August Tehran radio said that Abraham and Bolton left Russia "empty-handed." And it concluded by saying that Russia-Iran ties are likely to expand in the next decade, and the U.S. will not be able to undermine a relationship founded on "mutual interests and strategic policies."

Moscow on 2 August appeared to back away slightly from its commitment to Iran's nuclear ambitions. A statement from the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry said, according to "The New York Times" on 3 August: "The draft of the long-term program for the development of trade, economic, industrial, and technological cooperation between Russia and Iran through 2012 only mentions the existing technical possibilities. Their implementation depends on many factors, including political factors." An anonymous "senior administration official" explained in "The Washington Post" of 3 August that the Russians are signaling that they will not go ahead with the new reactors. U.S. officials also said that the Russians they met "expressed surprise" over the agreement with Iran, and "everyone from Rumyantsev to top economic, industrial, and Foreign Ministry officials insisted they knew nothing about it before it was released." (Bill Samii)

IRAN BRACES FOR MILITARY STRIKES. Sources inside Iran are giving contradictory reports on reactions to the possibility of U.S. or Israeli military action against Iran's nuclear facility in Bushehr. According to these reports, either Tehran will try to negotiate its way out of being the target of preemptive military action or it will prepare to get hit.

A newspaper that is "close to Iranian military circles" reported on 4 August that "certain politicians in official circles of the Islamic Republic of Iran are trying to start a theoretical debate about the establishment of relations with America," according to the 4 August issue of "Imruz" newspaper. "Imruz" speculated, although it could not confirm, that the negotiations with the U.S. are intended to neutralize the threat against Bushehr.

"We want to employ all our capabilities to prevent the eruption of war with the United States," Vice President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi said in an interview that appeared in the 3 August issue of Doha's "Al-Sharq" newspaper. Abtahi continued, "We declared the policy of political or diplomatic deterrence rather than military deterrence because we do not want the dispute with the United States to amount to a military confrontation." And when asked about possible reactions if the U.S. attacks Iran after attacking Iraq, Abtahi said: "We are ready for any emergency and we would defend our country with all our strength. We would not allow the United States to infringe on the sovereignty of our territories."

Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said during a 4 August ceremony in Ardabil that Iran's armed forces are ready to confront any foreign threat, IRNA reported. Jafari also said that IRGC needs new means of confronting foreign threats.

Chief of the Joint Staff Command Major General Hassan Firuzabadi said on 31 July that the Supreme National Security Council has discussed American threats against Iran, and as a result, the Khatam ol-Anbiyah military headquarters has been reorganized, according to state television. Firuzabadi added that the regular army, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Basij Resistance Forces, the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, and the Defense Industries Organization are preparing themselves to deter an enemy attack and to deliver a "timely and appropriate response" should an attack against Iran occur.

"The Washington Post" newspaper had reported on 29 July that there is a debate in Washington and Tel Aviv on the need for a preemptive strike against the Bushehr nuclear facility. State Department spokesman Phil Reeker said that such thinking is a "totally hypothetical, speculative thing," Reuters reported on 30 July.

Moreover, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on 30 July discussed the possibility of "regime change" in Iran, "The Washington Times" reported the next day. He said that it would be a "good thing" if the Iranian people overthrew the regime, adding: "I have a feeling that the people of Iran know that. And I have a feeling that in my adult lifetime we may still see the people of Iran do something about that regime." Nevertheless, Rumsfeld said, the U.S. is not trying to oust the Iranian regime in the same way that it wants to overthrow the Iraqi one.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is considering Senate Resolution 306, which was submitted by Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback on 25 July. The resolution states that it should be U.S. policy "to seek a genuine democratic government in Iran that will restore freedom to the Iranian people, abandon terrorism, and live in peace and security with the international community." It also said that U.S. efforts to legitimize the Iranian regime only stifle the development of "the genuine democratic forces in Iran and does not serve the national security interest of the United States." (Bill Samii)

'WITNESS C' CALLED IN ARGENTINE BOMBING INVESTIGATION. Argentine judges have agreed to call as a witness in the hearing on the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires a man identified as a former Iranian intelligence officer and known as Abolghasem Mesbahi or "Witness C," Argentina's Telam news agency reported on 28 July. Mesbahi claims that former Argentine President Carlos Menem received money from Iran to hide evidence of Iranian involvement in the 1994 case and in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 July 2000 and 29 July 2002). This hearing, however, is independent of a separate investigation into the international dimension of these incidents. Prosecutors in the case say that Mesbahi is willing to travel to Argentina if somebody pays his expenses, according to Telam. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 31 July repeated his earlier assertion that Israel is behind the 1994 bombing, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 July 2002). He added that Israel now is trying to prevent legal and judicial investigations into the incident. Assefi said that Iran has called on Switzerland to provide the documentation and evidence necessary to confirm reports that former Argentine President Menem had received money from Iran. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN REITERATES OPPOSITION TO IRAQ ATTACK. Top Iranian officials have reasserted their country's opposition to U.S. military action against Iraq. Vice President Abtahi said in an interview that appeared in the 3 August issue of Doha's "Al-Sharq" newspaper that although Tehran had offered humanitarian facilities to U.S. personnel during the Afghan conflict (Tehran offered to assist downed aviators), it would not do so if the Americans attack Iraq. In his words, "We do not agree on dealing a strike to Iraq, let alone providing services to those who seek to launch such a strike."

Hojatoleslam Akhtari, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's deputy for international communications, said that Tehran opposes U.S. military activities in Iraq, ISNA reported on 31 July. "We condemn any American attack and we can never accept the occupation of Iraq by the Americans and the expansion, by them, of the presence of foreign forces there; in reality, the future of Iraq must be a matter for the Iraqis and they have to be the ones to decide and choose their own course." Should the U.S. attack Iraq, Akhtari said, the supreme leader, the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), and the government would determine Iranian policy. On the same day, SNSC Secretary Hassan Rohani offered an explanation of Western interest in the region. He said, according to state radio on 31 July: "The main cause of problems in the region is the desire of the West to dominate [our people]. Thanks to the very sensitive situation of the region and its huge resources, the West has adopted new slogans and is seeking to realize its old colonial ambitions in the region." Rohani also had recommendations on how to prevent an attack against Iraq. He said: "If all the Islamic countries were to oppose America's attack on Iraq [in a united way], Iraq would not be attacked. But unfortunately some Islamic states on the surface oppose such an attack on Iraq. In practice, however, these states place military bases at the disposal of Washington." (Bill Samii)

UNENTHUSIASTIC SCIRI INVITED TO WASHINGTON. Ayatollah Baqer al-Hakim, leader of the Tehran-backed and mostly Shia Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) is scheduled to attend an August meeting in Washington of Iraqi opposition figures, but his public statements demonstrate a distinct lack of enthusiasm about U.S. involvement in replacing Iraq's President Saddam Hussein.

Participants in the meeting other than al-Hakim will be, according to State Department spokesman Phil Reeker on 29 July, "Sharif Ali bin Hussein, of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement; Ayad Allawi, of the Iraqi National Accord; ...Massoud Barzani, of the Kurdistan Democratic Party; Ahmed Chalabi, of the Iraqi National Congress; and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan." The meeting will be co-hosted by Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith with the purpose of improving coordination and cooperation among the Iraq opposition groups.

Reeker said that there is no fixed date yet for the meeting. SCIRI official Hadi al-Asadi told the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) on 27 July that al-Hakim has been invited to visit the U.S. during the first two weeks of August, but a decision on whether or not to attend had not been made yet.

Al-Hakim acknowledged the invitation in a 31 July Iranian state radio broadcast, and he explained that the meeting is about Iraq's future rather than the opposition's cooperation in any attack on Iraq. Al-Hakim also said that there is evidence that preparations for the attack are under way, and "it is not yet clear when the attack will begin and how extensive it will be, but it seems that there will be no attack before the winter season."

Al-Hakim's statements during a 27 July interview on the Al-Jazirah satellite television channel suggest that, publicly, he is skeptical about U.S. involvement in Iraqi regime change. Al-Hakim said that the U.S. wants to topple the regime regardless of the consequences, and this would only add to the Iraqi people's problems. In al-Hakim's view, the objectives of the West and of the Iraqi people are different -- the U.S. and Western Europe are worried about weapons of mass destruction, whereas the Iraqi people are more concerned about the regime's repressive practices. Al-Hakim reiterated his oft-expressed view that "any change in Iraq must be realized at the hands of the Iraqi people."

Al-Hakim also discussed a possible role for the SCIRI in the event of U.S. military action against Saddam Hussein's regime. He said: "We do not side with the United States or with the Iraqi regime. Why? Because we have our own plan, according to which we have been working for more than two decades." Al-Hakim acknowledged that he does not know what the U.S. is up to: "But regarding what the United States wants to do, and what scenario it wishes to implement, we have no information on such scenarios and no one from the United States or anywhere else spoke to us."

SCIRI member Seyyed Ammar al-Hakim explained his organization's skepticism about holding talks with the U.S. in an interview reported by ISNA on 30 July. He said, "Regarding talks with America, SCIRI has been of the opinion that, until such a time as the complete seriousness of American politicians in overthrowing the regime is not made clear, the talks should not go beyond the current level." That "current level" is the participation by the SCIRI's representative to Great Britain in an 8 June conference about the Kurds in Washington, D.C. (Bill Samii)

ANOTHER ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT IN KABUL? General Din Mohammad Jurat, who is chief of public security at the Afghan Interior Ministry, spoke to Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Ahmed Musa Yusufzai on 30 July about the arrest one day earlier of two men whose car was stopped near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and was found to contain 500 to 600 kilograms of explosives. Jurat said that two of the men are Afghans and he suspects that the one who is escaped is Pakistani. Regarding the target, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) spokeswoman, British Major Angela Herbert, said: "Potentially, it could have been an ISAF target. Potentially it could have been any of the [Afghan] ministers. Potentially it could have been [President Hamid] Karzai. We all know that. Who exactly it was [that was the target], I cannot say and neither can the Transitional Authority."

Meanwhile, there is speculation that the assassination of Vice President and Public Works Minister Haji Abdul Qadir in early July was the work of Tajiks allied with Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim. Given the current atmosphere and level of uncertainty in Kabul, it should not come as much of a surprise that American personnel now guard President Karzai. At the same time, Karzai's decision to use foreign bodyguards has rubbed his compatriots the wrong way, according to "The New York Times" on 29 July. It also has upset his Iranian neighbors. A 23 July commentary on Mashhad radio said that "the American government is trying to deprive [Karzai] of his independence by guarding him...[which] means controlling all his affairs." (Bill Samii)

RFE/RL, VOA COMBINE FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN. RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan service and the Dari and Pashto services of the Voice of America (VOA) have created a new joint program that was heard on both shortwave and FM for the first time on 4 August. The broadcasts feature 12 hours each of programs created by RFE/RL and VOA every day. All programs are scheduled to start at the top of the hour in Afghanistan, with Pashto programs always available on the odd-numbered hour, while Dari programs will be broadcast during even-numbered hours of the day. All programs will share common sign-on music and other production elements and a common program clock throughout the day. The new 24-hour continuous stream of U.S. international broadcasting to the people of Afghanistan can be heard on shortwave and in Kabul on 100.5 FM.

RFE/RL President Thomas Dine hailed the new, coordinated RFE/RL-VOA Afghan radio stream as "another demonstration of how RFE/RL and VOA can combine forces to better serve our listeners while maintaining each U.S. international broadcaster's distinctive and complementary mission." VOA Director Robert Reilly added: "The new, joint VOA-RFE/RL Pashto and Dari program stream into Afghanistan is an extraordinarily important development in our efforts to bring the latest news and information to the Afghan people. We are delighted to be working so closely with our colleagues at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty at this critical time." (Martins Zvaners)