29 June 2001, Volume 4, Number 25
The next issue of the "RFE/RL Iran Report" will appear on 16 July 2001.
DRUG CONTROL CHIEF CRITICIZES OFFICIAL APPROACH. Two days before this year's International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking (26 June), Anti-Narcotics Headquarters (Setad-i Mobarez-i ba Mavad-i Mukhadir) chief Mohammad Fallah delivered a speech that criticized every aspect of Iran's war on drugs.
Fallah was critical of supply interdiction efforts, saying that "[e]ven if we do our utmost in closing our eastern borders, it will not prevent the drugs from getting in Iran," IRNA reported. Trying to close the borders, he added, was "shallow in scope." The same day, deputy Law Enforcement Forces chief Brigadier General Amir-Ali Amiri said that more troops would be deployed in the eastern regions. He added reassuringly, according to IRNA, "Owing to ceaseless efforts of police, the security along the eastern borders has been stabilized and the armed bandits are on the verge of destruction." Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said on 28 June that the security forces have the "upper hand" and "banditry has been reined in."
On 26 June, 500 kilograms of confiscated narcotics were destroyed in a bonfire in front of Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi and foreign diplomats in Tehran's Khak-i Sefid district, which in late February was the site of a massive anti-narcotics operation. A ground-breaking for a cultural, artistic, and sports complex was held in Khak-i Sefid, too.
But in his speech two days earlier, Fallah ridiculed the so-called cleaning-up of Khak-i Sefid, saying that narcotics still are distributed widely in the city. Brigadier General Mehdi Aboui of the Law Enforcement Forces also admitted that drug trafficking had returned to Khak-i Sefid after the highly publicized security operation in February (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 June 2001).
Fallah also believes that Iran's legal system contributes to the drug abuse situation. "Our laws give such leeway to the judges that they can easily sentence an addict to prison," he said, whereas "imprisonment should be the last resort." The same day the Police Command and Control Center reported the arrest of 2,718 addicts and over 866 distributors. Brigadier General Amiri also said that the LEF and Basij would establish checkpoints at "strategic locations" to control traffickers' exit and entry from towns and cities (these security measures might be linked with the annual anniversary of the July 1999 student demonstrations).
"Drug traffickers and sellers must no longer benefit from any amnesty -- on the contrary they must be severely repressed," Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said on 26 June. And Deputy Interior Minister Gholam Hussein Bolandian complained that not enough of the people on death row are executed: "Some 15,869 drug traffickers deserved death, but only 1,735 were meted capital punishment. The death sentence against 400 convicts was upheld, but finally only 233 were sent to the gallows."
Yazd Province Anti-Narcotics chief Ali Beman Rustai said that 8,000 addicts and drug-runners had been arrested in his province during the March 2000-March 2001 period, IRNA reported on 26 June, and four traffickers had been executed. Gilan Province LEF chief Brigadier General Ali Mohammad Khamsai, furthermore, warned smugglers that they would not be secure in his province, according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)
COMPETITION FOR CABINET POSITIONS. Since Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's re-election as president on 8 June, questions have surfaced regarding his next cabinet. As of late June he had not declared his intentions, but Khatami has until August-September to declare his choices.
On the one hand, a good indicator of the shape of the next cabinet might be the formation of the new parliamentary presidium on 11 June. Rafsanjan parliamentarian Ali Hashemi said that the new presidium represented an alliance between the technocratic Executives of Construction Party and the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Party. On this basis, and because Behzad Nabavi of the pro-Khatami Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization was not interested in the job, they chose Mohsen Armin of the MIRO as one of the deputy speakers, IRNA reported on 11 June.
An indication that Khatami wants to include a wider range of factions in his cabinet is a 12 June report in "Iran News" that Nabavi is being considered as a replacement for current First Vice President Hassan Habibi.
On the other hand, the presidium, in which Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi returns as speaker of parliament and Mohammad Reza Khatami is the other deputy speaker, may be the result of little more than political horse-trading. And Kerman parliamentarian Hussein Marashi told the 11 June "Qods" that the ECP did not care whether or not it is part of the cabinet.
The ECP may be blase about this, but the IIPP is not. Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is the party's secretary-general, said that it would make a proposal to the president about his new cabinet, IRNA reported on 11 June. At the same time, the younger Khatami acknowledged that the final decisions rests with the president and his advisers and depends on the candidates' compatibility with the presidential platform.
Conservative theoretician and former parliamentarian Mohammad Javad Larijani, even before the election, advised that Khatami form a coalition government with the involvement of all the political factions. This would help the moderate right-wingers and moderate left-wingers to unite and work together, "Entekhab" quoted him as saying in April. Larijani added, in an interview with "Seda-yi Idalat," that a coalition government would benefit the country by attracting the most competent and skilled managers irrespective of their factional affiliations. Larijani also proposed that Khatami reshuffle his cabinet to allow younger talents to blossom, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 11 June.
The opinions of parliamentary deputies on the cabinet are important, because they are the ones who will give votes of confidence to the new ministers. Tehran parliamentarian Majid Ansari suggested that the bases on which new cabinet members are selected should be competence, expertise, management capabilities, and courageous decision-making. Ansari said that "meritocracy" should be the criteria, IRNA reported on 16 June.
Ali Shakuri-Rad, another Tehran deputy from the IIPP, was quite specific on who he would like to see leave the cabinet. He called for new ministers of education and training and of economic affairs and finance. The minister of foreign affairs, Kamal Kharrazi, has got to go, too, and the credit for any international success should go to President Khatami himself. Shakuri-Rad went on to say that the minister of justice has been neither negative nor positive, but a new one might create a better relationship between the Judiciary and the executive branch, according to the 18 June "Aftab-i Yazd" and "Iran News."
Parliamentary representative Mohammad Ali Kuzegar wants to see a new minister of foreign affairs, too, according to the 12 June "Qods," citing the MFA's passivity towards Afghanistan and inactivity in Central Asia. Jamileh Kadivar from Tehran said that the new ministers must be aware of public demands, unlike the present government, "where everyone is chanting the slogan of reform, but each of them has his own particular interpretation of reform."
The women's faction of the parliament has identified several people it would like to see in the new cabinet. Zahra Rahnavard, Soheila Jelodarzadeh, and Masumeh Ebtekar are some of the people that have been named as possible ministers, and the specific demands are for female ministers in the Education and Training Ministry and the Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Ministry. (Bill Samii)
THE LADIES' MAN. Iranian Presidential Adviser on Women's Affairs Zahra Shojai described women as "global peace messengers" during a 23 June conference. Yet the reactions of female politicians to the sexist remarks of a male colleague show that there is a difference between being peaceful and being complacent. In fact, women are demanding positions in the presidential cabinet and the Council of Guardians in exchange for supporting President Mohammad Khatami in the 1997 and 2001 elections.
Tehran parliamentarian Jamileh Kadivar acknowledged that women had made progress during the first Khatami administration, but they expected more. She said, "Seda-yi Idalat" reported on 31 May, "What women demand is that they should be allowed to enjoy equal opportunities at all levels, and that people should stop pushing them to the margins of society only because of their sex." Kadivar pointed out that Khatami's appointees had not shown real commitment to promoting women: "it was expected that other ministers and statesmen would follow Mr. Khatami, and choose women not only as advisers, but also as managers and deputies in ministries." Kadivar's specific demands were the appointment of female ministers to the Education and Training Ministry and the Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Ministry.
Tehran parliamentarian Fatimeh Rakai said, "The least we expect from the future president is to appoint more women in high managerial posts..." She added, "Seda-yi Idalat" reported on 7 June, "Thanks to women's psychological aptitude and particular proficiency in some managerial posts, they can perform some tasks more efficiently than men." Rakai told IRNA on 20 June that the parliamentary women's faction met with President Khatami and proposed that Zahra Rahnavard, Soheila Jelodarzadeh, and Masumeh Ebtekar serve as ministers in the next cabinet. Rakai also expects that women will be appointed as ambassadors, cultural attaches, ministers, deputy ministers, and directors-general in various ministries. An open letter signed by 163 parliamentarians called on President Khatami to appoint female cabinet ministers, IRNA reported on 27 June.
A group of female parliamentarians also proposed that women be allowed to serve as the non-clerical attorneys on the Guardians Council (the Council consists of six clerics who determine the Islamic status of proposed legislation and six nonvoting lawyers who are proposed by the Judiciary and chosen by the parliament). Fatimeh Rakai said that the head of the Judiciary welcomed the proposal, IRNA reported on 19 June, and she hoped that at least two women would be chosen.
Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohsen Armin (the eponymous Ladies' Man) showed his particular understanding of reform when he suggested that appointing women to cabinet positions would undermine their dignity, and instead they should reach the highest levels "through natural procedures" (slowly, in other words). Armin added that the president could ask his ministers to appoint women at "middle-level managerial posts, and even as high as deputy ministers, so that they could later on reach higher levels of management in Iran."
Armin's comments sparked angry reactions from female politicians. Shiraz deputy Tahereh Rezazadeh asked bluntly, "Were the reformist gentlemen prepared to utter such comments before the elections?" She complained that male chauvinism seems to exist as much in the government as it does in society, IRNA reported on 23 June. Mashhad deputy Fatimeh Khatami questioned statements about natural progression in management, saying, "We know many men who have paved that path in a six-month period! Then some influential guy or a political party has taken their hand and guided them towards high management positions, without being really fit for those posts!" (Bill Samii)
NEW ANGLE ON PRESS REPRESSION. Now that the Iranian government has cowed the mainstream media, it is turning more attention to student journalists. A court official, meanwhile, has taken the effort to explain why so many publications -- more than fifty since April 2000 -- had to be closed.
Ali Fallah and Babak Qani-Pur, editors of a campus magazine called "Arman," were detained on the orders of the Yazd press court, IRNA reported on 26 June. Fifteen other students were detained earlier in the same case. The Tehran press court summoned the managing director and two other students associated with a campus daily called "Faryad," ISNA reported on 15 June. Mehdi Aminzadeh, managing director of a student magazine called "Foruq" was jailed in early June, as were several members of the magazine's staff. "Farda-yi Azadi," a student periodical from Hamedan Province, was banned in late April. Managing editor Morteza Bahr-i Kazemi was sentenced to prison for six months and banned from editing, "Andalib" reported on 29 April. Morteza Husseinzadeh, author of the insulting article that caused public concern, was sentenced to 91 days in jail.
Nonetheless, old habits are hard to break. The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance suspended four weeklies -- "Nakhl," "Ava-yi Varzish," "Golbang-i Iran," and "Bazar-i Ruz-i Tehran" -- because they were "sensational and contrary to modesty," IRNA reported on 25 June. Eight other publications received written warnings on the same day.
The press court summoned "Hambastegi" editor Qolam-Heidar Ebrahimbay-Salami following complaints against him by the Guardians Council and losing presidential candidate Abdullah Jasbi. Ebrahimbay-Salami was in prison in May following complaints from the Islamic Coalition Association, state broadcasting, and the head of Yazd Province Justice Administration.
There is some encouraging news for the media. Hussein Vahedipur, publisher of the "Khabar" daily, said that the Khabar Institute intends to publish dailies in Khuzestan, Bushehr, and Kohkiluyeh va Boir Ahmadi provinces, "Iran" reported on 27 June. The press court acquitted Javid Al-i Davud, managing editor of "Dampezeshk" veterinary journal, IRNA reported on 19 June. The State Veterinary Organization accused Al-i Davud of libel and publishing lies. The managing editor of "Ava-yi Ardabil" weekly was acquitted in a case involving alleged insults against a candidate for parliamentary office, IRNA reported on 2 June. The Ardabil Province Elections Supervisory Board also lodged a complaint against the weekly for allegedly undermining public confidence in the Guardians Council.
Tehran Judiciary chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh explained that nobody wanted to close all the newspapers, and in fact, he met with representatives of the Journalists Guild and managers of reformist newspapers in the October 1999-March 2000 time frame and they decided that the only necessary conditions were that the press not insult Islam, religious sanctities, or the clergy. "After a lapse of only one week," Alizadeh noted in a 16 May interview with "Hambastegi," "they started once again to insult the religious sanctities and the complaints started.... Well, what should be done? Should we let them trample upon the blood of martyrs, and me, the theology student, now working as the Judiciary chief, should I just watch them?" (Bill Samii)
DISPUTES OVER DISSIDENT DEACON. Elements in the Iranian government are fearful of the continuing popularity of Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, who at one point was destined to become Iran's Supreme Leader. Shortly before his death in 1989, Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini decided that Montazeri would not be a worthy successor. Hojatoleslam Ali Khamenei subsequently was promoted to Ayatollah and made Supreme Leader, but not all Iranians accept Khamenei's qualifications. Their continued support for Montazeri has landed many of them in jail, while his impolitic remarks have resulted in his house arrest.
Montazeri's offspring -- Esmat, Ashraf, Tahereh, Saideh, and Ahmad -- recently wrote to many of the Shia Sources of Emulation in Tehran and Qom and asked for an end to their father's four-year house arrest. This is the first time that all of Montazeri's children, except for the imprisoned Said, have asked their father's peers to intervene.
Ahmad Montazeri told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the children are not very confident in the letter's ability to generate concrete action, because clerics' previous requests of the Supreme National Security Council and of President Mohammad Khatami have not borne fruit. The letter points out that if the Shia leaders cannot solve their internal problems, they will have trouble solving the problems facing the greater Shia and Muslim communities. Ahmad said that many Sources of Emulation are unhappy with Iran's current political situation and with the actions taken in the name of promoting virtue and prohibiting vice.
It also is unlikely that the letter will produce results because the regime continues to undermine and intimidate Montazeri's supporters. Hadi Hashemi, Montazeri's son-in-law, and two companions were arrested on 23 June, "Toseh" reported the next day. Hashemi and his companions -- Mohammad Hassan Movahedi and Ali Asqar Kimyai -- were accused of undermining national security and membership in the Mehdi Hashemi gang. (Executed in 1986, Mehdi Hashemi was related to Montazeri.)
Three days earlier, 126 members of parliament had signed a petition calling for Montazeri's release from house arrest, according to "Khorasan." An 11 June rally in Qom to celebrate President Mohammad Khatami's election turned into a pro-Montazeri gathering in front of the cleric's house, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported. Law Enforcement Forces dispersed the crowd. Calls in support of Montazeri were heard at a mid-April rally at Tehran's Amir Kabir University, also. Other speakers at the rally criticized Supreme Leader Khamenei.
The March arrests of nationalist-religious figures may have been connected with the pro-Montazeri sympathies expressed by some of them, such as Fazlollah Salavati. And in early February, Special Court for the Clergy judge Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei alleged links between Montazeri and jailed political activists, according to the "Financial Times." Mohseni-Ejei said that Montazeri's household gave money to the pro-Khatami Office for Strengthening Unity student organization and to jailed journalists Akbar Ganji and Emadedin Baqi. Mohseni-Ejei said that other recipients of Montazeri's money were student leader Ali Afshari (whose "confessions" were televised) and nationalist-religious politician Ezzatollah Sahabi. (Bill Samii)
ELECTRICITY GENERATION TO INCREASE. The activation of an electrical power plant in late June and an earlier agreement to transfer Italian technology to build turbines will be welcome developments in light of a late May power outage that affected the entire country (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 May 2001), but questions about that incident have not been answered by the government yet.
The Iran Electricity Expansion Organization announced on 23 June that the first phase of steam generators at the Shahid Rajai power plant has become operational and it has a nominal capacity of 100.6 megawatts. Completion of the entire project is expected by 21 March 2002, at which time the plant's total capacity will exceed 1,050 megawatts, IRNA reported. Deputy chief of Iran's Energy Development Organization Masud Shakiba said on 3 June, furthermore, that an agreement has been signed with an Italian company to transfer the technology for manufacturing gas-operated turbines, according to IRNA. Thirty turbines will be built over a five-year period in a factory near Karaj, Shakiba explained, and once they all go online the country's electricity output will increase to 4,000 megawatts.
Insufficient power generation is not the only difficulty facing Iranian consumers. An anonymous "energy expert" said that electricity subsidies in Iran are among the highest in the world, about 20 percent of the electricity is wasted, and there is insufficient investment. The "energy expert" added that Iran must increase its power output by 2,500 megawatts a year to match the energy consumption rate envisioned in the Third Five-Year Plan, IRNA reported 24 June.
Although these observations will be worrisome for most Iranians, any increased power output will be welcome in light of the May blackout and occasional brownouts. Shortly after the blackout it was reported that the parliamentary Energy Commission would study the issue and announce its findings, according to the 26 May "Siyasat-i Ruz." But at the same time, Khomeinishahr deputy Nematollah Alirezai said that the state power generation and transmission management company (Tavanir Corporation) was not being very forthcoming.
Energy Minister Habibollah Bitaraf's promise to explain the nationwide power cut within 48 hours went unfulfilled, too, "Entekhab" reported on 23 May. Speaking at the 28 May opening of the sixth International Electricity Exhibition in Tehran, however, Bitaraf declared that the Third Five-Year Plan envisaged an increase in national electricity production to 142 billion kilowatts per hour by 2004. Bitaraf added that the Ministry of Energy's policy is to link Iran's power grid with that of all its neighbors by 2005.
"Unfortunately many organizations, institutions, and officials refrain from telling the people the truth," according to a commentary about the nationwide blackout in the 23 May "Seda-yi Idalat." "This can be misleading since it urges people to turn to irresponsible and unofficial sources like foreign radios to find out what is happening," the commentary warned. (Bill Samii)
CONFUSION OVER INTERNET ACCESS. President Mohammad Khatami chaired the 20 June session of Iran's Supreme Council for Information Technology, when the discussion touched on the legal status of the country's Internet cafes, known as "coffee-nets." Easier and cheaper public access to electronic data received a great deal of emphasis at this meeting, according to IRNA, yet only four days later, according to "Hambastegi" and IRNA, the Telecommunication Company of Iran (which is part of the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone) banned Internet access to all people under the age of 18. The cafes must, furthermore, monitor the browsing activities of their customers and block access to some sites.
The Telecommunications Company, in a statement faxed to IRNA on 24 June, rejected the "Hambastegi" report. By means of clarification it said that there is no age limit for Internet use, but people under 18 would not be allowed to open Internet cafes.
Tehran is home to an estimated 1,500 Internet cafes, many of which have just one computer. An unknown number of these cafes were closed in mid-May because they were unlicensed, because they did not comply with Islamic standards, or because young people used the Internet to make low-cost international telephone calls, depriving PTT of revenues.
The office machine, computer, and communications union is charged with regulating Iran's Internet services, union chief Ali Akbar Morati said in the 14 June "Iran." He went on to say that the Internet cafes could reopen as soon as they get business permits, and "[t]he aim of closing Internet cafes was not in any way to restrict Internet services but there is an attempt to regulate these activities." (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN FUEL SMUGGLED ACROSS BORDERS. Smuggling is contributing to unemployment, state-owned Industrial Development and Renovation Organization (IDRO) chief Akbar Torkan said on 23 June, and he explained that smuggled foreign goods replace domestically produced goods. The smuggling of fuel out of Iran is having an adverse impact on the country, too.
Iran's neighbors in Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Pakistan express particular concern about the smuggling of petroleum products, which is available at very low subsidized prices in Iran. This fuel is resold at higher prices in the neighboring states at a healthy profit for the retailers. An estimated 20 percent of the total Iranian fuel supply leaves Iran through its eastern borders and through Turkey, Hussein Afarideh of the parliamentary energy commission said, according to a May "Iran Daily" report. Oil products make up the bulk of the 70 billion rials ($8.75 million at the open market rate) worth of commodities and foreign exchange that are smuggled through Sistan va Baluchistan Province to Pakistan. This subject came up during Iranian national security adviser Hassan Rohani's late April visit to Islamabad. Pakistani Petroleum Minister Usman Aminuddin raised the issue of Iranian benzene which is resold as motor spirit, "Karachi Dawn" reported, and he asked that Iran control the smuggling.
Fuel also is smuggled into Afghanistan. Pur-Ismail, an official with Zabol's Oil Products Distribution Company, told "Qods" in May that "Large quantities of fuel are sold by the 'Municipalities Collaboration Organization' to the Taliban through the border market at Seeyalk." Pur-Ismail estimated that 700,000 liters per month were smuggled during the colder months of 2000, and 400,000 liters per month since March 2001.
A range of factors contribute to the problem of fuel smuggling. Customs Administration chief Mehdi Karbassian listed Iranian subsidies and foreign exchange differences in the 5 May "Iran News." Jahan Tiq, an official with the Zabol Law Enforcement Forces' Political-Ideological Bureau. said that people in his region smuggle because of unemployment and the continuing drought. He went on to say, according to "Qods," "Our native people are actually making a living by just taking these few gallons of fuel to the other side of the border, so it is both unfair and indiscreet to deal harshly with them." The LEF personnel, furthermore, have little motivation because the rewards are so small and because of graft: "From 50 percent of the reward, just 10 percent reaches the hand of the officer who made the actual bust and discovery; in addition, the use of recruits and drafted soldiers has made the chance of reward even less." (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN'S SILENCE ON CHECHNYA PAYS OFF. Aleksandr Maryasov, Moscow's new ambassador to Tehran, said that Iran's understanding of the consequences of terrorism and separatism have helped it form "a reasonable and realistic stand with regard to the developments in Chechnya," ITAR-TASS reported on 19 June. This means that Tehran's approach to the Chechnya conflict -- saying only that it is a Russian internal affair -- is appreciated in Moscow. This approach, furthermore, is paying off. An Iranian engineering consortium and pro-Moscow Chechen administrator Roza Dzhabrailova signed an agreement for Iranian firms to reconstruct Chechnya's industrial and transport facilities, RTR television reported on 18 June. (Bill Samii)
ANGER WITH SANCTIONS RENEWAL AND KHOBAR INDICTMENT. The Iranian government and Iranian politicians have reacted angrily to news coming out of Washington recently, and Iranians who advocated improved relations may have to step back in light of this atmosphere. Nonetheless, hostility towards the U.S. is natural for some of Iran's leading figures, whether they are labeled as reformists or hard-liners and irrespective of the Khobar indictments or amendments to renew the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act.
Around 19-20 June Iranian news media revealed that a number of Iranian parliamentarians (members of the Association of Veteran Majlis Deputies) had written a letter to their U.S. counterparts in which they urged the Americans not to renew ILSA and warned that a renewal would impede restoration of relations between the two countries. Parliamentarian Mohsen Nariman said that Tehran would reciprocate a positive gesture, according to "Noruz" and IRNA, and his colleague Mohammad Naimpur said that this form of correspondence would help bring the two countries closer together.
Congressional representatives allegedly responded with an informal letter addressed to the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Iran" reported on 27 January, and its unidentified signatories said that they were ready to meet with their Iranian counterparts.
Not all of Iran's parliament concurred with the letter to Washington. Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi did not permit a reading of the letter at an open session of the legislature on 26 June, according to state radio. Reformist deputy Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur declared that the letter did not represent the sentiments of all the members of the Association of Veteran Majlis Deputies. "The administrators of America's Congress [are] Zionists and...enemies of the revolution, the nation and the Islamic state," Mohtashemi claimed, adding that "the people who signed the letter know nothing about America, the Congress and its representative." Other deputies got into the spirit of things by chanting "Death to America."
But these deputies are not the only Iranians hoping for a change in U.S. policies. "Actions speak louder than words," Deputy Foreign Minister for Euro-American Affairs Ali Ahani declared on 24 June. He went on to say, "these sanctions should be considered as a hostile action by the American government toward the Iranian nation. In such an atmosphere, talk of discussion and relations with the U.S. is naive." Ambassador Baqer Asadi told AP on 19 June, "We have not seen any particularly positive signs from the Republican administration on its Iran policy and not until we see that will we be able to read anything into it." Asadi expressed the hope that the new Bush policy toward Iran would be "forward-looking [and] conducive to the betterment of bilateral relations."
"We announce for the umpteenth time that in the status quo any restoration of ties between the two countries depends on fundamental removal of barriers, including the U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi declared on 11 June. "Iran sets the condition in this deal (restoration of ties) and we clearly announce that no change is possible unless all conditions set by the Islamic Republic are met," Assefi explained, adding, "If the U.S. government is intent to take a positive stride in its interaction with Iran, it should meet the legitimate demands without any preconditions."
Although the issue received less attention than ILSA extensions did, there were complaints from Tehran after the 21 June announcement of indictments that linked unnamed Iranian officials with the June 1996 bombing of U.S. military housing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American servicemen and wounded 372 other Americans. The hardening of attitudes about ILSA renewal after 21 June, furthermore, may be linked with the Khobar indictments.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said on 22 June that the charges lacked any "legal" or "judicial basis," were part of U.S. efforts "to pressure" Iran, and constituted submission to "the Zionist lobby." Iranian state television announced on 23 June: "In a joint but covert effort, Washington and Tel Aviv, by saying that Iran was involved in explosions such as the Al-Khobar, are trying to overshadow the realities in the Middle East and the Zionist regime's state terrorism." Later in the day, state television said that the accusations against Iran reflected an attempt to damage its reputation and were nothing more than propaganda. By portraying Iran as a threat, furthermore, the American military seeks to maintain its presence in the Persian Gulf and continue arms sales to regional states.
A new wrinkle was added to the anti-Iranian conspiracy by state radio on 24 June. It announced that the Paris trials of the murderers of Iranian dissident Cyrus Elahi, the Khobar indictments, and ILSA renewal were indicators of a new round of anti-Iranian propaganda. Concern about Iran's support of terrorism, opposition to the Middle East peace process, and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction all were part of the propaganda assault.
Members of parliament did not distinguish between the indictments, ILSA renewal, and U.S.-Iran relations in interviews with the 23 June "Siyasat-i Ruz." Emami-Rad of Kuh-Dasht said if the three branches of government worked together they could adopt a unified and justice-seeking position towards Washington. Kianush-Rad said that the lifting of sanctions and the unfreezing of Iranian assets in American banks could serve as the background for positive attitudes towards the U.S. And Hajibabai added that it is Iran which should dictate conditions for a restoration of relations, not vice versa.
In spite of all these negative indicators, observers in the U.S. do not think that relations between Iran and the U.S. should be ruled out. Judith Yaphe of the National Defense University told RFE/RL that the two countries still have common interests. "Afghanistan, for example, we have common views there. And there is always someone who raises the issue that it would make eminently good sense from a regional point of view to be friendlier to Iran to keep Iraq off balance, because there we have a very common and important security concern for both of us." (Bill Samii)
CORRECTIONS. The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) , which is due to expire in August 2001, imposes sanctions on persons or entities investing more than $20 million in the Iranian or $40 million in the Libyan energy sectors. The president has the option of two out of a menu of seven sanctions, and there is a national security clause that allows the president to waive all sanctions. The ILSA Extension Act of 2001 extends the act for an additional five years, lowers the threshold for foreign investment in the Libyan energy sector from $40 million to $20 million, and mandates that "an amendment or other modification" to pre-ILSA contracts in Libya be considered as new investment and therefore subject to scrutiny under ILSA. On the amendment to extend ILSA by two years, nine members of the House Committee on International Relations voted Aye and 34 voted No. On the amendment to extend ILSA by five years, 41 members of the committee voted Aye and three voted No.
Moreover, the indictment of 14 people for the June 1996 bombing of a U.S. Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia was on 21 June, not 21 April as stated in the 25 June "RFE/RL Iran Report."