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Iran Report: December 16, 2002

16 December 2002, Volume 5, Number 46

TEACHERS DEMONSTRATE IN TEHRAN. A 13 December gathering of schoolteachers in Tehran turned violent when vigilantes in plainclothes and security forces wielding batons and pepper spray attacked them, according to RFE/RL. Tehran police official Talai explained, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA): "We announced that considering the rally was illegal, if you come to the streets, opportunists will be able to exploit the situation. And that was what happened.... If we had not intervened, there was a strong possibility that the teachers would have been hurt by the opportunists."

Ms. Tahereh Taleqani, a member of the teachers association, told RFE/RL that the teachers were protesting low salaries and poor working conditions but they did not have a permit for the demonstration. In January 2002 teachers staged demonstrations in Arak, Boir-Ahmad, Isfahan, Kermanshah, Shiraz, and Tehran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 February 2002). The teachers demanded a salary increase and the right to establish unions, complaining that they have the lowest government salaries and that other workers get better health, housing, and welfare benefits. (Bill Samii)

STUDENTS FRUSTRATED WITH PRESIDENT. Demonstrations that took place on 7 December (Students Day) in Tehran and other cities continued in various guises over the next several days -- an indication that this is a sector of society that remains dynamic and even volatile. Political leaders, meanwhile, warn that attempts to ignore or suppress this youthful group could radicalize it even further.

A 9 December gathering of some 1,500-2,000 people at the sports hall of Tehran's Amir Kabir University turned violent when about 150-200 Basijis took exception to speakers' comments on behalf of individuals such as political activist and university Professor Hashem Aghajari -- who faces a death sentence for an allegedly blasphemous speech -- and student leader Ali Afshari -- who is being held for his part in July 1999 demonstrations, RFE/RL and the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. The vigilantes managed to storm the campus and fighting broke out. The police did not intervene when the violence erupted this time, the "Financial Times" reported on 10 December, although they did so on 7 December.

Students at Tehran University's College of Social Sciences on 9 December staged a hunger strike to protest the continuing detention of a fellow student, Behnam Amini, who was detained during a 22 November ceremony commemorating the murders of Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar, RFE/RL and ISNA reported. The participants in the hunger strike organized their empty plates to spell out Amini's name. There was also a peaceful gathering at Isfahan University, RFE/RL reported.

Tehran's Allameh Tabatabai University was the site for another gathering on 10 December. Hard-line vigilantes tried to break into this event but were foiled when the students barricaded themselves into the lecture hall, according to an AFP correspondent. Some 400 people had gathered there to hear speeches by national-religious activists Ebrahim Yazdi, Habibullah Peyman, and Gholam Abbas Tavassoli, IRNA reported.

Student leaders complained during an 11 December news conference that "rogue elements" from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security have detained as many as 12 of their colleagues, Reuters reported on the same day and "The New York Times" reported on 12 December. Reza Delbari of Amir Kabir University's Office for Strengthening Unity claimed that some of the students were snatched from the streets and others are being watched and followed. Delbari compared these incidents to the serial murders of dissident intellectuals and writers in 1998 and said, "We believe that hard-liners are implementing a project of cleansing universities of pro-reform students."

There also were complaints about President Mohammad Khatami's failure to protect the students, along with suggestions that he resign. Delbari said, according to Reuters, "Some students may have come to the conclusion that [Khatami's] absence would help reforms proceed better and exert more pressure on those who hold power." Indeed, calls for Khatami's resignation have been heard at many of the demonstrations that began on 9 November.

Khatami's failure to appear at any of the Student Day events -- for the first time since his election in 1997 -- did not change any opinions about his fecklessness. Majid Haji-Babai, the secretary of the Office for Strengthening Unity (Allameh branch) at Shahid Beheshti University, said that after five years "[Khatami] has still not been able to respond to students' demands and [he] refrains from coming to universities. This is regrettable; we still have to pay a cost for our basic rights," Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 10 December.

Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi tried to explain Khatami's behavior, IRNA reported on 11 December. Abtahi said that Khatami did not attend the students' events because their demand for the lifting of the death sentence on Professor Aghajari has not yet been satisfied. Abtahi said the verdict is unacceptable.

Ignoring the demands of students or attempting to suppress them will not, in the long run, be an effective policy. Indeed, some Iranian political leaders already are warning about the possible effect of such a course of action. Deputy speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Khatami, a leader of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party, told IRNA on 10 December that the government risks losing the confidence of students if it ignores their demands. These demands are not exclusive to the students, Khatami said, but are shared by the public at large. Nor should the demands be dismissed as being inspired by foreign agents. Khatami advised, "We may not like some slogans the students are chanting, but we should think over them to find out why such slogans are being uttered by the students."

Islamic Iran Solidarity Party head Fayaz Zahed said in a recent speech in Tabriz that the student movement severed its relations with the reformist political movement after the July 1999 unrest, "Etemad" reported on 12 December. This was because the reformists could not represent them and did not have any worthwhile strategies. Khatami's failure to meet with the students means that all communications between the students and the reformists could gradually come to an end. Zahed speculated that the students could radicalize and take up underground resistance to the ruling elites. (Bill Samii)

CRACKDOWN ON 'MEN IN PLAINCLOTHES.' Whenever there is a public gathering or demonstration in Iran, one sees the "men in plainclothes," which is a term for hard-line vigilantes who usually are members of the Ansar-i Hizbullah and/or Basij Resistance Force. In the past the vigilantes stood out because of their appearance -- beards and black clothing -- but now they sometimes are clean-shaven and wear regular clothing. The state has promised to act against them, but there is little confidence that this will occur especially because of their high-level connections. For example, Ansar-i Hizbullah is connected with Guardians Council head Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, it gets funding from the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation, and its membership is drawn from war veterans and the Basij.

Fazlollah Salavati from Isfahan told RFE/RL correspondent Siavash Ardalan on 11 December that these hard-line thugs are an embarrassment to society and the country. The security forces know who these people are, he said, but they have not acted against them. Salavati said that civilians should not try to stop the vigilantes because there would be bloodshed, and he added that this is the security forces' job.

Iranian political commentator Nima Rashedan told RFE/RL that the hard-line groups are not a postrevolution innovation. He said that the current batch of thugs is affiliated with Hussein Allah-Karam, Haj Akbar Nojavan, and Khadem Al-Husseini, who are all associated with Iran's current leadership.

Some Iranian government officials have indicated a desire to restrain the vigilante groups. Interior Ministry official Ali Baqeri said in a 10 December IRNA interview that his organization and the Law Enforcement Forces have decided to act to prevent the presence of vigilantes at gatherings and demonstrations. Baqeri said that authorities know some of these individuals, and their disruption of meetings "undermines the authority" of official organizations. Baqeri pointed out that the vigilantes have the unofficial backing of high-ranking officials, even though their organizations are unlicensed: "There are some influential groups that are currently active without the necessary license and some prominent figures of the state attend their meetings."

A practical example of this new policy might be the security force's efforts on 7 December to keep rival groups apart during the Student Day demonstrations. Tehran Governorate security official Ali Taala said the next day that arrest warrants for the plainclothes individuals have been issued, IRNA reported. "A number of such people have been identified and will be arrested if they are seen again on the sidelines of these events," he said, adding that "all organs have come to the conclusion that the presence of such individuals causes more trouble." (Bill Samii)

MERCY OF COURT SOUGHT IN POLLING-INSTITUTE TRIAL. The second session of the trial of Ayandeh Research Institute managing director Hussein Qazian and directors' board members Abbas Abdi and Ali Reza Alavi-Tabar was scheduled for 8 December but was postponed until 10 December, "Iran Daily" reported on 8 December. Qazian's attorney, Ramazan Haji-Mashhadi, requested the delay because he needed more time to prepare. Haji-Mashhadi told "Iran Daily," "Due to the long list of charges laid against my client, I am not ready to defend him against all the accusations." The three pollsters face charges related to a survey, conducted by Ayandeh in cooperation with the Washington-based Gallup Organization, in which a majority of Tehran respondents favored the resumption of Iran-U.S. relations (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 October 2002 and 2 December 2002).

When the second hearing took place on 10 December, presiding Judge Said Mortazavi announced that the fourth part of the indictment was a "secret document," so the part of the trial relating to it would be held in camera, IRNA reported. The public prosecutor's representative, Ali Asghar Tashakori, read out the rest of the indictment, then Qazian addressed the court. (On the charges, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 December 2002.)

Regarding the charges of "secret and unlicensed contacts with institutes and individuals affiliated with foreign intelligence and security services," Qazian admitted that he made a mistake in cooperating with Gallup and similar organizations and added that he was unaware of the "intelligence-related nature of such institutions," according to state television. Qazian apologized, saying, "I hope that no harm has come to our country's national interests and if such a thing has happened, I should deeply apologize and if possible be given the chance to make up for it."

The defendants also are charged with having "secret and unlicensed contacts and repeated meetings" with Columbia University Professor Gary Sick and other academics, with a British MI-6 official in Tehran, and participating in counterrevolutionaries' meetings in the United States and the United Kingdom. Qazian apologized for his "contacts with universities and antirevolutionary elements." He acknowledged accepting payments from them and added that it is normal to get paid for speaking engagements.

Haji-Mashhadi concurred that his client had made some mistakes, according to state television. "But," he added, "some of the charges about having contact with academic circles and traveling abroad are, in my view, not criminal offences. They were, in fact, normal, academic exchanges."

Abbas Abdi also was present during the hearing and he told reporters afterwards that although solitary confinement has its own peculiarities, the prison conditions are good in terms of hygiene and treatment by the guards. Abdi said that his interrogators are behaving professionally and legally. (Bill Samii)

AGHAJARI FILES LAWSUIT. Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization activist Professor Aghajari on 10 December filed a lawsuit with the legislature's Article 90 Committee to complain about his detention and the judiciary's methodology against him, ISNA reported. Article 90 of the constitution states that anybody who has a complaint regarding the legislative, executive, or judicial branches can submit it in writing to the parliament, which must investigate the matter and in cases where it is of public interest, make its findings public.

Rudsar parliamentary representative Davud Hasanzadegan told ISNA that Aghajari filed the lawsuit from Hamedan, where he is imprisoned. Hasanzadegan said that Aghajari claims he is being held in temporary detention even though bail has been set for him, and that the accusations made against him in the trial differ significantly from what he actually said during a June speech in Hamedan. Aghajari in August was sentenced to death, prison time, and was banned from teaching for making allegedly blasphemous statements during that speech. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENTARIAN BACKS SUBSIDIES FOR PARTIES. Zanjan parliamentary representative Abolfazl Shakuri told an ISNA correspondent on 11 December that he favored government subsidies for Iranian political parties. Shakuri explained that increased party activism would bring Iran out of its current difficulties, pointing to the success of the multiparty system prevalent elsewhere. Shakuri said that parties in America and Europe have money allocated to them on the basis of their background and role, and this could be done in Iran, too.

Mr. Baqeri, an Interior Ministry official who deals with political affairs, said on 30 November that the legislature has ratified a directive on the allocation of subsidies to political parties, state television reported. Baqeri explained the criteria under which the money would be allocated: "The amount of the subsidy will be based on the number of members, provincial branches, administrative personnel, publications, congresses and central council meetings...the extent of the party's educational activities and their participation in elections." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI COMPARES AMERICA WITH TALIBAN. Iranian President Khatami said on 11 December that the U.S. and the Taliban are similar, IRNA reported. Khatami said, "God's religion today is lying between the two blades of the same scissors: One blade is the Islam of Taliban, while the other is trying to impose war, hatred, animosity, and imperialism on the whole world under the pretext of [fighting] the Islam of Taliban." Khatami said that the Taliban's "backward ideology" made Islam seem ugly, while "on the opposite side are those powers that are trying to tarnish the image of God's religion, which has turned into a source of uprising for freedom and independence and a threat to the illegitimate interests of imperialist powers in many countries." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN COMPLAINS ABOUT U.S. FINGERPRINTING... Tehran has recently complained about Washington's policy of fingerprinting nationals and citizens of several countries -- including Iran -- when they visit the United States, terming this an affront designed to stop Muslim immigration to the U.S. These complaints do not mention the fact that more than 133,000 people from the Near East and South Asia -- including some 58,000 Iranians -- have resettled in the U.S. since 1980.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced on 12 August the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) that would be implemented by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) at ports of entry throughout the U.S. Under the NSEERS program, the fingerprints of some entering foreign visitors will be matched against a database of known criminals and a database of known terrorists. In addition to fingerprinting of some visiting aliens at the port of entry, the NSEERS program requires the same individuals to periodically confirm where they are living and what they are doing in the U.S. The NSEERS program applies to all nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria.

The Justice Department announced in November a requirement that students, workers, and other men from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria who are temporarily residing in the U.S. must be fingerprinted and photographed by 16 December. Later additions to the list are male citizens or nationals aged 16 to 45 from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, who must register by 10 January 2003. (For more information about the special registration procedures for certain nonimmigrants, see

An Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting analyst using the name "Mr. Kheradmand" described the fingerprinting policy as a Jewish plot, according to Tehran radio on 23 November. He said: "I also believe that stopping the immigration of Muslims to America -- which could have changed the population balance of that country to the advantage of Muslims and against the Jews -- was another reason for the White House, under pressure from the Zionist pressure groups, to begin extensive efforts aimed at destroying the image of Muslims in America. Through their widespread propaganda, they have accused all Muslims of supporting terrorism so that they could get them fingerprinted when they arrive in America or create various limitations for American Muslims." Earlier, on 9 November, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi decried the fingerprinting of Iranian citizens as, in IRNA's words, "an affront to Iranians" that runs counter to "ethical and civil society norms."

Washington appears to be sensitive to accusations of an anti-Muslim bias in U.S. immigration policy. The INS is responding to suggestions that only Muslims and Arabs must register by saying: "Individuals from well over 100 countries have been registered. Registration is based solely on nationality and citizenship, not on ethnicity or religion" (for the FAQ, see

In what could be a related matter, the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration on 25 November released a fact sheet which asserted that 133,000 refugees from the Near East and South Asia have been offered the chance to resettle in the U.S. since 1980. The fact sheet said that about 58,000 Iranians have resettled in the U.S., and Iranians who are members of religious minorities and are subject to harassment or persecution are eligible to apply for asylum in the U.S. regardless of family links. The fact sheet also noted that in fiscal year 2002, only some 1,800 refugees from the region were admitted to the U.S. (Bill Samii)

...AND RETALIATES. Iranian police commander Husseinabadi announced on 9 December, "All American reporters who enter Iran will be fingerprinted," according to Iranian state radio. This applies only to American reporters, and state radio described it as a "tit-for-tat step."

Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ahmad Masjid-Jamei asked the national police to fingerprint all American journalists who enter Iran, IRNA reported on 6 December, and demanded that the journalists complete a form that would "clarify" their identify, aim, number of visits to Iran, place of residence in Iran, and the name of institutions that provide them with services or a guide. Masjid-Jamei's request of the police, which was faxed to IRNA, was in reaction to "the insulting treatment of the Islamic Republic of Iran's nationals by American officials recently, which is assuming more frequent dimensions."

The plan to fingerprint American journalists has gotten a mixed reception in Iran. Iranian Journalists Union Chairman and Isfahan parliamentary representative Rajabali Mazrui expressed his disapproval and said that reporters are supranational, "Kayhan" reported on 7 December. Mazrui added that it would be okay to fingerprint other Americans. The official Islamic Propagation Organization on 8 December, on the other hand, described the fingerprinting as an "admirable decision" by the Islamic culture and guidance minister, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN PILGRIMS DETAINED IN IRAQ. An Iranian Foreign Ministry official on 8 December met in Tehran with Iraqi charge d'affaires Abd-al-Sattar al-Rawi and protested that country's continuing detention of Hussein Mazandarani and Mehdi Nassiri, IRNA reported. Iraqi security personnel arrested Mazandarani and Nassiri when they were visiting the shrine town of Karbala on 25 November. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said during his 25 November press briefing that arresting people during their pilgrimage is unacceptable, according to IRNA, and a group of students staged a sit-in at the Iraqi Embassy in Tehran on the same day. Three days later the Iranian charge d'affaires in Baghdad, Alireza Haqiqian, said that Iraqi officials promised that the two would be released soon. Iranian Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization head Mohammad Hussein Rezai said in "Jam-i Jam" newspaper, as quoted by "Aftab-i Yazd" daily on 8 December, that Iranian pilgrims frequently are harassed in Iraq. (Bill Samii)

IRAQI OPPOSITION MEETS IN TEHRAN. Leading officials from the Iraqi opposition visited Tehran in advance of a 13-15 December Iraqi opposition meeting in London. Amidst questions about Iran's position concerning a possible conflict involving its neighbor to the west, all the signs are that Tehran will acquiesce to regime change in Iraq.

Among the officials visiting Tehran were Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masud Barzani and Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmad Chalabi, and there was persistent speculation that Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) chief Jalal Talabani would visit Tehran too. Barzani met with Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim, according to IRNA, and Chalabi told Doha's Al-Jazeera satellite television on 9 December that the three of them held a joint meeting later.

Prior to these meetings, there were signs of disagreements between the INC and the SCIRI. The 2 December issue of "Al-Quds al-Arabi" reported that the INC has agreed to bear the expenses of the London conference, provided that the SCIRI pay its own way. The same article in "Al-Quds al-Arabi" described a Kurdish-Shia alliance that is demanding a federal system that would provide Kurdish autonomy and the elimination of anti-Shia discrimination.

Chalabi's statements after the meeting suggest that any INC-SCIRI disagreements have been overcome, and they also suggest that Tehran, the main backer of the SCIRI, has decided to cooperate. Chalabi said in response to a question about his discussions with al-Hakim and the possibility of Iraqi oppositionists opening a front from Iranian territory: "All troops of the Iraqi opposition groups wherever they are will participate in the liberation of Iraq.... We are working to mobilize all our resources." Regarding Iran's role in case of an attack on Iraq, Chalabi said: "For many long years, the Islamic Republic has been backing and supporting the Iraqi opposition. It will not stand in the way of the Iraqi people's efforts to liberate Iraq. We are grateful to the Islamic Republic for these positions."

Barzani, furthermore, met on 9 December with Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi and Qods Force commander Suleimani at the IRGC headquarters, according to Erbil's "Brayati" newspaper on the next day. Brigadier-General Reza Seifullahi of the IRGC's Nasr garrison attended Barzani's meeting with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and Barzani met with Nasr garrison officials on the first day of his visit to Iran. The Qods Force is the IRGC's special operations unit that deals with organizations such as the SCIRI, and the Nasr garrison is near the Iraqi border. Barzani met with Ministry of Intelligence and Security chief Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi on 10 December, Kurdistan satellite television reported.

Moreover, SCIRI representative Hamid al-Bayati said on 7 December that the committee organizing the London conference has invited Iran to participate, IRNA reported. Al-Bayati expressed the belief that Tehran would send representatives of the legislative and executive branches. (Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 11 December denied that there would an official Iranian presence at the London conference; see below.)

Concurrently with these developments, the White House has stated that the six main Iraqi opposition groups are eligible for military assistance. In a 9 December memorandum for the secretaries of state and of defense ("Presidential Determination No. 2003-06,", President George W. Bush directed that the INC, KDP, PUK, SCIRI, Iraqi National Accord, and Movement for Constitutional Monarchy be provided with up to $92 million in defense articles, services, and training.

Moreover, President Bush designated five more Iraqi groups -- the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the Iraqi Free Officers and Civilians Movement, the Iraqi National Front, the Iraqi National Movement, the Iraqi Turkmen Front, and the Islamic Accord of Iraq -- as "democratic opposition organizations." This designation ("Presidential Determination No. 2003-05," makes them eligible to receive U.S. financial and material assistance. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN REVIEWS IRAQI OPPOSITION MEETINGS... Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said during an 11 December press conference that KDP leader Barzani and PUK chief Talabani met with SCIRI leader al-Hakim in Tehran in advance of the 13-15 December Iraqi opposition conference in London, IRNA reported. INC leader Chalabi was in Tehran, too, and there was persistent speculation that Talabani would be there, but this appears to be the first confirmation of Talabani's presence. Assefi said that Iran did not play a direct role in the Iraqi opposition groups' negotiations, and he added that Iran would not participate in the London conference, even as an observer.

The SCIRI representative in Syria and Lebanon, Bayan Jabr, described the recent meeting in Tehran as a "mini-conference for the opposition," the "Al-Safir" newspaper from Beirut reported on 12 December. He mentioned the participation of al-Hakim, Barzani, and Chalabi, but he did not mention Talabani. Instead, Jabr mentioned PUK deputy leader Kosrat Rasul.

Notably, the Iraqi National Accord did not participate in the Tehran meetings, although it is one of the six main opposition groups that are meeting in London. Secretary of the Iraqi National Accord Ayad Allawi described his organization's relationship with Iran in an interview that appeared in the 11 December issue of the "Al-Safir" newspaper from Beirut. "We respect Iran and hope to have excellent relations with it. But regrettably we have not had such relations so far. Iran is almost the only country in the region with which we maintain no relationship." (Bill Samii)

...AND FUTURE CONFLICT. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told an 11 December news conference, "Iran will not allow its soil to be used for military purposes against any neighboring country," Reuters reported. Ramezanzadeh was responding to a question about Iraqi opposition groups launching attacks from their sanctuaries in Iran.

The SCIRI representative in Syria and Lebanon, Bayan Jabr, noted in the 12 December "Al-Safir" newspaper that his organization's military wing, the Badr Corps, has 15,000 men under arms in Iran, but Jabr said that the SCIRI would depend more on its forces in Iraq. He described SCIRI-trained personnel in northern and southern Iraq and the Al-Kut region, and he said that the SCIRI would not depend on forces outside Iraq.

These statements conflict with an earlier one by INC leader Chalabi. Chalabi said in a 9 December interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television, "All troops of the Iraqi opposition groups wherever they are will participate in the liberation of Iraq." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DISAPPROVES OF QATAR-U.S. DEFENSE AGREEMENT. A 12 October analysis on Iranian state radio spoke disapprovingly of the defense agreement signed one day earlier in Doha by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabr al-Thani. Under the agreement, the U.S. can use air bases in Qatar and it will upgrade other defense facilities it has been using under a long-standing agreement, according to dpa and Reuters.

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting analyst "Mr. Kazemzadeh" said that Qatar has double standards on regional developments. Its agreement with the U.S. contravenes "the official and declared policy of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council," which is to resolve the Iraqi crisis peacefully. Kazemzadeh said that relying on foreign powers to provide regional security is a mistake, and he said that "foreign powers have adopted a policy of sowing discord to further their own interests, particularly those of increasing their weapons' sale, and bolstering their military presence in the region." (Bill Samii)

FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS SYRIA, LEBANON... Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, accompanied by Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi and former Ambassador to Syria Mohammad Ali Sobhani, arrived in Damascus on 8 December for a one-day visit, IRNA reported. Kharrazi met with President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara to discuss Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and bilateral relations. According to IRNA, Kharrazi told his Syrian counterpart that U.S. objectives in the Middle East region are "suspicious," and he called on Islamic states to remain alert. Al-Shara opined, "America has been exploiting the 11 September event to intensify its pressures on Iraq and dominate the whole region."

Kharrazi went to Beirut on 9 December to meet with President Emil Lahud, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud, and speaker of parliament Nabih Berri, and to discuss regional events and bilateral relations, according to IRNA. Kharrazi told Lahud that Iran, Syria, and Lebanon are blocking Israeli achievement of its aims, the official "Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran" reported. Berri praised Iran's stance on regional issues, saying, "While the Islamic world, especially Middle Eastern countries, remain in a special situation, the role of the Islamic Republic of Iran is more outstanding than others." (Bill Samii)

...DENIES THAT IRAN WILL HELP U.S. AGAINST IRAQ... Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi said during an 8 December press conference at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus that Tehran opposes military action against Baghdad, IRNA reported the next day. Kharrazi expressed the hope that the United Nations could resolve the situation. Kharrazi denied that the U.S. has asked to use Iranian airspace in the event of a war against Iraq. Kharrazi said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran has never granted the U.S. use over its airspace," and he described such reports as Washington's tactic to drive a wedge between regional states.

Kharrazi also said that Tehran-Washington relations could not be restored unless the U.S. ends its hostility to Iran, according to IRNA. Kharrazi described U.S. support for Israel as a major obstacle to the restoration of relations. He said that Iran would fight if America attacked it. "If Washington harbors ill intentions towards Tehran, the latter would defend itself." (Bill Samii)

...AND PRAISES 'RESISTANCE.' In the evening of his 9 December visit to Beirut, Kharrazi met with Hizballah Secretary-General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, IRNA reported, and reiterated that Tehran would continue its support for the Lebanese and Palestinian "resistance." "Resistance" is a term used by Tehran to describe the activities of what it calls "liberation movements," and it sees Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and similar organizations in this light.

Hizballah sources said, according to dpa on 9 December, "The meeting focused on the situation in the Middle East as a whole, particularly the situation inside the Palestinian territories and the crisis in Iraq." Kharrazi said during a press conference earlier in the day: "As long as Israel occupies Lebanese lands, the Lebanese people have the right to put up resistance. The people of Lebanon are brave and they will define their destiny themselves," according to Iranian state television. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN AND BEIRUT DENY HIZBALLAH/AL-QAEDA RELATIONS. Abdallah Mohammad Muhtadi was arrested in Beirut on 10 December and charged with trying to form an Al-Qaeda cell there, "The Daily Star" reported on 11 December. He is the fourth person in relation to these charges, and although 17 other members of the cell remain at large, a public trial is scheduled to begin on 16 December. Tehran and Beirut previously rejected Israeli allegations of a relationship between Al-Qaeda and Hizballah.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi on 9 December rejected rumors of an Al-Qaeda-Hizballah relationship, RFE/RL reported, saying, "There is no common ideological or political background that links Al-Qaeda with the Lebanese people or Hizballah." Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud added: "Israel is trying to manipulate the situation in the region to its own advantage in order to eliminate the Palestinian issue by fabricating accusations linking Lebanon, the Lebanese resistance, and Palestinians to Al-Qaeda. These are things that don't convince politicians or even ordinary people."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had said during a 5 December news conference in Tel Aviv that Al-Qaeda personnel have entered the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and joined forces with Hizballah, "The New York Times" reported on 6 December. Sharon added, "There's no doubt that Israel is a target for an attack." Israeli President Moshe Katsav added on 9 December, according to RFE/RL: "There is a cooperation between Al-Qaeda, Hizballah, and Palestinian terrorist organizations in the Middle East. [There is] cooperation between Iran, Hizballah, and Syria in Lebanon for attacking Israel. So the threats against Israel are very serious."

Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi al-Aridi in a telephone interview with Egyptian state radio on 10 December repeated his government's denials of the Israeli accusations. He accused Palestinian collaborators of posing as Al-Qaeda members, so the Israelis can capture them and discredit "real and honorable resistance fighters." Al-Aridi said: "There is no cooperation between Hizballah and Al-Qaeda network in Lebanon. We declare that there is a different type of 'qaeda' [base] in Lebanon, which is the necessity to resist Israeli occupation. Moreover, there is the base of cooperation between Lebanon and Syria, which has resulted in liberating most Lebanese territories." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN DENIES HIDDEN NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES. Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told reporters on 13 December: "We don't have any hidden atomic activities. All our activities are for nonmilitary fields," Reuters reported. Ramezanzadeh said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is informed about Iranian nuclear activities, and "they can visit wherever in Iran that either we have informed them about or they have information about." Ramezanzadeh was reacting to media reports about satellite imagery showing two possible nuclear-research facilities in Iran.

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) on 12 December released an issue brief ( expressing concern that Iran is trying to develop "the capability to make separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium, the two main nuclear explosive materials." ISIS has acquired satellite imagery of a site near the town of Arak, where a plant is under construction that appears to be designed to produce heavy water. Heavy water is used to moderate the nuclear chain reaction in one type of nuclear reactor, that could be used either for civilian power production or to produce bomb materials. The nuclear reactor under construction at Bushehr does not use heavy water, nor do current Iranian research reactors need it in amounts that would justify construction of such a facility. ISIS also has imagery of a site in Natanz, about 40 kilometers southeast of Kashan, which may be a gas-centrifuge facility for uranium enrichment.

The ISIS issue brief, furthermore, calls into question Ramezanzadeh's claim about IAEA freedom to visit sites in Iran. The ISIS issue brief states that Tehran has not fulfilled the IAEA's wish to visit these and other facilities, and under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it is not required to do so until six months before nuclear materials are introduced into any facility. Moreover, according to the ISIS document, Tehran postponed until February 2003 a visit to Iran by IAEA chief Mohammad el-Baradei, who was scheduled to visit these sites in December and to meet with President Khatami.

El-Baradei in a 13 December IAEA press release urged Iran to "grant IAEA inspectors broader rights of access and authority for verification of both declared and undeclared nuclear activities."

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a 13 December press briefing that Iran does not need the facilities at Arak and Natanz. He said: "These facilities are not justified by the needs of Iran's civilian nuclear program. There is no economic gain for a state that's rich in oil and gas like Iran to build costly nuclear fuel-cycle facilities. I would point out that Iran flares more gas annually than the equivalent energy its desired reactors would produce." Boucher said that these secret facilities reinforce Washington's concern that "Iran is seeking technology to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons." (Bill Samii)

IRAN'S PARLIAMENT SPEAKER VISITS CHINA. Iranian speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi on 9 December left Tehran for a six-day visit to China, Iranian state television reported. Mines and Industries Minister Ishaq Jahangiri, who heads the Iran-China Joint Economic Commission; Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Ali Hadi; and several parliamentarians are accompanying Karrubi, according to IRNA. Karrubi told reporters at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport, according to IRNA, "I hope the visit would prepare suitable grounds for further expansion of Tehran-Beijing ties in all areas."

Karrubi and Chinese President Jiang Zemin met on 12 December, according to China's Xinhua news agency. Jiang noted the bright prospects for further development of their bilateral relations, and Karrubi remarked that their bilateral cooperation would move ahead. Jiang noted that both countries "shoulder the heavy task of promoting world peace," Xinhua reported, and helping developing countries. Karrubi said that Tehran and Peking hold similar opinions on many international issues. Jiang Zemin visited Iran in April of this year, and Iranian President Khatami visited China in June 2000 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 April 2002). (Bill Samii)

IRAN TO EXPORT ELECTRICITY TO AZERBAIJAN AND ARMENIA. Abdulhussein Fazlollahi, deputy head for coordination and operation supervision affairs at Iran's Power Generation and Transmission Organization (Tavanir), said on 8 December that Iran is to export electrical power to Azerbaijan and Armenia to alleviate their seasonal winter energy shortages, IRNA reported. Fazlollahi added that Iran imported electricity from the two Caucasus republics during the summer. Fazlollahi predicted that up to 500 megawatts of electricity would be transferred to Azerbaijan once new transmission lines become available.

Baku's "Bizim Asr" on 12 December reported that Iranian provision of electricity through the Imisli-Parsabad line had commenced. Iran is supplying 60 megawatts per hour and is expected to continue supplying electricity until April 2003. (Bill Samii)

IRAN-ARMENIA GAS DISCUSSIONS CONCLUDE. A 17-person delegation of Armenian officials headed by presidential administration chief Artashes Tumanyan was in Tehran from 5-12 December for the fourth meeting of the Iranian-Armenian economic commission (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 December 2002). While there, Tumanyan and Iranian Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Tahmasb Mazaheri signed a memorandum of understanding on expanding cooperation on 11 December, IRNA reported. The memorandum requires Armenia to declare its position on an Armenian-electricity-for-Iranian-gas barter arrangement. The agreement also covers hydroelectric cooperation, the visa regime, trucking regulations, cellular telephones, and postal issues.

Mazaheri said that the volume of trade between the two countries is worth $100 million annually, and it should increase with the signing of more agreements and the legislature's passage of a bill on tariffs, IRNA reported.

Tumanyan also met with President Khatami and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani on 11 December. Rohani expressed Tehran's political interest in expanding relations with Yerevan, according to IRNA. Rohani added that energy transfers and the Gajaran tunnel project would strengthen their economic ties. (Bill Samii)

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL CLAIMS IRAN READY FOR CASPIAN TALKS. Russian presidential envoy for the Caspian and Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi told reporters in Moscow on 10 December, having been in Iran the previous week, that he believes Tehran is ready to conduct bilateral negotiations with its immediate neighbors (Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan) on using the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported on 10 December. Moscow has already secured bilateral agreements with Baku and Astana. Kalyuzhnyi said that Russia has invited Iran to divide the Caspian by resources rather than by a percentage. Iran has consistently demanded an equal 20 percent division among all five littoral states.

Kalyuzhnyi said that Iran is considering an invitation to participate in development of the Turkmen shelf. Kalyuzhnyi explained this generosity somewhat when he said, "We asked that Iran enter into negotiations on this issue with Turkmenistan, because without Tehran's consent, not a single Russian company would go to work in the Turkmen sector." President Khatami told reporters on 4 December, according to IRNA, "any decision concerning the Caspian Sea should be taken unanimously by all five littoral states." (Bill Samii)

IRAN-EU TRADE TALKS COMMENCE. Iran-European Union talks scheduled for late October did not take place, because Tehran would not give in to the EU's demand for a political declaration that would mention political dialogue and counterterrorism (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 October 2002 and 4 November 2002). This problem now seems to have been overcome, as the European Commission and Iran on 12 December launched negotiations in Brussels on a trade and cooperation agreement, and the EU Troika (the immediate past, present, and future presidents of the EU) will meet with Iranian government officials in Tehran on 16-17 December 2002 to discuss human rights issues.

An 11 December EU statement (, Reference IP/02/1862) said that the negotiations would take place "alongside the parallel negotiations on political dialogue and counterterrorism conducted by the EU presidency (currently Denmark)." Closer relations with Iran would depend on progress on political, economic and social reform, and the two agreements would go into effect as a package. The statement asserts that President Khatami has "made serious attempts" to introduce reforms, and that the EU supports efforts to bring about change through economic and political reforms. The EU wants Iran to adopt World Trade Organization rules and provisions, and that these provisions should govern Iran-EU trade. The EU also wishes to support the rule of law and respect for human rights, and a human rights clause will be part of the agreement.

Tehran is very concerned that it does not appear that conditions are being imposed on it. This does not seem to be the case. An anonymous EU official said on 11 December that there are no conditions on opening negotiations with Tehran, IRNA reported. The official added: "The EU has set out very clearly its views, its ambitions and its expectations. The agreement is there to serve as a frame, to help us move forward in the goals we set ourselves." It is estimated, according to IRNA, that the two sides will meet every two or three months.

In Ireland, meanwhile, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with Special Responsibility For Overseas Development Aid and Human Rights Tom Kitt told visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister For Euro-American Affairs Ali Ahani that his country supports the expansion of Iran-EU ties, according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)

IRAN PURSUES ARMORED SELF-SUFFICIENCY. The transport section of the Iranian Army's ground forces on 12 December began a self-sufficiency project to build the Timaz tank carrier, state television reported. This section has also rebuilt 84 tactical transport vehicles and tank carriers that were damaged during the Iran-Iraq War. Ground forces transport chief Colonel Faridmehr said that the rebuilding of the vehicles is strategically and economically important to Iran. "The reconstruction and the improvement of the vehicles inside the country have saved thousands of dollars of foreign currency." (Bill Samii)