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Iran Report: June 11, 2001

11 June 2001, Volume 4, Number 22

WHITE HOUSE BACKS ILSA RENEWAL. Earlier this year, Washington officials signaled an interest in reviewing the U.S. approach to Iran and opening a dialogue with Tehran, but more recently, these same officials have suggested that a substantive policy change is unlikely in the near future. Moreover, the U.S. Congress appears increasingly likely to renew the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), which imposes financial sanctions against companies that invest in the Iranian energy sector, with the support of the White House. Meanwhile, public statements by the Iranian president and those close to him show that Iran's policy towards the U.S. will not change unless the U.S. takes the first step.

"As long as American politicians act under the influence of certain lobbies, harming even the interests of American companies and hinder the Iranian economy by sanctions and embargoes, there will be no change," Khatami said in a 5 June press conference. He added that "these sanctions are obstacles, and we do not accept any preconditions. If anyone is to impose any conditions, it should be us, who have been the victims of the oppressive policies of the United States."

Asked for his prognosis on Iran's resumption of relations with the U.S., Khatami's chief of staff, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, was not encouraging either. "In the short-term, we don't see this on the scene," he told the 6 June "Business Week." Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh, furthermore, told Reuters that it is up to the U.S. to take the first step towards elimination of obstacles to the renewal of relations created by the imposition of sanctions. Aminzadeh added that he saw signs that the White House is trying to solve this problem gradually.

On the other hand, former Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Maleki told Reuters that a number of Iran's state-sponsored think tanks have been instructed to prepare studies that will serve as the basis of a policy review.

The signs from Washington, meanwhile, do not suggest that there will be any significant policy shifts on the part of the White House or Congress. An unidentified "senior administration official" said that a major gesture of rapprochement is unlikely: "That's not in the cards, in terms of a new [U.S.] overture at this time," Reuters reported on 6 June. And on 8 June a State Department official said that the White House would support a two-year extension of ILSA, which would otherwise expire in August.

Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) said on 7 June that he would introduce legislation to reauthorize ILSA. Smith said that ILSA has proven effective in preventing foreign investment in Iran and Libya's oil production industries, thereby making it more difficult for the two countries to fund terrorism. Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) said the previous day that "if these nations are serious about entering the community of nations and seeing their economies benefit from global integration, they must change their behavior first." And Congressman Tom Lantos, in a 28 May op-ed in "The Washington Post," argued that failure to renew ILSA would "show lack of resolve, a preference for profit over principle, and a dangerously carefree attitude towards the greatest threat facing the Middle East today."

There are voices in the U.S. that argue against the renewal of ILSA. A Working Group of The Atlantic Council of the United States -- releasing a policy paper entitled "Thinking Beyond the Stalemate in U.S.-Iranian Relations" on 8 June -- calls on the U.S. to relax all economic sanctions on Iran and provide a new path to break the stalemate in U.S.-Iran relations. The paper says that the value of unilateral sanctions is declining because Iran has found alternative investors and suppliers. The Atlantic Council report goes on to say that engagement with Iran's commercial sector is the most promising area, but it also recognizes that progress probably will be uneven.

Henry Precht, a retired foreign service officer who served on the Iran Desk in the late 1970s and early 1980s, also called for an end to sanctions in the 1 June "Christian Science Monitor," as did former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft in "The Washington Post" of 11 May. And in a 31 May speech at Georgetown University, Robert Pelletreau, who earlier served as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said ILSA is unworkable and discussions with the European Union showed that attempts to make the sanctions multilateral would be futile. Irrespective of sanctions, furthermore, many American oil services businesses, such as Halliburton and Schlumberger, are active in Iran.

Iran may not want a lifting of the sanctions. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said that sanctions were "inconsequential" and had encouraged Iranian self-reliance, self-confidence, and use of indigenous resources, IRNA reported on 22 May. And after the White House's backing of sanctions for two more years was announced, Iranian state radio's English-language service said that "Washington has entirely given up to the ploys of the Zionist regime and exerts pressure on Iran." (Bill Samii)

FOUR MORE YEARS OF WHAT? President Mohammad Khatami rejected calls that the 8 June election would be a "referendum on reform" three days before the polls opened, but he also vowed that he would stick to the path of reform, saying "reforms are accepted by all and everyone calls for reforms and Islamic democracy." But now that he has been elected, both his plans and his ability to carry them out remain unclear.

In order to reinforce the mandate for reform, Khatami supporters optimistically expected that he would get as many if not more votes than the 20 million he received in 1997. They hoped for 25 million votes, according to "Time Magazine," while others, such as parliamentarian Ahmad Burqani, feared that he would get no more than 16-17 million votes.

In the end, according to the pro-Khatami Interior Ministry, 21,656,476 (77.88 percent) people voted for Khatami. Ahmad Tavakoli was the runner-up with 4,387,112 votes (15.61 percent), followed by Ali Shamkhani (737,051 votes, 2.62 percent). Then came Abdullah Jasbi (259,759 votes, 0.92 percent), Mahmud Kashani (237,660 votes, 0.84 percent), Hassan Ghafuri-Fard (129,155 votes, 0.46 percent), Mansur Razavi (114,616 votes, 0.41 percent), Shahabedin Sadr (60,546 votes, 0.22 percent), Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani (55,225 votes, 0.20 percent), and Mustafa Hashemi-Taba (27,949 votes, 0.10 percent).

Public enthusiasm in the run-up to election day appeared lacking, and Khatami's lackluster campaigning, his failure to visit the provinces, and his repetition of the same old cliches did not help the situation. Tehran journalist Fariborz Gharib told RFE/RL's Persian Service, "There is a stagnant feeling in the society. Along with the campaign posters there also is written here and there, in black and red ink: "Participation in the elections -- No!" And from Kerman, journalist Mohammad Sadiq Taheri told RFE/RL's Persian Service that he suspected less than 50 percent of provincial voters would participate in the election. The total number of votes cast in the election was 28,159,289 (about 67 percent of the electorate), which compared unfavorably to the 83 percent of the 1997 election.

Regarding plans for the future, Khatami indicated during the campaign that he would continue to pursue political reforms. On 9 June he said, "The urgent demand of today and tomorrow is to instill and deepen republicanism, give back the legitimate rights of the people in line with the (Islamic) religion, identify priorities in the economic field, and solve basic problems of the society under a prudent agenda," IRNA reported.

With his renewed mandate and with a parliament dominated by reformists, the president's administration should be able to pursue the policies favored by Khatami. Several members of parliament discussed in separate interviews where to expect changes. Parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Khatami, the president's brother, told Reuters that "creating reform in the judicial system is perhaps one of the most important things that should be done in the next four years." And reformist deputy Rajabali Mazrui told the 3 June "Financial Times" that the legislature would pursue revisions to the press laws.

There also is the demand and desire for improvements in the economic sector. There are factory closures, workers strike after not being paid for months, unemployment is between 16 and 25 percent, and the economy is having trouble absorbing all the young people entering the workplace.

Two days before the election Khatami indicated his awareness of economic problems when he told a gathering of bazaar merchants and union leaders, "Any government that comes to power should create job opportunities for young people." He went on to call for increased investment and investment security. "Iran News" suggested on 6 June that the president select new cabinet members who can more competently deal with economic issues. And the day after the election, Kerman representative Hussein Marashi suggested that Khatami select a new cabinet that would be stronger and could more effectively improve the economic situation.

But presidential Chief of Staff Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi told the 6 June "Business Week" that Khatami would not concentrate on economic reform. He added, "There will be a lot of time for economic reform in the next four years, as in the last four years. But we feel that this sense that Mr. Khatami is only trying to change economics is because they want people to forget Mr. Khatami's political slogans."

There also is a great deal of unhappiness with corruption and nepotism on the part of high-ranking officials and their family members. Iran's aristocratic Thousand Families have given way to a new group of elite families with clerical connections (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 December 2000). The resulting corruption, rather than ideology, is at the heart of the divisions within the political establishment, according to "The Guardian" of 8 June. Khatami may not be able to do much to uproot corruption, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's 30 April call for a crackdown on this phenomena may strengthen his hand.

In order to facilitate the president's pursuit of reform, according to Tehran parliamentarian Davud Suleimani, the legislature must amend some existing laws and "approve laws that make it possible for the president to exercise his right to oversee [implementation of the constitution]," "Seda-yi Idalat" reported on 5 June. Yet experience shows that this will not be as easy to accomplish in practical terms as it is to discuss in theoretical terms. The Guardians Council and the Supreme Leader, who are constitutionally entitled to do so, have blocked the parliament's efforts to introduce or even discuss some items of legislation.

The Supreme Leader, in a 9 June speech marking the birth anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad and the sixth Shia Imam, Jaffar Sadiq, voiced his support for Khatami. Khamenei also ended his speech with prayers for the success of all the officials, particularly the president, in carrying out their responsibilities. This would indicate that Khatami has the backing of the country's top official.

Khatami also appears to have the public backing -- the mandate -- indicated by his electoral victory. If necessary, he could use the threat of populist support and public protest to counter his political opponents and to pursue the reforms that he supposedly represents. He has failed to do this in the past, but as a lame duck, he now may feel free to act more decisively. (Bill Samii)

THE OTHER BLACK GOLD. Iranian provision of luxury seafood items for the international market is increasing. Iran exported 70-71.5 tons of caviar in the March 2000-2001 year. The value of these exports was from $34.4 million (IRNA, 7 May) to $43.7 million (IRNA, 1 May). Iran expects to export 80 tons of caviar in the coming year, according to Mohammad-Reza Husseini, managing director of Iran's commercial fisheries company, and Iran also exports 100-200 tons of sturgeon meat annually. The Export Promotion Center of Iran said that the value of caviar exports has climbed, while the volume has decreased. Iran can produce and export up to 200 tons of caviar, but the export quota for Iran is only 90 tons. Azerbaijan sees the Iranian quota as excessive, Baku's ANS television reported on 23 May, which has led to a disagreement between the two Caspian Sea states.

Sturgeon is not an infinite resource. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species representative Hank Jenkins warned that oil extraction and overuse of pesticides threaten the Caspian's eco-system. Almaty's Khabar television added greater detail about the environmental threat to sturgeon when it reported on 3 June that "pollution of water with industrial waste and the construction of dams in rivers is increasingly leading to the destruction of both sturgeon and beluga spawning grounds."

Poaching also threatens sturgeon. Khabar TV explained that "illegal catching of starred sturgeon, sturgeon, and beluga has turned into a super-profitable business against which it has now become impossible to fight by means of the environmental protection agencies alone. According to expert data, the amount of fish caught by poachers is dozens of times over the official quota for catching fish." The Iranian Foreign Ministry has asked Kazakhstan to protect the sturgeon population, according to the television program.

Five tons of Caspian lobster that were packed at the Jajrud plant were exported to Europe last year, Damavand veterinary office chief Khalil Babakhani announced in late April. Another project will farm lobsters in the rivers east of Tehran. During a visit to the Shahid Rajai Fingerling Farming Complex, CITES representative Jenkins said that Iran's fish management activities are impressive, IRNA reported on 1 May. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN INVOLVEMENT IN PHILIPPINES KIDNAPPING DENIED. An attorney for Iranian Mansur Maherolnaqsh said that he has been a legal resident of the Philippines since 1977, when he married a Filipina, and he is involved in wholesaling rather than any criminal activity, Quezon City's private GMA-7 television reported on 5 June. Maherolnaqsh, another Iranian, and a Lebanese male were the only guests not kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf group when it raided the Dos Palmas Resort and captured 20 people, Manila's "Philippine Daily Inquirer" reported on 5 June. Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief Nestorio Gualberto said that this was a strange coincidence, and experts from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation have joined the case. (Bill Samii)

AN ACTIVE ELECTION DAY. Voter interest appeared to be "quite low" according to a poll of 500 people in Tehran that was conducted by Zogby International on 3-4 June. But the day after the election, the Interior Ministry announced that about 67 percent (28,159,289) of the electorate had taken part in the poll. Another 474,655 ballots were nullified, although the Interior Ministry had requested on 7 June that people not put "unauthorized words" on the ballots sheets.

In what seems to be a regular occurrence in all of Iran's elections, voter turnout exceeded expectations and polling hours, which started at 0900, were extended -- this time by five hours until midnight. Election Headquarters chief and Interior Ministry official Morteza Mobaleq added that due to the high public turnout, some constituencies required an increase in the number of fixed and mobile ballot boxes. Moreover, election officials in several places claimed that they had run out of blank ballot slips. Military helicopters were sent to remote regions of the country to collect ballot boxes. Guardians Council spokesman Qolam Hussein Elham said that the "the loss of many voting slip" was notable among the "numerous irregularities which went against the interests of the people," according to IRNA. Abbas Ahmadi of the Interior Ministry, on the other hand, said, "Until now, we have received no information on these so-called irregularities."

Hussein Biqam, who is in charge of election security in West Azerbaijan Province, said that security forces arrested four members of a "democratic grouplet" who intended to disrupt the election by planting bombs and painting antiregime graffiti. The security forces foiled efforts to disrupt the election by the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, too, Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Yunesi claimed.

Some of Iran's religious minorities were enthusiastic participants in the election, according to state officials and government media. Jewish parliamentarian Morris Motamed, Zoroastrian parliamentarian Khosro Dabestani, and Armenian parliamentarian Levon Davidian all claimed that their constituencies were active in the election. Nobody spoke on behalf of the country's Bahais.

In addition to polling places in Iran, the government also set up 112 overseas polling places. A number of Los Angeles-area hotels decided against hosting the polls after overseas Iranian student groups made them aware of the nature of the Iranian regime and suggested that the hotels may face economic boycotts in the future. A Houston polling place met a similar end. Exile groups demonstrated against the election in Paris, Frankfurt, and other European cities. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi complained that "European governments who pretend to be democrats should have employed the necessary means to prevent voters from being disturbed," IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

MORE VIOLENCE AS ELECTION APPROACHES. Tabriz journalist Payman Pakmehr told RFE/RL's Persian Service that hard-liners there tried to abduct some students working for the Khatami campaign. Pakmehr said, "At night, some Tabriz Open University students who were leaving a meeting at another student's house were confronted by two groups of thugs with two cars who ordered them to get into the cars. The students resisted and the assailants beat them up and told them: 'We are intelligence agents. It's our duty to take you from here.' Some local merchants contacted the police but before the police came the students sustained head injuries and were badly beaten up. But they didn't get into those cars with the thugs."

Hard-liners allegedly set fire to President Mohammad Khatami's election headquarters in Isfahan and Qom on the night of 4-5 June, and hooligans on motorbikes stabbed two Khatami campaign volunteers in Zanjan. Parliamentarian Ali-Reza Nuri's pro-Khatami speech was disrupted by 20 vigilantes, according to IRNA. "Noruz" reported that hard-line vigilantes attacked and injured actress Pegah Ahangarani as she campaigned for Khatami. Khatami posters were torn down in several different locales.

Hackers interfered with the website of candidate Abdullah Jasbi, "Afarinesh" daily reported on 5 June. A brawl lasting two hours started in an Islamabad-i Qarb meeting hall at which Ahmad Tavakoli had spoken, until police intervened and arrested about 50 people. Hard-liners attacked former Deputy Interior Minister Mustafa Tajzadeh and prevented his speech in Amol. Amol Governor Esfandiar Jalali said that "police unfortunately did not take the necessary measures to guarantee security during the speech," according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)

YOUTH SUPPORT ESSENTIAL FOR VICTORY. About 66 percent of the Iranian population is above the age of 15, or old enough to vote, and it is estimated that at least half the population is under 30. Moreover, 69 percent of the voters in the 15-24-year-old range favored the incumbent, President Mohammad Khatami, according to a pre-election poll of 500 Tehran voters conducted by Zogby International. All of the country's opinion-makers and political leaders recognized the importance of the large block of youth voters, and the presidential candidates tried to appeal to them.

Khatami dropped by a 1 June meeting of the Office for Strengthening Unity, which is the country's biggest pro-Khatami student group, and told the 300 people there that "[t]oday, the student movement should push ahead with reforms patiently to bring about independence and freedom in Iran."

Several of the other candidates participated in a "Students and the 2001 Elections" conference at Tehran University on 30-31 May. Ahmad Tavakoli told the assembled students that he was not a member of any political faction, and he intended to solve the country's economic problems by eliminating corruption and facilitating development. He would reduce governmental involvement in national affairs, Tavakoli added, while increasing oversight of government contracts with foreign entities. Hassan Ghafurifard said that justice, respect for intellectuals, and domestic security, when combined with rich natural resources and good facilities, "will be able to solve most of the problems faced by our people." Ghafurifard complained about the country's factional bickering, too.

Mansur Razavi told the audience that a "solidarity government" was needed to bring all the factions together, and a democracy based on religious values would settle many of Iran's problems. Saying that economic reforms should come first, Mustafa Hashemi-Taba described himself as an experienced "pro-left" figure under whose watch as industries minister over 1,000 factories opened, and during his time as vice president for physical training, 15 sports complexes opened. For Iran to achieve progress and prosperity, Shahabedin Sadr told the students, the country needs "youth-oriented executive management," political calm, national solidarity, and social welfare.

In a separate setting, former Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani claimed that "even in the ministry I was famous for my pro-youth attitude. I like young people because they are idealistic and energetic," MSNBC reported.

The candidates tried to appeal to the younger voters, but the hard-liners tried to discredit and divide the student movement by broadcasting student leaders' forced confessions. The most recent of these was on 16 May, when Office for Strengthening Unity leader Ali Afshari claimed that at the behest of the Liberation Movement of Iran he tried to get the student movement involved in "active resistance and civil disobedience" and "preparing the way for those seeking to overthrow the system." When Khatami met with some of his student supporters on 1 June, they chanted for Afshari's release, but he did not respond. After the summer 1999 unrest in the country's major cities, the so-called confessions of students were televised. In these broadcasts, Manucher Mohammadi and Gholamreza Mohajerinezhad admitted to links with Iranian nationalist groups and with foreigners (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 1999).

The confessions may have been meant to discredit and divide the students, but a number of trials seem intended to intimidate them. The most recent of these trials resulted from the August 2000 unrest in Khorramabad, when a reformist student group, hard-line vigilantes, and security forces clashed. Numerous students were arrested in the months following this event, and many were subsequently jailed or fined. And in July 2000, the court acquitted about 20 Law Enforcement Forces officers on trial for raiding a Tehran University hostel one year earlier (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 July 2000), while many students had been imprisoned or fined for their parts in the resulting unrest.

The success of efforts to divide, discredit, or intimidate the student movement did not seem to have worked very well. Khatami was well-received at various public events. Many students said that they would continue to support him, as did first-time voters. Mohammad Nadali of Tabriz University warned that reforms take time, according to the 6 June "Los Angeles Times." "We believe that four years for reform is not long considering our country and cultural background." Farnaz, a 21-year-old student at Shahid Beheshti University, told the 5 May "Christian Science Monitor," "I am not satisfied. But I will vote because it's my duty and Khatami is the best choice we have...if we don't vote for him we're playing into the hands of those who want to deprive of us of freedom."

Some students clearly have become disillusioned by the slow pace of reform and Khatami's seeming reluctance to confront his hard-line opponents or protect his own backers. Just as embittering is the country's lack of economic progress and its impact on youth entering the job market. "I am not voting for anyone, because no one has done a damn thing," 17-year-old Farshid Rezai said in the "Los Angeles Times." Farshid works 12 hours a day weaving socks, for which he is paid $50 a month. "Things have gotten worse since four years ago. We thought that we'd have a better life. But look at me now: I have to work until the small hours of the night to make ends meet," 29-year-old Said Bahrami told MSNBC. Said works as a bookkeeper during the day and drives a taxi afternoons and weekends.

The Supreme Leader also had advice for Iranian youth. "The most important duty of the younger generation, specially the university students, is to remain devoted to the teachings of Islam and the revolution and to act vigilantly in the face of the enemy's plots and projects," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a 15 May meeting of members of the Independent Islamic University Associations. (Bill Samii)

SIXTEEN PARLIAMENTARIANS ELECTED. Campaigning for the 8 June parliamentary elections began on 31 May, with over 250 people competing for 16 seats in 14 electoral districts. The Interior Ministry's director-general in charge of electoral affairs, Mr. Ahmadi, said that the districts are: Arak, Bandar Abbas, Abu Musa va Hajiabad, Damavand va Firuzkuh, Darab, Gachsaran, Giroft, Islamabad-i Qarb, Kangavar, Khoy, Minab, Naqadeh va Oshnaviyeh, Qeshm, Rudan va Jask, Sahneh va Harsin, Saqez va Baneh, Sonqor-i Kolyai, as well as Tehran.

The winner in Tehran was Alireza Mahjoub. In Damavand va Firuzkuh, Mostafa Khanzadi won, barely defeating conservative Ahmad Rasulinezhad. In Giroft, Mohammad Farkhi won. Javad Etaat won in Darab. (Information on the other constituencies was unavailable.)

This has increased the reformist margin in parliament. Yet reformist legislation on issues such as the press or the budget remain vulnerable to the whims of the Supreme Leader or the Guardians Council.

Tehran parliamentarian Mohammad Naimpur told an audience in Khalkhal, Ardabil Province, that the by-election there had been postponed for roughly another four months, but he could not explain the postponement. The by-election would be held concurrently with the by-election in Gulistan Province, Naimpur said according to a 4 June IRNA report. All seven Gulistan deputies died, along with 23 other people, in a 17 May airplane crash. (Bill Samii)

ASSEMBLY OF EXPERTS GETS TWO NEW MEMBERS. By-elections for the Qom and East Azerbaijan constituencies of the Assembly of Experts were held on 8 June. The winning candidates were Ayatollah Mohammad Daneshzadeh Momen-Qomi in Qom and Ayatollah Mohammad-Sadeq Najmi Sadeq in East Azerbaijan. In an unexpected development, the reformist candidate in East Azerbaijan withdrew from the contest on election day. The popularly-elected, 86-member, supra-governmental body has the power to appoint and dismiss the country's supreme religio-political figure, who is currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But since its 1998 election, the third Assembly of Experts has increasingly taken on subjects that are not strictly within its mandate, such as national security and cultural affairs, and this has caused some resentment. (Bill Samii)

GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO SOLVE SHORTCOMINGS AT BAKERIES. Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari admitted on 31 May that the Iranian bread industry is facing "serious problems," mainly because bakers are not professionally trained and because the industry is not profitable He went on to say that reform of the baking and bread supply sectors would require the cooperation of the Commerce, Health, and Industries ministries, IRNA reported.

Iranians obtain 70 percent of their protein from bread. Iranian health experts said in late April that half the country's population faces malnutrition because of low-quality bread. Bakers try to increase their output by adding baking soda to the dough, but this lowers the bread's protein content. The resulting health problems include anemia, dwarfism, and insufficient body weight, according to IRNA. Moreover, about half of the bread that is produced is wasted or thrown away.

Some of the government's efforts to resolve this bread crisis were discussed during the 24 January parliamentary session. The government's steps include the provision of much of the funding for bread-production units and giving "families of martyrs, self-sacrificers, freed prisoners of war, and qualified Basijis...special priority in the use of the above-mentioned funds." The government will set standards for bread varieties and flour quality, and also for machine-produced bread. The National Grain Organization received permission to export flour and buy wheat. The government also agreed to provide 95,000 tons of flour to charitable organizations.

Bread is heavily subsidized by the state, second only to fuel. A kilogram of flour costs the government 1,250 rials (about 16 cents), but bakers buy flour from the government at 40 rials per kilogram (half a cent). Iran's wheat imports are projected to be high this year due to the continuing drought, corruption, and mismanagement. (Bill Samii)

PROBLEMS IN AGRICULTURE SECTOR. Bahman Yazdkhosti, a member of the Agriculture Bank of Iran board of directors, said that the agriculture sector only employs 1.5 percent of the country's available skilled manpower. This contrasts with the industrial sector, IRNA reported on 30 May, which employs 15 percent of the skilled manpower. The merger of the Agriculture and Construction Jihad ministries into a new Agricultural Jihad Ministry is not helping the situation. Deputy Minister Qolamreza Sahraian said on 29 April that 3,000 of the ministry's managers were being laid off, according to IRNA.

Meanwhile, Agricultural Jihad Minister Mahmud Hojjati announced on 27 May that 20 million tons of foodstuffs are produced by about 1,000 units in Iran. Hojjati added that Iran ranks first in world production of apricots, pistachios, pomegranates, and saffron. Yazdkhosti of the Agriculture Bank said later that the agriculture sector produces about 27 percent of Iran's gross domestic product (Iran's GDP, adjusted for purchasing power parity is $347.6 billion, while that of the U.S. is $9.255 trillion). Yazdkhosti also said that protein intake in Iran is not up to world standards. In order to increase dairy production and reduce costs, Yazdkhosti recommended increased investment. (Bill Samii)