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Iran Report: April 30, 2001

30 April 2001, Volume 4, Number 17

TEHRAN COMMEMORATES AMERICANS' DEATHS. Tehran commemorated the death of eight Americans in the failed 1980 hostage rescue mission on 25 April, state radio reported, by having thousands of Basij volunteers hold a rally in Tabas, Khorasan Province. "Kayhan International" editorialized on 25 April that the 1980 incident taught the U.S. that getting involved with a motivated country like Iran is a mistake. For that reason, the U.S. now has resorted to a cultural offensive against Iran. "Washington knows that Iran will be vulnerable to all sorts of humiliation and no divine help will be forthcoming, only when politics and religion are divorced from the country's administrative and social affairs." Washington's designs, however, will not succeed, according to "Kayhan International."

Earlier in the month, state television marked the anniversary of the 9 April 1980 break in relations between Iran and the U.S. According to IRIB, the break brought "huge gains to the Iranian nation," "the revolutionary people of Iran humiliated the American regime in an irreparable manner," and in turn this made the way for Iran's independence. America then tried to isolate Iran by imposing economic sanctions and a trade embargo, according to the commentary, but Washington's allies forsook it and even American firms objected to the sanctions. Under these circumstances, "the Iranian nation, while safeguarding its principles and aspirations and while remaining committed to its clear-revolutionary doctrine, managed to pave the very uneven road to success. ...This is a nation who knows for what objectives it began the struggle and understands why it is resisting America's domination and extortion in order to realize its aspirations." (Bill Samii)

TERRORIST GROUPS MEET IN TEHRAN. The second "Support for the Palestinian Intifada" Conference was held in Tehran from 24 to 25 April, with the participation of representatives from Muslim non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and members of Muslim countries' parliaments. Among the NGOs that participated were groups that regularly appear on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations: Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Peoples' Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- General Command. Statements from the conference's Iranian hosts were relatively subdued, considering this guest list, but it is almost certain that more substantive discussions were held behind the scenes.

In the opening speech, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the occupation of Palestine is part of the "satanic conspiracies" hatched by Britain in the past and America nowadays in order create discord in the Islamic world. Khamenei went on to say that the Oslo peace accords caused divisions among the Palestinians, but "this blessed Intifada managed to restore Palestinian unity." He promised that even if only a part of the Islamic world's assets is deployed, "we are definitely going to witness the decline and destruction of the Zionist regime." In much of the rest of his speech, Khamenei held up Hizballah as the model for how to deal with Israel, calling it a "model and blueprint" and saying that young people armed only with faith drove Israel out of Lebanon.

Khamenei also claimed that "the main reason for the all-out pressure exerted on Iran by the global arrogance, led by the American regime, is our support for Palestine." U.S. concerns about human rights and weapons of mass destruction were just a fig leaf, and he added that Iran is the target of "propaganda campaigns."

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami spoke after the Supreme Leader, and state television also broadcast the speech live. Khatami said that Palestinians' rights include self-determination, liberation of Jerusalem, and a free Palestinian homeland. These are basic rights, and "some big powers, especially America, are standing against it." Khatami called for a referendum on the future government of a Palestinian state, and an independent system of government with Jerusalem as its capital. Hizballah was cited as a model by Khatami too, when he said: "The epic of southern Lebanon and second Intifada have falsified the myth that the Zionist regime cannot be defeated and opened bright prospects for struggle and victory for the people of Palestine."

The Iranian officials had individual meetings with their guests, according to IRNA. Khamenei met with Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. Khatami met with Nasrallah, PIJ Secretary-General Ramadan Abdallah, and PFLP-GC head Ahmed Jibril. Yet these are just the acknowledged meetings, and it is believed that other meetings were intended to repair rifts between Hamas and the PIJ and alleviate the rifts' impact on the organizations' relations with Hizballah.

Mahmud al-Zahar, a Hamas official, said that the PIJ has exacerbated differences between Palestinian Islamic groups and Hizballah, "Al-Zaman" reported on 25 April, and this has reduced their access to Hizballah supply lines in Lebanon. Anonymous Iranian sources told the London-based daily that efforts were underway to hold a Hamas-Hizballah reconciliation meeting on the sidelines of the Tehran conference. "Top sources" in Hamas and Hizballah say that Hizballah's backers in the Iranian government want such a reconciliation so that the two organizations can focus on fighting Israel, "Time" magazine reported on 23 April.

Hamas Political Bureau member Musa Abu Marzuk, on the other hand, dismissed the "Time" report, according to the 24 April "Al-Hayat." Abu Marzuk added that relations between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were "ideal" and would remain that way as long as they concurred on resistance against Israel. He cited Hizballah as the model for resistance against Israel. Moreover, he called for opening a front against Israel from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. PIJ's Ramadan Abdallah went farther in a 23 April interview with London's "Al-Wasat." He said that the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea is Palestinian. Meanwhile, Palestine Authority chairman Yassir Arafat has called for greater coordination with Tehran on the Palestine issue, Palestine National Council head Salim al-Zanun said, according to IRNA.

Hizballah has successfully recruited Hamas and PIJ members, trained and armed them, and sent them back to Israel, a Hamas source told "Time." Their influence and the increasing attractiveness of the Hizballah model for activism is demonstrated at rallies in Gaza and the West Bank, where Hizballah's yellow banner is displayed and posters of Hassan Nasrallah are visible.

Not all the conference guests were from NGOs. Other guests were Saudi Consultative Council head Sheikh Muhammad bin Ibrahim bin Jubair (who also met with PIJ's Abdallah, SPA reported), Yemeni Speaker Sheikh Abdullah bin-Hussein al-Ahmar (Yemen News Agency reported), and Syrian Vice President Muhammad Zuhayr (who asserted that "Israel is fully to blame for everything that is happening in the region," Damascus radio reported). Moreover, Ibrahim Zayd al-Kilani of the Jordanian Islamic Action Front attended, as did Azerbaijani and Lebanese delegations.

The conference's final statement called for an international tribunal to investigate "war crimes committed by the criminal Zionists;" condemned U.S. "support for the Zionist regime;" and expressed "repugnance" towards American policies and their support for Israel. Islamic and Arab governments were urged to freeze their relations with Israel, and Israel was condemned for Judaizing Jerusalem by changing its demography. The statement called for unity between Palestinian groups and the Islamic world, and it welcomed fundraising efforts on the Palestinians' behalf. (The Palestinian Authority, Fatah, and Fatah Uprising had many disagreements over the final text of this statement, Doha's Al-Jazirah satellite television reported on 25 April.) (Bill Samii)

ANOTHER INTIFADAH CONFERENCE SCHEDULED. A third international Intifada conference is planned for the end of October, Said Khalid al-Hassan, president of the second international conference's planning committee, said on 25 April, according to IRNA. Until then, one can visit the website for the second conference ( It carries news, photos, and official statements. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN HOSTING YET ANOTHER CONFERENCE. A conference on human rights and dialog among civilizations will be held in Tehran from 5 to 6 May, conference secretary Rahim Nobahar told reporters in Qom, according to IRNA on 26 April. Guests from Canada, France, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Uruguay, and the U.S. will participate in the conference, Nobahar said. Such an event is timely, because the UN Human Rights Commission voted in favor of a resolution condemning Iran for restricting free press and failing to comply with international standards of justice on 20 April. (Bill Samii)

EFFORTS TO EXPAND GEORGIA-IRAN RELATIONS. Participants at a recent Tbilisi seminar entitled "Georgia between Iran and Europe" noted that Georgia is in a natural position to serve as a bridge between the Islamic Republic and the West, but for a number of reasons, this position will not be fully exploited any time soon. Less than a week before the seminar, Georgian officials were in Tehran to discuss possible areas of cooperation, such as trade, transport, and conflict resolution.

The seminar in Tbilisi was held on 21 and 22 April and was organized by the Institute of Oriental Studies of Georgia's Academy of Sciences and France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). Bernard Hourcade, who heads the CNRS's Iranian World department and was one of the organizers of the Tbilisi seminar, sees Georgia's economic difficulties and Iran's uncertain political future as the main obstacles to broader economic and political cooperation. He told RFE/RL: "Concerning relations between Georgia and Iran, there are very few developments now, because neither of these two countries is in a position to do much. But there is certainly an interesting potential here, notably because Georgia and Iran have no dispute of any kind [between them]. And for the Iranians, Georgia could easily become a go-between that could save them the trouble of talking directly with the Turks or the Russians."

Nugzar Ter-Oganov, a Georgian researcher on contemporary Iran, believes that the U.S. policy of containing Tehran is the main obstacle to an Iranian economic breakthrough in the South Caucasus. He explained that "when the issue of the relations between Iran and the United States is solved, everything will become clear and Iran will naturally take part in large [regional] projects, because it is a country with big prospects."

Seminar participants also wondered if Turkey would gain a privileged place in the Georgian economy at Iran's expense. Ter-Oganov said that Iran's economic potential makes it a better contender than Turkey. "I don't think that Turkey will take Iran's place [in Georgia] because Iran's geographical position provides a link to the countries of Southeast Asia, to China and India. Iran will not lose. In terms of natural resources and economic potential, I think that Iran has a much better chance to turn into a powerful state [than Turkey]."

Hourcade was less sanguine, saying that "the process of political transformation [in Iran] is so slow -- Iran is a complex country with a population of 60 million -- that when Iran eventually becomes a big power in 15 or 20 years, it will find itself supplanted by Turkey and other countries."

A Georgian parliamentary delegation visited Iran from 16 to 19 April in an effort to make Tehran-Tbilisi ties stronger and more productive. Georgian Speaker of Parliament Zurab Zhvania was greeted at Mehrabad Airport by his counterpart, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, and Zhvania also met with President Mohammad Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, according to reports from IRNA and Tbilisi's Kavkasia-Press. Among the concrete steps the two countries already have taken is the formation of parliamentary friendship groups.

Karrubi also called for improvements in the transportation sector and strengthening the north-south transportation corridor. Zhvania replied that Georgia is ready to grant Black Sea port facilities to Iran. Zhvania also said that Georgia foresees Iranian participation in Caucasus security. Khatami stressed Iranian recognition of Georgian territorial integrity, and Kharrazi said that Iran is ready to play a part in settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. The two sides agreed to hold a "Caucasian dialogue" forum in Georgia at which the Caucasus states, Russia, Turkey, and Iran could meet. (Bill Samii)

HAQQANI: THEOLOGY AND THOUGHT. Graduates of Qom's Haqqani School are active throughout Iran's government and are in some of the most sensitive positions of power, and one alumnus -- Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani -- intends to compete in the 8 June 2001 presidential election. The Haqqani School is noteworthy because it serves as a connection between so many individuals, but nowadays it also denotes an extremist school of thought advocating violence against one's enemies and strict clerical control over social and governmental affairs.

Most Iranian cities have several religious educational institutions, but Qom and Mashhad are considered the centers of Shia theology (some see Najaf in Iraq as an alternative to the Iranian centers). The Fayzieh seminary was perhaps the most prominent religious institution in Qom in the previous century. Until the early 1960s, Fayzieh was mainly a center of religious learning and little political activity took place there. This conservative tendency changed when the Pahlavi monarchy tried to create official clerical institutions and then security forces arrested Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1963. After Khomeini's 1964 exile to Turkey, the political activist trend at the Fayzieh turned into one of intellectual activism and planning for the future, and this situation persisted until about 1975-1976.

The Haqqani School -- originally called the Montazerieh School when it was founded in 1964 -- was created in this setting. Its original benefactor was a conservative trader named Haqqani-Zanjani (hence the name), but once construction was finished he could not continue to bear the expenses, so Ayatollah Hadi Milani took over. Expenses mounted as the school grew, so Hajj Mirza Abdullah Tavasoli, a leather trader from Damavand, assumed the school's financial responsibilities. Tavasoli was linked with the ultraconservative Islamic Coalition Association, which led Ayatollah Milani to sever his relationship with the Haqqani School. One of the intellectual founders of the Haqqani School was Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Beheshti, and he had studied under Allameh Tabatabai, as had Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi-Mesbah-Yazdi, who would serve on the school's board of directors.

From 1964 to the time of Iran's 1978-1979 Islamic revolution, the Haqqani School acted more on the cultural front than on the revolutionary front, and it established links with institutions that were similarly inclined. Some of these sympathetic institutions were the Dar Rah-i Haqq center run by Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi (a member of the Haqqani board of directors) and the Maktab-i Islam center run by Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi. Makarem-Shirazi also founded the Imam Ali, Imam Hassan Mujtaba, and Imam Hussein Schools. Ayatollah Shariatmadari's Publicity Institutes (Muasisat-i Dar ol-Tabliq) provided much of the funding for these centers. Their main activities consisted of writing articles and publishing magazines, and the individuals associated with them did not engage in serious antiregime activities. Seyyed Hadi Khosroshahi (who currently heads the Iranian interests section in Cairo) was a Haqqani sympathizer who wrote for one such publication, called "Maktab-i Islam."

The Haqqani School became more active after the 1978-1979 revolution. As Haqqani graduates began working in the Judiciary, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, they hired old friends who had similar hard-line ideological and intellectual leanings. Former Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who was not connected with the Haqqani group, reportedly encountered resistance whenever he tried to replace Haqqani alumni, according to the 1 February "Guzarish." "They are like links in a chain, you touch one of them and they all protest," he complained.

Former Haqqani School Director Ayatollah Qoddusi headed the Revolutionary Courts, and Ayatollah Beheshti headed the Judiciary. Hojatoleslams Mohseni-Ejei, Razini, Ramandi, Sadeqi, and Mobasheri also were Haqqani graduates who serve or served in the Judiciary. Haqqani alumni who serve or served in the MOIS were Hojatoleslams Fallahian-Khuzestani and Yunesi (as ministers), as well as Hojatoleslams Fallah, Islami, and Purmohammadi (now in the Special Court for the Clergy). Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Husseinian also served in the MOIS and the Special Court for the Clergy, and he now heads Iran's Documents Center. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi-Araqi now heads the Islamic Propagation Organization. Other prominent alumni include Hojatoleslams Hejazi and Gholamreza Karbaschi (brother of the former Tehran mayor).

Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi continues his political activities, having strengthened his position in Qom. At the Rah-i Haqq institute he delivered many lectures, and a series of 1981-1982 lectures was published in book form by the Islamic Propagation Organization as an introduction to the rudiments of Islamic philosophy (now available as "Philosophical Instructions: An Introduction to Contemporary Islamic Philosophy," Global Publications, 2000). The Rah-i Haqq institute, meanwhile, acts in coordination with the Academy of Islamic Sciences, the University and Seminary Research Center, the Qom Seminary Publicity Office, the Qom Theological Lecturers Association, the Supreme Council for the Supervision of the Seminary, the Masumieh School, and some other institutions.

In a March 2001 issue of "Parto" weekly, Mesbah-Yazdi warned that America's "lackeys" are penetrating the state apparatus ("Aftab-i Yazd," 8 April). During a Moharram sermon at Qom's Imam Hussein Askari Mosque he declared, "What is being termed as reform today is in fact corruption. What is being promoted in the name of reforms and the path of the prophets is in fact in total conflict with the objectives of the prophets and the masters" ("Resalat," 29 March). And in a sermon at the Qods Mosque in Qom, Mesbah-Yazdi praised Navvab Safavi, the assassin of author Ahmad Kasravi, and he encouraged taking similar steps against the enemies of Islamic government ("Dowran-i Imruz," 18 January).

One of Mesbah-Yazdi's proteges and a Haqqani alumni, Hojatoleslam Qaravian, recently told a student conference that despotism was not necessarily a bad thing and could be justified when it means "obeying the divine decree." Qaravian went on to say that public opinion is meaningless, otherwise one would think that the opponents of Imam Hussein at Karbala were right because of their superior numbers, the Iranian Students News Agency reported on 21 April.

Mesbah-Yazdi eventually left the Rah-i Haqq institute and founded the Imam Baqir institute, which now operates with funds from the public purse and from the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation (Bonyad-i Mostazafan va Janbazan). He continues to be seen by many as the primary proponent of violence against political opponents and strict clerical control over public affairs. So as long as Haqqani alumni remain in Iranian governmental institutions, it is reasonable to assume that their views will persist, their actions will go unpunished, and their opponents will be persecuted. (Bill Samii)

A CONSERVATIVE THIRD CURRENT. Iran's conservatives may support former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati as a candidate in the June presidential election, the daily "Hambastegi" reported on 23 April. If so, Velayati could be the candidate supported by the conservative "third current" advocated by "Entekhab" Managing Editor Taha Hashemi.

Hashemi, who represented Qom in the last parliament, discussed the third current and "religious modernism" in the 20 February "Dowran-i Imruz" and the 27 February "Entekhab." Hashemi criticized those who call for a secular government. He also criticized hard-liners who claim that they are safeguarding values and religion while they accuse the reformists of secularism. Hashemi said that "both these ideological currents have managed to create the impression that a state founded on religious concepts is incompetent." He cited the now-banned Hojjatiyeh Society, which believed that the people had no sovereignty in Islam and the Islamic Republic was merely a phase until the advent of the Mahdi, as an example of harmful extremism.

Hashemi warned that "some individuals do not tolerate criticism at all and consider their performance to be exactly right and perfectly accurate. They consider themselves absolutely righteous, and their rivals in the enemy's front." Hashemi promoted reform and saw it as natural, saying that Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's own writing showed a developmental process.

Hashemi pointed out that some conservatives recognize that the hard-line definition of religion and theocracy is inadequate for the modern and changing world. A failure to have good relations with the rest of the world, or an attempt to isolate the country and behave passively, would be counterproductive. "Reform means to hold the past measures, methods, and approaches up to criticism, put the inefficient ones aside, and establish new methods." According to Hashemi, Iran is need of the "smiling descendants of the Prophet, rather than his grimacing followers."

This religious modernism does have political support and it appears to be more than an intellectual point. The 14 groups that make up the "Followers of the Line of the Imam and Leadership Front" issued a statement noting its "serious resolve to shun the extremist and ossified elements," "Entekhab" reported on 18 March.

Religious modernism has been criticized by publications such as "Resalat," which on 1 March accused it of attacking the hard-line Islamic Coalition Association (which absorbed many former Hojjatiyeh Society members) and its ideologues. Hard-line commentator Amir Mohebbian went on to paint the religious modernists as opportunists who are trying to turn an intellectual discourse into an election tactic. Furthermore, according to Mohebbian, they are trying to latch onto President Mohammad Khatami's popularity and promote him as a candidate. Mohebbian wrote in the 26 March "Resalat" that the third current is trying to pick up anybody who leaves the other factions -- either reform or conservative -- and is acting as a "middle man" between them.

Twenty-eight groups that make up a self-defined right-wing front (the Consensus and Unity Group) announced their determination to control extremists and "disown them" if they fail to conform, "Hambastegi" reported on 17 March. The initial members of this right wing front were the Islamic Coalition Association, the Islamic Revolution Veterans Society, the Islamic Engineers Association, the Islamic Physicians Association, and similar conservative groups. It is noteworthy that this statement does not define extremism or extremists, and judging from the tendency of the member groups, it may be a reaction to the third current.

A final point is that this is not the first third current in Iranian politics. "The true third current is the 'wild right' whose members owe no allegiance either to Islam or to any moral principle," "Mosharekat" reported in April 2000. And in the 1950s, Khalil Maleki led a "third force" that supported Mohammad Mussadiq. (Bill Samii)

PRESS DEVELOPMENTS DISCOURAGING. Shaban Shahidi-Moadab, the deputy minister for the press at the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, recently told reporters that the press could help the country's political system by "shedding light" on the performance of presidential candidates, IRNA reported on 16 April. This is a traditional responsibility, but Iran's increasingly beleaguered press will be hard put to fulfill it.

"Siyasat-i Ruz" Director Ali Yusefpur was summoned by the Revolutionary Court to face complaints from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security; Ministry of Interior; Luristan and Sistan va Baluchistan Province; the Tehran Municipality; and several private individuals, IRNA reported on 25 April. "Hambastegi" Editor Qolam-Heidar Ebrahimbay-Salami appeared in court on 25 April to face charges filed by the Islamic Coalition Association, state broadcasting, and the head of the Yazd Justice Administration, IRNA reported. "Payam-i Imruz" Editor Amid Naini was arrested on charges that he published sacrilegious articles, prompting the Iranian journalists' guild to ask for his immediate release, IRNA reported on 24 April.

"Asr-i Ma" Managing Editor Mohammad Salamati appeared in court on 23 April to face over 100 complaints filed by state broadcasting, the Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Law Enforcement Forces, the LEF counterintelligence unit, and martyrs' families. The charges include insulting sanctities, propagating against the Islamic Republic system and its pillars, publishing falsehoods, and vilifying officials, IRNA reported.

"Iran-i Farda" contributing editor Hojatoleslam Hassan Yusefi Eshkevari reportedly has been transferred from Evin Prison to an unknown detention facility and is being held incommunicado, the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN said in a 26 April statement. The transfer occurred around 12 April, and there is concern that the diabetic Eshkevari does not have access to insulin. Eshkevari was convicted in an October closed-door trial, and there is concern that he was sentenced to death because of the apostasy charges he faced. No information about his sentence or his November appeal is available.

Meanwhile, a Zanjan Province court has closed down "Amin-i Zanjan" on charges of sowing discord by publishing divisive articles. The weekly is accused of publishing news that would provoke riots, IRNA reported on 25 April. "Toseh" daily hit the newsstands on 25 April. Deputy Labor Minister Qoli Sheikhi heads the newspaper. Although it appears to be a reformist publication, a reformist source told AFP on 25 April that this is not really the case. (Bill Samii)

NO EARLY RELEASE OF JEWISH PRISONERS. Fars Province judicial chief Hussein Ali Amiri denied that any of the 10 Iranian Jews imprisoned on espionage charges in July 2000 have been released, "Hambastegi" reported on 21 April, with the exception of Ramin Nematizadeh, who finished his two-year sentence earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 March 2001). Amiri said that "all of the people who were accused of spying [for Israel] are still in prison completing their sentences." (Bill Samii)