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Iran Report: March 19, 2001

19 March 2001, Volume 4, Number 11

TAJIKS IN TEHRAN... A 22-member delegation of Tajikistan parliamentarians headed by Tajik National Assembly Speaker Makhmadsaid Ubaydulloyev arrived in Tehran on 10 March for a four-day visit. The Tajiks met with Iran's Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and Tehran Mayor Morteza Alviri.

The two sides signed a cooperation protocol and several trade agreements. Under the protocol, Tehran and Dushanbe will expand cooperation within the frameworks of the Economic Cooperation Organization, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Interparliamentary Union, IRNA reported on 12 March. One of the trade agreements calls for a machine-building joint venture in Dushanbe. Also, Iran Khodro will sell 300 Peugeot automobiles to Dushanbe; Iran Khodro managers will visit Tajikistan in April; and there will be an Iran Khodro exhibition in Dushanbe. A Peugeot repair shop and parts warehouse will be built in Dushanbe. Finally, Tehran and Dushanbe will open representative offices in each other's cities, Dushanbe's Asia-Plus reported on 16 March.

The two sides also signed a protocol on 12 March calling for the formation of "a broad-based government in war-torn Afghanistan and peaceful settlement of the ongoing conflict." Karrubi and Ubaydulloyev signed the protocol, which urges "an immediate resolution" to the Afghan crisis. (Bill Samii)

...SHAMKHANI IN TAJIKISTAN. Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Rear Admiral Abbas Shamkhani visited Tajikistan on 8 and 9 March to discuss a range of issues dealing with defense procurement and regional security. Shamkhani stated that he hopes to build on a military cooperation agreement signed in early 1998, IRNA reported on 8 March, and he hopes the two countries can cooperate on fighting against drugs and terrorism. But in other remarks, he said that Tehran-Dushanbe military cooperation is not directed at any third country, a comment intended to reassure both Russia, which regards Central Asia as its sphere of influence, and Pakistan, which has close ties with the Taliban.

Shamkhani met with Tajikistani President Emamali Rakhmanov, Defense Minister Sherali Khayrulloyev, and Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov. Shamkhani also visited several military training facilities, the Tajik airborne school, and "anti-air raid sites." Khayrulloyev announced on 9 March that "today we will sign a memorandum on cooperation between our defense ministries, on military trade, and on a number of issues related to regional security in Central Asia." (Bill Samii)

SOLVING THE AFGHAN CRISIS. Afghanistan was clearly the focus of the security discussions during Iranian Defense Minister Shamkhani's visit to Tajikistan. Both sides called for a political dialogue between the warring Afghan factions, and they urged Afghan President Burhannudin Rabbani and the Taliban leadership to sit at the negotiating table and start discussions for a peaceful settlement to the Afghan conflict. Shamkhani also called for Russian cooperation in settling the conflict. According to Iranian state radio on 9 March, it was stressed that "ethnic and religious extremism in Central Asia were considered to be the most important causes of crises in the region."

Iran's interest in the conflict's resolution can be traced to worries about refugee flows and their demands on Iranian resources, as well as the continuing Iranian conflict with narcotics smugglers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 March 2001). The Taliban, furthermore, give refuge to Sunni Iranian groups that are in conflict with the government in Tehran. Since 1996, the Taliban have aided the Ahl-i Sunnah Wal Jamaat, which recruits Iranian Sunni militants from Turkmen, Baluchi, and Afghan minorities. Its spokesmen claim that they want to overthrow Tehran's Shia regime and replace it with a Taliban-style Sunni one, according to Ahmed Rashid's "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism" (2000).

Iran is part of several multilateral efforts to resolve the Afghan crisis. One of these is the Six Plus Two Group (Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and China, as well as Russia and the U.S.). It also is part of the Cyprus Process, one of three processes involving exile Afghan groups that are promoting a Loya Jirga and peace plan for their country (the others are the Bonn and Rome Processes, the latter including Zahir Shah).

Yet Iran is not a disinterested party in the Afghan crisis. It supports the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance (a.k.a. United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan; Jebhe-yi Muttahid-i Islami-yi Milli Bara-yi Nijat-i Afghanistan), which is led by President Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Masud. In March 2000 Iran arranged for Afghan leaders Generals Malik and Rashid Dustum to meet in Mashhad (after which they announced a new anti-Taliban alliance), and Iran also arranged a meeting between Masud and Dustum in Termez, Uzbekistan.

There also is a council consisting of both wings of the Hizb-i Wahdat and the Harakat-i Islami that formed in October 2000 with the advice of Masud and the participation of the pro-Iranian Karim Khalili, who leads the Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-i Wahdat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan). They fought and liberated some districts near Yekawlang, Bamiyan Province, Mashhad's "Faryad-i Ashura" reported on 4 January 2001, and captured Bamiyan in mid-February. Subsequently, Kandahar's "Tolu-i Afghan" on 18 February said the capture only occurred because Taliban troops had halted operations in the province due to weather conditions. "Tolu-i Afghan" went on to claim that the Northern Alliance is "no more than a common front of Russia, the United States, and Iran."

The Cypress Process, meanwhile, is organized by the son-in-law of Afghan resistance commander Gulbudin Hekmatyar, who lives in Mashhad. But Hekmatyar told the 6 February "Qods" that he opposes the actions of both the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. Instead, he calls for a two-year interim government representing the entire ethnic makeup of the country and diaspora. This would be followed by elections.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is blamed for much of the instability in Central Asia, and Iran broadcasts statements by the IMU leadership, and it defends the IMU against criticism of Central Asian governments. At the same time, the IMU has offices in Kabul and its personnel train in Afghanistan. IMU activities also are blamed on Osama Bin Laden and Uzbek exiles (Tohir Yuldosh and Mohammad Solih). Much of the information about the IMU and Islamist movements in Central Asia comes from governments that find it convenient to blame their problems on external sources, rather than on internal shortcomings. Indeed, the reactions of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to the IMU sometimes create "tension and instability," according to the 1 March report from the International Crisis Group, "Central Asia: Islamist Mobilization and Regional Security." The Uzbekistan government, for example, says IMU attacks are really part of a conspiracy involving the Taliban, Turkey, Tajikistan, and even Wahhabis in the Ferghana Valley.

Iran has sent other mixed signals on the Afghan issue. Just last month, Iranian Ambassador to Tajikistan Said Rasul Musavi said that Iran "never recognized and will not recognize the Taliban regime," according to ITAR-TASS. Since then, there have been several reciprocal visits, mostly Iran trying to help Afghanistan. Taliban officials visited Mashhad in early February to request development aid, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 8 February. And late last year, Iran sold asphalt to Afghanistan, Taliban Minister of Public Works Mowlawi Ahmadollah Mati told Kabul�s "Shariat." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI HAS BUMPY TRIP IN RUSSIA. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Ali Shamkhani, and Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh arrived in Russia on 12 March for a four-day visit. The main objective of the trip appeared to be giving content to Russia and Iran's effort to form a counter to what they see as Western domination of the international arena; Western encroachments in the Caucasus and Central Asia, which Russia sees as its sphere of influence; and Turkish influence in the Caucasus. Secondary topics, which were the manifestation of the primary objectives, were weapons sales, nuclear projects, and Caspian oil. Although nuclear and arms discussions went smoothly, Caspian issues remained unresolved.

The significance of arms deals was clear when Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who is responsible for Russia's military-industrial complex and frequently overseas arms contracts, met the Iranian delegation at the airport. Viktor Komardin, deputy director of Rosoboroneksport, Russia's state-owned arms trading company, said that Moscow and Tehran may sign up to $300 million worth of arms deals, according to the 13 March "Financial Times." An Iranian military delegation visited a missile factory in Izhevsk and watched a demonstration of the Tor-M1 and Osa ground-to-air missile systems. These mobile short-range missiles can be used to protect troops or installations.

Konstantin Makienko, deputy director of Moscow's Center of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, indicated that the arms transactions will deal with more than missiles. He said, according to the 13 March "Izvestia," "The issue here has to do with the realization of the 1989 contract on the sale of 1,000 Russian tanks to Iran. Only 422 of them had been delivered to Iran by 1996." Also, Iran needs SU-27 and MIG-29 aircraft, the latest versions of the T-90 and the T-72 tanks, new radars, and small arms, according to the 15 March "Moskovsky Komsomolets."

Also, Khatami visited the Russian space center near Moscow that controls the Mir space station, and he also visited the command center for the International Space Station (ISS). Russia currently is bidding to build the Zohreh telecommunications satellite for Iran, and an Iranian delegation is in Russia to finalize the deal by 21 March, according to IRNA.

Any arms deals are intended to help Russia's military-industrial complex and create jobs. But in the past, Iran's arms purchases have been paid for mostly by writing off Russian debt and through oil trades, rather than with cash.

Responding to U.S. concern about the arms, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "All the orders from our Iranian partners to Russian arms producers are totally centered on arms of a defensive nature. Iran has no need for any arms that would be outside the framework of [accepted] international practices."

Khatami arrived in St Petersburg on 14 March to inspect parts being manufactured at the Izhory plant for the Bushehr nuclear power project. The St Petersburg company is preparing the reactor body, a steam generator, a lid for the upper unit, a compensator, and other equipment. The new Russian equipment is not fully compatible with the original German equipment, and Tehran has complained about delays. Russia's President Putin addressed this subject when he said, "there have been some delays. We discussed the issue today with [Khatami]. We looked at the reasons for some of these delays and came to the conclusion that they have been of a technical character. We will fulfill all our obligations." Izhory General Director Yevgeniy Sergeyev said, Interfax reported on 15 March, that the reactor body will be ready by the end of 2001. "We received assurances from the Iranian president that as soon as the first reactor is supplied, Iran will sign the next contract," Sergeyev added.

The U.S. has criticized Russian nuclear sales to Iran, prompting Khatami to comment in a speech to the Duma, "This political will and decisiveness is shown by Russia's positive and praiseworthy approach to attempts to hamper cooperation between our two states, especially in the field of the peaceful use of atomic energy."

A third major topic during Khatami's trip to Moscow was oil and allocation of the Caspian Sea's resources. Currently, only 14 percent of the coastline is Iranian, and Iran would like each bordering state -- Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan -- to have a 20 percent share of the Caspian seabed and waters. Russia's formula, on the other hand, calls for splitting the seabed into national sectors while keeping the water and its surface in common. A March summit in Turkmenistan to discuss this issue was postponed until April at Khatami's request after it appeared that Iran was heavily outnumbered on the legal question of how to divide the waterway.

The meeting between Khatami and Putin does not appear to have led to progress on this issue. The two agreed only to oppose any trans-Caspian pipelines on environmental grounds and to hold several meetings of experts before any Caspian summit. Elizabeth Jones -- until recently the U.S. president's special adviser on Caspian energy diplomacy -- said at a 13 March seminar hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that Iran probably will not give up its 20 percent claim any time soon.

Tehran, meanwhile, continues with its own plans for the Caspian. On 9 March, Iran announced a $226 million agreement with GVA Consultants of Sweden to build an oil rig on a submersible platform for Caspian exploration. This is Iran's first venture to develop its offshore Caspian resources. (Bill Samii)

TRADE WITH TATARSTAN EXPLORED. President Khatami visited Kazan, Tatarstan, on 15 March. He said on his arrival that "the visit to Kazan is a part of my visit to Russia. We hope to develop cooperation with Russia including Tatarstan. Tatarstan being a Muslim republic, naturally, attracts our attention. I came to Kazan to meet my brother Shaimiev, the president of Tatarstan, and I hope that we shall agree on economic cooperation," Tatar-inform reported. Tatarstan prime minister's adviser Nazir Kireyev told RIA that Iran is interested in goods produced by Tatarstan's Gorkiy shipyard, KAMAZ car factory, Kazankompressormash (Kazan compressor plant), Almetyevsk submergible pump plant, Nizhnekamskshina (Nizhnekamsk tire factory), Kazan helicopter plant, and the Gorbunov aircraft plant. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN REVIEWS ITS NAVAL DOCTRINE. Iranian naval forces have held several exercises in recent months to improve their capabilities and also have had exchange visits with Pakistan and India. As a result, defense officials have called for the consolidation of Iran's commercial and military fleets to increase their strengths, overcome any weaknesses, take advantage of opportunities, and address future threats.

Iranian naval forces held the three-day Fath-9 exercises in the northern end of the Persian Gulf in Mahshahr during the first week of March. According to Commander of the Imam Hussein Headquarters Brigadier General Jaber Mahdyar, the exercises were intended to demonstrate Iran's ability to defend its territory and the adjoining waters of the Persian Gulf. These exercises involved 6,000 people from the regular navy and air force, the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps navy and aircorps, the Basij Resistance Forces, and the Law Enforcement Forces. The first phase of the exercises involved the testing of telecom equipment and the staging of operational units. In the second stage, ships, speedboats, gunboats, and aircraft from the IRGC and regular air force practiced invading a hypothetical enemy. And in the final phase, attacking enemy positions and defending the coastline occurred.

Iran also is continuing its interaction with other navies in the region. It keeps other countries informed about its maneuvers and has invited foreign observers to them. Two Iranian warships arrived in Karachi on 28 February, and Iran's Alvand frigate participated in joint maneuvers in the Indian Ocean near Bombay with navies from 19 countries. Also, Pakistani naval commander Admiral Abul Aziz Mirza visited the Iranian navy's scientific, technological, and training centers to explore possible areas of cooperation, "Saff" reported in its November-December issue. After a meeting with Iran's Vice Admiral Abbas Mohtaj, Mirza said that "I hope cooperation between the Iranian and Pakistani navies will expand in the future. I suggest that as well as cooperation in science and technology, especially in the field of naval and air operations, we could also embark on holding joint maneuvers."

The Pakistani visitor's statements were quite optimistic, in light of a recent report in "Jane's Intelligence Review" about Iran's naval capabilities. Jane's stated that the regular Iranian navy currently is in a state of "overall obsolescence," and it noted as well that both navies are "in poor shape" because they have not been equipped with modern ships and weapons. Iran's three destroyers are over 50 years old and are not operational. The readiness of the three 25-year-old frigates is "almost non-existent," "Jane's" said And the two 30-year-old corvettes do not have sophisticated weapons. Ten of 20 missile-equipped fast attack craft have "limited operational readiness," and four of them are not seaworthy. Only 10 Chinese-made Thodor-class craft are operationally reliable. The four 30-year-old minesweepers are obsolete, lack seaworthiness, and do not have a mine-sweeping capability. Iran has many amphibious and auxiliary ships, but these are "superfluous to requirements" and are used purely for training personnel. Iran's ten hovercraft are "old and used sparingly."

Nor does Iran have the airlift capability required for offensive operations across the Persian Gulf. Also, its F-4 and Sukhoi SU-24MK Fencer aircraft are rendered less effective due to weaknesses in maritime reconnaissance capabilities. The Iranian navies do not have fixed-wing combat aircraft, and the P-3 and C-130 reconnaissance aircraft were purchased 25 years ago. All the naval air assets suffer from parts shortages, worn avionics, and ineffective maintenance.

There also are personnel problems. Iran's navy has 20,000 men, but according to "Jane's," they are young and inexperienced, and most of them are riflemen and marines based on Persian Gulf islands. And at higher levels, there is fierce rivalry between the IRGC and regular navies for scarce resources.

Due to these shortcomings, Iran's three Kilo-class submarines would be vulnerable, according to "Jane's," and they are limited to laying mines in undefended waters. Mines, however, are one area in which Iran has made advances. It can produce non-magnetic, free-floating, and remote-controlled mines. It may have taken delivery of pressure, acoustic, and magnetic mines from Russia. Also, Iran is negotiating with China for rocket-propelled rising mines.

Iran may try to upgrade its naval equipment with Russian assistance. Geoffrey Kemp of the Nixon Center for Peace in Washington told RFE/RL that this worries the U.S. because Tehran could then project its military power. Kemp said, "What would be of most concern to Americans would be any upgrading of the Iranian missile force, its maritime interdiction capabilities, submarines. These are much more troubling to the United States than tanks, artillery and the more normal equipment you associate with land warfare."

Another way in which Iran may hope to improve its naval capabilities is by consolidating its military and civilian fleets, the Research and Studies Center of the Navy recommended in the November-December "Saff." Iran has all the necessary resources -- naval fleet, commercial fleet, fishing fleet, and onshore facilities -- to build a strong naval capability, but it lacks cohesion and coordination. Currently, nine different ministries deal with elements of sea power. Management and operations should be coordinated on a national basis.

Unified management would permit protecting the sea lines of communications and defending Iranian territory, protecting trade routes, and in time of war, help in transporting ground forces and in the conduct of amphibious operations. During peacetime, according to "Saff," Iran can peacefully spread its culture throughout the region, increase trade and the country's political stature, and serve as a deterrent.

Writing in "Saff" in February 2000, Rear Admiral Ashkbus Daneh-Kar said that in any future conflict, Iran could face both conventional and unconventional (nuclear, biological, and chemical) weapons. To address these threats efficiently, naval strategy must be coordinated with air and ground warfare strategies. Just as importantly, naval officials must be able to provide political and civilian officials with sound arguments for procurement needs.

There are two problems in this area, according to Daneh-Kar. Either the civilians do not understand the requirements at all, or they may think in terms of past requirements, rather than future needs. Therefore, the military specialists and civilian decision-makers get caught in protracted and ultimately unresolved arguments. The other problem occurs when there are scarce resources. At such a time, inter-service rivalries will emerge and the concept of unified strategies will be forgotten. (Bill Samii)