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Iran Report: September 3, 2001

3 September 2001, Volume 4, Number 33

A TEHRAN-MOSCOW-BEIJING AXIS AGAINST THE WEST. Expediency Council Chairman and former President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani described trilateral cooperation between Moscow, Tehran, and Beijing as "strategic" during a meeting with the new Russian ambassador, Aleksandr Maryasov, according to state television on 13 August. He added that this three-way cooperation could serve as a counterweight against the West and the U.S., and it would alter international conditions, according to IRNA.

This three-way axis already has resulted in extensive missile proliferation. China and Russia are significant sources of missile-related assistance to Iran -- "firms in China over the years have provided missile-related items, raw materials, or other help to several countries of proliferation concern, including Iran, Libya, and North Korea," according to Central Intelligence Agency Deputy Director John McLaughlin's 21 August comments at the 4th Annual Space and Missile Defense Conference in Huntsville, Alabama. McLaughlin added that the Russian government looks to its defense industries to earn foreign exchange -- "Last year, Russian entities continued to supply ballistic missile-related goods and technical know-how to countries like Iran, China, and Libya. The transfer of ballistic missile technology to Iran -- to cite just one case -- was substantial. And we believe it will permit Iran to further accelerate its missile development programs and to move ever closer toward self-sufficiency in production."

As for Iran's own ballistic missile program, McLaughlin described it as "one of the region's largest and most capable...the inventory includes hundreds of short-range missiles capable of hitting most of Iraq as well as targets -- including U.S. forces -- in the Persian Gulf." He predicted that Iran would field the 1,300-kilometer range Shihab-3 "soon," and it would reach Israel, most of Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Tehran is likely to test an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that could reach the U.S. in the next 10-15 years, but maybe as soon as 2005.

"Secondary proliferation" is another risk posed by the maturing state-sponsored programs of countries like Iran, according to McLaughlin. Private firms, engineers, and scientists from Russia and China, who take advantage of "weak or unenforceable export controls," contribute to the missile proliferation threat. Moscow and Tehran are expected to sign a military cooperation agreement when Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani arrives in Russia in early September, military and diplomatic sources told ITAR-TASS on 28 August. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN, BEIJING MARK 30 YEARS OF RELATIONS. The Iranian embassy in Beijing and the Chinese embassy in Tehran hosted receptions on 22 August and 17 August, respectively, to mark the establishment 30 years ago of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan attended the reception in Beijing and noted that economic trade between the two countries was $2.5 billion last year, according to IRNA. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi attended the reception in Tehran, and he said that Iran and China are among the world's first civil societies, adding "our two nations actually pioneered the freedom-seeking moves of different nations in the course of the past millennium." President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami relayed a congratulatory message to his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, on 12 August. (Bill Samii)

ANKARA KNOWS HOW TO DEAL WITH TEHRAN. Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Ahani, who was in Moscow and Ashgabat earlier in the month, visited Baku on 28 August and discussed disputed ownership of the Caspian Sea's resources with President Heidar Aliev. The two sides determined that "there was no future in the use of military force, and that such force was inadmissible," Baku television reported after the meeting. This statement could reflect Tehran's reaction to Turkish resolve, or it could be interpreted as a condemnation of Iranian activities by Baku.

Relations between Baku and Tehran became strained in late July, when Iranian military aircraft flew over an Azerbaijani survey ship and then an Iranian naval vessel made the ship leave Caspian waters that Tehran claims as its own. Under the current legal regime, Iran's share of the Caspian is limited to 13 percent. Tehran advocates a new arrangement by which each state bordering the Caspian would have a 20 percent share of the seabed, surface, and waters, and recent statements by Iranian officials indicate that they see this latter division of the Caspian as a fait accompli. Iranian military aircraft flew into Azerbaijani airspace several times after the initial incidents (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 July 2001, 6 August 2001, 13 August 2001). Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Ahani, however, said on 29 August that the two countries' discrepancies on the Caspian "do not mean hostility at all," ITAR-TASS reported on 29 August.

Ahani's relatively conciliatory statements probably are connected with statements from and actions by Ankara. The Turkish Foreign Ministry conveyed a diplomatic note to the Iranian ambassador in which Ankara expressed its "friendly and fraternal support" for Baku in the Caspian dispute, "Hurriyet" reported on 13 August. Ankara then took more concrete action, sending Chief of the General Staff General Hussein Kivrikoglu to Baku to attend the late August graduation ceremony at the Ground Forces military academy, where some of the instructors are Turks. Kivrikoglu was accompanied by 16 F-5A jets from the Turkish Stars aerobatics team. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi did not care for these latter events, and beforehand he spoke out against militarization of the Caspian, according to IRNA.

Colonel Mehmet Kutlu, commander of the Turkish Stars, said that his squadron's visit to Azerbaijan should not be linked with the earlier Iran-Azerbaijan incident and it was not meant as a show of force, Turan reported on 20 August. But it would be unrealistic to interpret the visit, in which the Turks made several demonstration flights a day, in any other manner. Moreover, the graduation of the Azerbaijani military students is significant because they are the first ones to have been trained to NATO standards. These events could foreshadow a more massive Turkish, and therefore NATO, presence in Azerbaijan.

Tehran has already indicated its general unhappiness about NATO activities in the region and specifically about military activities in the Caspian. Last November, for example, Army Commander Major General Mohammad Salimi told a Tehran military seminar that the armed forces must be on the lookout for an attack by NATO or Israel in the Caspian Sea, and he added that "Iran's powerful army is the messenger of peace and security in the region and with the blessings of God, Iran and other regional states will foil all threats posed by the transregional troops." And in December, Tehran radio described a Tbilisi conference on security in the Caucasus as a "new step by NATO in order to increase its influence in the strategic region," warned that NATO is trying to militarize the region, and predicted that NATO is preparing the grounds for regional states to join the alliance. Tehran may be able to bully small states like Azerbaijan, but it is unlikely that Tehran will risk a conventional confrontation with NATO.

The Turkish actions seem to have paid off and tensions have subsided somewhat: Aliyev will visit Tehran on 17 September, Ahani said, according to ITAR-TASS on 29 August. But the long-awaited summit of Caspian leaders, scheduled for October, has been delayed again, possibly until December. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITIES IN AZERBAIJAN. An unknown number of people broke into the Baku apartment of Piruz Dilenchi, leader of the irredentist National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan, on 22 August and tried to kill him, Turan reported. Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry arrested on 18 August six clerics residing in a district bordering Iran on suspicion of cooperating with Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, Turan News Agency reported two days later. Moreover, Baku's former ambassador to Tehran, Aliyar Safarli, alleged that Iran is funding some Azerbaijani political parties and also paying off some government officials, "Yeni Musavat" reported on 2 August.

Such allegations of hostile Iranian actions are noteworthy in light of the late July disruption of relations between Baku and Tehran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 July 2001), although Dilenchi's claims may be little more than an attempt to capitalize on the current atmosphere. Overall, however, the allegations could be seen within the context of concern about Iranian-backed Islamic fundamentalism that has existed since the creation of an independent Azerbaijan republic and which revived in the last few months. In early May, Azerbaijani Deputy National Security Minister Tofik Babaev claimed that a number of religious organizations sponsored by Iran or Arab countries are engaged in inciting domestic political conflicts with the ultimate aim of seizing power in Azerbaijan. The Iranian embassy rejected Babaev's claims at that time.

The next month, Baku created a state committee to monitor the activities of religious organizations engaged in missionary activity in Azerbaijan. The committee's chief announced that it would introduce stringent regulations to govern the activities of religious organizations and religious activists, as noted in the 16 August 2001 "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." "Extremists dispatched from Tehran" are the primary target of the new state committee, "Vremya Novosti" reported on 25 June, and Azerbaijani intelligence agencies see them as a threat to Azerbaijani statehood. The report also said that religious extremists in Azerbaijan have "direct links with Iranian intelligence."

Baku's "Zerkalo" warned on 24 August that Iran and Russia are working together to fragment the Azerbaijani state. Iran is stoking separatism in the south; Russia is trying to ruin relations between the peoples of northern Azerbaijan through incidents such as the destruction of a statue of Imam Shamil and by granting Russian citizenship to any Azerbaijanis who request it. (Bill Samii)

BAKU COMPLAINS ABOUT IRANIAN BROADCASTS... Nadir Akhmadov, the Republic of Azerbaijan's Minister of Communications, asked Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) to decrease the power of its transmissions because they are disrupting local television broadcasts, Baku's Space TV reported on 17 August. Azerbaijan's ANS television station had to change the frequencies it used in the southern region on 24-25 July because IRIB started broadcasting on the same frequencies with a more powerful transmitter. ANS described itself on 25 July as "the only TV and radio company which broadcasts independent Azerbaijan's voice to Iran -- South Azerbaijan."

Representatives of IRIB and Azerbaijan's Communications Ministry had met in late April to discuss implementation of a 1999 protocol on coordinating TV and radio frequencies in the border districts. At that time, according to Mediapress news agency, the Azerbaijani side complained that Iran's TV transmitters jammed Azerbaijani broadcasts in the southern districts. ANS television had complained earlier in the month that Iran's Sahar television was broadcasting anti-Azerbaijani programs in the Azerbaijani language into the southern districts. Amin Sadeqi, editor in chief of Sahar TV, told "525 Gazet" that his station's programs were not hostile to Azerbaijan or its position on international issues, although "we do not consider some positions taken by the Azerbaijani government to be correct." Nevertheless, according to Sadeqi, "We are worried that America is influencing Azerbaijan, controlling it, in a sense. We want Azerbaijan to be more independent. We are deeply concerned that America might force Azerbaijan into a damaging agreement with the Armenians." (Bill Samii)

...AS DOES MARAQEH. Iran may be broadcasting to people across the border, but it seems less interested in informing and entertaining its own population, witness complaints about IRIB from Maraqeh, the second largest town in East Azerbaijan Province. A Mr. Aziz-Zadeh, the town's governor-general, said that over the last 15 years IRIB's programs have suffered from frequent interruptions in sound and picture, Tabriz's "Mahd-i Azadi" reported in late April. Moreover, the deputy chief of IRIB visited Maraqeh over a year ago, but the building he inaugurated still has not been used. According to Aziz-Zadeh, the plan was to produce one program a day in Maraqeh's IRIB center and then broadcast it from the Tabriz IRIB center, but this still has not been done. Aziz-Zadeh said that he would appreciate an answer from IRIB. (Bill Samii)

GOVERNMENT WEEK CELEBRATED WITH PAY INCREASES. Iran's Government Week was marked on 24-30 August, and Ebrahim Rezai-Babadi of the Tehran Governor-General's Office announced on 27 August that the government intends to increase employees' salaries, according to IRNA. The most likely source of money for these salary increases is the extra $6-8 billion that Iran earned through last year's hike in oil and gas prices. But when this surplus was described in the 30 January "Financial Times," Central Bank of Iran Deputy-Governor Mohammad Jafar Mojarrad denied that it would go for government bonuses or pensions. A report circulating among European embassies in Tehran suggested that the CBI had lost control of the money, however, while a December IRNA report said that much of the surplus funds would be distributed among government ministries and state companies, and a portion would go as bonuses for retiring government employees. Meanwhile, the government's 15 best employees received certificates of merit from President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 26 August. (Bill Samii)

KHORASAN SPLIT LEADS TO RIOTS. Iranian security forces on 29-30 August shot and killed rioters in Sabzevar who were protesting the government's three-way division of northeastern Khorasan Province. Interior Minister Abdol-Vahed Musavi-Lari announced that the capital of the northern one-third would be Bojnurd, Mashhad would remain the capital of the middle third, and Birjand would be the capital of the southern third. The first sign that there would be problems in Sabzevar (estimated population 1 million) came with the city council's letter to the Supreme Leader in which it requested that the government reconsider its decision. The state news agency claimed that the rioters objected to their city's not being chosen as a provincial capital.

Outsiders may see the creation of new provinces as a means of central control over regions in the periphery. This would not be an altogether inappropriate analysis about events in Khorasan Province, where for many years Iranian armed forces have been fighting against local Sunni insurgents and so-called bandits.

The creation of Ardabil Province in the 1990s, however, showed that in some cases local citizens prefer the creation of new provinces. This gives them a closer relationship with the central government in Tehran and direct access to the state's financial resources rather than having to use a provincial capital -- such as Tabriz in the earlier case or Mashhad in the more recent case -- as the intermediary. Making a city a provincial capital, furthermore, immediately increases property values.

Mohammad Hussein Papoli-Yazdi, a professor in Mashhad, told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 29 and 30 August that the idea of turning Khorasan into more than one province has been around for about 50 years. For quite a while the idea was to divide the province in two, but a three-way split was chosen in light of the growing population. Moreover, every Khorasan Province city with a population over 100,000 --Torbat-i Heidarieh or Nishabur, for example -- was considered as one of the new capitals.

Papoli-Yazdi added that unlike some other provinces, Khorasan is multiethnic, with Kurds, Persians, Baluchis, and Afghans, and the government wanted to keep it that way. No specific ethnic group, furthermore, was pressing for the creation of a special province. In fact, according to the professor, the desire for ethnic diversity is why the central government added part of Khorasan Province to Baluchistan Province to create Sistan va Baluchistan Province.

Although the cabinet decided to divide Khorasan in three on 26 August, the move is not final yet: parliament and the Guardians Council must give their approval. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI CALLS FOR APOLITICAL FRIDAY PRAYERS. A seminar on prayers is scheduled to be held in Isfahan on 8-9 September, the "Tehran Times" reported on 30 July, and if events there reflect some current debates in the Iranian media, it is likely that there will be calls for changes in the format of the Friday prayer sermons.

President Mohammad Khatami is scheduled to attend the event in Isfahan, and he could be one of the people who calls for less political commentary by religious figures during their sermons. Indeed, Khatami warned in a late July speech that the Friday Prayers should remain "beyond differences of taste." Khatami also told a group of officials and those in charge of Tehran's Friday Prayers that if the pulpit continues to be used as a platform for certain factional tendencies, they will deviate from its original intentions. Khatami suggested that issues such as the crisis "in Palestine" are what really need attention, and he also advised prayer leaders to warn the people about the enemies' efforts to sow discord and separate the people from the system.

Other comments about the factional nature of the sermons and the speeches that precede them have appeared in the Iranian media recently. The 28 July "Noruz," quoting Khatami, pointed out that the prayer leaders are supposed to be nonpartisan and act as the country's "bases for unity." If not, they will discourage people from attending the services. That being the case, the newspaper asked, when has a member of the Tehran municipal council or of the sixth parliament been invited to give a pre-sermon speech? "Which one of the pre-sermon speakers or esteemed Friday imams have refrained from expressing their factional views -- usually belonging to that of the minority in society?"

The 28 July "Hayat-i No" opted for a different tack, quoting directly from Khatami's speech: "Friday prayers do not have the function of a party. Rather, they belong to society as a whole."

The conservative and even hard-line nature of many of the sermons is not unexpected, because the current Tehran Friday Prayer Leader is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Most members of the Central Council of Friday Prayer Leaders (Jamiyat-i Imam Jomeh) are appointed by the Office of the Supreme Leader. The content of the sermon is determined in Tehran by the 10-member executive board of the Central Secretariat of the Central Council of Friday Prayer Leaders. There is some latitude in adding local variations, but there are no broad departures from the central directives. The Tehran sermons, therefore, are reflected in most other cities.

The Supreme Leader's substitutes include conservative figures such as the Expediency Council chairman, Assembly of Experts speaker, Guardians Council secretary, and Judiciary chief. The prayer leaders themselves often discuss factionally-oriented issues, but they are preceded by individuals who give pre-sermon speeches which tend to be far more hard-line in nature. Examples of this include speeches by Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi and by Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Yahya Rahim-Safavi.

Nevertheless, even conservative publications have suggested that reform is necessary in the Friday Prayers. "Siyasat-i Ruz" suggested on 22 July that "everybody, in particular the officials of the 'Friday Prayers Policymaking Council' [sic] and the Friday Prayer Imams, should seriously think of reviewing the past and reorganizing the future of the Friday order to adapt it and make it conform with the exigencies of the times." The prayer leader, the paper said, should uphold the regime and the system, but he should be critical of its shortcomings. He should be familiar with modern thought and literature and the views of the younger generation. Moreover, "[h]e should avoid becoming involved in political controversies, partisan rows, and factional lobbying."

The Friday prayers headquarters, the paper continued, should turn into a symbol of political coexistence -- "where different ideas and political streams...could come and go and express their views." And third, the pre-sermon speeches should be cancelled. And it said that the prayer leader should make all the necessary points in his two sermons, because the extra speeches make the whole ceremony overly long and tedious. According to "Siyasat-i Ruz," shortening the time of the sermons is "quite indispensable for gaining better results." (Bill Samii)

FLOGGING ADVOCATE SLAPPED ON THE WRIST. Recent speeches advocating violence -- both in the form of public floggings and in the form of killing those who oppose such punishments -- by Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, the ideological leader of Qom's Haqqani School, have come in for intense criticism from legislative leaders and from Islamic intellectuals.

In a pre-sermon speech on 24 August, Mesbah-Yazdi warned the congregation at Tehran University that 99 percent of educated Iranians, especially the ones studying overseas, oppose the implementation of Islamic laws. Even those who favor such laws, he said according to the 25 August "Aftab-i Yazd," oppose their implementation in the current international political climate "owing to weakness in faith and personality." Mesbah-Yazdi went on to say that the implementation of Islamic punishments that he advocates is referred to specifically in the Koran.

Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi criticized Mesbah-Yazdi's comments on 26 August, saying that they were "provocative" and risked harming clerics' image.

Islamic intellectuals were much more critical of Mesbah-Yazdi. Hojatoleslam Assadollah Bayat, who is on the central council of the relatively moderate Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), said that there are many reasons to repudiate the assertion that 99 percent of Western-educated Iranians oppose Islamic laws. Bayat said, according to the 29 August "Noruz," that the argument is not about the punishments per se, it is about their being carried out in public. Floggings in front of young people who do not understand the reasoning behind them are counterproductive. Mesbah-Yazdi himself has been overseas many times, Bayat pointed out, and he concluded that Mesbah-Yazdi's definition applies to less that 10 percent of these people.

Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar was far more blunt in his criticism of Mesbah-Yazdi. In a 1 August speech, Kadivar criticized those who misuse the Friday Prayers pulpit to present a distorted image of Islam for political purposes, and he warned that the public recognizes and ignores such people. Kadivar cited Mesbah-Yazdi as one such false spokesman, IRNA reported: "I clearly announce that if Mr. Mesbah is Islam's spokesman in social issues, then I am a pagan in such a version of Islam."

On 31 July, "Iran" reported the next day, Mesbah-Yazdi claimed that Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini contravened the constitution several times, not least by creating bodies that were not specifically mentioned in the constitution. Mesbah-Yazdi said that this was acceptable, however, because the Guardian Jurisconsult has the right to go beyond the constitution.

Mesbah-Yazdi's 27 July pre-sermon comments on the government's responsibilities and on Islamic punishments also came in for some criticism. "If we administer lashes in regard to a few violating rioters, they say that we should be ashamed because Islamic rules are out-of-date and that when people have become civilized, Islamic rules can no longer be implemented," Mesbah-Yazdi observed. He added at the end of his speech: "The blood of those who make such statements regarding the Islamic rules, if they realize it, no matter in what official or unofficial position or what national and military garb, according to the statements of the late Imam, should be shed."

A commentary in the 1 August "Hayat-i No" contrasted Mesbah-Yazdi's comments with those of more highly-regarded religious thinkers. Ayatollah Khomeini was quoted as saying, "Islam is a religion based on reason and logic; it does not fear the freedom of expression and the pen...You honorable students should not treat the followers of other ideologies with violence and engage in fighting and commotion."

Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Beheshti, in response to questions from the students of the Haqqani School about Islamic intellectual Ali Shariati, also criticized the use of violence against one's intellectual opponents. Beheshti said, "Controversial and provocative positions that are coupled with violence, in my opinion...will have the reverse effect. Such positions remind many individuals of the wielding of threats of excommunication that you have read about in history concerning the age of the Inquisition, the ideas of the Church, and the Middle Ages." Beheshti warned that this could turn the younger generation into an opposition. (Bill Samii)

BEAN BASHER TRIED. Hamid Ostad, the leader of Mashhad's Ansar-i Hizbullah pressure group, went to court on 27 August because he and his thuggish friends attacked the venue featuring the comic styling of Iran's "Mr. Bean" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 August 2001). For someone who apparently has no sense of humor, Ostad's trial was itself a farce.

Ostad appeared before Mashhad's Revolutionary Court, but he claimed that his case should be heard by the Special Court for the Clergy, which has exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving ecclesiastic figures. The judge, Mohammad Shams-Gilani, told Ostad that a person must spend a specific amount of time in the seminary to be considered a clerical figure, adding that "You had one month to prove your being a religious student (talab) and you did not do so, but if you can find one person among the thousands who have seen you in clerical robes, proclaim it now." Ostad retorted that all the religious students of Mashhad, Isfahan, Tehran, and Karaj are ready to give witness that he is a religious student, although he did not provide a witness.

Ostad also claimed that the routine by Mr. Bean (Hamid-Reza Mahisefat) was offensive. The judge, who doubles as the prosecutor, said that a number of Mashhad's religious scholars (alim) had seen Mr. Bean's movie, and even the city's Friday Prayer leader deemed it harmless.

National Hizbullah leader Hussein Allah-Karam denied giving orders for the attack, according to the judge, and he also denied any affiliation with Ostad. Neither the country's organization for the propagation of virtue and prohibition of vice (Amr be Maruf va Nahi az Monker) nor any other groups acknowledged a relationship with Ostad's group. Ostad, however, continued to claim that he is the leader of the Mashhad Hizbullah and is affiliated with Allah-Karam.

After the hearing, the judge told reporters that a verdict would be forthcoming soon, according to ISNA. The attack by Ostad and his cohorts normally would have been tolerated in this religious city of 1.9 million (according to a 1996 census). This time, however, the deputy head of the Khorasan Province Judiciary was attending the show with his family and he ordered the immediate arrest of Ostad and his goon squad. (Bill Samii)

JUSTICE IS FAST IN QOM. The arrest in Qom of a man who raped 19 underage girls, reported by IRNA on 30 August, comes just one day after the provincial justice administration announced that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps would launch a "cultural maneuver" against social corruption in the city. The provincial justice administration's statement was faxed to IRNA, and it warned that the "vindictive enemy" is "intent on misleading the youth into moral decadence, depravity, and drug addiction in a bid to achieve [its] illegitimate goal of devouring the rich resources within the Islamic Iran and dominate the Muslims and topple the Islamic government." Also on 29 August in Qom, three men were flogged publicly -- two received 49 lashes each for drug trafficking and the third received 99 lashes for "illicit sex." (Bill Samii)

INSUFFICIENT GOVERNMENT HELP FOR RAISIN EXPORTS. Iran is a major exporter of both fresh and dried fruit. It is the world's seventh largest apple producer, accounting for a 3.7 percent share of global production with an output of two million tons a year. Much of this production is exported, Nuredin Molavi, director-general of the Agricultural Jihad Ministry's Temperate and Tropical Fruits Department, told IRNA on 30 July. Some 90,449 tons of apples and 32,847 tons of juice and concentrates, worth $25.75 million, were exported last year.

Iran is also the world's third largest exporter of raisins, an Agricultural Jihad Ministry official said in late June. Iranian dried fruit is exported to Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Holland, India, the Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, the U.A.E., the U.S., and Yugoslavia. In the June-July 2001 period, 742 tons of dried fruit and industrial alcohol worth 945 million rials was exported from West Azerbaijan Province, Mohammad Hassan Jamshidi, head of the province's Standard and Industrial Research Institute, told IRNA on 28 July.

Maragheh, East Azerbaijan Province, exported 1,530 tons of dried fruit this year, and this was a 30-ton increase over the previous year, according to Mohammad Madadi, head of Maragheh's Standard and Industrial Research Institute. Two days later, on 25 July, Madadi said that Maragheh exported some 890 tons of dried fruit worth 1.153 billion rials in June 2001, and this was 70 tons less than in June 2000. Madadi ascribed the decrease in Iranian raisin exports to an increase in global raisin production, IRNA reported.

Major exporters of dried fruits and agricultural products called on the Commerce Ministry to support raisin exports. The exporters said that the Management and Planning Organization had approved subsidies of as much as 10 percent of the total raisin exports, so they adjusted their prices upwards. But they still have not received their subsidies and are therefore unable to compete with the U.S. and Turkey. An official from Iran's Association of Dried Fruit Producers said, according to a 29 June IRNA report, "The American and Turks took over our market because their prices are lower, their raisins are of better quality, and above all, their products are subsidized by their government."

Mohammad-Hassan Shamsfard, who heads the dried fruit exporters union, told "Abrar-i Eqtesad" about some of the other difficulties encountered by exporters, "Iran Daily" reported on 26 August. He said that duties are levied on exports, although the parliament said that this should not be done. Shamsfard also cited low-quality goods and inattention to sanitation during harvesting as other significant problems. (Bill Samii)

CORRECTION. The number of votes for Education and Training Minister Morteza Haji was 155, not 55 as reported in the 27 August 2001 "RFE/RL Iran Report."