Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iran Report: October 22, 2001

22 October 2001, Volume 4, Number 40

RANGERS LEAD THE WAY. The airborne insertion of soldiers from the U.S. Army's 75th Infantry (Ranger) Regiment (Airborne) into Afghanistan on the night of 19 October marks the beginning of the end for the Taliban. The question now facing Afghanistan's neighbors is who will succeed the Taliban. Western powers seem to prefer Mohammad Zahir Shah, and Tehran favors President Burhanudin Rabbani. Many Northern Alliance (United Front) commanders, furthermore, have told Zahir Shah that they are only with the alliance for convenience. The UN, meanwhile, says that it is "not seeking" a role in nation-building in Afghanistan.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on 8 October that once the Taliban are ousted, Washington would be ready to work with other Afghan leaders who are interested in creating a peaceful government. Fleischer stressed that the U.S. does not intend to involve itself in nation-building. Nevertheless, State Department officials have met with Zahir Shah and his representatives several times since 11 September, as has a delegation from the U.S. Congress. Zahir Shah was deposed in 1973 and has lived in Italy since then.

Not only has Zahir Shah met with U.S. officials, but he met with Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine on 16 October, Islamabad's "Al-Akhbar" reported the next day, and they both assured him of their support and cooperation in implementation of his plans. The Pakistani daily reported that under this plan, Zahir Shah would be president, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil (of the Taliban) would be prime minister, and either Wali Masood (Ahmad Shah Masood's brother) or General Mohammad Fahimkhan (Ahmad Shah Masood's successor) would be defense minister. (It is unlikely that any of the Afghans who have been fighting the Taliban for the last five years are keen on Mutawakil or any other so-called "moderate" Taliban. His inclusion in the plan, or the inclusion of any Taliban in Afghanistan's future government, would be a sop to Islamabad.)

On 1 October Zahir Shah and the Northern Alliance announced the creation of a "Supreme Council for the National Unity of Afghanistan," which would consist of 120 Afghan groups. The organization of this process could take several weeks, and it is only after this has happened that a traditional Loya Jirga gathering to elect an interim or transitional government would take place. But problems have surfaced already: As of 15 October the Northern Alliance's representatives had not come to Rome to present their list of 50 nominees for the council. They may object to meetings between Zahir Shah's representatives and the Pakistani government, which the Northern Alliance regards as the Taliban's main backer.

The University of Leiden's Willem Vogelsgang -- author of a forthcoming history on Afghanistan -- told RFE/RL that if moderate Pashtun leaders can be persuaded to ally themselves with Zahir Shah, this could give the former king the platform he needs to make a comeback and sap the Taliban's power base: "A solution would be to try to involve the traditional moderate leaders of the Pashtun tribes, of the Pashtun community. They are the ones that lost power when the Taliban came in. The Taliban is based on Islam while the traditional leaders are based on being Pashtun, and perhaps the traditional leaders of the Pashtun may support the king."

There is a tendency to idealize the monarchy in light of the problems Afghans have faced under different rulers since the 1970s, but enthusiasm for the exiled monarch is not universal. Commander Shaoor Yasini, who led 1,300 Mujahedin during the war against the Soviets, told RFE/RL that although he welcomes the ex-king's role, Zahir Shah's efforts could fail if Afghans believe that he represents only foreign interests. Yasini said: "If the Afghan people restore Zahir Shah to the throne themselves, that will be all right. People will accept him. But at the moment we don't know who is trying to restore Shah and who is with Zahir Shah. If he is brought back by the Afghan people that will be okay. But if he is restored by other countries, especially neighboring countries, then their hands will be in that government and the Afghan people will not like that. It will create problems."

Afghan President Burhanudin Rabbani offered very lukewarm support for Zahir Shah. He said, "Mr. Zahir Shah is a citizen of Afghanistan and has the right, like all the citizens of Afghanistan, to participate in the history and fate of Afghanistan." Abdullah Abdullah, Rabbani's foreign minister, said bluntly in the 26 September "Iran News," "There is no question of a return to the monarchy." Mohammad Khirkha, who serves as the Afghan ambassador to Tehran, said that his government does not object to Zahir Shah's playing a part in bringing peace to Afghanistan. As for his taking control of Afghanistan, Khirkha went on in an 8 October ISNA report, "We would not agree to that.... We do not regard Zahir Shah as a savior."

Tehran, furthermore, is probably reluctant to see the return of a U.S. backed monarchy next door. Islamic Republic officials may not harbor fears that they would be the next to go, but they also recognize that the restoration of the exiled monarch could encourage the Iranian exile opposition.

Tehran continues to recognize Rabbani's government. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with his Afghan counterpart, Abdullah Abdullah, on 19 October, and in an 8 October meeting with members of parliament, Kharrazi denied that a delegation representing Zahir Shah was to meet with Iranian officials. He said, according to IRNA, "Iran maintains that Rabbani's cabinet acts as an interim government until a democratically elected state takes office under the supervision of the UN." Moreover, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman told ISNA on 10 October that, "The steps taken by the government that currently has a seat at the UN must form the basis, under UN auspices, for the establishment of the future government."

Like Zahir Shah, Rabbani says he is interested in a Loya Jirga. He said in an interview with the 8 October "Al-Wasat" that his representatives participated in a meeting with Zahir Shah, American congressmen, and a UN envoy. But Rabbani reiterated that Zahir Shah should have a limited role to play, explaining that Mujahedin commanders rejected previous proposals on returning the former king because they fought the Soviets and Communists to create an Islamic state, not a monarchy.

The Northern Alliance, which is centered on Rabbani's government, has been fighting the Taliban for almost five years. The equipment it has is old -- T54, T55, and T62 tanks, although in early October a Russian newspaper said that the Kremlin would be providing more modern equipment soon. Since 11 September the Northern Alliance has picked up new members, but they have fought against each other almost as much as they have against the Soviets and then the Taliban.

Among the Northern Alliance members are former Herat Governor Ismail Khan and commander Abdul Rashid Dustum, who has fought on many sides. Abdul Haq recently returned to the fighting. There also have been many defectors from the Taliban armed forces since the air war began on 7 October. Department of Defense specialists said during a 12 October briefing that forces that used to be under the command of Ahmad Shah Masood number around 15,000, the Hizb-i Wahdat has from 5,000 to 15,000 troops, and Ismail Khan has between several hundred and several thousand troops.

Tajikistani political expert Nurali Davlatov told RFE/RL that the Northern Alliance is essential in any plan to restore Zahir Shah. "Zahir Shah can come back to power only after the Taliban is defeated, on its knees, or if the Taliban gives its consent to his return to power in Afghanistan. And this will be possible only if, in Afghanistan, representatives of the Northern Alliance will cooperate with the Americans. For the Afghan population, which is entirely illiterate and has practically no access to any source of information because they simply do not exist, the arrival of U.S. troops would be perceived as an invasion."

Davlatov said that such a perception would lead to resistance by Afghans, and that would make predictions difficult. But he speculated that the Northern Alliance might even ally itself with the Taliban.

The Northern Alliance was dissatisfied that the U.S. had not, as of mid-October, started bombing Taliban troop concentrations. And when it did do so, on 17 October, the Northern Alliance commanders were not impressed. One commander accused America of "just playing around," the "Daily Telegraph" reported on 18 October, and another one accused the U.S. and Pakistan of plotting to thwart their advance on Kabul. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 19 October that the U.S. military is providing the anti-Taliban forces with food, ammunition, and money. But even after the Rangers entered the conflict, there was dissatisfaction with U.S. actions. Rabbani complained on 20 October: "The U.S. and the international community promised us help on many occasions. So far we have not received anything and we hope the help will come soon."

If there is any reluctance to see a quick Northern Alliance military victory, it may stem from Western concerns about the future. Journalist Ahmed Rashid writes that the four main factions in the Northern Alliance are loosely based on ethnic groupings -- Uzbek, Tajik, Hazara, and Herati -- and as they seize major cities, they could set up separate administrations. If this happens the "warlordism" that followed the collapse of the Communist regime would resume. According to a report in "The Wall Street Journal" on 15 October, U.S. officials prefer to see the creation of a provisional government in southern Afghanistan.

Adding to the confusion about the final result of a post-Taliban Afghanistan is the existence of opposition groups that are not linked with the Northern Alliance. Former Mujahedin commander Pir Seyyed Ahmad Gailani once led a group loyal to Zahir Shah called the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, but now he says that he has Rabbani's support. (Some observers believe that Islamabad is secretly backing him as an alternative to Zahir Shah and the Northern Alliance.) Former commander Abdul Haq gave up fighting in 1996 and moved to the U.S.; he recently met with Gailani. Some Pakistani political observers believe these two would be Islamabad's favorites as future president and prime minister. Then there is the National Solidarity Movement for Afghanistan, an umbrella group for 40 Afghan political organizations.

With so much jockeying for power and with the involvement of external actors, it is extremely difficult to predict the final outcome of the current conflict in Afghanistan. But two things seem obvious. The elimination of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and the Arab mercenaries fighting for the Taliban will not bring peace to Afghanistan. And whatever comes next, Iran, Pakistan, and other neighbors will continue their meddling. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN-WASHINGTON: EVERYBODY WANTS SOMETHING. Tehran said that U.S. and U.K. air strikes against targets in Afghanistan were "unacceptable" on the day that they began, and from that time onward, Iranian officials have condemned the military activities publicly. Behind the scenes, however, Tehran has pledged limited cooperation with the U.S., and it clearly is planning for a Taliban-less future.

U.S. and Iranian officials say that Tehran has sent a secret message to the White House agreeing to rescue any U.S. military personnel in distress on Iranian territory. In the initial message to Tehran that was sent shortly after the bombing of Afghanistan began on 7 October, the White House promised to respect Iranian territorial integrity, the "New York Times" reported on 16 October. In exchange, Washington asked Tehran to aid any American aviators who either were forced to land in Iran or whose survival, evasion, resistance, and escape activities took them into Iran.

(Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 18 October, "No offer has been made by the Islamic Republic of Iran to America." On the other hand, Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Yunesi said, "We have told them that if any plane crashes inside Iran we will help and hand it over, but we will not allow the Americans to enter Iran," IRNA reported on 18 October.)

From 7 October onward, Iranian officials have continued to criticize the U.S. and the attacks against Taliban targets, while voicing concern about the Afghan people. In light of the "New York Times" report, the Iranians' comments could be meant to cover up their acquiescence with Washington's request. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said at an 8 October news conference, for example, "These attacks, which do not have our approval, will not be without harm [to the civilian population]." He added that the attacks had an undefined purpose.

Contacts or communications with Washington could not have taken place without Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's approval. Yet he has continued his outspoken criticisms of the U.S. and has questioned its motives.

Khamenei explained events in Afghanistan on 8 October by saying, according to state radio: "This is not a question of combating terrorism." Khamenei said that America's "true motive" is the "quest for power" and the "quest for hegemony." Khamenei's declaration that "We condemn the attacks on the country and nation of Afghanistan" was met with chants of "Khamenei is our leader" and "Death to America." And in a 15 October speech, Khamenei said that the U.S. is threatening global peace and its logic for attacking Afghanistan is "very weak." Khamenei accused the U.S. of having "wounded the body of the Islamic ummah [community]." In this speech, Khamenei also accused the U.S. and U.K. of "warmongering, tyranny, injustice, arrogance, drunkenness [with power], and unwise behavior...igniting the flames of war, endangering world peace, massacring innocent people, and wasting huge amounts of money."

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's comments were more elliptical, but they were critical, too. Tellingly, in retrospect, he told a meeting of parliament and his administration that Iran should adopt measures that could "protect the principles" and meet the "national interests" at the same time, according to IRNA on 11 October.

The same day, Khatami told the Canadian Ambassador that America and the Taliban are "two sides of the same coin," according to state television and IRNA. Khatami said that Washington's stance -- "either you are with us or against us" -- and the Taliban stance -- attacks against us are attacks against Islam -- are the types of "false and arrogant judgments" that are the root causes of "violence and terror." Khatami called for a UN-led antiterrorism campaign. In a 14 October speech, Khatami said that the Afghan people are the victims of "dual aggression and injustice." First they suffer at the hands of the "ignorant and tyrannical" Taliban, then they are victims of the bombs and missiles of powerful countries that are seeking revenge.

Several weeks ago, Professor Fereidun Khavand of Paris' l'Universite Rene Descartes explained the official Iranian stance against the U.S. in an interview with RFE/RL. Khavand said that this stance is based on the fear that cooperation with Washington in a war against a Muslim state would undermine the legitimacy of the Islamic Revolution. According to Khavand, "For every regime, there is a founding myth, and the founding myth of the Islamic Republic is anti-Americanism. In later years, they have also tried to be pragmatic, but the myth is there, and if it were allowed to collapse -- if Iran were to enter into any kind of American or Western coalition against another Muslim country -- then the whole legitimacy of the Islamic Republic would be in jeopardy."

This would explain Tehran's reluctance to cooperate openly with Washington. So why is the Iranian government deceiving its citizens and the international community about its agreement to help American military personnel? Shahram Chubin of the Geneva Center for Security Policy may have given a possible explanation several weeks ago. Chubin told RFE/RL: "The Iranians were very passive in the 1990-91 [Gulf crisis and] war, when they sat on the sidelines, not joining the coalition against Iraq but not opposing it either. And Iran benefited not at all from that in a diplomatic sense."

The benefits that Tehran may hope to realize from its current cooperation could be the elimination of U.S. hostility to the passage of oil pipelines from Central Asia and the Caspian Sea south to the Persian Gulf. It may be too late for Washington's acquiescence in Iran's joining the World Trade Organization (see below), but there are other possibilities, such as more active measures against the Mujahedin-i Khalq Organization, a terrorist group whose members are active in the U.S.

"Entekhab" daily, for example, predicted on 17 October that the U.S. intends to lift its economic sanctions against Iran. Quoting "informed sources," the daily said that the draft document deals with "renewed economic cooperation between Iran and the United States."

One of the other benefits for Tehran could be the U.S. government's effort to block testimony from 52 Americans held hostage for 444 days after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. In this case, the complainants are seeking financial damages. A U.S. Justice Department lawyer said the 20-year-old accord that freed the hostages bars claims against Iran arising out of the seizure. Lawyers for the ex-hostages say the accord is superceded by a 1996 law on civil liability for acts of state-sponsored terrorism that allows American victims to sue Iran and other countries on the State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The judge allowed the testimony to continue, so retired Army Colonel Charles Scott described being kicked, spat on, beaten with a rubber hose while tied to a desk, and enduring mock executions. (Bill Samii)

TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN. It is obvious that Tehran and Washington are engaged in a dialog of sorts already, and they are both reviewing their policies toward each other in light of their perceived national interests and in light of vocal and active domestic interest groups. In spite of what is happening behind the scenes, official Iranians are showing little imagination on how to move forward and little insight regarding the U.S.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told Italy's "Corriere della Sera" on 17 October that it is up to Washington to make the first move and change its policies toward Iran. He said that the U.S. is missing a great opportunity to improve ties with Tehran and use Iranian knowledge to resolve its problems with Islam (although only a small minority -- about 10 percent -- of the world's Muslims practice the Shia branch of Islam that is Iran's state religion). Kharrazi added that it is not too late for Washington to change its ways and seek a dialogue with Tehran. Kharrazi predicted that there would be a "fracture" between the West and the Islamic world if the U.S. "continues in this vein."

In response to questions about "The New York Times" report on a letter to Washington promising Iranian support for downed aviators, State Department spokesman Phil Reeker said on 16 October that some relatively positive statements from Iran on the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington are appreciated. Reeker went on to say that the U.S. and Iran continue to have serious and long-standing policy differences. These differences are, presumably, concerns about Iran's support for international terrorism, its hostility to the Middle East peace process, and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

This most recent communication between Washington and Tehran -- about help for American military personnel -- is not the first one. In August 1999, Washington relayed a letter to Tehran asking for help in solving the case of a 1996 attack on U.S. military housing in Saudi Arabia. The letter was handed to an Omani envoy in Paris by a member of the U.S. National Security Council. It said that Iran and the U.S. should work together to fight common threats such as terrorism.

Iran's Foreign Minister Kharrazi in September 1999 confirmed the U.S. request, but he said that Iran has "a long list of grievances." Kharrazi urged the White House to take "practical steps" to improve ties, such as lifting the ban on importing Iranian carpets. Other American gestures in recent years have met with a similar reception. (Bill Samii)

REZAI BACKPEDALS ON HELPING U.S. Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai denied telling the 15 October "Financial Times" that Tehran is willing to "set aside its reservations about the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and work with Washington in its campaign against terrorism." He also denied saying that if the Americans got trapped in the "swamp of Afghanistan" they would "definitely need Iran," the "Tehran Times" reported on 16 October.

Rezai's denial rings hollow, because he said almost exactly the same thing during a conference on terrorism at Shahid Beheshti University, the 10 October "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. Rezai said that America would not attack Iran because it will need Iran's help when it tries to leave the region. Rezai added: "America does not wish to antagonize Iran since it would need that country to pull it out of the quicksand in Afghanistan."

Nor is Rezai being very consistent. On 12 October he told a gathering of 8,000 Basijis from the Ashura Brigades that Iran supports neither the U.S. nor the Taliban. He went on to say that the September terrorist attacks could not have occurred without the cooperation of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation or another American agency, according to "Entekhab" on 13 October. (Bill Samii)

THE HUNT FOR IMAD. "Informed sources in Beirut" said in the 13 October issue of Jedda's "Ukaz" daily that Imad Fayez Mughniyah, a member of Lebanese Hizballah who appears on the new American list of 22 most-wanted international terrorists, has been living in the Iranian city of Qom "for some time." According to these sources, Mughniyah is no longer involved with Hizballah security activities, and he has enrolled in one of Qom's seminaries.

The government of Iran denies hosting Mughniyah or any other terrorists (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 October 2001). Moreover, an unidentified source close to Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps told London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that Mughniyah left Iran recently after being told that his presence there is not in the country's interest and his safety cannot be guaranteed. Mughniyah originally left Lebanon after an attempt on his life failed, and he was in Qom dealing with Arab Shia students. An unidentified U.S. government official said that the U.S. intelligence community did not give "any credibility" to the "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" report, according to the 16 October "Independent." (Bill Samii)

MORE ANTI-WAR DEMONSTRATIONS IN IRAN. Students at Tabriz University and at the Ahvaz Medical School held demonstrations condemning the military attacks against Afghanistan, Iranian state radio reported on 16 October. "Hundreds" of students gathered outside the UN headquarters in Tehran for the same purpose, state television reported on 16 October. Students from the all-female Al-Zahra University, from Ahvaz's Shahid Chamran University, and from Karaj's Islamic Open University staged protest rallies on 14 October, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)

SOUTH-WEST ASIA CONFRONTED WITH DISEASE OUTBREAK. Iran and its neighbors are facing an outbreak of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF), a highly contagious and deadly disease that has symptoms such as nose-bleeds, bleeding from the rectum, and bleeding through the skin. Refugee flows caused by the conflict in Afghanistan could increase the risk, and there does not seem to be a connection between this outbreak and the biological-warfare capabilities of the Taliban.

Ali-Safar Makanali, head of the border-region quarantine department in Iran's Veterinary Organization, reported on 14 October the recent registration of over 100 cases of people infected with Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, and he said that some of the victims have died already. Cases have been found in Isfahan, Sistan va Baluchistan, Luristan, and West Azerbaijan Provinces. Makanali said that the disease was transferred via smuggled cattle -- sheep, cows and camels -- from Afghanistan and Iraq despite strict border quarantines and extensive health-care measures.

This most recent outbreak may have as much to do with refugees as it does with cattle. Humans can be exposed to CCHF when they live in close proximity to the animals, and the virus is spread through urine, stools, blood, or saliva. An outbreak of CCHF has swept the regions of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, too. Dr. Taj Mohammed of Quetta's Fatima Jinnah Chest Hospital said that, "We've had 60 cases since June," Reuters reported on 4 October. He added that eight people have died so far and "there's a real risk of an epidemic among Afghan refugees."

Iran's Makanali said that the government has established some 40 quarantine units on the borders and another 100 movable quarantine units to block the disease's spread. The effectiveness of such measures is questionable, because Afghans who try to enter Iran nowadays are doing so clandestinely. After 11 September, Iran expected to face an influx of 400,000 refugees. Iran therefore used the armed forces to seal the eastern borders, and it established refugee camps inside western Afghanistan. The refugees now pay smugglers over $100 a head to sneak them across the border, and because they are in Iran illegally they are ineligible for government services. Moreover, they must actively avoid the Iranian government to avoid repatriation. More than 60 Afghans a day enter Sistan va Baluchistan Province illegally every day, IRNA reported on 17 October.

When the outbreak of CCHF in south-west Asia is combined with recent cases of anthrax in the U.S., fears about the Taliban's biological warfare capabilities are magnified. U.S. Defense Department officials said at a 12 October briefing that it is possible that the Taliban are involved with toxins and maybe anthrax -- "that's a baseline that is probable." Delivery of such weapons could be "innovative" but not necessarily "sophisticated." Mohammad Mehdi Guya, who heads the Iranian Health Ministry's infectious diseases department, said that the anthrax cases in the U.S. are the respiratory-type, while skin-type anthrax is common in Afghanistan. The skin-type anthrax is fatal only 5-20 percent of the time. Therefore, he said, "Our people should not worry that the influx of Afghan people into the country would spread the disease." (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI APPOINTS A FEMALE ADVISER. In mid-October, President Mohammad Khatami chose Ms. Zahra Rahnavard as his senior adviser on cultural affairs, a step which may be intended to mollify critics of the lack of women in the cabinet. The vice president for environmental protection is a woman, Masumeh Ebtekar, but after Khatami was re-elected in June there were calls for him to choose a female minister and to generally have more women serving in responsible positions.

Even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for women to have a greater role in government and other fields. The kind of jobs they have should not contradict their "instinctive features," Khamenei said, which are "love, peace, and kindness." He also said that "feminist inclinations and sexism" should be avoided when solving women's problems, IRNA reported on 6 October.

Khatami's failure to select female ministers resulted in continuing criticism and different demands from politically active women. Tehran parliamentarian Fatimeh Haqiqatju said on 6 October that 34 members of the assembly of Tehran Province representatives had submitted a letter to the president in which they proposed that he select a female governor-general for the capital.

Elahe Kulayi, who also represents Tehran in the legislature, complained in an interview with "Iran" on 17 September that, "Iranian society is still basically patriarchal." She went on to say that women's status must improve a great deal in order to increase their presence in decision-making and responsible positions.

Tehran representative Jamileh Kadivar said that Khatami is in debt to female voters. "Women turned the scales in favor of Khatami both in 1997 and in this year's presidential elections. Realizing the significance of women's votes, this year's presidential candidates tried to win a victory by appealing to the female electorate." Kadivar went on to say, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 4 September, "Probably no other country in the world is talking quite as loudly as we are about participation by women and making use of women's potential. And probably in no other country are women as unfairly neglected as women in Iranian society." (Bill Samii)

WTO REJECTION NOT COMPLETELY REGRETTED. The U.S. and Israel blocked on 10 October Iran's bid to begin negotiations on its joining the World Trade Organization (WTO). This is the third time in recent months that this has happened, and a senior trade official explained, "The United States said that the situation was under review and that at this time they could not agree," according to Reuters.

President Mohammad Khatami's administration and some Iranian businesses are keen for WTO membership and greater integration with the international marketplace. Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs Mohammad-Hussein Adeli, for example, said that accession to the WTO was "important" for Iran, IRNA reported on 11 September. He went on to say that the Third Five-Year Economic Development Plan includes strategies for restructuring the national economy.

Seifollah Ebrahimi, managing director of Iran's SAIPA automobile-manufacturing firm, believes that Iran must join the WTO and observe its regulations. "By joining the chain of international car manufacturers we will be able to organize joint cooperation in the region," Ebrahimi told the 29 August "Mellat." He went on to say that this eventually could lead to cooperation with car manufacturers worldwide. Ebrahimi conceded that there is a vast gap between regulations in Iran's state and private sectors and regulations in other countries, and closing this gap would not be easy.

Other Iranians are in no rush to join the WTO. The pro-labor "Kar va Kargar" reported on 6 September that globalization and moves to join the WTO are a new kind of colonialism and leave "very little room for the participation of parliamentary systems and the ratification and implementation of independent laws serving the national interests of poor countries." Moreover, the daily warned, Iran's labor law would have to be amended and foreign investors would return to the country.

The current labor law makes it very difficult to dismiss employees, which is one reason why companies just stop paying them. Moreover, under the current protectionist measures, which make it difficult to import foreign goods, many officials and their comrades have managed to enrich themselves. Elimination of such laws would imperil their financial interests. (Bill Samii)