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Iran Report: December 23, 2002

23 December 2002, Volume 5, Number 47

The next issue of "RFE/RL Iran Report" will appear on 6 January 2003.

PRESIDENT BUSH SPEAKS ON RADIO FARDA. U.S. President George W. Bush addressed the Iranian people on 20 December in remarks that were broadcast by Radio Farda. He said the Iranian people want more news and cultural broadcasts, because "the unelected few who control the Iranian government continue to place severe restrictions on access to uncensored information." That is why news, music, and cultural programs will be transmitted to Iran "nearly 24 hours a day," and Voice of America television broadcasts to Iran will continue. Bush added: "The people of Iran want to build a freer, more prosperous country for their children and live in a country that is a full partner in the international community. Iranians also deserve a free press to express themselves to help build an open, democratic, and free society."

Bush expressed U.S. friendship for the people of Iran. In his words, "if Iran respects its international obligations and embraces freedom and tolerance, it will have no better friend than the United States of America." Bush expressed similar sentiments in a 12 July statement that followed student demonstrations in Iran. He said at that time, "As Iran's people move towards a future defined by greater freedom, greater tolerance, they will have no better friend than the United States of America" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 July 2002). (Bill Samii)

POLLING-INSTITUTE TRIAL GOES BEHIND CLOSED DOORS... The Tehran Justice Department announced on 14 December that the third hearing in the trial of Ayandeh Research Institute Director Hussein Qazian will be held behind closed doors, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) cited "Hamshahri" as reporting. Security concerns voiced by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the fact that classified documents are to be entered into evidence were both factors cited by the Justice Department as entering into the decision. Holding closed hearings may have upset some observers, but accusations that the accused received secret documents from President Mohammad Khatami's office caused even greater unhappiness.

Ayandeh and several other research institutes face several charges, including espionage, tied to a poll conducted in coordination with the Washington-based Gallup Organization (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 December 2002).

A representative of the public prosecutor's office, Ali Asqar Tashakori, said on 17 December that the day's hearing dealt with some of the charges against Ayandeh's managing director, Hussein Qazian, concerning the collection and possession of highly classified information. Tashakori added that two MOIS officials attended the day's session following a formal request from the ministry.

The accusations about classified documents first appeared in the hard-line press, and Guardians Council member and former judiciary head Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi discussed the issue during the 13 December Friday prayers. He asked, according to state television, "Who has given these secret documents to these people?" Yazdi continued: "I do not want to mention names here, but these gentlemen are in possession of some of the most confidential and secret documents in the political system, and they keep these in their homes or offices. Moreover, no one knows how many of these documents they have destroyed or how many of them they have passed on to foreigners." Yazdi also claimed that sexual issues are involved in the case, but (fortunately) did not provide additional details.

Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh on 16 December criticized press reports that the president's office had given classified documents to the accused, IRNA reported. Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi ruled out any connection between the case and either himself or the president's office, "Aftab-i Yazd" newspaper reported on 16 December. Abtahi said that he met with the presiding judge in the case, Said Mortazavi, and Tehran Province Justice Department chief Abbasali Alizadeh to discuss the allegations.

President Khatami condemned reports that his office provided the accused with classified documents on 18 December, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. He said: "I am so sorry to hear such things about a case that is still being investigated and [where] no verdict has yet been issued. What they say distorts public minds. It is illegal to say that people who are being tried are lawbreakers." But after denying that he or his office had anything to do with the transfer of secret documents to Ayandeh, Khatami seemed to equivocate slightly. He said: "Of course, there is always the possibility of moving a document from somewhere. This should be investigated fairly and the matter should not be politicized." (Bill Samii)

...AS INTERPOL HELP IS SOUGHT. The Iranian judiciary has requested that Interpol arrest Ali-Reza Namdar-Haghighi in connection with the Ayandeh Research Institute trial, AFP reported on 19 December. According to a statement carried in Iranian newspapers, Haghighi allegedly "infiltrated an Iranian ministry and established contacts with foreign intelligence services and counterrevolutionaries based outside the country." The statement added that Haghighi's assignment was to "aid the entry of American and foreign intelligence services into Iran." (Bill Samii)

ISFAHAN OPINION POLL FINDS LITTLE SUPPORT FOR REVOLUTION, SYSTEM. Guardians Council member Ayatollah Ahmadi Jannati discussed the current trial of individuals associated with the Ayandeh Research Institute during the 20 December Friday prayers in Tehran, and he described the conduct of a poll in the city of Isfahan. Jannati said that the pollsters claimed to have interviewed the families of individuals who died in the Iran-Iraq War (who presumably would be supporters of the system), and 85 percent of the families said that they regretted the war. Jannati interpreted this to mean, "some 85 percent of the families of the martyrs are against our revolution." The pollsters asked about the Bushehr nuclear-power plant, and the majority of respondents said that it is unnecessary. And when asked about causes of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was not mentioned. Another question, according to Jannati, was: "Would you welcome a fundamental change in the [Iranian] ruling system?" Jannati explained what is happening: "Acting under the pretext of serving the people and conducting public-opinion polls, they are betraying the people." (Bill Samii)

COURT DENIES RECEIPT OF AGHAJARI'S APPEAL. Saleh Nikbakht, the attorney for political activist and university professor Hashem Aghajari, said in the 14 December "Aftab-i Yazd" that when he contacted the Supreme Court on 11 December it denied receipt of his client's appeal. Nikbakht said that on 3 December he submitted the appeal to the Hamedan Court, which forwarded it to the Supreme Court on 4 December. Nikbakht said that he has not been in touch with his client since 22 November. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL QUITS. Iranian parliamentarian Mohammad Dadfar, who serves on the legislature's Human Rights Committee, resigned from the committee in advance of its talks with European Union human rights officials, ISNA reported on 15 December. The Human Rights Committee was established two weeks ago. Dadfar refused to elaborate on his decision, according to ISNA. (Bill Samii)

HRW MAKES RECOMMENDATIONS FOR IRAN-EU DIALOGUE. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a 14 December press release expressed regretted that delegates from HRW or Amnesty International would not be allowed to attend the Iran-EU human rights dialogue that began on 16 December in Tehran. HRW expressed concern about issues such as arbitrary detention, torture, and freedom of religion. It called for the release from prison of attorney Nasser Zarafshan; Berlin conference attendees Akbar Ganji, Khalil Rostamkhani, Said Sadr, and Hassan Yussefi-Eshkevari; and journalist Emadedin Baqi. HRW also called for the release of detained students and the freedom from house arrest of Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi. In its release, HRW drew attention to Iran's restrictive press law, the existence of secret detention centers, discrimination against minorities, and the forcible repatriation of refugees. (Bill Samii)

JUDICIARY OFFICIAL DESCRIBES HUMAN RIGHTS INTERACTION... Mohammad Javad Larijani, the judiciary's foreign-policy adviser, said during a 15 December meeting with Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Alfredo Manteca that Iran has a constructive human rights dialogue with other countries and the United Nations, IRNA reported. Larijani spoke positively of the defeat of a draft resolution criticizing the situation in Iran during the April 2002 session of the UN Commission on Human Rights by a roll-call vote of 19 in favor to 20 against, with 14 abstentions (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 April 2002).

"Today, humanity has become the victim of the illogical and violent policies that U.S. officials are exercising. Contrary to that, Iran is introducing its own culture to the world community," Larijani told IRNA. He added, "We respect Western liberalism and expect the West to respect our own cultural democracy," in an effort to distinguish between UN-approved universal standards of human rights and what exists instead in Iran. (Bill Samii)

...AS TEHRAN, EU TALK HUMAN RIGHTS... A European Union delegation on the evening of 17 December concluded a two-day visit to Iran to discuss human rights issues with Iranian judicial and parliamentary representatives, ISNA reported the next day. Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said that the talks went well but some differences remain. The Danish Embassy in Tehran released a statement that said the talks focused on prevention of torture and discrimination against women and religious minorities, according to dpa on 18 December. The EU delegation persuaded Tehran to receive UN rapporteurs, and the EU submitted a list of individual human rights cases to which it attaches "particular importance."

The EU delegation received assurances that stoning as a form of capital punishment is to be abolished, the "Financial Times" reported on 19 December. Iranian officials told the Europeans that judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi issued a directive that instructs judges to use other forms of punishment for adulterers. The Iranian government's reluctance to publicize the directive, if it really exists, stems from sensitivity over the issue that relates to interpretation of Islamic law and factional politics, according to the "Financial Times."

Shiraz parliamentary representative Reza Yusefian told reporters on 18 December that the Iran-EU human rights dialogue had gone well. He described special sessions during which they discussed gender rights and Islam, blood money (diyeh), inheritance laws, guardianship, divorce, the Islamic view on women's responsibilities, and minorities' rights in Iran. Yusefian said that the EU representatives viewed floggings and amputations as inhumane, but the Iranian side saw these as appropriate punishments from an Islamic perspective. The Europeans took a special interest in the law banning torture. Yusefian viewed these sessions as a positive prelude to the expansion of Iran-EU economic ties. (Bill Samii)

...AND FOREIGN OFFICIALS VISIT WITH POLITICAL PRISONER. An unidentified Italian diplomat said the Italian and Danish ambassadors to Tehran and a Dutch official on 17 December met with political prisoner Siamak Purzand at his sister's home in Tehran, the "Financial Times" reported on 19 December. The 73-year-old Purzand is on temporary leave from prison, and the visitors found that he is "in not a bad physical and psychological condition," according to the diplomat. (Bill Samii)

EU PRESIDENCY LINKS TRADE WITH HUMAN RIGHTS. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said during an 18 December visit to Washington that Iran must show progress on political and human rights if it wants to enjoy the benefits of trade with the EU, RFE/RL reported. Denmark holds the current European Union presidency. Moeller said linking trade and rights is the best way to help Iranian reformists. "That's why we say we are not just trading with Iran. It's on a condition that there's progress on political and human rights," Reuters quoted Moeller as saying. The European statements are noteworthy because Tehran insists that any agreement with the EU will have to be made without preconditions (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 October 2002). (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATURE APPROVES TORTURE BAN... The Iranian parliament on 15 December approved a bill banning torture, Iranian state television reported that same day. Article 38 of the constitution already bans torture, and the Guardians Council, which must approve all legislation on Islamic and constitutional grounds, rejected a previous draft of the bill in June 2002 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 November 2002). (Bill Samii)

...AND AGAIN APPROVES 'POLITICAL-CRIMES' BILL. The Iranian parliament on 16 December approved revised legislation on political crimes after the Guardians Council returned a previous version of it, Iranian state television reported. The bill defines a "political crime" as an individual perpetrating an action or refusing to take an action for political motives and that is against the existing political system and against the government's sovereignty or against the interests or rights of the citizenry. Politically motivated violent crimes will not be considered political crimes. The court that investigates political crimes will have a jury. (Bill Samii)

SUPREME LEADER, PRESIDENT, DISCUSS SATELLITES AND INTERNET... President Khatami said during the 17 December meeting of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution that "the Internet is a necessary tool, but there is a global concern that those with more power could use instruments such as satellites and the Internet to influence national cultures, and that is a threat to all of humanity," state television reported. "Therefore," Khatami added, "the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution has tried in its approvals to consider the protection of social culture regarding such issues." Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei earlier told the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution that it has an important role to play by "analyzing global cultural issues and assessing the effects of such issues on domestic affairs of the country [and in] finding solutions to the possible harm posed by foreign cultural currents relating to domestic issues," state television reported. (Bill Samii)

...AS LEGISLATURE RATIFIES PORTIONS OF BILL ON SATELLITE RECEIVERS. The Iranian parliament ratified the general points of a bill that would change the current ban on private use of satellite receiving equipment during its 17 December open session, Iranian state radio reported. If the bill wins final ratification, the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance would be tasked with forming a committee with representatives from the Interior; Intelligence and Security; and Post, Telegraph, and Telephone ministries, as well as from Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, that within three months must formulate a policy on acceptable security, political, and cultural guidelines for satellite programs. Moreover, the bill would allow private individuals, organizations, and firms that need to receive satellite television programs directly to get a permit from the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance.

The second reading of the bill took place in the legislature on 18 December, the official Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. One of the ratified articles authorizes police confiscation of unauthorized satellite equipment if use of that equipment continues after owners are given a week's notice and a warning. Another ratified article decrees that permits are required to receive satellite television programs. Five out of eight articles in the bill were approved on 18 December, according to IRNA, and the remaining articles will be reviewed at the next open session of the legislature, to begin after a 10-day recess ending on 28 December.

The deputy for parliamentary affairs of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, Mr. Zarghami, said in an 18 December letter to Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi that his organization opposes legalizing the use of satellite receivers, "Hayat-i No" reported on 19 December.

Amending the satellite law has more to do with factional politics than with anything else, according to an editorial in the 21 December issue of the daily "Jomhuri-yi Islami." The reformists had campaigned for the sixth parliament (the current one) on the slogan of free use of satellite television, and now that they are the legislature's majority faction, the reformists want to show that they have fulfilled their election promises and build confidence for the next parliament (in 2004).

"Jomhuri-yi Islami" also warned that Western support for ending the satellite ban shows that doing so is contrary to the interests of Iranian society. Founder of the Iranian revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was quoted as saying, "the praise and accolade of the Westerners for us is a clear indication that we have gone astray and lost the straight and correct path." The daily newspaper cautioned against sacrificing the community's interests and welfare for political gamesmanship, and it warned that permitting the free use of satellite television would "pave the way for an even greater moral and ethical collapse of the society." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI OPTIMISTIC THAT HE'LL HAVE MORE POWER... President Khatami said on 19 December that he is optimistic that the Guardians Council will approve the bill submitted in September that would increase his powers, IRNA reported. "God willing, the bill on reforming the president's prerogatives and authority will receive final approval, and this will help the president in fulfilling his duties," Khatami said at the inauguration of a conference entitled "Non-Implemented Principles of the Constitution." The legislation has already received overwhelming support from the parliament, although it awaits final ratification, but the 12-member Guardians Council must still vet the bill on Islamic and constitutional grounds. Gholam-Hussein Elham, who heads the Guardians Council Research Center, has indicated that the legislation will not win approval. (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 September and 4 and 11 November 2002.) (Bill Samii)

...BUT PARLIAMENTARIAN NOTES FLAWS IN BILL. Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, who is a leading member of the pro-Khatami 2nd of Khordad Front, said that some aspects of the bill concerning the president's powers must be changed, "Resalat" newspaper reported on 19 December. He said, "In my opinion, the law on presidential authority has some flaws that must be removed." The appearance of this report in a hard-line newspaper suggests that Mohtashami-Pur's statement was taken out of context. (Bill Samii)

GUARDIANS COUNCIL DOWNPLAYS CONCERN ABOUT REJECTION OF LEGISLATION. In a statement faxed to IRNA on 15 December, the Guardians Council said that it is complying with its constitutional obligations when it determines legislative compatibility with the constitution and with Islamic law, IRNA reported. One hundred fifty-four members of parliament signed a letter the previous week in which they said that the Guardians Council's rejection of some bills was not legal. The Guardians Council's fax pointed out that such disputes could be referred to the Expediency Council. The clerical members of the Guardians Council are ex officio members of the Expediency Council. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI INTRODUCES BUDGET... President Khatami on 18 December submitted to parliament the state budget for the year 1382 (21 March 2003-21 March 2004), IRNA reported. Khatami vowed to reduce government expenditures while encouraging privatization and foreign investment. The proposed budget totals 859.7 trillion rials ($107.5 billion) compared to the previous year's budget of 663.36 trillion rials. Government spokesman Ramezanzadeh earlier said there would be no tangible differences between the new and previous budgets, IRNA reported on 14 December, with the exception of cost-of-living increases for government employees. However, Management and Planning Organization chief Mohammad Sattarifar said the proposal includes a 50 percent increase in the development budget. A parliamentary committee has 35 days to review the proposed budget and must submit it to the full legislature for approval by 1 February. The budget was supposed to be submitted on 26 November. (Bill Samii)

...AND DEFENSE MINISTER COMPLAINS ABOUT IT. On the same day that President Khatami submitted the budget to the parliament, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani said that it was inadequate for his ministry's needs, ISNA reported. "Our defense budget is far below our expectations," Shamkhani said. In response to a question about reductions in other ministries' budgets in order to make up for the Defense Ministry's requirements Shamkhani said: "This is not in the plan, but some solution must be found. We must, and we will, resolve the problems of the armed forces." Shamkhani said that the budgetary situation would create management difficulties in the Defense Ministry, but the situation would be dealt with. He said, "We will certainly make changes, and these changes must maintain the capability of the armed forces." (Bill Samii)

CREATION OF A 'WOMEN'S PARTY' IN IRAN UNDER WAY. Anonymous "informed sources" at the Interior Ministry have said that a pro-reform Women's Party is being created, the "Entekhab" daily newspaper reported on 22 December. The party's founders are former hostage taker and current Vice President Masumeh Ebtekar and parliamentarian Fariba Davudi Mohajer. Other founders are the wives of pro-reform political activists such as Mustafa Tajzadeh of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO) and Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), Mohsen Armin of the MIRO, Mohammad Reza Khatami of the IIPP, and Mohsen Mirdamadi of the IIPP. "Entekhab" reported that some "political activists" believe the party will serve as the women's branch of IIPP. Former members of the Executives of Construction Party created the IIPP in 1998 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 November 1998), but there currently is speculation that the party will disband (Bill Samii)

IRAN TO EMPLOY MORE POLICEWOMEN. An official from the Iranian national police's ideological-political department, Hassan Zakeri, on 16 December announced that his organization will employ some 4,000 women by March 2003, IRNA reported. Zakeri said, "Taking into account religious rules, the society needs to utilize policewomen." General Taqizadeh, who heads the Criminal Investigation Department in Tehran, had announced several months earlier that a specialized women's unit had been created to maintain security and investigate matters that pertain to women (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 November 2002). (Bill Samii)

IRAN CONFRONTS SPREAD OF PROSTITUTION. According to official statistics, some 300,000 female prostitutes work in Iran. Tehran deputy police chief Ahmad Ruzbehani on 17 December described the elimination of a gang that tricked young Iranian girls into prostitution and sent them to other countries, according to IRNA. Ruzbehani said that the arrest of four women and eight men followed a complaint by a woman who said she was sexually assaulted and then sent to Dubai for prostitution. Other press reports on 17 December, according to IRNA, told of police breaking up a prostitution ring in Isfahan.

Professor Rasool Nafisi of Strayer College attributed the rise in prostitution to the poor economy, a high divorce rate, and the exploitation of girls who flee abusive family situations. Nafisi said in a summer 2002 interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service: "The major factor is the high rate of divorce, which is about 25 percent. The other is runaway girls who leave home for a variety of reasons and become bait for those who lure them into prostitution." (see "Iran: Proposal Debated For Solving Prostitution With 'Chastity Houses,'", 7 August 2002).

The Iranian government is trying to deal with the spread of prostitution in several ways. Tehran parliamentarian Jamileh Kadivar, who is a member of the legislature's Women's Group, said in an interview that appeared in the 7 December "Toseh" morning daily that there are serious efforts under way to help prostitutes find new occupations. Kadivar said that the budgetary allocation for this is inadequate right now, and she recommended providing women with a stipend that would tide them over as they move into new occupations and financial self-sufficiency. Kadivar explained who is being targeted in this effort: "We must divide special women [prostitutes] into two groups. One group consists of those who turn to prostitution because of lax morality. But there are also other women who fall into that trap because of poverty. Our aim is to help that latter group who have fallen on hard times."

A much more controversial program involves the so-called "chastity houses" (efaf) that were promoted in summer 2002. These would be government-run shelters for destitute women who could engage in temporary marriages with male customers in exchange for a fee (a temporary marriage is a religiously accepted concept that allows a man and woman to marry for a period ranging from a few hours to a lifetime after they recite a Koranic verse).

Ayatollah Mohammad Musavi Bojnurdi, an advocate of the plan, was quoted as saying: "We face a real challenge with all these women on the street. Our society is in an emergency situation, so the formation of the chastity houses can be an immediate solution to the problem."

The chastity-house idea also met with opposition. Qom clerical scholar Hojatoleslam Mohammed Taqi Fazel-Meibodi told RFE/RL's Persian Service that, although the proposal is religiously legal, it would not solve the problems of the prostitutes themselves, and it would not prevent more women from joining their ranks. Fazel-Meibodi said: "Our young people are troubled. There is poverty, unemployment, and more and more girls are escaping from their homes. Establishing these chastity houses will come to no good." Fazel-Meibodi continued: "In a society where there are sharp differences between rich and poor, rich men will use these poor girls for a quick thrill and to satisfy their impulses and lust. Also, we have so many serious problems right now. What [problems] are they trying to overcome by introducing these houses at this juncture?"

After the Iranian press reported on the state-approved chastity houses in July, a police official said that the Interior Ministry was behind the plan. The Interior Ministry on 29 July rejected the reports, describing them as "baseless," according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)

SAVAK CONTINUES ITS DOMESTIC SECURITY ACTIVITIES. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 21 December that the sons of SAVAK personnel are active in Iranian universities, "Iran Daily" reported the next day. SAVAK (Sazeman-i Ettelaat va Amniyat-i Keshvar) was the National Organization for Intelligence and Security under the Iranian monarchy and existed from 1957 to 1979. Rafsanjani said: "We don't expect the sons of SAVAKis [the organization's personnel] to remain idle. Some who are themselves against freedoms cannot deceive the people with their slogans." According to "Iran Daily," the hard-line press has reported recently that SAVAK elements have penetrated the student organization called the Office for Strengthening Unity. (Bill Samii)

KERMAN STUDENTS ARRESTED. A rally scheduled to be held outside the Kerman governor-general's office was cancelled after the arrest of some 90 students from Kerman's Shahid Bahonar University, "Hayat-i No" reported on 15 December. The students planned to protest against the poor provision of security when national-religious activist Ezatollah Sahabi arrived at Kerman Airport and against the provincial governor-general's reference to protesting students as "outsiders." (Bill Samii)

BEAN BASHER BUSTED AGAIN. Hamid Ostad, the leader of the Mashhad branch of the Ansar-i Hizbullah vigilante group, was released from jail after being held for one day, ISNA reported on 14 December. Ostad told ISNA that he was arrested on 11 December during a lecture at Mashhad's Medical College because he was protesting the arrest of a friend. Everybody else was released fairly quickly, Ostad said, but he claimed that he was held longer because the city's police chief lodged a complaint against him. Ostad related the police chief's antipathy to Ostad's speech against him during Qods Day (28 November) rallies. Ostad was arrested and tried in summer 2001 because he and his associates disrupted a performance by comedian Hamid-Reza Mahisefat, who is known as "Iran's Mr. Bean" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 August and 3 September 2001). (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN PROTESTS NUCLEAR ACCUSATIONS. Iranian Vice President for Atomic Energy Qolam-Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi on 17 December rejected recent U.S. accusations that Iran is trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction, Iranian state radio reported. Aqazadeh said that only the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is legally authorized to deal with nuclear issues. The previous day, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Iran does not intend to build nuclear weapons and that all its efforts in the nuclear-energy sphere have peaceful objectives, IRNA reported.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said during a 13 December State Department briefing that the United States has "reached the conclusion that Iran is actively working to develop nuclear-weapons capability." Boucher discussed the construction of a heavy-water facility at Arak and a possible uranium-enrichment facility in Natanz (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 December 2002). (Bill Samii)

ARMY COMMANDER DENIES IRAN HAS MILITARY NUCLEAR AMBITIONS. Brigadier General Nasser Mohammadifar, the commander of the Iranian Army's ground forces, said during a ceremony to post the 38th independent armored brigade at Torbat-i Jam's Mohammad Rasulallah garrison that Iran does not intend to the use the nuclear facility it is building in Bushehr for military purposes, ISNA reported on 19 December. Mohammadifar added, "Iran will never pursue the manufacture, purchase, or use of weapons of mass destruction and unconventional arms." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI REJECTS NUCLEAR ALLEGATIONS... President Mohammad Khatami on 18 December rejected U.S. allegations that Iran is developing a nuclear-weapons capability, IRNA reported. Responding to a reporter's question, Khatami said that the allegations are baseless and that Iran is in compliance with international standards. Khatami said, according to IRNA, "Iran is working under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Iran is a signatory to the [Nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty and does not seek nuclear arms."

Nonproliferation Policy Education Center Executive Director Henry Sokolski appeared to confirm this when he said in "The Washington Post" on 19 December: "The problem is that Iran is not cheating. They haven't broken any rules, and they won't until they have weapons." According to the "The Washington Post," Iranian government front companies acquire the materials and equipment for producing weapons-grade nuclear fuel from foreign firms. In this way, they appear to remain within the nonproliferation-treaty regime. (Bill Samii)

...AS MOSCOW SAYS IRANIANS ARE INCAPABLE... Much of the progress in Iran's nuclear program is credited to the participation of foreign -- mainly Russian -- scientists, engineers, and technicians. The U.S. government cannot determine if the government in Moscow sanctions this Russian participation, according to "The Washington Post" on 19 December, but is urging the Russians to put an end to it.

Russian Nuclear Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev arrived in Tehran on 22 December to discuss construction of the nuclear-power plant in Bushehr and to visit the facility, according to ITAR-TASS. Rumyantsev met with his Iranian counterpart Qolam-Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, who afterward said that they emphasized the need to complete the project by the next Iranian year (starting 21 March 2003), according to the official Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Rumyantsev added that they discussed the recycling and storage of spent fuel and nuclear waste.

Rumyantsev tried to assuage any concerns in an 18 December interview with ITAR-TASS, when he said that Iran is not capable of developing nuclear weapons. Rumyantsev said that Iran has a right to develop peaceful nuclear means, saying, "Iran does not conceal its plans regarding nuclear-power generation; it has the right to develop [its power-generating capabilities in] this direction." Rumyantsev also recommended waiting to see the results of the IAEA's February 2003 inspection trip to Iran. (Bill Samii)

...AND IAEA CHIEF'S VISIT SCHEDULED. The IAEA has announced that its secretary-general, Muhammad al-Baradei, would visit Iran on 25 February, Iranian state radio reported on 19 December. According to previous reports, Tehran has postponed al-Baradei's visit several times (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 December 2002). (Bill Samii)

MOHTASHAMI-PUR DESCRIBES IRANIAN PLAN FOR PALESTINE. Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur also serves as the secretary of the "Support for the Palestinian Intifada Conference." In the 19 December issue of Tehran's "Resalat" daily, he described the Iranian plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. "Iran's plan is that elections should be held in Palestine to choose a government and to determine the share of various religions in that government. If such a government decides to form a power-sharing rule, then it can follow the example of Lebanon," Mohtashami-Pur said. Regarding the current Palestinian uprising (a.k.a. intifada), Mohtashami-Pur asked, "Why is it that the martyrdom-seeking and defensive actions of the Palestinians are described as terrorism, while the international community closes its eyes to the massacre of innocent Palestinian women and children by the Zionist occupiers?" (Bill Samii)

AL-AQSA MARTYRS BRIGADE SAYS IT GETS NO AID FROM IRAN. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade commander Abu-Mujahid rejected Israeli accusations that his organization receives aid from Iran and Hizballah in an interview that appeared on 18 December on the website run by Tel Aviv's "Yediot Aharonot" daily. Abu Mujahid said: "There is no such assistance. However, even if there were such assistance, it would be legitimate and derive from the fact that we belong to the same religion and the same nation. We, the Iranians, and Hizballah share common roots, which you cannot say about Israel and the United States. If the United States extends massive aid to Israel, we are definitely entitled to aid from Muslim Iran, although -- I repeat -- there is no such aid at all." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN ACQUIRES NORTH KOREAN GUNBOATS. Fifteen semisubmersible gunboats used in special operations have been sent to Iran from North Korea, "The Washington Times" reported on 16 December. The boats were shipped aboard an Iranian freighter. U.S. intelligence officials expressed concern that Iran could use the gunboats to threaten U.S. ships in the region. In an indication of Iran's willingness to use the means at its disposal, Multinational Interdiction Force deputy coordinator Commander Nick Chatwin of the British Navy in a 16 December Reuters report displayed a photograph of an oil tanker with a hole in it that was created by a rocket-propelled grenade launched from an Iranian naval vessel. (Bill Samii)

KUWAITI MILITARY PERSONNEL VISIT IRAN. Kuwait Army Chief of Staff General Ali al-Mumin arrived in Tehran on 22 December for a five-day visit, Kuwait's KUNA news agency reported. The Kuwaiti delegation's visit is the result of memorandum of understanding signed by Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sheikh Jabir Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah and Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani in October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 October 2002). The visitors are scheduled to learn about Iranian military systems and defense industries, and they will visit the Officers College. (Bill Samii)

IRAN ABSENT AT LONDON OPPOSITION MEETINGS. Seyyed Mohsen al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq said that no Iranian official participated in the 13-15 Iraqi opposition meetings in London, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 16 December. Iran was invited, however, according to al-Hakim. "All the neighbors of Iraq and all the Arab, Muslim, and European countries, as well as all the countries interested in the Iraqi case had been invited to take part in the conference, but only the representatives of the American government and Kuwait's parliament attended the meeting," al-Hakim said. (Bill Samii)

SHAMKHANI COMMENTS ON KURDS' VISIT TO TEHRAN. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani discussed the previous week's visit to Tehran by Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masud Barzani in comments to reporters after the 18 December cabinet meeting, ISNA reported. Shamkhani said that it was perfectly natural for Barzani to meet with representatives of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 December 2002). Barzani's contacts with the IRGC predate the Iran-Iraq War, Shamkhani said, and it also is normal for the armed forces to be in touch with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader (PUK) Jalal Talabani. Shamkhani explained: "Our armed forces control the borderlines in the west of our country, while Barzani and Talabani control northern Iraq. So, this contact is natural." (Bill Samii)

RAFSANJANI COMMENTS ON FUTURE WAR IN IRAQ. Former President and current Expediency Council chief Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani on 18 December told a planning session of the IRGC that U.S. President Bush "continues to relentlessly beat the drums of war," according to Iranian state television. Rafsanjani warned that a war in Iraq would be very different from the one in Afghanistan, because, "The Americans do not have the experience of confronting Iraq's war engineering methods and will get caught in a quagmire." Rafsanjani also reassured his audience that Iran would not be an American target. He said, "The enemy will not have the courage to attack Iran thanks to our forces' epic-making capability and courage." (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATURE REVIEWS IRAQ DEVELOPMENTS. Tehran parliamentarian Elahe Kulyai said on 17 December that the legislature's National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee had met with the deputy ministers of foreign affairs and of intelligence and security to discuss recent developments in Iraq, the previous week's meetings in Tehran of Iraqi opposition leaders, and the 13-15 December Iraqi opposition meeting in London, ISNA reported. Kulyai said that the parliamentarians asked how Tehran is protecting its interests, about American motives, and for predictions on future developments. Kulyai said there was some criticism of state policy on the Iraqi issue. " The officials gave some answers, some of which were accepted. But on the whole, most of the commission members did not think that Iran's policies in respect of regional developments would safeguard our people's interests," Kulyai said. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN TRADE SHOW IN BAGHDAD. Kermanshah Province's Foreign Commerce Department chief Asghar Mirzai said on 17 December that the first exclusively Iranian trade show would be held in Baghdad from 26 February to 7 March, IRNA reported. Mirzai said that so far 60 manufacturing units from Tehran, Isfahan, Qom, Mashhad, and Hamedan have indicated a willingness to show their products at the Baghdad exhibition, and he said that an objective of the exhibition is to increase trade with and exports to Iraq. (Bill Samii)

AL-HAKIM REPEATS OPPOSITION TO U.S. MILITARY ACTION. Chairman of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim announced in a 22 December interview that Iraqi dissident groups prefer democratic means to warfare to bring about regime change in their country, IRNA reported. Al-Hakim said that U.S. military action against Iraq would be disastrous for the Iraqi people. The United States is determined to attack Iraq, al-Hakim said, and Islamic states should work through the Untied Nations to reduce the casualties that might result from U.S. strikes against Iraq. According to Tehran radio on the same day, "Ayatollah Hakim rejected the idea of a puppet government coming to power in Iraq through direct American support." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CLAIMS ISRAELIS ACTIVE IN AFGHANISTAN. The Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Pashtu-language external service claimed on 15 December that Israeli intelligence personnel and military experts are operating in Afghanistan. Citing an anonymous Afghan source, the broadcast claimed that these individuals are active in southwestern Afghanistan's Helmand Province. Similar claims have appeared before. Afghan executive-branch spokesman Fazl Akbar on 27 November denied that there are any Israeli intelligence personnel in the country, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported from Mashhad in Dari. Mashhad radio cited an Egyptian website as the source of the information about the Israelis' presence. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI TO DISCUSS AFGHANISTAN DURING PAKISTAN VISIT. The Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported on 17 December that President Khatami would arrive in Islamabad on 23 December. During his visit, Khatami will meet with President General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali and will speak about his "dialogue among civilizations" at the Institute of Strategic Studies. Iran's ambassador to Pakistan, Sirajudin Musavi, said that the reconstruction of Afghanistan would be a major aspect of Khatami's discussions, Lahore's "The Daily Times" reported on 18 December. Musavi also said that a number of agreements would be finalized and signed during the visit. (Bill Samii)

KABUL DELIGHTED WITH TEHRAN'S CLOSURE OF AFGHAN HIZBULLAH OFFICE. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Education and Research Affairs Alireza Moayeri said on 14 December that the police in Mashhad have closed the offices of Afghan Hizbullah, IRNA reported. Moayeri added that this step is in line with stated Iranian policy of supporting the central Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. "The operation of Afghan Jihadi groups in the Islamic Republic of Iran are based on the permits which the Interior Ministry issues under certain conditions, and these offices probably did not have such a permit," Moayeri said.

"Afghan state-run television and radio reported with great delight" the news about the closure of the Afghan Hizbullah offices, IRNA reported on 16 December. Afghan radio and television also commented favorably on Iran's part in the Bonn conference (presumably the one in 2001) and in providing financial help for the government in Kabul, IRNA went on to report. (Bill Samii)

AFGHAN NEIGHBORS TO SIGN NONINTERFERENCE PLEDGE. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan told a news conference in Islamabad on 16 December that foreign ministers from Afghanistan's six immediate neighbors -- Iran, Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- will meet in Kabul on 22 December to sign a pledge not to interfere in Afghan politics, Reuters reported. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council are expected to send observers to Kabul for the signing, and afterward, the noninterference pledge will be submitted to the UN Security Council.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi was expected to meet with Afghan President Karzai and Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah during his planned one-day visit, IRNA reported on 21 December. The next day, however, the Pashtu-language broadcast of the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's external service cited the Afghan Foreign Ministry's press office as explaining that the Iranian foreign minister did not come because of technical problems with his flight.

Nevertheless, Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian expressed his country's satisfaction with the noninterference pact during a press conference in Kabul on 23 December. Taherian said, "Iran welcomes any developments that help to strengthen peace and stability in the region," Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari-language service reported. (Bill Samii)

TWO PAKISTANIS DETAINED FOR ESPIONAGE. Amrollah Salah, head of Afghanistan's second security department, said on 16 December that two Pakistani nationals were detained in Kabul the previous night on suspicion of espionage and handed over to security personnel for questioning, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mashhad-based Dari-language service reported. (Bill Samii)

REPORT: WOMEN IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN SUFFERING. A report from Human Rights Watch titled "We Want to Live as Humans:' Repression of Women and Girls in Western Afghanistan" was released on 17 December ( The HRW report is especially critical of Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan. As report co-author Zama Coursen-Neff told Reuters that day, "Ismail Khan has created an atmosphere in which government officials and private individuals believe they have the right to police every aspect of women's and girls' lives: how they dress, how they get around town, what they say." The report itself describes forced gynecological examinations as chastity checks, as well as bans on walking or riding in a car alone with a man or men to whom a woman is not closely related. Women cannot drive cars, nor can they ride bicycles. The report describes other restrictions that curtail a woman's ability to go to school or to work. HRW also criticized Ismail Khan in a November 2002 report titled "All Our Hopes Are Crushed: Violence and Repression in Western Afghanistan" ( (Bill Samii)

KARZAI MOVES AGAINST WARLORDS. President Karzai has issued a decree banning political leaders from engaging in military activities, Kabul's Radio Afghanistan reported on 15 December. The decree, which goes into effect immediately, was released as Karzai headed for Oslo to participate in a conference on Afghanistan's reconstruction (see below). The presidential decree said: " No military or civilian official is allowed to offer dual services in both military and civil affairs. The governors of the provinces, authorities and commanders of the military police units should legally operate within the limits of their authority. They have to strictly abide by the rules and regulation governing their duties." The independent power exercised by regional leaders -- politically, economically, and militarily -- is seen as undermining the authority of the central government in Kabul. (Bill Samii)

NATO TO ASSIST ISAF. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) spokesman Major Gordon Mackenzie told a 17 December briefing that NATO will provide supplies and logistical support to ISAF, Reuters reported. "We have a lot of individual supply lines at the moment," Mackenzie said. "In order to rationalize this process, NATO is going to play a role in putting all these logistics together." Mackenzie said the details have not yet been finalized, but NATO's support activities are expected to begin in February 2003. NATO has already provided support to ISAF's German and Dutch contingents in anticipation of their February takeover of the force, according to earlier reports, and some NATO members believe that the Atlantic alliance should assume command of ISAF (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2002). (Bill Samii)

KARZAI WANTS VIKING ARMY. President Hamid Karzai asked for Norwegian assistance in the establishment of a new army during a 16 December meeting in Oslo with Defense Minister Kristin Krohn Devold, Oslo's "Vart Land" tabloid reported on the same day. Karzai said that the creation of the Afghan army is going well, and he described what he wants from Norway: "We are looking forward to Norwegian assistance with respect to teaching and training Afghan soldiers and pilots." The Norwegian publication speculated that this would take place when a new Norwegian civilian-military unit is established under ISAF. Krohn Devold said: "Local needs will determine what we will contribute. It could be everything from building schools and kindergartens to giving instruction to soldiers and the police, plus help in establishing local courts." Norwegian special-operations forces have been active combatants in Operation Enduring Freedom (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 March 2002). (Bill Samii)

FOREIGNERS, AFGHANS WOUNDED IN KABUL ATTACKS. Two French employees of a nongovernmental organization, an Afghan interpreter with the NGO, and an Afghan working for ISAF were wounded in a 19 December grenade attack in Kabul, Reuters reported. ISAF personnel shot and killed the attacker. Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Zahedan-based Pashtu-language program claimed that in reality two vehicles carrying U.S. personnel came under attack, four Americans were killed, and the assailant was killed as the result of "a retaliatory action."

Two U.S. soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were wounded in a 17 December bomb attack in central Kabul on the automobile they were riding in, Reuters reported. Afghan authorities arrested a male teenager who subsequently confessed to carrying out the attack on behalf of "Muslims in Palestine and Afghanistan," and they arrested another man who fled the scene. (Bill Samii)

HIZB-I ISLAMI SEES NO NEED FOR FOREIGN TROOPS... Qutbodin Hilal, a member of the central council of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i Islami party, on 16 December told Mashhad radio's Dari-language service that the deployment of an Afghan national army would make the presence of foreign forces unnecessary. During a conference in Bonn, Germany, earlier this month, Karzai issued a decree that set out his plan for the creation of a 70,000-strong Afghan national army. And on 15 December, Kabul's Radio Afghanistan broadcast an order from Karzai that decreed the creation of a national army as essential to Afghanistan's reconstruction. The order described a "sound plan" that was compiled after "comprehensive study and research," and it said that the army would meet Afghanistan's external and internal security requirements. (Bill Samii)

...AND WANTS TO JOIN GOVERNMENT DESPITE TERRORISM ACCUSATIONS. Hilal added that Hizb-i Islami has not cooperated with Al-Qaeda in any fashion because Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization. Nevertheless, there are persistent reports that Hekmatyar, Al-Qaeda, and Taliban elements are working together against the Afghan central government.

The 12 December issue of Parwan's "Payam-i Mujahid" newspaper, for example, reported that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence is trying to create a Taliban-Hekmatyar union. The newspaper's source, an anonymous former Taliban, said that one of the intermediaries is former Nangarhar Governor Molavi Kabir. The daily also listed a number of Pakistani Islamic parties that, it is claimed, are in contact with Hekmatyar. And a report in the 15 December issue of Kabul's "Farda" newspaper said that regional commanders are rearming people in the northeast of Afghanistan and people sympathetic to Hekmatyar are being mobilized elsewhere. "Farda" hinted that Pakistan is behind these developments.

Hekmatyar's name appears on an official United Nations list of more than 100 people suspected of Al-Qaeda ties, RFE/RL reported on 18 December (see "UN: Experts Warn Of New Terrorist Training Camps In Afghanistan,", 18 December 2002). According to the accompanying UN report, it appears that there is renewed activity in terrorist training camps near Asadabad, a town north of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan.

It should be noted that Hizb-i Islami has splintered into several factions, and the faction of which Hilal is a member hopes to play a role in Afghanistan's transitional government. Indeed, Peshawar's Pashtu-language "Shahadat" newspaper reported on 14 December that a Hizb-i Islami delegation had visited Kabul at Karzai's invitation and met with the president, Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim, UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. The daily noted that Karzai does not want an important party like Hizb-i Islami to be excluded from Afghanistan's government and viewed as a foe. (Bill Samii)

AFGHAN DONORS CONFERENCE PLEDGES $1.24 BILLION. Afghan President Karzai arrived in Oslo on 16 December to participate in an international donors conference that commenced the next day. Karzai said when he arrived, according to dpa, "I am here primarily to thank Norway for the good efforts it has made as chair of Afghanistan Support Group [ASG], and I look forward to my visit here." The ASG meeting featured discussions on reconstruction and refugee repatriation, and officials from 22 countries participated.

Norwegian Minister of International Development Hilde Frafjord Johnson met Karzai at the airport and said that Oslo wants to find ways to facilitate the provision of aid to Afghanistan. Johnson added, "This can best be accomplished both by strengthening the public administration and the educational system." Johnson said that Norway has paid out all the $40 million it promised for 2002, Reuters reported on 16 December.

When the conference concluded on 18 December, donor states had pledged $1.24 billion in aid to Afghanistan for 2003, RFE/RL reported. Conference chairman and Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen said the 2003 pledge amount is likely to increase because some states have yet to fix their budgets for next year, and $2 billion seems like a realistic target. Afghan Rehabilitation Minister Amin Farhang told RFE/RL from Sweden that he believes late disbursements of 2002 pledges could boost the 2003 numbers.

Notably, the ASG dissolved itself, according to a 19 December report in "The New York Times." The ASG turned over control of the aid to a Kabul-based "consultative group" headed by Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. This is meant as a sign that the Afghans are assuming responsibility for their future. (Bill Samii)

NEW RADIO TRANSMITTERS IN PARWAN AND GHOWR PROVINCES. Radio Voice of Peace's new transmitter began operating in Jabal os Saraj city, Parwan Province, on 13 December, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mashhad-based Dari-language service reported on 14 December. The 500-watt transmitter has a range that exceeds 100 kilometers. The old transmitter had 200 watts of power and a 30-kilometer range. The Voice of Peace is/was affiliated with the opposition to the Taliban -- the Northern Alliance or United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan -- and it transmitted in Dari and Pashto using equipment donated by a French agency called Droit de Parole (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 November 2001).

A new FM radio transmitter has been installed in Ghowr Province, Mashhad radio reported on 20 December. Afghan Information Minister Seyyed Makhdoom Rahim was quoted as saying that installing radio transmitters in the country's most deprived provinces -- Ghowr, Nimruz, Farah, Khost, Bamian, Uruzgan, and Badakhshan -- is at the top of his ministry's list of priorities. Mashhad radio ascribed the delay in realizing this ambition to the slow pace of reconstruction and the lack of international assistance. (Bill Samii)

REGIONAL COUNTERNARCOTICS EFFORTS ACCELERATE. The Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC, formerly known as the UN Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention) announced in October that it expected the Afghan opium crop for 2002 to yield 3,400 tons (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 October 2002). That increase is being felt both in Afghanistan and in the region.

An editorial in the 17 December issue of Kabul's "Anis" newspaper described a sharp increase in narcotics addiction in the Afghan capital. The head of Herat Province's antinarcotics campaign, Mr. Daqiq, said in the 27 November issue of "Awa-yi No" that there are about 17,000 drug addicts in Herat. Director of the Kazakh Border Service and Deputy Chairman of the Kazakh National Security Committee Lieutenant General Bolat Zakaev on 18 December said that drugs originating in Afghanistan are still a serious threat, Interfax reported.

As a result, regional efforts are under way to deal with the problem. On 13-14 December, a meeting of signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding on Subregional Drug Control Cooperation was held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. The governments of the five Central Asian states and the ODC signed the original memorandum in May 1996, Russia and the Aga Khan Development Network joined the agreement in 1998, and Azerbaijan joined in 2001. This recent meeting in Ashgabat will discuss counternarcotics activities in the context of developments in Afghanistan and Central Asia, according to an ODC press release (UNIS/NAR/768). Cross-border contacts between Afghanistan and its Central Asian neighbors have increased since the fall of the Taliban, with the opening of bridges on the Tajik and Uzbek borders.

Kazakh Border Service Director Zakaev said that regional border forces are reinforcing their labors. Iranian Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi met with his Tajik counterpart Rustam Nazarav in Dushanbe on 19 December, the Tajik news agency Asia-Plus reported. This meeting was based on a counternarcotics agreement that was signed when President Khatami visited Tajikistan in April 2002. The two sides worked on developing a strategy to stop the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan and on ways to combat smuggling and international criminal gangs. They agreed to continue regular exchanges of information. The police commander in Iran's Khorasan Province, Brigadier Iskandar Momeni, announced on 27 November that equipping border forces is a top priority, according to IRNA.

Afghans are trying to deal with narcotics, too. The Afghan Islamic Press on 17 December announced that security forces in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar Province have decided to establish a 1,000-strong unit that would destroy opium-poppy fields. Delegates and elders of the Mangal tribe in Mosakhel District of Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan have banned the cultivation of opium poppies, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Dari-language service reported on 17 December. The report said that those who violate this decision would be "treated in accordance with tribal customs and traditions," although it did not identify these traditions.

Indeed, the Afghan government banned opium cultivation and enacted a compensation scheme for farmers who destroyed their crops, yet the compensation plan itself suffered from many problems, and the farmers argued that they do not have economically viable alternatives to opium cultivation (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 January, 15 April, and 20 May 2002). Moreover, Colonel Ramesh Kumar Sheresta, an international police adviser in Afghanistan, described extensive corruption in a 17 December interview with Kabul's Dari-language "Hindukush." He said that of the $60 million provided by the international community for drug control, all the funds have gone to the commanders rather than to the farmers. (Bill Samii)

PIPELINE DRAFT AGREEMENT TO BE SIGNED THIS WEEK. A draft agreement to facilitate the construction of a 1,500-kilometer-long natural-gas pipeline from Dovletabad in Turkmenistan to Guadur in Pakistan is to be signed by officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan during a summit meeting in Ashgabat on 26-27 December, Karachi's English-language "Dawn" newspaper reported on 17 December. Pakistani and Asian Development Bank officials began discussions on a pipeline feasibility study on 16 December. The three countries have agreed not to levy taxes or royalties on activities related to the project or on the transportation and transit of gas, according to "Dawn." They also agree not to "expropriate, requisition or nationalize any property, assets or rights of any of the participants of the project." (Bill Samii)

RUSSIA TO DECIDE ON IRAN-ARMENIA PIPELINE? The 18 December issue of Armenia's "Aykakan Zhamanak" newspaper reported that Russia runs Armenia's biggest gas consumer, the Razdan Power Plant, so it will decide on the construction of a natural-gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia. Citing anonymous "informed observers," the newspaper reported that the Russians are unhappy about construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline, and when this is combined with direct U.S. opposition to the pipeline's construction, "It is therefore not clear how the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline will be constructed." (Bill Samii)

IRAN, TATARSTAN SIGN COOPERATION MEMORANDUM. A delegation of Iranian officials headed by the first deputy minister of the Islamic Culture and Communications Organization, Mahmud Mohammadi-Araqi, on 19 December met with Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan, and then Mohammadi-Araqi and Tatar Deputy Prime Minister Zile Welieva signed a memorandum of cooperation, Kazan's Tatar-Inform news agency reported. Minnikhanov told his guests about Tatarstan's experience in mechanical oil extraction under significantly irrigated oil layers. They also discussed cultural matters, and Mohammadi-Araqi told his hosts that Tehran is ready to open an Iranian cultural center in the capital of Tatarstan, Kazan. (Bill Samii)