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Iran Report: September 30, 2002

30 September 2002, Volume 5, Number 35

KHATAMI'S NEW LAWS MAY REQUIRE KHAMENEI'S BACKING. President Mohammad Khatami's government in September introduced pieces of legislation that would amend the election law and that would increase presidential powers. The proposals are so controversial that they are likely to need Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's backing if they are to win approval.

The first hint of the new legislative proposals came on 28 August, when Khatami said during a Tehran news conference that his programs and priorities have not changed, but that he continues to encounter obstacles in implementing them. Khatami discussed economic problems such as unemployment and the need for foreign investment, as well as the need for social justice and freedom. Khatami said that three years earlier, according to state television's external service, he pointed out that, "although the president is responsible for implementing the constitution, he, however, does not possess the minimum possibilities afforded to the presidency by the constitution."

Khatami said, "For that reason, I will prepare a bill and present it to parliament soon so that, God willing, I will be able to perform the duty that is not in the least outside the constitution, religion, and the wish of the people, and that the people expect, with more authority and to a greater degree." Khatami also described a bill to amend the election law.

The bill to reform the election law was introduced on 1 September by Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi. Its objective is to eliminate or at least reduce the Guardians Council's power of "approbatory supervision" ("nizarat-i estisvabi") through which the council rejects candidates for elected office.

Abtahi submitted the second bill, which would enhance presidential authority, on 24 September. The bill would give the president the right to warn and even punish officials in the executive, legislative, or judicial branches. It would also empower a committee of experts chosen by the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary to overrule court verdicts. And according to the 25 September "Financial Times," Khatami is also seeking the power to investigate constitutional violations by bodies that are normally answerable only to the supreme leader.

It is likely that the parliament will approve both bills. In a statement read out to the legislature on 1 September, about 161 out of 290 parliamentarians said they would do their best to help the president, IRNA reported. Karaj parliamentary representative Seyyed Taheri-Musavi said that he had spoken with his colleagues and that the legislature is ready to ratify the bills without any complications, according to ISNA on 2 September. When the second bill was introduced on 24 September, Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karrubi said its approval "could resolve some of the existing problems, which are rooted in many issues. Although the government of Mr. Khatami has had achievements over recent years, he has not managed yet to deliver on all his promises," according to IRNA.

After legislation is passed by parliament, it must go to the 12-member Guardians Council, where it must be approved on Islamic and constitutional grounds. The bills are likely to face opposition from the Guardians Council. The council and its members have frequently defended approbatory supervision ("approbatory" means that something is legally binding, in contrast with "advisory," which suggests that a choice is involved), according to the November 2001 issue of "The Middle East Journal." Guardians Council Research Center chief Gholamhussein Elham said in the 4 September issue of "Siyasat-i Ruz" that the president does not have the authority to oversee the performance of other branches of the government and that it is his duty to implement rather than supervise the implementation of the constitution. And Shiraz representative Reza Yusefian hinted at Guardians Council opposition when he said, "Of course these two bills may be rejected by some institutions," ISNA reported on 24 September.

Nevertheless, Khatami said during his press conference that he did not expect the Guardians Council to oppose the bills. "Look, what I do is opposed neither to religious canons nor the constitution. Therefore, I don't expect the honorable Guardians Council, which has a duty to identify incompatibilities with the religious canons or the constitution, to oppose something that is not opposed to the constitution or the religious canons," Khatami said, adding that, "It is in the letter of the law that the president is responsible for implementing the constitution."

Should the parliament and the Guardians Council reach an impasse on the two bills proposed by the executive branch, they will be turned over to the Expediency Council. "If these bills are sent to the Expediency Council," Shiraz's Yusefian speculated, "they may give concessions to Khatami where they feel the matter is less sensitive. But it is unlikely that the essential tools would be put at Khatami's disposal."

Khatami indicated in a 26 August speech in front of the supreme leader that he would press for the legislative measures that appeared in September, which suggests that Khamenei had approved of them already. Khatami said at that time that the government has authority and duties, but "the government should have a reasonable degree of powers and possibilities so that it can serve." He added: "Obstacles must either be eliminated, or we must jump over them. Alternatively, we must seek another path that does not hit obstacles."

In the past, Khamenei has deferred to the Expediency Council on some matters, while in other cases, the Expediency Council has requested written instructions from Khamenei. In either case, this would indicate that Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's thoughts on the legislative proposals are the key to knowing the final outcome. (Bill Samii)

DEFENSE OFFICIALS DISCUSS MISSILE PROGRAMS. "Iran's deterrence policy in producing defensive equipment aims to bring maximum security to the Islamic Republic's borders," "Siyasat-i Ruz" daily on 25 September quoted Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani as saying, according to Reuters. Shamkhani made this statement as he inaugurated production lines for the Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missile, an antiship missile, and 35-millimeter antiaircraft shells. According to an 11 September IRNA report, Shamkhani said the Fateh-110 uses solid fuel and has a 200-kilometer range. Shamkhani went on to say that the missile is 100 percent Iranian-made and is so technologically advanced that it will not have to be updated for at least seven years.

A ministry spokesman using the name Mr. Khosravi discussed the Fateh-110 program during an 8 September broadcast of Iranian state television. He said it is very precise and uses a control and navigation system that is based on a local design. Khosravi went on to say that "as far as the weapon and its propulsion system and control and navigation system are concerned, the Fateh-110 is a combination based on local activity and the defense needs of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Khosravi also discussed the Shihab-3 missile, which is believed to have a range of 1,300 kilometers. Khosravi said that this missile's range is sufficient for dealing with any extraregional threats. Further work on the Shihab-3 is focused on improving its control and navigation. "No new work is being done on increasing the range," Khosravi said.

Khosravi described some of the Aerospace Industries Organization's other achievements during the 8 September television broadcast. He described developments in surface-to-surface, air-to-ground, and shore-to-sea missiles. In the area of antiarmor missiles, he said that the Aerospace Industries Organization could manufacture weapons that can penetrate the second generation of reactive armor. (Reactive armor can explode back at the shell as it explodes against the armor; many Western, Russian, and Israeli tanks use reactive armor.) The marine version of the Nur cruise missile has been successfully produced and tested, Khosravi said, and the air-to-ground version of the same missile is in use by the armed forces.

Tehran's pursuit of self-sufficiency in the defense sector can be traced to the period of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), when it was confronted by an international arms embargo that did not apply to Baghdad. Moreover, Iranian cities as far to the east as Mashhad were the targets of Iraqi missiles. "Iraq fired over 500 SCUD-type missiles at Iran during the Iran-Iraq War at both civilian and military targets," according to "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government," ( As Khosravi explained, "the slogan 'missile against missile' was the outcome of a public and national demand in our country." It was in the middle of that war, Khosravi said, that Iran's missile program got started. (Bill Samii)

A FOREIGN SUPPLY SOURCE COULD DRY UP. The pursuit of military self-sufficiency does not mean that Tehran will turn its back on foreign sources for weapons or related materials. Britain's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) gave permission for the sale to Iran of beryllium, a metal needed for making nuclear bombs, BBC Radio 4's File on Four program reported on 24 September. The DTI has also licensed for sale to Iran other items necessary for making nuclear weapons.

Pavlo Naumenko, general director of Ukraine's Kharkiv aircraft plant, announced on 27 September the establishment of a joint management board with its Iranian partner for the production of An-140 aircraft, according to Interfax-Ukraine news agency. Naumenko said that personnel from his plant have been sent to oversee production at a facility in Isfahan. Cooperation with Iran, he said, calls for manufacturing a "whole range" of aircraft, and, he added, "we have work for many years ahead." Their products will be displayed at Iran's first international air show, which is to be held on Kish Island in late October or early November, Naumenko said.

Vyacheslav Boguslaev, general director of Ukraine's Motor Sich engine-building association, said on 26 September that "serious talks" are under way with several countries regarding the purchase of the An-70 military transport aircraft. Although Boguslaev did not specify the countries involved in the talks, he did say that "Russia and Ukraine are developing quite close relations, including in the sphere of military-technical cooperation, with such nations as India, China and Iran." Boguslaev described contracts with Iran for production of An-140 aircraft as an example of profitable cooperation, Moscow's Agentstvo Voennykh Novostei reported.

The Brazilian government, however, appears keen to end the provision of sensitive technologies to Iran, according to Rio de Janeiro's "Jornal do Brasil" on 7 September. Science and Technology Minister Ronaldo Sardenberg told the director of his ministry's Nuclear Affairs and Sensitive-Goods Department, Roque Monteleone Neto, to warn Brazilian businessmen and researchers that such cooperation is banned. Washington had expressed its irritation to Brasilia about the possible export to Iran of ammonium perchlorate, which is used in solid fuel for missiles. Furthermore, a delegation from the War Materiel Industry (Imbtel) visited Iran in the latter half of 2001. (Bill Samii)

BAGHDAD GETS LITTLE SYMPATHY FROM TEHRAN. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri arrived in Tehran on 28 September for a two-day visit in what is perceived as an effort to garner Iranian support against a U.S. attack on Iraq, but he does not seem to have gotten the most sympathetic hearing. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 29 September that it was up to Iraq to avoid a war by cooperating with the United Nations and allowing UN weapons inspections, dpa reported. During a press conference the previous day, Kharrazi expressed concern about the regional impact of a war, saying: "Serious efforts need to be made so that no war takes place in the region because this region cannot tolerate a new war. Any war occurring in this region will cause instability and insecurity throughout the region." Kharrazi also said the two sides would discuss expansion of mutual relations and issues relating to the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, according to IRNA on 28 September.

Iranian state television reported the same day that a delegation led by Ali Aqa-Mohammadi, deputy director of state radio and television, had just returned from Iraq. Aqa-Mohammadi referred to a radio-television agreement, an Iraqi promise to facilitate Iranians' visits to Shia shrines, prisoners of war, and soldiers missing in action.

An Arab diplomat, who did not want his name to be disclosed, said in the 29 September "Entekhab" daily that Tehran may tell Washington about the results of the discussions. The anonymous source said that this would be done in order to avoid any misperception that Iran will cooperate with Iraq.

There does not seem to be much sympathy for Baghdad among Iranian officialdom. Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi said that Iranians would prefer any regime in Iraq to that of Saddam Hussein, Reuters reported on 27 September. Parliament Deputy Speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami said, "The overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, through whatever means, will be the happiest day for all the Iranian people," AFP reported on 26 September. Khatami also got in a jibe at the United States, saying, "If Saddam Hussein is a criminal, the biggest criminal is the superpower that provided him with all the weapons of mass destruction and the technology for these prohibited arms." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN-PUK DIFFICULTIES ARISE. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani conceded in a 21 August interview with "Al Hayat" that, although Iranian officials did not discuss their specific concerns about a U.S. intervention in Iraq when he visited Tehran, "They do naturally have apprehensions about a large-scale U.S. invasion of Iraq without the image of the future regime being clear to them."

This was obvious when Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi said during a visit to Sanandaj that the PUK has raised the Ansar al-Islam issue to encourage U.S. forces to enter Iraqi Kurdistan, IRNA reported on 1 September. Rahim-Safavi also said that the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and the Komala are effectively dead.

The PUK took exception to these statements. It said that Rahim-Safavi was just repeating accusations made by Ansar al-Islam leader Mullah Krekar, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 5 September. The KDPI and Komala are not dead; moreover, they have just stopped their military activities for the sake of Iraqi Kurdistan. Finally, the PUK emphasized that it always has worked to have friendly relations with its neighbors, "especially with Iran." The IRGC liaison office in Suleimanieh subsequently sent a letter to the PUK that confirmed Safavi's continuing friendship with the PUK, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 7 September. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN AND ANKARA SHARE CONCERN ABOUT KURDS. Tehran already feels increasingly encircled by the United States and its allies, and the elimination of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would close the circle. Tehran's support for the Kurdish Islamist group known as Ansar al-Islam probably was meant to serve as a counterweight against PUK and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) willingness to cooperate with U.S. efforts to unseat Hussein. Tehran's part in the arrest of Ansar al-Islam leader Mullah Krekar suggests that Iranian support for the group has ended, possibly because its value as a counterbalance to the PUK and KDP is outweighed by the possibility that Washington would use Ansar al-Islam's purported Al-Qaeda connection as a justification for an invasion. Moreover, KDP leaders recently were in Tehran, and, by dint of proximity, Tehran is able to coerce the PUK. Nevertheless, Tehran continues to fear a U.S. presence on its western border, and both Tehran and Ankara are worried about possible Kurdish efforts toward independence.

An anonymous PUK official said on 25 September that combatants from the Supporters of Islam in Kurdistan ("Peshtiwanani Islam le Kurdistan," or PIK, which also has used the names Ansar al-Islam and Jund al-Islam) have been surrendering since the arrest of their leader, Reuters reported. The PIK leader, Mullah Krekar ("Mala Krakar" in Kurdish sources, who is also known as Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad), was arrested in Amsterdam on 13 September after being expelled from Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 September 2002). Iranian authorities previously facilitated travel by PIK officials to and from Iraqi Kurdistan, according to unnamed Kurdish sources cited by United Press International on 22 September. The Kurds believe that these developments indicate a change in Iranian policy toward the Kurdish Islamists. Now, after Mullah Krekar's arrest, they are afraid to leave their enclave.

Until this development, the Tehran-backed PUK did not know how to deal with the Islamists, "The Guardian" reported on 23 August. "Exiled Iraqi opposition figures and Kurdish leaders" said in the 5 September "The Washington Post" that the Islamists were supported by Iran and were harassing Kurds allied with the United States. According to the U.S. daily, "the consensus in London, including among PUK representatives, is that Iran provides key logistical support and a safe area beyond the northern Iraqi border."

The relationship between the Kurdish Islamists and Iran has not been a secret to readers of the "RFE/RL Iraq Report" and the "RFE/RL Iran Report." Iranian officials were fairly subdued about such reports until mid-August. That is when Uday Saddam Hussein said in a 14 August speech that "The Iranians have created what is called Jund al-Islam, which has nothing to do with Islam and has no link whatsoever with Al-Qaeda," Reuters reported on 23 August.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 26 August: "There are no links between Iran and the leaders of the Jund al-Islam, and the nature and performance of this group are suspicious and, as far as the Islamic Republic of Iran is concerned, unacceptable. Hence, the things that are being said about a link between Iran and this group are mostly based on personal motives or the intention to shift blame," ISNA reported. Kurdistan Province Governor-General Assadollah Razani was quoted by ISNA on 26 August as saying that "There is no link between the group known as the Ansar al-Islam in Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran's organs."

Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi also rejected allegations of a relationship between Iran and the Islamists, IRNA reported on 26 August. Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi said, "The Islamic Republic has no links whatsoever with this group and not a single one of them is on Iranian soil, IRNA reported on 1 September, and he added that "Iran does not in any way afford official recognition to the group known as Ansar al-Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan."

Around the same time that Tehran was denying a relationship with Ansar al-Islam, it was deploying troops in an effort to seal its western border. Revolutionary Union of Kurdistan chief Hussein Yazdanpana said that Iranian forces were occupying positions that they held during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, AFP reported on 23 August, and an anonymous KDP member said that Iranian military helicopters were patrolling the border region under the pretext of narcotics interdiction. On 16 September, the Communist Party of Iraqi Kurdistan newspaper "Regay Kurdistan" reported that the Iranian military is evacuating the villages of Balkha, Daga, and Shaykha and is turning the area around Hawraman (near Halabja) into a "large military camp."

Turkish forces are similarly engaged. Neu-Isenburg's pro-PKK "Ozgur Politika" reported on 26 September that Turkish soldiers are erecting a wire fence on the border with Iran in Van's Saray and Baskale districts. Furthermore, the 20 September issue of the "RFE/RL Iraq Report" cited a Mesopotamia News Agency report that there are some 15,000 Turkish soldiers in Iraqi Kurdistan.

These developments may reflect Turkey's desire to limit the impact of an Iraqi conflict on Kurdish ambitions. Tehran already has close relations with the PUK, and a KDP delegation visited Iran from 12-24 September. One of the topics of discussion was the improvement of KDP-PUK relations, KDP official Hoshyar Zebari said during a 27 September press conference, according to KDP satellite television. Furthermore, during that time, the visitors met with Expediency Council chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Minister of Defense Ali Shamkhani, and Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Yunesi.

Relations between Ankara and the KDP had deteriorated over Iraq's future, RFE/RL reported in late August. As the KDP discussed a constitution that would give greater autonomy to Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkish Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu warned, "Turkey considers northern Iraq to be under its direct care and Ankara would not tolerate the region's being subjugated to the interest of others." Cakmakoglu went further, saying that northern Iraq was "forcibly separated" from Turkey by the Western powers that partitioned the Ottoman Empire and that because of the presence of a Turkic-speaking Turkoman population there, he considered the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul to be "Turkish soil."

Turkish Foreign Minister Sukru Sina Gurel reiterated the importance of Iraq's territorial integrity in the 3 September "Hayat-i No" newspaper from Tehran, although he sounded much less aggressive than Cakmakoglu. He said, "We still believe that Iraq's territorial integrity is as important as the other countries' territorial integrity; our viewpoint has not changed at all in this regard." Gurel continued, "I should clarify that Turkey covets not even a small part of any country's soil, and all the natural resources that exist in Iraq belong to all the Iraqi people, and we believe that Iraq's territorial integrity must be protected."

The early-September agreement of the KDP and PUK to hold a meeting of their joint regional parliament -- the last one was in 1994, according to the 10 September "Financial Times" -- does not seem to have reassured Ankara. As the Turkish newspaper "Ortadogu" reported on 25 September, the KDP-PUK agreement's timing is a cause of concern for Iran and Turkey. It continued, "Neither Turkey nor Iran wants a war on their borders and both countries are concerned that a powerful Kurdish element in Iraq might set an example for their own people, who want cultural and political rights."

Such concern may explain the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) strategy that calls for intervention if the Kurds try to establish an independent state. The TSK study is entitled "Red Line Strategy," Istanbul's center-right daily "Sabah" reported on 25 September, and if the Kurds try to establish an independent state, "then we will strike," the study says. Possible Turkish action has already been coordinated with Tehran, with "Sabah" reporting that Foreign Minister Gurel discussed it during his visit to Tehran. Gurel proposed the establishment of a new border gate supported by Syria via Iran after the closing of the Habur Border Gate, which would cut off the largest source of income for the KDP. Fuel oil passing through the Habur Border Gate is the biggest source of revenue for the Kurds. Trade through the new border gate would permit a contribution to Iran's Turkoman population.

Nevertheless, KDP official Zebari, during his 27 September press conference, was at pains to say that Turkey should not feel threatened. He said: "The purpose of our visit [to Iran] was not to be against Turkey. Many people might think that because our relations with Turkey are tense, then we are getting closer to Iran. This thing does not exist. Because, only yesterday, a high-ranking Turkish military delegation were our guests and we held long talks with them and they also think that our relations should be normalized and improved. We should also try to resolve the current issues. For this reason, it is decided that a high-ranking KDP delegation will visit Ankara in the near future." (Bill Samii)

IMAGERY REVEALS ALLEGED AL-QAEDA CAMP IN IRAN. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on 26 September said that Al-Qaeda personnel are in Iran and the Iranian government is providing them with a safe haven, Dow Jones reported the next day. "There are Al-Qaeda in Iran. There are a lot of Al-Qaeda in Iran. Iran is providing haven. And they're telling their people they're not. The government is. And they're not telling their people the truth. And they are there. And they do not like it when we say that. But they are," Rumsfeld said. When asked about the existence of Al-Qaeda training camps in Iran, Rumsfeld said: "The problem is not so much terrorist training camps. [The problem is that Iran is] a country that provides a haven for terrorists so that they can train on a continuing basis, and so forth. And that is notably unhelpful."

NBC News had reported on 25 September that U.S. satellite imagery has detected what appears to be an Al-Qaeda training facility in Iran that is near the Afghan border, according to AFP. NBC's anonymous sources said that, although Iran's civilian government may be unaware of the facility, the Iranian military and intelligence forces certainly would know about it.

Tehran was unhappy about this report. Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi told AFP on 26 September, "Such a camp does not exist anywhere in Iran." Assefi went on to say, "Such accusations are part of a psychological war" and "neither the U.S. government nor any other government has given Iran any proof or documents to back up such accusations." Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting analyst Mr. Kheradmand discussed this most recent report on state radio on 26 September, saying that it is nothing new. "In my opinion, the fact that the allegations are based on photographs of remote areas in eastern Iran shows how baseless and unfounded they are. Considering their extensive presence in Afghanistan and the information they have from arrested Al-Qaeda and Taliban members, if the Americans really had any proof of Iran's support for the Al-Qaeda network, they would have published it much sooner and submitted them as evidence to the international community. But the main point is that the Americans have no proof or evidence in the case, and the type of allegations they have leveled, which come from anonymous sources, shows how baseless the allegations are. In my opinion, they are feeble attempts to change Iran's opposition to America's unilateral action against Iraq," Kheradmand said. (Bill Samii)

MASHHAD RADIO: AFGHANS DISSATISFIED WITH U.S. SECURITY MEASURES. Iranian state radio's Dari-language service from Mashhad reported on 26 September that southeastern Khost Province Governor Hakim Taniwal and local security officials met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss "the interference of Americans in the internal affairs of the country." Mr. Mustafa, the Khost security commander, told Mashhad radio: "We also discussed a number of operations carried out by Americans without coordinating and asking for permission from Khost Province's officials. Mr. Karzai promised that such things would not happen again." On the same day, Mashhad radio quoted Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Seyyed Hussein Eshraq Husseini as saying that U.S. operations that are not coordinated with the Kabul government are causing "wide dissatisfaction in Afghanistan." Husseini said that local commanders believe that U.S. military activities are the "main factor" provoking locals, and they asked Kabul to take "preventive measures" against U.S. military activities. (Bill Samii)