2 December 2002, Volume 5, Number 44
IRAN MAY BE FUNDING AL-AQSA MARTYRS BRIGADE. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has claimed responsibility for the 28 November shootings in Bet Shean, Israel, in which four people were killed and over 20 were wounded, Beirut's Hizballah-affiliated Al-Manar Television reported the same day, and is responsible for many other acts of terrorism in Israel. Members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade say that some of their colleagues have received funds from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), according to a report in "The Washington Post" on 13 November. Al-Aqsa leaders say there are no strings attached to the PIJ funds, but they also note that some Al-Aqsa members have joined the PIJ. The PIJ is responsible for many suicide bombings, according to the U.S. State Department, and Iran funds the PIJ.
Abdallah al-Shami, a PIJ leader in Gaza, confirmed in an interview that appeared in the 22 November issue of "Al-Qods al-Arabi" that his organization and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade coordinate their activities. He said that that the PIJ maintains political ties with Tehran and with Lebanese Hizballah, "but there is no planning or military coordination between the two parties." Al-Shami also expressed the hope that the PIJ and Hamas would coordinate their activities in the future. The Hamas representative in Iran, Abu Ahmad Mustafa, on 14 November said at a mosque in Ahvaz in southern Khuzestan Province that all Muslims must support the intifada, IRNA reported the next day.
The U.S. State Department designated the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in March 2002. Hamas, the PIJ, and Hizballah also are designated as FTOs (see http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/fs/2002/12389.htm for the full list). Iran funds Hamas and the PIJ, and it provides Hizballah with "substantial amounts of financial, training, weapons, explosives, political, diplomatic, and organizational aid," according to the State Department's annual terrorism report. (Bill Samii)
IRAN COMMEMORATES 'QODS DAY'... The last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is marked in the Islamic Republic of Iran as Qods Day (Jerusalem Day, 29 November), and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a 4 November speech broadcast by Iranian state radio that on that day Iranians would show their support for the Palestinians. "Palestinians, single-handedly and without weapons, have paralyzed the regime of Israel, which is the most heavily equipped regime in the region," Khamenei said. He continued, "Israel is backed by America."
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 24 November encouraged his compatriots to participate in Qods Day, IRNA reported, adding that a good turnout would indicate the Iranian nation's resolve to support Palestine.
On 29 November, people chanted "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" as they marched to the Friday prayers sermon at Tehran University, and they burned U.S. and Israeli flags. "Tens of thousands" of people participated in the rallies, according to Reuters and AP, including Basijis wearing the white shrouds of martyrs. Participants were also given the opportunity to visit the "Red Olive" exhibition [presumably a reference to the olive branch that symbolizes peace] at the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, according to a 28 November state radio report. Visitors to this exhibit could learn about "the plight of the Palestinian nation," "study their martyrdom-seeking operations" (which is a euphemism for suicide bombings), and see "the face of Zionism and America's support for the Zionist regime."
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani gave the 29 November Friday prayers sermon at Tehran University. In the first sermon he told his audience that Israel is a regional base for colonialism, and he criticized Egypt for cooperating with the U.S. and Israel by signing the Camp David accords. Rafsanjani criticized other Arab regimes, too. "The dependence of Islamic governments on the West does not allow them to be active.... It is very strange and surprising that the Muslims and Islamic governments are witnessing all of these crimes committed against the Palestinians and still view America as their savior and guardian."
Rafsanjani concluded his sermon with a warning: "...do not think that the Palestinians will always fight inside Palestine, in Gaza and the West Bank. If you make them frustrated, they will come up from other places, an example of which we saw in Kenya, and such incidents can take place in many other places."
Supreme Leader Khamenei discussed similar issues in the second Friday prayer sermon of 22 November, when he reminded his compatriots about Qods Day. He said, according to state radio, "Today the enemy of the Iranian nation, the enemy of its independence and the enemy of the nation's freedom is the colonialist and arrogant government of America." And near the end of the sermon he said: "America is making the mistake of openly and blatantly supporting the Zionist regime. It has given a blank check to Israel...."
A resolution passed at the end of the 29 November rallies called for the repatriation of all Palestinians and a referendum on the establishment of an independent Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital. The resolution condemned any sort of a military build-up against a Muslim state, including Iraq, and it called on the Organization of the Islamic Conference to take concrete measures to deter the U.S. and its allies from waging war against the Islamic community. (Bill Samii)
...AND 'SOLIDARITY WITH THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE.' The UN General Assembly in 1977 designated 29 November as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/palestinian/). Not only did President Khatami attend the Qods Day rallies on 29 November (see above), he issued a statement relating to the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Khatami voiced his support for any steps that would guarantee Palestinians' rights, according to IRNA. Khatami's statement also said that the Israel has taken advantage of the post-11 September atmosphere to step up its actions against the Palestinians. (Bill Samii)
'QODS DAY' RALLIES IN OTHER COUNTRIES. Qods Day rallies took place in a number of countries other than Iran, but a noteworthy aspect of these demonstrations was the Iranian linkage. Participants in a rally at the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus carried posters of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of Iran's Islamic revolution. At a rally near Manama, Bahrain, some 8,000-10,000 demonstrators burned the U.S. and Israeli flags and waved Hizballah and Palestinian flags, according to Al-Jazeera satellite television. An unidentified clergyman said, "In this great demonstration and this huge gathering in Bahrain, we have responded to the call by Imam Khomeini, may God be pleased with him, who ruled that Muslims should demonstrate on this day."
The rally in Lebanon featured posters of Ayatollah Khomeini, too. Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said at this event, "On Al-Qods Day, we affirm that our choice is clear: Resistance which will regain [Arab] rights and holy sites [in Jerusalem]," according to AP. Qods Day and Kashmir Day coincided in Pakistan this year, and according to Islamabad's PTV World on 29 November, there were a number of rallies throughout Pakistan and Kashmir. Posters of Khomeini and Khamenei were seen at a rally in Lahore, Pakistan. There also were rallies near Manama and in Cairo, although a feature of the latter event was posters of deceased Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. (Bill Samii)
LEGISLATORS STRESS SUPPORT FOR PALESTINE. The Iranian parliament has indicated as a group and individually support for the current Palestinian uprising. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi on 28 November said at a conference in Tehran that the U.S. is the major supporter of Israel and its "massacre" of the Palestinians, IRNA reported, whereas the U.S. condemns "legitimate resistance to the occupation force as terrorism." Moreover, the speaker of the Syrian People's Assembly, Abd-al-Qadir Qaddurah, on 5 November received a letter from Karrubi in which the Iranian legislature condemned "Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people" and reiterated Iran's support for "the Palestinian people and the brave intifada," Syria's official SANA news agency reported.
Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, a former ambassador to Syria and a founder of Lebanese Hizballah, said that a seminar entitled "Solidarity with the Palestinian Nation" will be held in Tehran on 27 November, the "Hayat-i No" newspaper reported on 18 November. Mohtashami-Pur said that "ambassadors and envoys of Arab and Islamic countries and the envoys of European and African countries that favor the restoration of the rights of the oppressed Palestinian nation" would attend the seminar. Mohtashami-Pur previously served as secretary of the "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" conferences that took place in Tehran in April 2001 and June 2002.
The Iranian legislature in a 13 November letter to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, called for the condemnation of, as IRNA termed it, "the detention [in Israel] of Palestinian MPs by the Zionist regime." Iranian Inter-Parliamentary Group Secretary-General Jalil Sazgarnezhad said in the letter that Palestine Legislative Council member Marwan Barghuti and Palestine National Council members Abd-al-Rahim Mallub and Ahmad Sadat are facing death in Israeli jails, and he questioned the grounds for arresting them. The letter accused Israel of "perpetrating genocide." Barghuti went on trial in September for organizing attacks that have resulted in 26 deaths, and he also is accused of serving as the intermediary between Fatah and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. (Bill Samii)
AL-QAEDA HELPERS ARRESTED IN PAKISTAN. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) apprehended Qari Habibur Rehman, Muhammad Talha, and a third person near Quetta on 24 November and charged them with transporting Al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel to Iran, according to Rehman's mother as cited by Islamabad's "The News" two days later. If it is true that Rehman was facilitating the terrorists' movements, then this would support reports earlier in the month about the passage into Iran of such people.
An anonymous Iranian official claimed that one of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's 23 sons and about 200 other people linked with Al-Qaeda have been detained by Iranian security forces, according to the "Financial Times" on 2 November. The anonymous source went on to say that the son was turned over to Pakistani or Saudi Arabian authorities. An anonymous "senior U.S. intelligence official" was quoted in "The Washington Post" on 3 November as saying, "We don't have anything to substantiate this." The source went on to assert, "We would have known about it," because the Saudis and Pakistanis are close U.S. allies. Iranian Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammed Ali Abtahi told "The Washington Post" that he was aware of the report but "wouldn't confirm it unless credible information is available."
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told Reuters on 3 November that the son "was one of 20 people who were arrested and immediately expelled from Iran around two months ago," but he was not identified because he was not carrying identification. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 4 November, according to Iranian state television: "Dozens of people were arrested in recent weeks when trying to enter Iran. Most of them were of Arabic extraction. They were arrested because they did not have any legal document to enter Iran. They were returned to their respective countries." Pakistani government spokesman Anwar Mahmud said that he had no knowledge of the matter, Rawalpindi's "Jang" daily reported on 4 November. And Pakistani Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider said on 4 November that he knew nothing about Iran turning over a son of bin Laden to Islamabad two months ago, Islamabad's "The News" reported on 5 November.
Two out of the six men who are now running Al-Qaeda operations have transited through Iran, "The Washington Post" reported on 29 October. One of the new leaders is an Egyptian named Saif al-Adel -- the new Al-Qaeda and Taliban military chief in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region -- who hid in Iran during the summer. A Jordanian named Abu Musab Zarqawi, described by an anonymous "European source" as Al-Qaeda's "highly mobile top operator and facilitator," also traveled to Iran. (Bill Samii)
POLLING INSTITUTE TRIALS TO BEGIN. Judge Said Mortazavi was quoted on 25 November as saying that the trial of Ayandeh Research Institute Directors Abbas Abdi and Hussein Qazian would begin "next week," according to IRNA. Abdi and Qazian were arrested on 4 November and 31 October, respectively, after their Ayandeh Research Institute helped conduct a poll in which the majority of Tehran respondents favored a resumption of Iran-U.S. relations (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 October 2002). Mortazavi added that the court is making inquiries about Behruz Geranpayeh, head of the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry's National Institute for Research Studies and Opinion Polls, who was detained on 16 October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 October 2002). Mortazavi said that the three named individuals are being held in Ward 325 of Tehran's Evin Prison.
If the trial does begin soon, the defendants will have a hard time defending themselves. Qazian's lawyer, Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi, said in the 30 November "Entekhab" that he had not had a chance to meet with his client although his trial is set for 1 December. Geranpayeh's wife said that her husband has been in solitary confinement for 45 days and added, "I still have not met the lawyers of the case and have no idea when his trial is going to take place."
About 156 members of parliament sent a letter to President Khatami on 10 November in which they urged him to stop recent actions against national research institutions, IRNA reported. Iran's press court accused Ayandeh Research Institute of taking money from the Washington-based Gallup Organization to fabricate the poll. Richard Burkholder, director of international polling at Gallup, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that Gallup is a private company and is not connected with the U.S. government, and when Gallup pays foreign companies to conduct polls they use questions and methodology developed by Gallup. (Bill Samii)
AGHAJARI'S LAWYER FILES APPEAL. Saleh Nikbakht, the attorney for political activist and university professor Hashem Aghajari, has filed an appeal on his clients' behalf, "Mardom Salari" quoted Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization Secretary-General Mohammad Salamati as saying, IRNA reported on 2 December. Nikbakht had said on 28 November that he would file an appeal on his client's behalf even if he disagrees, the Iranian Students News Agency reported. Nikbakht said that he would take this step to put at ease the minds of the country's professors and students. The Hamedan Public Court in early November sentenced Aghajari to death, eight years in prison, and banned him from teaching for 10 years. Public demonstrations against the verdict began on 9 November and continued for some two weeks.
Nikbakht told reporters on 13 November that Aghajari would not appeal the sentence against him, according to IRNA. Nikbakht read out a letter from Aghajari that said: "The authorities which issued this verdict must carry it out if they think that the sentence was just. But if they believe that it was not fair, then the judicial branch must investigate the case because the sentence was issued by the judicial apparatus." Nikbakht added at the time that he would try to persuade Aghajari to appeal.
Hamedan's Judge Ramazani, who issued the verdict against Aghajari, said in a 13 November interview with Iranian state television that one has 20 days to appeal a judgment. Moreover, the court could reduce the sentence if the accused makes an official apology. Aghajari has not apologized officially, Ramazani said. He added, "Obviously the verdict is not final. There can be a review. I said this clearly in my ruling."
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei instructed the judiciary on 17 November to review the verdict in the Aghajari case, and on 29 November Tehran Province Justice Department chief Hojatoleslam Abbas Ali Alizadeh said that efforts are under way to comply with this order within a legal framework. Alizadeh added, according to ISNA, that the judiciary would fulfill this order. (Bill Samii)
CAMPUS REFERENDUM AS 'STUDENT DAY' APPROACHES. The tension that one analyst predicted would precede Qods Day (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 November 2002) failed to materialize in any substantial way, possibly because the authorities arrested four high-profile student leaders the day after the prediction was made. Moreover, the coincidence that Basij Week fell on the week preceding Qods Day provided ample opportunity for the violent stifling of dissent. The announcement of a campus referendum, just days before Student Day is marked on 7 December, could mean that this was just the calm before the storm.
The demonstrations on university campuses were halted on 24 November in reaction to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei's Friday prayers sermon two days earlier. He said at the time, according to state radio: "The enemy is eyeing the younger generation with greed. It is counting on its passionate nature and susceptibility to provocation." Khamenei said that the universities need a calm atmosphere and the nation needs unity.
Security personnel in plain clothes then arrested four student leaders who have been heard on RFE/RL Persian Service broadcasts several times in the last two weeks. Hadi Kahalzadeh of the Office for Strengthening Unity's majority wing (the Allameh branch) told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 26 November -- the day of the arrests -- that agents of the Revolutionary Court's Branch 26 arrested Abdullah Momeni, Mehdi Aminzadeh, Amir-Hussein Balali, and Said Razavi-Faqih. They were accused of insulting the president, blasphemy, and endangering national security.
Ahvaz parliamentary representative Jaber Shahidzadeh told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 26 November that the authorities' action and the arrests were predictable. He added that they are making the same mistakes that they made three years ago -- a reference to the mass arrests and televised confessions that followed the July 1999 student unrest.
The four student leaders were released on 27 November. Faqih said that they were treated well, ISNA reported on 27 November. He described the accusations that they encountered: "They were mostly about the rallies, marches, and unrest which happened in the past several days in reaction to the sentence given to Hashem Aghajari.... They also wanted to know which parties and institutions were managing the protests from behind the scene. But we rejected these accusations and said that the recent movement was spontaneous."
Aminzadeh, however, said that the student leaders were treated badly after their arrests. He said, according to the 1 December "Hayat-i No": "While questioned, I was continuously insulted.... While questioned, in addition to being subjected to violence, we were subjected to psychological threats. Moreover, accusations were also leveled against us. This was done in a bid to undermine the confidence of those arrested."
The hearing for these student leaders was scheduled for 30 November, but an "informed judiciary source" said that day that the hearing had been postponed indefinitely, IRNA reported. The source said that the delay is related to the quest for, in IRNA's words, "more evidence on the student activists' political activities." This sounds very much like a threat that could be used to discourage the students from further activism.
Leading figures of the regime also are trying to use persuasion to prevent further student unrest. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei met with hundreds of student representatives on 28 November, according to state television, and he stressed the need for solidarity among student organizations and discouraged political interference in the student environment. And in the 29 November Friday prayer sermon, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani warned that a "Zionist-Christian coalition," in IRNA's words, is trying to create a rift between the universities and the religious establishment. He said, "They want to alienate the Iranian youth from the revolution...." He warned young people to be vigilant and consider why the West has targeted Iran in radio, television, films, and the press.
The students have not given up completely. A statement from the Office for Strengthening Unity's Allameh branch announced that it would conduct a symbolic referendum in Tehran's universities on the extent of public support for the regime, ISNA reported on 27 November. Students Day falls on 7 December this year -- that may be when the referendum's results are publicized. (Bill Samii)
PARLIAMENT CONSIDERS NEW LEGISLATION. The Iranian parliament's consideration of two bills that address the election law and presidential powers are getting the lion's share of media attention in Iran, particularly because much of the recent unrest in the country relates to the bill that would give the executive branch some influence over the judicial branch (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 November 2002). Nevertheless, several other noteworthy legislative issues were addressed in November.
The 12-member Guardians Council, which must determine the Islamic and constitutional compatibility of all legislation before it becomes law, has approved the bill to reform sections of the Civil Act in which women are also given the right to sue for divorce, Iranian state radio reported on 1 December. A woman can petition for divorce on grounds of hardship or if she has a lawyer.
The legislature is considering a bill that would permit abortion in some cases, according to the Women in Iran website (http://www.womeniniran.com) as cited by dpa on 28 November. Parliamentarian Fatimeh Khatami said that the bill does not relate to pregnancies outside marriage, but an August legislative proposal would legalize abortion when the mother is in danger or if three physicians and the coroner's office consider the unborn child unhealthy. The Women in Iran website also reported that a motion to eliminate executions by stoning has been introduced to the parliament.
Parliament on 17 November debated a bill on taxes and duties that would be levied on goods producers and service providers. Large industrial organizations have indicated their opposition to the bill. Ahmad Asna-Ashari of the Association of Industries Managers said in a 30 November interview with IRNA that the legislation would lower the cost of imports and raise production costs. There would be a 4 percent duty on foreign machinery that Iranian manufacturers need. Asna-Ashari added that Iranian industries cannot compete globally and importing foreign-made goods would result in the closure of industrial units. This, in turn, would lead to a 10 percent hike in vehicle prices and would encourage layoffs.
Tabriz parliamentary representative Ali Asqar Amir Sherdust said on 16 November that a government bill for the creation of a new Cultural Heritage and Tourism Ministry has been submitted to the legislature, IRNA reported. He went on to say this would require a merger of the Cultural Heritage Organization and the Sightseeing and Tourism Organization. Sherdust said the new ministry would encourage foreign investors and would develop plans and programs to boost the tourism industry.
Iran's Guardians Council, which is tasked with determining the Islamic and constitutional compatibility of all legislation, rejected on 16 November a bill that would require juries for all political and media-related trials, according to an IRNA dispatch, as reported by AFP. The bill has been sent back to parliament, but if the legislature refuses to amend it further, the Expediency Council would have to arbitrate.
This is the fourth time that the Guardians Council has rejected this bill, Torbat-i Heidarieh parliamentary representative Abolqasem Abedinpur said in the 20 November "Aftab-i Yazd." Abedinpur said that the parliament has already resolved the Guardians Council's previous objections, and the council in reality does not want juries for such trials.
Mashhad parliamentary representative Ayatollah Mohammad Abai-Khorasani added that the Guardians Council's objections to other items of legislation are flawed in many cases, too. He said, according to the 20 November issue of "Aftab-i Yazd," "For instance, the Guardian Council rejects some proposals on the grounds that they contravene Islamic tenets, even though they are really not against Islam in any way. However, according to the Guardian Council, its own interpretation of Islam is the only correct and valid one. The same situation also applies to the Guardian Council rulings on the basis of the contravention of the constitution. In other words, the Guardian Council believes that only its own understanding and interpretation of the constitution is the correct one."
The legislature will also begin consideration of a bill to lift the ban on satellite dishes and receivers. If that is approved, a committee chaired by the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry and including representatives of the ministries of Intelligence and Security; Interior; and Post, Telegraph, and Telephone; and from the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) would determine which channels are safe for viewing. The ban against satellite dishes was passed in 1995, but the law is only sporadically enforced, and satellite television is very popular. The legislature considered ending the satellite-dish ban one year ago but failed to do so ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 October 2001).
The parliament on 3 November approved a bill that would make the amount of "blood money" (diyeh) paid by a perpetrator for the killing or wounding of a Christian, Jew, or Zoroastrian the same as it would be for the killing or wounding of a Muslim, IRNA reported. The Iranian Constitution states that Iran is a Shia Muslim state and Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism are recognized minority faiths. Nevertheless, the blood money for minorities is less than that for Muslims -- currently $18,750 for a Muslim male and half that amount for a minority or a female. As a condition, the legislature required that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei approve of the new blood-money rules and set the amount. (Bill Samii)
CONVICTED IRANIAN WRITER DESCRIBES HIS PERSECUTION... Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court on or around 10 November sentenced 27-year-old Amir Abbas Fakhravar -- a journalist who worked for the now-banned pro-reform dailies "Mosharekat" and "Khordad" -- to eight years in prison, RFE/RL's Persian Service reported on 11 November. Fakhravar said that he was convicted for his book "Inja Chah Nist" (This Place Is Not a Ditch), which was a finalist for the 2001-02 Paulo Coelho Literary Prize. Fakhravar said that in the last year he was arrested four times and tortured. Fakhravar has 20 days to appeal the sentence, which is particularly severe because he was accused of criticizing the supreme leadership. Fakhravar is not sure if he should appeal, and when he was sentenced to prison, his father advised him not to request a pardon, telling him, "Go with your head held high, and we will honor you." (Bill Samii)
...KURDISTAN PROVINCE PRESS FACES LIMITATIONS... Hiwa Qavami, a reporter from the Kurdistan Province town of Sanandaj, told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 12 November that the local judiciary has banned local newspaper distributors from carrying special inserts from reformist publications like "Hayat-i No" and "Iran." The reason for this is that the inserts contained a great deal of news about the government's activities and were also geared toward Kurdish issues and local concerns, according to Qavami, but the judiciary cited national-security concerns and said such news excites the locals. It is not just reformist publications that carry special inserts. "Jam-i Jam," which is affiliated with the official and hard-liner-headed IRIB, every Wednesday carries an eight-page, full-color insert that is dedicated to Kurdistan Province and will continue to be allowed to do so. Qavami speculated that the judiciary wants "Jam-i Jam" to be the dominant publication in the local press. (Bill Samii)
...AND NEW MONTHLY GETS LICENSE. A new monthly entitled "Ayin" has received a license to publish, the Iranian Students News Agency reported on 11 November. Despite claims that "Ayin" will be apolitical, the license was issued to the Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), and the magazine's managing editor is parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Khatami. The banned daily "Mosharekat" also was identified with the IIPP. "Under the current circumstances, the Islamic Republic needs to develop the dimensions of various ideas and theories. These include [the concepts of] religious democracy, the Islamic Republic, and various other ambiguous issues. Hence the need for individuals and groups to work on them in order to clear up ambiguities," Khatami said. He also said that he has been in touch with hard-line Islamic Coalition Association Secretary-General Habibullah Asgaroladi-Mosalman. "All factions speak of freedom and republicanism, yet the dimensions of these ideas have not been clearly defined. Hence the need for the elaboration of various ideas," Khatami explained. (Bill Samii)
NATURAL-GAS TRANSACTIONS WITH TURKEY, GREECE, AND ARMENIA. Deputy foreign ministers from Greece and Armenia met with their Iranian counterpart in Tehran on 12 November to discuss the expansion of trilateral economic and trade cooperation and signed a memorandum of understanding, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported, as cited by ITAR-TASS. Among the topics they discussed during the meeting were transportation of Iranian gas via Armenia, the revival of the Great Silk Road, and transport.
The National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC) announced on 13 November that the export of natural gas to Turkey resumed on 11 November, according to IRNA. Gokhan Bildaci, the general director of Turkey's state-owned BOTAS, was cited by the "Turkish Daily News" as saying on 13 November that the gas now meets the criteria stipulated in previous agreements. Turkey had stopped importing Iranian natural gas in June 2002 due to concern about the quality of the gas (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 September 2002).
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh had announced on 16 October a new accord on gas exports to Turkey (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 October 2002). Turkish media reported that Tehran decided to discount the gas by more than 9 percent, and this reduction is to increase proportionately with the quantity of gas imported. Moreover, the "take-or-pay" amount was decreased from 87 percent to 70 percent, which means that Turkey can choose not to buy 30 percent of the gas it previously pledged to import annually from Iran. By October, Turkey had imported only 362 million cubic meters, less than one-10th the amount it was scheduled to buy in 2002, RFE/RL reported on 11 October. Under the original agreement, the deal was worth some $23 billion. (Bill Samii)
IRAN, PAKISTAN REACH DIESEL DEAL AMIDST COMPLAINTS ABOUT PETROL SMUGGLING. Iran has agreed to export 5,000 metric tons of diesel per month for use in the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority's (WAPDA) diesel-powered generators in southwestern Baluchistan Province, IRNA reported on 24 November. Iranian diesel fuel would be less expensive than the diesel that WAPDA buys from Pakistan State Oil for running its generators. Moreover, WAPDA Chairman Lieutenant General Zulfiqar Ali Khan announced on 18 September an agreement that Iran would supply electricity to the border areas of Baluchistan (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 September 2002).
Gas stations in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan Province in mid-November staged a strike against the smuggling of Iranian gasoline, according to AFP on 14 November. The secretary-general of the Baluchistan Petrol Dealers Association, Afzal Awan, said that about 300 stations have closed as a result of the smuggling, that almost 100,000 liters of Iran gasoline and diesel fuel -- which sell for some 30 percent less than their Pakistani counterparts -- are sold every day, and that this is about double the amount of legal fuel sales. Moreover, the Lahore-based newspaper "The Daily Times" reported that smuggled Iranian gasoline is no longer available only in Baluchistan Province, but can now be found in the central Pakistani state of Punjab, according to a report in the 13 November "Iran Daily." Legally available Pakistani fuel is more expensive due to taxes and various duties. (Bill Samii)
IRAN TRIES TO BUY RESTRICTED U.S. PRODUCTS... The U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security said in a 12 November press release that two Swiss firms have agreed to pay a total of $55,000 in fines for violating export administration regulations. "Oerlikon Schweisstechnik AG (Oerlikon) will pay a $33,000 civil penalty and Reweld AG (Reweld) will also pay a $22,000 civil penalty to settle allegations that they conspired to export industrial materials from the United States to Iran," according to the statement. Oerlikon's export privileges will also be denied for six months. Between June 1999 and March 2000, the two companies conspired to purchase Solka-Flok 200 cellulose -- which can be used for welding -- for resale and transshipment to Iran. The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control prohibits many exports to Iran without advance authorization, because it believes Iran supports international terrorism. (Bill Samii)
...AND SELLS ARMS OVERSEAS, TOO. Belgian arms trafficker Jacques Monsieur appeared in a Brussels court on 12 November, Brussels' "Le Soir" reported two days later. A long-time supplier of Iran who held an Iranian diplomatic passport, Monsieur was arrested in Tehran in November 2000 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 September 1999 and 14 May 2001). The hearing in Brussels confirmed Tehran's provision to Croatia and Bosnia of artillery shells, white phosphorous, and other military goods via Monsieur, and he supplied Iranian 7.62mm ammunition to Ecuador, although it was labeled for "use in the petrochemical industry." Monsieur said, according to "Le Soir," "I received no commission on arms sales to or from Iran, it was not profitable." In the current hearings, Monsieur is appealing a prison sentence for illegal import/export, forgery and use of forged documents, embezzlement, and money laundering. (Bill Samii)
IRAN-BASED IRAQI OPPOSITION AT LOGGERHEADS OVER COOPERATION WITH U.S. As Washington seeks allies for a future conflict in Iraq, Tehran is not making their job any easier. Dealing with Kurds who dominate northern Iraq and enjoy some autonomy has not been too difficult, but working with Iran-based Shia oppositionists is another matter -- not least because of Tehran's hostility to the U.S.
An Iranian-based Iraqi Shia group called the Organization of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq-the Mujahedin of the Interior has denounced the Iranian-based Shia group called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) for its willingness to cooperate with the U.S., according to a letter cited by the 27 November issue of "Al-Qods al-Arabi." The Organization of the Mujahedin said that the U.S. is the enemy of Islam, of the Iraqi people because of their Islamic faith, and of Iraq because of its resources and its strategic location.
Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps has discouraged SCIRI's military wing -- the Badr Corps -- from cooperating with U.S. forces if they attack Iraq, "Al-Hayat" reported on 26 November. Moreover, SCIRI spokesman Bayan Jabr said on 25 November that SCIRI would not cooperate with the U.S., dpa reported the same day.
The U.S. government is trying to strengthen its position in southern Iraq, which is predominantly inhabited by Shia, by reaching out to Tehran through intermediaries. An anonymous U.S. official said, "We've asked our friends in Britain and Germany and Canada to help," according to the 2 December issue of "Time" magazine's European edition. The participation of SCIRI representatives in meetings in Washington indicates Tehran's willingness to cooperate, but it is not clear if this would be tolerable for Iran's hard-line leadership.
Indeed, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said in a 22 November sermon that America's motivation for attacking Iraq is oil and the quest for "one more foothold in the Persian Gulf region." Khamenei said that nobody in the world believes American slogans about human rights.
SCIRI leader Ayatollah Baqer al-Hakim indicated in an interview with "Al-Hayat" as reported by AFP on 1 December that he did not appreciate Tehran's stance. He said that under Iran's declared policy of neutrality, SCIRI guerrillas would not be able to enter Iraq in the event of war. "The policy of neutrality is not good," Hakim said, adding, "It would be good if Iran stood beside the Iraqi people." He continued, "It is not good that the Iraqi people are caught between a rock and a hard place and they could hold it against those who leave them isolated." (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN DENIES OFFER TO HELP AMERICAN AVIATORS. Tehran agreed to aid downed American aviators during the Afghan conflict last year, and during the 1991 Gulf War, it allowed American aircraft to pass through its airspace. Recent reports state that Tehran would render similar help in case of a conflict in Iraq, but Iranian officials deny this.
An anonymous "informed source at the Iranian Foreign Ministry" rejected on 26 November a report about Iran-U.S. talks and an agreement on cooperation in the case of a war in Iraq, IRNA reported. The anonymous source added, "This kind of news fabrication is a sign of America's psychological warfare aimed at distorting Iran's clear stance that another war should be avoided in the region, and its intention is to perpetuate the climate of tension and insecurity in the region."
Unnamed "U.S. officials" had described discussions during the past two months regarding American aviators bailing out over Iran, cnn.com reported on 25 November. CNN's sources said that in accordance with an informal agreement, Tehran has agreed to provide medical assistance to downed Americans and to get them home as soon as possible, and it also agreed to return any flyable aircraft.
An anonymous U.S. Defense Department official said on 14 November that there are "preliminary feelers" between Tehran and Washington concerning coping with military emergencies in the Persian Gulf region, "USA Today" reported on 15 November. The source said the contacts are taking place through Arab intermediaries in a small Gulf state.
Former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who serves as the supreme leader's foreign-affairs adviser, has established an office in Dubai to facilitate such contacts, according to reports in the 28 and 29 August issues of "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." (Bill Samii)
LEBANESE HIZBALLAH BACKS IRAN ON IRAQ. Lebanon's Hizballah organization backs the Iranian attitude toward Iraq regardless of Baghdad's effort to gain Hizballah's support, according to a 14 November report in London's Arabic-language "Al-Hayat" newspaper. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri made a surprise visit to Beirut earlier this month, but he only got to meet with Iraqi Embassy staff and to visit a commercial center. Lebanese officials confirmed that Sabri did not meet with Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, and that Hizballah leadership refused to meet with Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan when he visited Beirut previously. Anonymous but well-placed sources told "Al-Hayat" that Hizballah feels solidarity with the Iraqi people but does not want to take any actions that could be misinterpreted as support for the Iraqi regime. Moreover, the sources added, Hizballah refuses to forgive the Iraqi regime for waging war against Iran or for its persecution of leading figures in the holy Shia city of Najaf. (Bill Samii)
RFE/RL PERSIAN SERVICE GOES OFF THE AIR. After serving listeners for four years, the Persian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) broadcast its last program on 1 December 2002. It will be succeeded later in the month by Radio Farda, which means "Radio Tomorrow" in Persian according to a press release from the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Radio Farda will be a joint effort of two BBG entities -- RFE/RL and the Voice of America. Radio Farda is aimed at Iranians under 30 years of age, and it will broadcast news, features, and other information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition, it will broadcast a combination of popular Persian and Western music designed to appeal to a young audience. Radio Farda broadcasts will be available on medium-wave (AM), shortwave, digital audio satellite, and via the Internet. Until Radio Farda begins its programs, the RFE/RL frequencies will be used for a 30-minute newscast and 2 1/2 hours of music. (Bill Samii)
SATELLITE DISH CONFISCATION RESUMES IN TEHRAN. Law enforcement personnel in Tehran have resumed the drive against satellite-television reception by confiscating satellite dishes and then issuing a summons to the owner of the dish, according to a report in the 30 November "Etemad" newspaper. Earlier in November the legislature began consideration of a bill to lift the ban on satellite dishes and receivers (see above). (Bill Samii)