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Iran Report: November 11, 2002

11 November 2002, Volume 5, Number 41

A DEATH SENTENCE FOR THE MIRO. "Jaam," the weekly publication of the conservative Islamic Society of Engineers, on 5 August broke the news that a Hamedan Court had sentenced Hashem Aghajari of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO) to death, and on 7 August, Aghajari's lawyer confirmed the news in an interview with ISNA. Aghajari's conviction relates to a speech he made in June (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 July 2002), but his trial may be connected with an effort to disband the left-wing MIRO.

Attorney Saleh Nikbakht said that the Hamedan Public Court sentenced Aghajari to death, eight years in prison, and banned him from teaching for 10 years. Nikbakht said that he would appeal the sentence upon receipt of formal notification. Nikbakht said that senior sources of emulation and Qom seminarians had seen a videotape of Aghajari's speech and confirmed that it did not insult the Prophet Mohammad, the imams, or sanctities, and it was not offensive in any way. Moreover, Aghajari apologized several times for having hurt anybody's feelings.

Aghajari's speech and the furor it caused appear to have made it open season on the MIRO, a party with roots in the Mujahedin Khalq Organization. Criticism of the MIRO could be found in publications (e.g., "Shoma," "Resalat," and "Yalisarat al-Hussein") associated with conservative political figures and groups. Mohammad Sazegar said in an interview with the 4 August "Resalat" that the MIRO had distanced itself from the constitution, ignored the people's religious beliefs, and neglected national interests. Sazegar said that the MIRO is paving the way for the United States by creating discord and disharmony.

There were other efforts to discredit the MIRO. Senior theologians received death threats signed by "the supporters of Hashem Aghajari," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 August, in an effort to have the party declared "muharib" (at war with Islam). The conservative Society of Islamic Associations of the Bazaar complained that the MIRO lacked political legitimacy, according to the 21 August "Tehran Times," prompting an investigation by the Article 10 Commission of Political Parties. This could have led to the MIRO's being dissolved.

And then there was an attempt to connect MIRO leader Behzad Nabavi with the 1981 bombing of the Islamic Republican Party headquarters by the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, as reported in the 1 September "Aftab-i Yazd." This incident led to the deaths of President Mohammad Ali Rajai and Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Bahonar, as well as 70 other officials, a number strikingly similar to the number of martyrs who died beside Imam Hussein in Karbala.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohsen Armin, who is a member of the MIRO, dismissed as a joke attempts to dissolve his party, ISNA reported on 27 August. He said that such issues must be dealt with through legal channels, and declarations against the MIRO by seminarians lacked legitimacy. Armin went on to say that the Association of Qom Seminary Lecturers was more political than religious, and it and the Society of Islamic Associations of the Bazaar were allied and were opposed to the reformist front.

The death sentence against Aghajari is no joke, however, and even if the sentence is changed on appeal to only imprisonment, it is part of the effort to eliminate an outspoken element of the reform movement. Other significant MIRO members who have run into trouble with the courts are Mustafa Tajzadeh and Behzad Nabavi. (Bill Samii)

STUDENTS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST AGHAJARI SENTENCE... "Execution of Aghajari is execution of thought in Iran!" "Political prisoners should be released!" "Freedom of thought forever!" "Our problem is the judiciary!" These were just some of the slogans chanted by about 500 students gathered outside the gates of Tehran University on 9 November, according to Reuters. Police cordoned off the area and Ansar-i Hizballah vigilantes watched the demonstration, at which at least one tear-gas canister was fired. The police also forced some motorcycle riders who were trying to provoke the students to leave the area, according to the Iranian Students News Agency.

Indeed, ISNA tried to downplay the protest by saying that the students were protesting the poor quality of campus food, while "about 60 or 70 others" tried to provoke them. ISNA added, "Here and there, some of the students are shouting slogans in support of Hashem Aghajari and freedom of thought." ISNA said in an earlier dispatch that about half of the 500 demonstrators sang "My old school comrade" and "O Iran" and chanted on Aghajari's behalf. The students also chanted, according to Reuters, "Khatami resign!" (Bill Samii)

...AND TWO PARLIAMENTARIANS RESIGN. Hamedan parliamentary representatives Hussein Loqmanian and Mohammad-Reza Ali-Husseini submitted their resignations to the legislature's presiding board as a protest against the death sentence on Hashem Aghajari, IRNA reported on 10 November. Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi spoke out against the sentence during the legislature's open session, saying, "I, as a cleric and the spokesman of religious dignitaries whom I have contacted, announce my hatred and disgust at this shameful verdict," according to IRNA. Karrubi also called for calm and indicated that the issue has already been resolved. He said, according to a radio broadcast cited by AFP, "I say to his family that [the execution] will not take place and even that with the help of God he will soon return to his family," adding, "The affair is settled and with the help of God it will soon be over." Karrubi criticized the judge who passed the verdict and suggested that the decision against Aghajari was political. (Bill Samii)

WHAT FUTURE FOR ABDULLAH NURI? Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 4 November pardoned former Interior Minister and Tehran municipal council member Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri, IRNA reported. Khamenei sent a letter to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi in which he said that his pardon of Nuri is based on requests from members of the parliament, as well as sympathy for the death of Nuri's brother Ali Reza in a traffic accident. Nuri was mentioned recently as a possible Executives of Construction Party candidate in the next presidential election, and even if this does not come to pass, there will be questions about his political future.

Nuri was sentenced to five years in prison in November 1999 on charges of publishing reports that insult officials and institutions of the system, reporting lies and waging propaganda against the system, insulting Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his views, publishing reports contrary to religious principles, and insulting religious sanctities. Other charges included backing ties with the United States, promoting dissident cleric Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri's political views, and urging recognition of Israel (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 November 1999). Nuri went after many of the regime's sacred cows during the trial, saying, for example, that Iranians should not be more Palestinian than the Palestinians, and his defense statements later were published in a best-selling book entitled "Shokaran Eslah" ("Hemlock for an Advocate of Reform").

There is reason to doubt whether Nuri has much of a political future. As pointed out in the 6 November broadcast of RFE/RL's Persian Service, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei was very critical of Nuri in a 17 December 1999 sermon and, without naming Nuri, accused Nuri of aiding Iran's enemies. "Any wise person must become concerned if his enemy applauds his actions. He should ask himself, what did I do wrong to please the enemy? He should come to his senses. It is a pity that some people are pleased with the enemy's applause. Who will applaud the member of a football team who inadvertently shoots into his own side's goal? The supporters of the opposing side, of course," Khamenei said.

Khamenei even accused the unnamed Nuri of cooperating inadvertently with Israel and the United States. He said, "One is saddened, and it breaks my heart to see that some individuals, who were nurtured by the revolution and were fed by the revolution, Islam, and the Lord of the Age, and those who preached in support of the Lord of the Age and the immaculate imams, are behaving in a manner today that their actions receive the applause of Israel, America, the CIA, and anyone else who opposes Islam in any corner of the world." (Bill Samii)

HEALTH MINISTER SUMMONED FOR CONFIDENCE VOTE. Twenty-three members of parliament have submitted a request for the interpellation of Minister of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Masud Pezeshkian, Iranian state radio reported on 6 November. Pezeshkian has 10 days to appear before the legislature to answer questions about his performance and to submit to a vote of confidence. Early-October efforts to interpellate Pezeshkian did not get far due to efforts to resolve questions about his performance through dialogue (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 October 2002). (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENT POSTPONES PLAN TO DIVIDE KHORASAN PROVINCE. The Iranian parliament on 29 October decided to shelve for six months a government bill that would divide northeastern Khorasan Province into either three or five new provinces, according to RFE/RL's Persian Service. Eighty-seven deputies wanted to defer the legislation, "Hayat-i No" reported on 30 October, while 22 of Khorasan's 26 representatives wanted the division to be made as soon as possible. This is not the first time that this issue has caused parliamentary disputes (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 May 2002).

Neishabur representative Hussein Ansari-Rad warned during the 29 October session that dividing the province would cause social unrest, while Khaf and Rashtkhar representative Qolam Heidar Ebrahimbay-Salami accused Ansari-Rad of inciting the public. It would appear that inciting locals would not be very difficult, as there have already been several riots over plans to divide the province of roughly 6 million people (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 September 2001, 11 February 2002, 6 May 2002, and 29 July 2002). Ansari-Rad has been an outspoken critic of plans to divide the province, and on 29 October he said that doing so would impose considerable expenses on the government treasury and it would not help security in the province.

Ebrahimbay-Salami, on the other hand, said that the public would accept whatever the parliament votes for. Problems in the province, he said, related to mismanagement rather than underfunding. "The problem of Khorasan is not just about credit and money; the problem is about management. A manager in Khorasan must work five times harder than someone of his same rank in other provinces. So far, we have spent more than 1 trillion rials [$125 million] to fortify the eastern borders against the entry of narcotics and traffickers, and this is an important point," Ebrahimbay-Salami said.

Ansari-Rad apparently would not disagree with his colleague about management issues, because in a pre-agenda speech on 21 October he said that dividing the province would not solve provincial mismanagement and misuse of funds. He asked rhetorically, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported in 23 October, "Can the problem of managing Tehran, a city that is on the verge of a crisis in all respects, be settled by dividing it?"

Birjand representative Mehdi Ayati said in "Hayat-i No" that a bill could be deferred for a six-month period just one time. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI'S LEGISLATION CLEARS ANOTHER HURDLE. The Iranian legislature on 6 November voted on and approved the general principles of a bill amending the election law, and on 10 November the legislature approved the outline of legislation that would permit the president to suspend judicial decisions that violate the constitution. Executive-branch officials are optimistic that the Guardians Council will approve the first item of legislation, but the indications are that the legislation will not enjoy smooth sailing.

The legislation would effectively eliminate the Guardians Council's function of "approbatory supervision" of elections, through which it vets candidates for elected office. Some parliamentarians said that the changes would facilitate the democratic process in Iran, IRNA reported on 5 November, while others countered that the changes could permit opponents of the Islamic-republic system to enter the parliament. Tehran parliamentarian Elahe Kulyai said that the amendments would increase public participation and prevent individuals with political leanings from influencing elections. Hamedan parliamentarian Hamid Reza Haji-Babai said that the amendment ran counter to six articles of the constitution.

The executive branch continues to indicate its optimism about the legislation's success. Iranian Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said on 6 November, according to IRNA, that the Guardians Council should approve of the legislation if it examines it realistically, adding, "I do not see any reason why these bills should be rejected." Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad-Ali Abtahi said on 6 November that, "There is no reason why these bills should be rejected by the Guardians Council," according to ISNA, but he conceded that there could be some changes to the legislation. Abtahi said, "The spirit of the two bills has to be safeguarded, but we are not insisting that the phrasing of the bills must remain exactly as it is."

The Guardians Council must approve all legislation on Islamic and on constitutional grounds. So far, Gholam-Hussein Elham, who heads the Guardians Council Research Center, has been critical of the legislation, leading to speculation that it will be rejected (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 September 2002). Mr. Taraqi, the deputy chairman of the political bureau of the Islamic Coalition Association, said in the 28 October "Seda-yi Idalat" that he expects the Guardians Council to oppose the legislation on constitutional and on Islamic grounds, and even if the legislature persists in promoting the bills, it would go to the Expediency Council.

Contributing further to doubts about the legislation's future is the 6 November rejection by the Guardians Council of a bill to reform the municipal-elections law. Guardians Council spokesman Ebrahim Azizi said that the bill contained a number of faults that made it unconstitutional, according to IRNA, and he added that the bill ignored the councils' independence. Azizi explained that the new legislation gave executive powers to the councils, whereas they are responsible for supervision.

Moreover, the Guardians Council is in the process of establishing permanent supervisory and inspection offices throughout the country in preparation for the 2003 municipal-council elections and especially for the 2004 parliamentary elections. Mohammad Nabi Habibi, the head of the Office of the Council of Guardians in Tehran Province, described steps to reopen offices "in all the provinces and in 300 city regions, and in connection with this, relations have been established between the oversight organization and more than 150,000 overseers," "Resalat" reported on 28 October.

The establishment of such an office in Selseleh township of Luristan Province was described in the 28 October "Toseh" newspaper. Deputy Interior Minister for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mahmud Mirlohi described similar events elsewhere and said, "In some of these ceremonies, the speakers also made certain implicit or even direct threats and warnings concerning the way they intended to go about the process of assessing the competence of the future election candidates."

Support for the amendment to the election law has come from an unexpected corner, the popular former Isfahan Friday-prayer leader, Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri-Isfahani. Taheri sent a letter to the parliamentarians in which he criticized the Guardians Council's exercise of "approbatory supervision," through which it rejects potential candidates for office, according to the 6 November "Aftab-i Yazd." Taheri pointed out that he was a member of the original Assembly of Experts that drew up the constitution, and he said the term "approbatory supervision" was not uttered by any of the authors. Taheri said that Article 56 of the constitution says that nobody can deny the people's right to self-determination or personal sovereignty, whereas the current interpretation of Article 99, which gives the Guardians Council the right to supervise elections, amounts to interference in elections and is in conflict with the constitution. (Bill Samii)

PROFESSORS WANT OUT. A poll conducted at 28 Iranian universities and research centers found that the majority of faculty members would leave the country if they could, Iranian pedagogical expert Said Peyvandi told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 28 October. The respondents listed as the main reasons for this the presence of incompetent supervisors and nepotism, the absence of economic and professional opportunities in Iran, and an uncomfortable cultural atmosphere.

Tehran University of Medical Sciences professor Siavash Nasseri-Moghaddam painted a different picture of Iran's academic atmosphere during a presentation he made in New Haven, Connecticut, according to a 28 October report in "The Yale Daily News." Nasseri-Moghaddam said that the revolution had a suffocating effect, with the closure of universities for about 1 1/2 years, and until around 1993, very strict vetting of students and instructors. The situation has changed under President Mohammad Khatami, Nasseri-Moghaddam said, with university classes expanding and vetting becoming less rigorous and less frequent. (Bill Samii)

TEACHERS COMPLAIN OF INATTENTION. Iran's House of Teachers complained in a recent letter to President Khatami that the government has failed to respond to the legitimate demands of Iran's 1 million teachers and at the same time has banned their demonstrations and strikes. Nor does the House of Teachers believe that the legislature is much help.

Deputy Director of the House of Teachers Rahman Shams told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 5 November that the teachers want higher pay and an end to mismanagement, nepotism, and corruption in the Education and Training Ministry. Shams said that the parliament turned its back on the teachers when it defeated the motion to investigate the Education and Training Ministry. He added that he does not see any solution, and he believes that the teachers' concerns are victims of political disputes.

Hamedan parliamentarian Hamid Reza Haji-Babai is the sponsor of a motion to investigate the Education and Training Ministry, and a report from the 3 November session of parliament as carried by "Resalat" the next day, said that the reformist majority in the legislature opposed the motion. Haji-Babai asked Education and Training Minister Morteza Haji-Qaem, "What have you done to eliminate discrimination between the teachers and other fixed-wage earners?" Haji-Qaem responded, according to the 6 November "Iran Daily," "What can I do when you pass discriminatory laws!" (Bill Samii)

IRAN TRIES TO REVERSE ITS BRAIN DRAIN. Iran's parliament on 3 November approved legislation permitting foreign universities to establish branches in Iran, and these institutions would have to respect Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology regulations. Said Peyvandi, an Iranian scholar based in Paris, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that after the 1978-1979 revolution, Iranian universities' interaction with their foreign counterparts dropped sharply. The new legislation, if the Guardians Council approves of it, could revive this sort of interaction.

There is also the hope that the presence of branches of foreign universities would help reverse the brain drain ("farar-i maqzha" in Persian), a phenomenon that led Minister of Science, Research, and Technology Mustafa Moin to say in May 2001 that some 220,000 "leading academic elites and industrialists" had left permanently for the West in the last year (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 January 2002). This is an issue that is of great concern throughout Iran.

Supreme Leader Khamenei said in a 25 September meeting with model students, winners of international Olympiads, and Higher-Education Ministry officials that the brain drain has several aspects. One is when "foreigners want to come over and take advantage of the country's national and human resources," and the other is when "a talented young person may feel that he can have a better life, a more rewarding job, and greater learning opportunities outside the country, and he may then decide to leave his homeland."

An anonymous "well-known university lecturer" cited in the 30 September "Tehran Times" said that one of the main reasons for the brain drain is discriminatory policies on the part of the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology. The ministry only trains people for doctorates who will serve in the ministry itself, and it will not pay for the foreign study of other ministries' personnel.

Insecurity is behind emigration of the elite, Khorasan Province Deputy Governor for Political Affairs Morteza Afqah said in the 7 September issue of Ahvaz's "Nur-i Khuzestan." He defined security as a situation in which people can carry out their plans with confidence about the long term.

Meanwhile, a column in the 11 October issue of "Payam-i Ostan-i Semnan" pleaded with young people, educated or not, to stay in Iran. The column described the "ordeal of enduring loneliness and homesickness in an alien land" and the "countless dangers...that menace our beloved children in these infidel lands and exploiting countries." As for foreign people, they have "ice and rock in their chests instead of hearts and emotions." The column warned that Iran's children could "fall victim to the corruption networks of foreign criminals and international gangsters and drown in the quagmire of vice." "Payam-i Ostan-i Semnan" urged people to stay in Iran, even if they had to take menial work, to help the country. (Bill Samii)

IRAN'S WATER CRISIS PERSISTS. Deputy Energy Minister Reza Amrollahi said at the 4 November conclusion of the Second International Exhibition of Water, Water Installations, and Sewage [sic] that per capita water consumption in Iran is twice the global average (150 liters per day vs. 75 liters per day), according to IRNA. Although Amrollahi said that water is scarce in Iran, another 4 November IRNA report said that there is no need for water rationing in Iran this year due to satisfactory levels of rainfall. News reports from the provinces suggest that the water shortage continues and the recent relief that Sistan va Baluchistan Province enjoyed was short-lived.

Abdolreza Daneshvar, governor of the Kerman Province town of Kahnuj, said that the drought has dried up orchards and farmland and killed livestock, "Rudbar-i Zamin" weekly reported on 7 September. Daneshvar said that more than 200 subterranean canals and 285 springs are in the process of drying up or have already done so. Daneshvar estimated that 40 percent of the drinking-water network is damaged, and repairing it would cost almost 5 billion rials ($625,000). He estimated the total damage to the agriculture, livestock, and water-supply sectors to be more than 656 billion rials (more than $8 million), and he said that villagers are abandoning their homes and migrating to the cities.

Residents of Arvandkenar in Khuzestan Province are emigrating because of drought conditions, too, according to the 31 August issue of Ahvaz's "Nur-i Khuzestan" weekly. Palm orchards by the Arvand Rud (Arvand River) are dried up and the land has deteriorated into swampland. "The people of this region wait for water tankers in bad atmospheric conditions in temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius under the hot sun and suffering from all kinds of mosquitoes because of the salty water." Unemployment is leading to emigration as well.

Meanwhile, the flow of the Hirmand (Helmand) River into Iran has stopped again. Parliamentarian Abolqasem Mokhtari, who represents the drought-stricken Sistan va Baluchistan Province, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that he does not know whether the Afghan government is responsible for blocking the water or whether the water is being diverted by Afghans on its 800-kilometer course to Iran from Afghanistan's Kajaki dam. The river's water reached Iran on 25 October, but even then there were official complaints about the inadequate supply (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 November 2002). Kabul had agreed to release 1,000 hours of water flow, "Iran" reported on 6 November, but it turned the tap off after just 240 hours.

An "informed source" from Sistan va Baluchistan Province explained in "Iran" that the water cutoff was connected with the autumn harvest season in Afghanistan's Helmand and Nimruz provinces, and the source speculated that the flow might resume in two months. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said during a telephone conversation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Iranian state radio reported on 8 November, that Afghanistan must honor the existing agreements regarding the Hirmand River.

Meanwhile, Deputy Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian told IRNA on 4 November that his ministry has submitted a comprehensive water-management plan to the legislature. (Bill Samii)

KURDISH LEADER DISSIMULATES ABOUT TRIP TO IRAN. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani said about his late-October trip to Iran: "My visit to Tehran is private. I am on my way to Syria.... I have not met any Iranian official," according to the 31 October issue of "Kurdistani Nuwe." In an interview that appeared in the 6 October "The New York Times," however, Talabani said that Tehran had promised to provide military assistance in eliminating the Kurdish Islamists in northern Iraq. He explained: "We are planning to do it with the support from our brothers in Iran to clean the area of this terrorist group.... They promised to help us in this plan."

The Islamists to whom Talabani is referring are known as the Ansar-i Islam, the Jund al-Islam, and/or the Supporters of Islam in Kurdistan (Peshtiwanani Islam le Kurdistan, PIK). They are reported to include Al-Qaeda and/or Taliban personnel, and they also are reported to receive assistance from Baghdad.

PUK officials have asserted in the past that Ansar-i Islam gets help from Tehran, and the Ansar-i Islam issue has led to PUK-Tehran tensions. In September, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi accused the PUK of raising the Ansar al-Islam issue to encourage U.S. forces to enter Iraqi Kurdistan, and the PUK accused Rahim-Safavi of repeating Ansar-i Islam accusations (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 September 2002).

Ansar-i Islam leader Mullah Krekar (a.k.a. Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad) was arrested in Amsterdam in mid-September after he was refused entry at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport. Tehran took credit for this event, but it did not explain why the Iranian Embassy in Oslo issued a visa to Mullah Krekar in the first place (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 September 2002). (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER VISITS ITALY. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari left for Rome on 30 October and returned to Tehran on 3 November after a brief stopover in Dubai, according to IRNA (a 2 November IRNA report states that Musavi-Lari returned to Tehran on 1 November). On his arrival in Tehran, IRNA reported, Musavi-Lari said that he and his hosts signed a security agreement that deals with cooperation in counternarcotics, organized crime, and illegal immigration. Another topic of discussion was the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, which is active in Italy, and its use of cover names to continue its activities. Musavi-Lari described the creation of a joint committee that would meet regularly to discuss topics of mutual interest. Musavi-Lari met with his counterpart Giuseppe Pisanu, IRNA reported on 2 November, and he described Tehran's willingness to use Italian advanced technology for security activities in Iran.

Musavi-Lari met with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on 31 October, and Berlusconi welcomed the opportunity to strengthen economic ties, IRNA reported on 1 November. Iran-Italy trade exceeded $3 billion in 2001, according to IRNA. In the period from 21 March to 21 July this year, Iran-Italy trade stood at $1 billion, which exceeds by 30 percent trade in the same period during the previous year, Iranian Ambassador to Italy Bahram Qasemi said, according to IRNA on 3 November. Qasemi also said that Italy accounts for 26 percent of Iran's trade with the European Union . (Bill Samii)

ITALIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS VISIT IRAN. President of Italy's Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the legislature) Pier Ferdinando Casini arrived in Shiraz on 31 October on a direct flight from Rome, according to IRNA. Casini and the delegation of other parliamentarians flew to Tehran on 1 November. Casini and Iranian Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi met on 2 November, according to Iranian state television, and Karrubi said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that everlasting peace [in the occupied territories] must be based on justice and secure the rights of the Palestinian people" [sic]. Karrubi also decried terrorism in all its manifestations and called on the United Nations to play a "prominent role" in counterterrorism.

Casini met with President Khatami on 2 November, and according to IRNA, Khatami told him, "the current extremist policies of the U.S. authorities contribute to warmongering events and are against global peace." Casini also met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani on 2 November.

Casini described his talks as fruitful, IRNA reported on 3 November. He described Egypt, Greece, Iran, and Italy as the four major cradles of civilization and said that a dialogue among civilizations would pave the way for international consensus. Casini said that Iran and Italy hold common views on counternarcotics, support for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and on Iraq. (Bill Samii)

BAHRAINIS GO HOME. In another sign of the improvement in Iran-Bahrain relations, some 230 residents of Shiraz were granted Bahraini citizenship by the country's monarch, Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifah, during the first weekend of November. The returning Bahrainis received a tumultuous welcome, according to Manama's "Gulf Daily News" on 4 November. The newspaper quoted a Mr. Hussein as saying: "Home sweet home. I have really missed my country for the past 20 years, but now I am back to help build the future through the road paved by His Majesty the king." Bahraini Exile-Affairs Committee head Abduladeem Al Bahraini said that 350 exiles have returned from Iran in the last year.

Persians ruled Bahrain for nearly 200 years, and the original population practiced Shia Islam, until Sunni Arabs took power in 1783. Groups like the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain and Bahrain Freedom Movement were inspired by Iran's 1978-79 revolution, and Tehran tried to mobilize Bahraini Shia by sending in Iranian clerics and training local clerics in Iran. Tehran also propagandized Bahrainis through the use of radio, pamphlets, and cassette recordings of radical preachers. Many Bahrainis were forced into exile or deported for their part in a political uprising in the early 1980s.

When Bahraini monarch Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifah visited Iran in August, Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi announced the beginning of a "new chapter" in their relationship (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 August 2002). (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN AND MANAMA PURSUE ECONOMIC LINKS. When Al-Khalifah visited Iran in August, President Khatami expressed Iran's readiness to cooperate in oil, gas, banking, and investing (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 August 2002). Recent reports indicate that the economic aspect of Tehran-Manama relations is developing along those lines.

"Bahrain is our logical choice to funnel a surge in commerce and trade between Iran and the rest of the world," Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs Mohammad Hussein Adeli said in the 4 November issue of Manama's "Gulf Daily News." Adeli said that he is pitching a six-point investment plan to potential Bahraini investors. This plan focuses on development of Iran's energy resources (oil, gas, and petrochemicals), as well as the related construction of infrastructure. Mining is another possibility. Adeli also described the possibility of investing in three areas of Iran's manufacturing sector: electronics, automotive parts, and textiles.

Iranian Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari met with Bahraini Finance and National Economy Minister Abdallah Hassan Sayf in Manama in August. A Bahraini economic delegation headed by Sayf arrived in Tehran on 17 October, IRNA reported, and two days later Shariatmadari and Sayf signed four agreements, according to IRNA. The agreements deal with banking, communications, insurance, technical services, tourism, trade, training, and transport. The agreements also address cooperation in customs affairs and the exchange of experts and advisers. Also on 19 October, Central Bank of Iran Governor Mohsen Nurbakhsh and Bahraini Central Bank Governor Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad al-Khalifah signed a cooperation agreement. Nurbakhsh told IRNA that the agreement envisages cooperation in the monetary sector, joint investments, the avoidance of double taxation, and training of personnel. (Bill Samii)