10 September 2001, Volume 4, Number 34
RUSSIANS ANTICIPATE SHAMKHANI ARMS PURCHASES. Iran's minister of defense and armed forces logistics, Vice Admiral Ali Shamkhani, cancelled his trip to Moscow -- which was planned for the first week of September -- because it would have overlapped with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to Moscow. Shamkhani will get to Moscow before the end of year, however, and statements from the Russian capital show that the locals are eager to receive him.
"The postponement of the visit is to prevent the Zionist regime from exploiting for propaganda purposes the conjunction of the visit [by Shamkhani] with the visit by the Zionist regime's prime minister to Moscow," an Iranian Foreign Ministry official explained on 3 September. Shamkhani said in a 4 September interview with state television that he would visit Moscow before the next meeting of Caspian leaders (which is planned for November or December), and he added that the discussions would "concern arms,...technical and technological cooperation, and part of those discussions will be about the purchase of arms."
This will be very welcome news in Moscow. The general director of the New Programs and Concepts Holding, Boris Kuzyk, told Interfax, a day before Shamkhani cancelled his trip, that the relationship should change from one of a Russian supplier and an Iranian purchaser to one in which there is joint production. Kuzyk added that the signing of new contracts could earn $1 billion in profits for Russian factories. A 4 September report in Moscow's "Izvestiya" predicted that the deals for aircraft, anti-aircraft missiles, naval vessels, and infantry fighting vehicles could earn up to $1.5 billion.
Mikhail Dimitriev, chairman of the Committee for Military-Technical Cooperation With Foreign States (KVTS), told "Izvestiya" on 25 August that the forthcoming signing with Iran of a framework agreement on military-technical cooperation is an important step for Russia. At the current rate, he said Russia can maintain its place in the world arms market over the next 10 years by earning $3.5-4 billion annually, but with the signing of such cooperation agreements, earnings could reach $4-4.5 billion a year. Dimitriev emphasized that the agreement with Iran does not violate international treaties, nor does it pose a threat to any other country.
Not only will such deals be welcome in Moscow, they will be popular in Tehran, too, because a U.S. federal court just sentenced two of Iran's arms suppliers to prison. Iranian-born Canadian Said Homayouni received a two-year prison sentence and Malaysia's Yew Leng Fung received a 10-month sentence for purchasing restricted military aircraft parts for shipment to Iran, AP reported on 6 September. Prosecutors claimed that Homayouni purchased parts for the F-4 Phantom, the F-5 Tiger, and the F-14 Tomcat, some of which actually reached Iran. (Bill Samii)
... AND NUCLEAR COOPERATION ROLLS ON. An unidentified senior U.S. official said on 5 September that Russian firms are continuing to provide Iran with technology for building weapons of mass destruction, technology that could help the development of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
One day earlier, Deputy Energy Minister Yevgeny Reshetnikov announced that a delegation would be sent to Iran to submit a feasibility study for the construction of new reactors at the Bushehr nuclear power station, the official ITAR-TASS news agency reported, and negotiations over the contract will begin in December. Reshetnikov added that Russian personnel are working hard to complete Bushehr's first reactor. Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Umyantsev expressed his satisfaction with his country's export of "heavy nuclear facilities" to Iran, and he described the two countries' cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy as rapidly expanding, IRNA reported on 3 September.
Tehran and Moscow persist in their claims that their nuclear cooperation is of an entirely civilian nature. Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Valentin Ivanov told ORT television on 4 September that "it is generally accepted, and it is a manifest fact, that the running of a nuclear power station cannot in any way lead to the creation of mass-destruction weapons. And this is particularly so because, after Russia adopted the law on returning irradiated nuclear fuel, even the potential possibility disappears. We shall be taking back all fissile materials. Therefore, this is absolutely impossible." (Bill Samii)
SABZEVAR DEPUTY CALLS FOR RELEASE OF THE INNOCENT. "I hope that the misunderstanding on the part of the people of Sabzevar and other areas has now been cleared," President Mohammad Khatami said during a 1 September news conference. He went on to say, "I also hope that those opportunists who are taking advantage of the situation and are damaging the unity of the country as a result of some unpleasant actions will come to their senses. If there are any real culprits, I hope that they will be dealt with in a rational and correct way to show them the error of their ways so that such scenes are not repeated in the future."
Another perspective came from Hassan Seyyed-Abadi, the parliamentary representative of Sabzevar. He called on the judiciary to release the "innocent detainees," according to IRNA.
Security forces arrested 154 people for the riots that broke out on 29-30 August in Sabzevar after locals objected to their town not being selected as the capital of a newly-created province, according to official reports. During those riots, at least one person was killed and 37 others were wounded when the security forces opened fire. By 31 August, according to IRNA, "absolute calm" had returned to the city as Law Enforcement Forces and the Basij Resistance Forces patrolled the city. Yet at least 90 shops stayed closed on 2 September to protest the government's actions. The unrest had spread, furthermore, and about 300 people held a demonstration in Qaem. They objected to the inclusion of their city in the southern one-third of what was formerly Khorasan Province. Local merchants promised to go on a sympathy strike. In Nishabur, locals protested against giving any privileges to Sabzevar, "Tehran Times" reported on 3 September. (Bill Samii)
ASSEMBLY OF EXPERTS MEETING AN EXERCISE IN OBSCURITY. The Assembly of Experts held its sixth session from 3-5 September. The popularly-elected 86-member body of clerics has the power to appoint, supervise, and dismiss the Supreme Leader, but its meetings are held behind closed doors and little is known about the decisions that are made. This secrecy is a sore point for many observers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 April 2001).
Assembly of Experts spokesman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Meshkini-Qomi touched on several subjects during his opening speech. Talking about international issues, he condemned Muslim and Arab states for their inattention towards events in Israel and he said that the anti-racism conference in South Africa was satisfactory. Turning to domestic issues, he praised people for participating in the June 2001 presidential election and expressed regret about the floods in Gulistan and Khorasan provinces. The same day, the representatives of Fars, Gulistan, Khuzestan, and West Azerbaijan provinces asked for funds to confront the "cultural onslaught" facing Iran. They said that this organized onslaught was in line with the "global arrogance's" plans, IRNA reported. The best way to foil the enemy's plots and ensure the longevity of the system, they said, was "all-encompassing obedience of the Leader's commands."
In his comments to the membership on 4 September, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani warned that "the recent activities of the enemies indicate that they are planning to conspire against the Islamic revolution," state radio reported, and he said that the Iranian people would be vulnerable if their unity was undermined. Rafsanjani then discussed the U.S.-Israel relationship and said that "the Zionists' crime in the assassination of the combative Palestinian leaders is a blatant example of state terrorism and a disgrace to humanity." That day, other speakers talked about foreign powers in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman, events in Afghanistan, and relations with Iraq, "Iran Daily" reported on 5 August.
The final resolution of the Assembly of Experts was published on 5 September, and it also discussed many things other than its own responsibilities. Reformists were warned that "One cannot use religion as a ploy to bring Western-style democracy and liberalism (to Iran) and tamper with religious values," IRNA reported. The resolution also warned that "Our sworn foreign enemies and duped elements inside the country hope we fail in our experience with an Islamic system."
As he has in the past, Ayatollah Seyyed Mohsen Musavi-Tabrizi objected to the assembly's obscure way of operating (for some of his earlier complaints, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 January 2000 and 20 November 2000). He told the 3 September "Iran Daily" that appointing the Supreme Leader is a transitory task, compared to supervision, which is a continuous and more important one. The Assembly could keep the people informed about the activities of the organizations affiliated with the Supreme Leader and the activities of the Leader's representatives in the universities. Tabrizi said that the Assembly has not been very attentive to its supervisory responsibilities, and if it is relieved of them there would be no need for the Assembly.
The reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party also complained about the Assembly's lack of transparency in a statement issued on 5 September: "In addition to being accountable to God, you need to answer to the people who have elected you." (Bill Samii)
BEATING FOR BEAN BASHERS. The self-proclaimed leader of Mashhad's Ansar-i Hizbullah -- Hamid Ostad -- was sentenced to five months in jail and 25 lashes, and his accomplice -- Ali-Reza Rejai -- got a suspended sentence of 92 days in jail and 15 lashes. Judge Mohammad Shams-Gilani of the Revolutionary Court sentenced them on 4 September for the crime of disrupting social order after they and their friends (initial reports said 20-30 of them, but IRNA later reported that there were 50 of them) attacked the venue featuring a performance by a comedian known as Iran's Mr. Bean (Hamid-Reza Mahisefat). The judge said that the two have 20 days to appeal the verdict, and he also said that 10 other people sought by the judiciary in connection with the case are still at large. (Bill Samii)
REFUGEES AND TEHRAN ARE DESPERATE. The desperation of Afghan refugees to flee their wartorn, drought-stricken, and disease-ravaged country was made abundantly clear during a 3 September trial in Mashhad. Five officials with the Khorasan Province foreign national bureau, two office boys, and six stamp-makers confessed to issuing false documents to illegal Afghan immigrants over an 18-month period. The Afghans were charged about $1,000 for each forged residence card and about $200-400 for each forged travel permit. Further indications of the refugees' desperation were apparent when 85 of them were found "crammed into a trailer truck" near Mehriz, according to a 28 August IRNA report, and another 21 were arrested as they snuck across the border near Qaem.
Tehran is just as desperate to see the last of the refugees. It has taken a variety of steps to control them and lessen the burden they impose on the state. Mohammad Reza Ayatollahi, the new head of the Civil Status Registration Organization (also known as the Census and Civil Status Department, this is part of the Interior Ministry), announced on 31 August that the distribution of new national identify cards would start in Khorasan Province. Ayatollahi told provincial officials that the province was given priority because of the large number of foreigners living there and because of its long borders with Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, state radio reported.
Tehran's often forcible repatriation of the refugees has been going on since the late 1990s, but it intensified after a June order from Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari for the police to round up the refugees and a plan, reported in July, to deport all unregistered Afghan refugees by September. During the March-August 2001 period, almost 22,000 Afghans returned home from Khorasan Province and another 30,000 Afghans left from other parts of the country, Khorasan province's director-general of foreign nationals and immigrants, Mohammad Olama, said on 21 August. About 2,000 were repatriated from Isfahan in the 23 July-23 August period, IRNA reported on 28 August.
Many people, especially Afghans, have called on Tehran to end the repatriations. Some 2,000 Afghans held a rally in Mashhad, IRNA reported on 19 August, at which they called for a delay in the repatriation program and sent a petition demanding this to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Naqibullah Husseini Mazari, who heads the Afghan refugees' cultural center, said that "Our population, which has experienced a war with Russia, is confronted with much greater threats today," adding that "no refugee will accept to go to the camps, and the Afghans prefer to earn their money through proper work."
The Youth Council of the Tebyan Center for political and cultural activities, which focuses on preservation of the cultural heritage and the human rights of the Afghan people, called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami to stop the repatriations. Afghans fled their country to escape "dying from hunger or by aimless bullets of warriors who are mercenaries for strangers," according to the Tebyan Youth Council's open letter that appeared in Mashhad's Dari-language "Faryad-i Ashura" on 6 July.
Even the Taliban have called on Iran to end the repatriation of refugees. "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan urges the host countries, Iran and Pakistan, to review their policy towards the expulsion of all refugees at once and by force," Mazar-i Sharif's Radio Voice of Shariah declared on 14 July. Kabul's "Anis" complained on 21 July about the "torture, annoyance, and harassment" the refugees in Iran suffer at government hands. And Kabul's Bakhtar news agency decried the "anti-Afghan policies of Iran's fanatical [sic] regime."
Humanitarianism is not a likely reason for the Taliban's reluctance to see the refugees return. Many of the refugees are Shia Hazaras, and the Sunni and mainly Pashto Taliban are trying to eliminate the country's religious minorities. Moreover, Afghanistan's current population of an estimated 25.8 million is having trouble surviving, and the return of 2.5 million refugees from Iran and Pakistan will add to this burden. Indeed, Taliban forces entered Iran and stole the official kiosk at the Dogarun border crossing on 27 August and deployed soldiers along the border, according to Tehran's complaint to the UN. The kiosk was returned two days later, an anonymous Iranian Foreign Ministry official told IRNA on 4 September, following negotiations with Taliban officials. (Bill Samii)
IRANIANS AND AFGHANS TRADE ACCUSATIONS ON WATER USE. Abolqasem Mokhtari, a parliamentary representative from the drought-stricken southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province, complained that there is plentiful water behind Afghanistan's Kajaki Dam, but the Taliban do not observe the 1973 agreement regulating the use of those waters. Mokhtari added that the Foreign Ministry's efforts to resolve such problems have not borne fruit, the "Tehran Times" reported on 2 September. Tehran had complained to the UN in late March that the Taliban had cut the water which used to flow to the Hirmand River from the Kajaki Dam. Under the 1973 agreement, Afghanistan is obliged to allow the flow of an average 26 cubic meters of water per second to the Hirmand River.
A quite different perspective on this issue appeared in Peshawar's Dari-language "Watan" monthly in June. The article noted that the Helmand River has been a source of disputes between Iran and Afghanistan for almost a century, although the 1973 agreement -- signed by Prime Ministers Amir Abbas Hoveida and Mohammad Musa Shafiq -- was supposed to settle things. The article claimed that since the Soviet invasion in 1979, Iran has "mercilessly used" the Helmand's resources while Afghanistan suffers from drought. When there are floods, however, Iran seals up its dams so the waters do not harm its own territory. The people of Afghanistan's Zaranj city and the outlying villages, therefore, have been flooded three times since 1990. The article claimed that Afghanistan's provision to Iran of 22 square meters of water per second stems from a "good neighborly attitude and humanitarianism and Islamic and Afghan ethics." (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN AND TALIBAN CLOSE ON SOME ISSUES. President Mohammad Khatami said on 1 September that Iran's government is "not Taliban, we are not after Taliban-like security schemes." Khatami added that Iran "does not want Islam as practiced by the Taliban." Khatami was referring to former Minister of Intelligence and Security Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi's recommendation a day earlier that Tehran should emulate the Taliban to restore security in the country -- "The Taliban, which we always curse, have managed to restore security for their people. Why cannot we do the same?" Khatami said that praising the Taliban is "an insult to Iran and its Islamic revolution."
Yet the leadership in the two countries sees similarly on some issues, such as control of the Internet. Mullah Mohammad Omar issued an edict on 26 August that bans international aid organizations and departments of the Taliban movement from using the Internet or sending e-mail. Mullah Omar's edict said that Afghanistan's only Internet connection would be in Kandahar, where most of the senior Taliban leadership is based.
Tehran also seeks to control the Internet, although it stops short of actually banning it. Iran's Supreme Cultural Revolution Council decided at a mid-August session that the government will control access to the Internet, and the private sector has six months to comply with this decision. In light of this decision, the main distribution centers for the Internet will be the Telecommunication Company of Iran (which is part of the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone) and the state broadcasting organization (Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran).
When it comes to alcohol, however, Tehran and the Taliban think similarly. Members of the Taliban militia on 28 August smashed hundreds of bottles of alcoholic beverages that had been hidden behind a false wall in the basement of a Kabul hotel. Some of the wine was up to 30 years old, hotel managers told AP.
Tehran's anti-alcohol campaign (for an earlier discussion, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 June 2001) is continuing, with the sentencing of an Armenian man to 50 lashes, one year in jail, and the payment of blood money (diyeh) after the booze he made and sold killed a Muslim. The Armenian had to pay 33 percent extra because the Muslim consumer died during the holy period of Moharram, "Abrar" reported on 1 September. Although a Muslim is not supposed to drink alcohol at any time, non-Muslim religious minorities are permitted to have alcohol available for their own use. One man in Ilam was flogged for getting drunk and another man was flogged for keeping 45 bottles of alcoholic beverages, IRNA reported on 29 August.
Some Iranians make their own wine and beer, as well as more potent concoctions, but other Iranians buy alcohol that has been smuggled into the country. Authorities in the western city of Sanandaj destroyed 8,200 bottles of alcohol that they had seized from smugglers, IRNA reported on 30 August. In the March to August period, the Kurdistan Province police arrested over 1,600 alcohol smugglers and seized over 144,000 bottles and cans of liquor. (Bill Samii)
TALIBAN VERSUS THE WORLD. As Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia continues fighting against its compatriots in the Northern Alliance (a.k.a. United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan; Jebhe-yi Muttahid-i Islami-yi Milli Bara-yi Nijat-i Afghanistan), it also is decrying efforts to settle peacefully the conflict there. The international community is trying to resolve the situation, too, and by dint of proximity, Tehran is involved with almost every aspect of the Afghan conflict -- from fighting to conflict resolution.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi discussed Afghanistan and other regional problems when he met with Kyrgy President Askar Akaev, Foreign Minister Murtabek Imanaliev, and Secretary of State Osmonakun Ibrahimov during a 4-6 September trip to Bishkek. Kharrazi then traveled to Tashkent and met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Prime Minister Otkir S. Sultanov, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdelaziz H. Komilov to again discuss Afghanistan. From there, Kharrazi went to Dushanbe, where he met with President Imomali Rakhmanov and other government officials. Once again, the talks dealt with regional security issues and Afghanistan.
Less than one week earlier, the Combat Commonwealth 2000 war games were held at a training base near the Kazakh border. Arrayed against a mock enemy called Southland, which represented Afghanistan, Pakistan, and rogue elements of the Tajik opposition, were troops from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, and Tajikistan. Officials from Uzbekistan attended the event as observers, but Kyrgyzstan did not participate, saying that it could not afford to do so financially. These military exercises were intended as "a show of strength" that would "minimize the possibility of an invasion from Afghanistan, " "Izvestiya" reported on 31 August. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are scheduled to hold "Combat Commonwealth 2001" exercises in September.
Using tanks and artillery, meanwhile, Taliban forces launched an offensive against the Northern Alliance in Kapisa Province, the private Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) agency reported on 4 September. There also has been fighting in Parwan Province, and on 2 August Taliban aircraft bombed an area about 60 kilometers north of Kabul. Mazar-i Sharif's Radio Voice of Shariah on 27 August, meanwhile, denounced Afghan exiles' efforts to bring peace to their country by holding a Loya Jirga, a traditional Afghan form of conflict resolution.
Currently there are three Loya Jirga "processes" under way: the Rome Process, the Bonn Process, and the Cyprus Process. Political, military, and scholarly leaders of Afghanistan are involved with each process, former Afghan monarch Zahir Shah is part of the Rome Process, and Tehran is involved with the Cypress and Rome Processes. The Taliban is not involved with any of these processes.
The Taliban radio broadcast said that everybody involved with these processes is pursuing his or her own personal gain: "real Afghan troublemakers are talking about major issues in order to make money to live in the West and other countries." The Loya Jirgas being held abroad, it said are a "conspiracy to shatter the national unity of the country" and are "mostly for the benefit of strangers."
Mashhad's "Faryad-i Ashura" commented on the various conflict resolution meetings on 22 July, after a mid-summer Afghan meeting in Berlin. The only Afghan participants in this meeting were from the Northern Alliance, according to the article, and it went on to mention "UN meddling" and the involvement of Germany, Iran, Pakistan, and the U.S. The article claimed that the U.S. is pulling the strings in Afghanistan, and European countries are influenced by the U.S.
Such a claim seems ridiculous, but the UN is involved actively in pursuing a solution to Afghanistan's difficulties. UN Security Council President Alfonso Valdiviezo of Colombia said on 29 August that "Members of the Council condemned the Taliban's support for international terrorism, the refusal to turn over Osama Bin Ladin, failure to comply with resolutions 1333 and 1267, and confirmed that a comprehensive approach to Afghanistan must include full compliance with these decisions." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had told the Security Council that Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis is worsening and the fighting there is intensifying. Annan stressed that a military solution is impractical and undesirable, and he called for "incentives and disincentives" that would encourage all sides to begin a dialog and pursue a negotiated settlement. The Taliban, however, refuse to meet with any of the other factions.
A somewhat vaguely-worded article that appeared in the 1 August issue of Peshawar's "Erada" claimed that America, Russia, some Central Asian and European countries, Great Britain, and India met in Dushanbe and signed a treaty partitioning Afghanistan into two parts. Former Pakistan Foreign Minister Agha Shahi, according to this article, predicted that the Taliban would disappear in the next 15 years and Afghanistan would be divided into Iranian and Central Asian spheres of influence. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN'S REGIONAL ACTIVIST ON THE MOVE. An official Iranian delegation headed for Syria on 5 September on the first leg of a tour that also will take in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. Judging from the individuals in the delegation and some of the people with whom they probably will meet, as well as Tehran's overall attitude towards the Middle East Peace Process and towards Israel, this is an ominous development.
Leading the tour will be parliamentarian Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi-Pur, who now heads Iran's Council for Defense of the Palestinian Intifada and is touted as a "reformist" in the context of domestic Iranian politics. When he is not denouncing the U.S. in the legislature (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 June 2001), Mohtashemi is involved with Palestine-related issues. On 13 August, for example, he called on the international community to bring Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon and other Israelis to trial.
It is reasonable to expect that Mohtashemi-Pur will meet with representatives of Lebanon's Hizballah during his regional tour. "I consider the Hizballah my sons. I will always protect them," Mohtashemi-Pur told "The Independent" in an October 1991 interview. This brings to mind the persistent questions about the nature of the Tehran-Hizballah relationship and Hizballah's role in the Palestinian uprising.
Indeed, in mid-July Israeli sources reported that Iran was providing Hizballah with arms, and Hizballah was training the Palestinians in the Bekaa Valley. Tel Aviv's "Haaretz" reported that Hizballah and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) facilities started being replenished after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer claimed that Hizballah had received 8,000 Katyusha rockets from Tehran, the 17 July "Jerusalem Post" reported, and he described Iran as "the mother of international terrorism." Tehran denied these reports vehemently.
Sheikh Naim Qasim, Hizballah's deputy secretary general, denied the existence of a patron-client relationship between Tehran and Hizballah, telling Beirut's "Al-Nahar" in July that "What ties us to Iran is a religious bond that results from a religious reference to the rule of the high scholar [i.e. Vilayat-i Faqih]." Qasim would not discuss Hizballah's role in the uprising, citing operational security, but he did say that "We naturally support them and will spare no effort in this regard." In response to a statement that Hizballah had adopted the Iranian option in the struggle against Israel, Qasim replied: "Iran is the one that adopted the Hizballah option in its determination to liberate its land. It supports the party in liberating the land and also supports the Palestinians. Therefore, we are the ones with the immediate cause and Iran supports it and we thank it for doing so."
"Everybody knows" of Iranian backing for Hizballah, spiritual leader Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah told the 13 July "Al-Safir." That does not mean that the dynamics of Iranian domestic politics will have an impact on Tehran's stand towards Israel: "Both sides in Iran agree on confronting Israel. This is one of the basic political pillars entrenched by Imam Khomeini." Nor will these dynamics affect the relationship with Hizballah: "Imam Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, is committed to the resistance and is in agreement with President Khatami in this regard. Therefore, anyone who tries to play this game of the political space between Khamenei and Khatami as far as the resistance is concerned is not aware of the nature of the agreement in the minds of these two gentlemen."
Although the Iranian people have enough troubles of their own to keep them occupied, they do have some interest in events in the rest of the Middle East. State-organized "Anti-Zionist" rallies in Iran on 10 August involved, according to official sources, "millions" of demonstrators (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 August 2001).
Tehran's ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad Ali Sobhani, acknowledged that in spite of its own economic difficulties Iran is aiding Lebanon, according to the 27 August "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." He denied, however, that there is even one member of the IRGC in Lebanon. Sobhani said that Tehran has hosted conferences, marches, and other events to back the Intifada, "but regarding direct military backing for the Intifada, the Intifada has no military character."
Tehran denies military involvement in the region, but it makes no secret of its political interest in events there. President Mohammad Khatami phoned his Lebanese counterpart on 14 August and reiterated Iranian support for the Lebanese people against Israel, according to the Lebanese state News Agency. In a phone call to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin abd al-Aziz as-Saud on the same day, Khatami denounced Israeli "terrorism and repression of our Muslim brothers and sisters by the Zionist regime," IRNA reported. Khatami also decried Israeli "war crimes." Khatami telephoned Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani on 13 August and called for an Organization of the Islamic Conference resolution against Israel.
During its regional tour, Mohtashemi-Pur's delegation also is very likely to meet with representatives of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and HAMAS, both of which Tehran supports. Ziad Nakhalah (Abu Tariq), second in command of the PIJ, discussed the scale of the relationship with Tehran in a 13 August interview with Amman's "Al-Majd." When asked why the PIJ has not been able to emulate Hizballah's accomplishments, Nakhalah cited "geopolitics" and added that "the resources made available to Hizballah are different. We cannot talk about similar resources."
In December, Tehran will host a conference entitled "Palestine from the Iranian Perspective," according to IRNA on 30 June. There will be panels about Palestine's role in Iranian foreign policy, Palestinean and Iranian national security, the Intifada, and the Middle East Peace Process. (Bill Samii)