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Iran Report: March 13, 2000

13 March 2000, Volume 3, Number 11

DIALOGUE IN 2001. The White House has made its desire to engage in dialogue with Iran, particularly after the February parliamentary election, very clear. The U.S. presidential campaign, with its appeals to various domestic constituencies, however, has led to some mixed messages from Washington. And for that reason among others, at least one American analyst believes that Tehran will not engage in any dialogue with the U.S. until the Clinton administration leaves office.

Congressional Research Service analyst Ken Katzman told RFE/RL that he believes a dialogue with Iran is something the White House wants as part of its foreign policy legacy. "I think it is very much like the Arab-Israeli peace process, it's something that the Clinton administration still holds out hope that it can finish before it leaves office. One would have been an Israeli-Syrian treaty, I think they still hold out some hope for that, an Israeli-Palestinian final treaty, I think they still hold out hope for that, and the beginning of U.S.-Iranian dialogue, and I still think they hold out hope for that, too. These are three things in the Middle East that I think they would like to get accomplished before Clinton leaves office."

U.S. President Bill Clinton's comments to an audience containing many Americans of Iranian descent reflected this approach--particularly when he described Iran as "one of the most wonderful places in all of human history, one of the most important places culturally in all of human history." Speaking at a $2,500-per-person Democratic Party fundraiser on 5 March, the president said that he hoped "someday all of you may be able to go home to visit and have two homes, complete and open and free," Reuters reported.

Another perspective came from Vice President Al Gore when he addressed the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations on 6 March, the day before the New York primary. He said that American and Israeli military and intelligence officials have "complete cooperation" on the transfer of Weapons of Mass Destruction technology to Iran by other countries. He added that "There is nothing that we know about this that Israel does not now know." Gore said he considers the issue "a question that potentially involves the survival of Israel and when survival of a friend is potentially at stake everything else is secondary," AP reported. Gore said that sanctions would continue against Iran because "we have not seen the kinds of changes in fundamental policy that we need to see before these sanctions can be removed."

An unnamed U.S. government official, however, told the 7 March "Los Angeles Times" that the Clinton administration is close to making a decision on removing sanctions against the sale of pistachios, caviar, and carpets. This is because "We clearly view the parliamentary elections as an important step, and we want to make clear our attitude, that we think it would be very desirable to have better channels of communication."

Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi responded to this news by saying that "We do see the translation of words into action of the United States as a positive step. In response, we are going to buy wheat and other products like medicine," Reuters reported on 8 March. It is rumored in Tehran that Clinton will announce the easing of sanctions in a new year's message to Iran, "Asr-i Azadegan" reported on 9 March.

Lifting sanctions against items like caviar, carpets, and pistachios, however, may not go far enough, because Iran may still have trouble buying American wheat if export credits are not provided by the U.S. government. Moreover, Katzman told RFE/RL that Tehran may be reluctant to engage in a dialogue with the Clinton administration.

"I think the Iranian leadership may be waiting for the next [U.S.] administration to come in before they take any dramatic steps toward the United States. To some extent, some in the Iranian leadership may feel that President Clinton was the one who imposed the trade ban on Iran, was the one who signed the Iran-Libya sanctions act, Radio Free Iran was instituted under his administration, although that wasn't his idea but still it was ginned up [initiated] while he was in office. ... [Also,] the Patterns of Global Terrorism Report every year during the Clinton administration has been very, very hard on Iran, calling it the world's most dangerous sponsor of terrorism [although that language was dropped last year]. I think the Iranian leadership probably feels there is too much baggage from the Clinton administration and would prefer to wait for another 10 or 11 months for the next crew to come in [in January 2001]."

Katzman's opinion was corroborated by Iran's ambassador to Kazakhstan, Hassan Qashqavi. He told a 7 March press conference in Almaty that the Iranian leadership hoped that the new administration of the United States would be able to understand that the "economic embargo put on Iran should be lifted." (Bill Samii)

BELGIAN COURT CONSIDERS CHARGES AGAINST RAFSANJANI. The announcement in the first week of March that a Belgian judge was preparing a case against former Iranian President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani for human rights abuses has provoked an angry reception in Iran. Some observers there argue that the whole affair was timed to hinder or bolster Rafsanjani's lagging popularity, while others argue that the case actually harms efforts to improve human rights in Iran. And Tehran has warned of possible economic retaliation against Brussels.

The case was brought before Judge Damien Vandermeersch, a specialist in human rights, on 17 February. The suit is being brought under a Belgian law which recognizes the right of Belgian courts to investigate and to try crimes against humanity wherever they occur. Should the case go to trial and Rafsanjani is found guilty, an international arrest warrant against him could be issued.

The plaintiff in the case is a male Belgian citizen of Iranian origin who claims he was an activist for the communist Tudeh party in Iran in the early 1980s and was arrested in 1983. He says that he spent two years in prison before his trial. After what he calls a speedy judicial process in which he was not allowed to defend himself, the man was sentenced to seven years in prison. In 1989 he benefited from an amnesty but was forbidden to leave Iran until 1997, when he reached Belgium. He has been a Belgian citizen since the 1970s.

Marc Libert, the plaintiff's lawyer, told RFE/RL that the suit was brought against Rafsanjani because "My client says that Mr. Rafsanjani is a person who took a key, historic role in the Iranian revolution. He is one of the pillars of the revolution. Mr. Rafsanjani has always been at the center of power, whether as speaker of the parliament, president of the republic, or religious authority. Mr. Rafsanjani controlled directly or indirectly the justice system, the revolutionary Islamic tribunals and, also, the Iranian security services. And that is why Mr. Rafsanjani is, more effectively than anyone else, the greatest symbol in Iran today of the Iran of yesterday [when these actions took place]. And that is why he is targeted by this suit."

Announcement of the suit elicited a loud reaction from Iran. President Mohammad Khatami said, IRNA reported on 5 March, that the case "was the reaction of the enemies of the Iranian nation as well as enemies of peace and international security, who showed their anger towards the strength of the Iranian nation." Khatami's cabinet, the Supreme National Security Council, and the Foreign Ministry also condemned the incident.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told his Belgian counterpart, Louis Michel, that the charges were "insulting, unjustifiable, and contrary to international norms and regulations," IRNA reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi explained that "certain parties, who are unhappy about the expansion of Iran's relations with the outside world, including European countries, are resorting to sabotage and want to destroy our relations with some European countries," state television reported on 6 March. The Belgian ambassador to Tehran was summoned by the Foreign Ministry twice to hear the Iranian government's objections.

The Guardians Council stated that the charges are "in line with ominous objectives of the U.S. and Zionist regime [and are] both an insult to a prominent personality of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the noble Iranian nation," IRNA reported on 6 March. The Assembly of Experts issued a statement that "described the Belgian court's decision as unwise and provocative, calling it the latest conspiracy in a series of conspiracies directed against the Islamic Republic of Iran during the last two decades," according to IRNA.

Isfahan parliamentarian-elect Rajabali Mazrui of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party rejected the interference of foreigners in Iran's internal affairs. The Islamic Propagation Organization and the Central Bureau of the Islamic Students Association issued similar statements. And Ayatollah Hassan Sanei, leader of the 15th of Khordad Foundation which is offering a bounty for British author Salman Rushdie, threatened to take concrete action unless the Belgian government apologizes, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 6 March.

Former Iranian parliamentarian Ahmad Salamatian told the Paris-based Iran Press Service on 6 March that the timing of the affair is suspicious. He believes that the news was leaked just when votes for Rafsanjani were being recounted in Tehran, either to make Rafsanjani look bad or so political figures would rally around Rafsanjani. Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi, secretary of the relatively moderate Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez) urged political factions not to use the case as a pretext for attacking each other, IRNA reported on 7 March.

Indeed, the uniformity of reactions suggests that Iranians have united in this case. A 6 March analysis by Reuters, however, warned that the case "may not help Iran's reformers in their efforts to clean up the country's human rights record."

An anonymous Iranian Foreign Ministry source told the 7 March "Tehran Times" that Iran may freeze its economic relations with Belgium. This is the same threat Tehran made when RFE/RL's Persian Service began broadcasting from Prague in October 1998. But trade between the two countries increased sharply in 1999 (see below). (Bill Samii)

DESPITE BUSHEHR DEBATE, CZECHS WANT MORE TRADE WITH IRAN. Controversy about the possible supply of equipment for Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor by a Czech company and the Czech government's efforts to block the deal has not lessened Prague's interest in pursuing other avenues of cooperation. Deputy Foreign Minister Hynek Kmonicek is scheduled to visit Tehran in April, and the Czech Foreign Ministry stressed its "permanent interest in developing relations and mutually advantageous cooperation" between the two countries, CTK reported on 28 February. "The Czech side esteems Iran's pragmatic attitude to cooperation in the trade-economic sphere and believes that the existing potential and possibilities will be tapped much more than up to now," the Foreign Ministry added.

Tehran's charge d'affaires in Prague, Mohsen Sharif-Khodai, told Prague's "Pravo" on 6 March that the presence in Prague of RFE/RL's Persian Service has had an impact on Iranian-Czech relations. So far, the impact has been positive. Czech exports to Iran increased by 43 percent last year, and imports from Iran nearly doubled, CTK reported on 1 March. The Czech Republic sold Iran antibiotics, iron, steel, textiles, and machine-tool components. Iran exported mostly foodstuffs, including raisins, nuts, seeds, pistachios, and apple juice, to the Czech Republic.

The possibility that the Czech firm ZVVZ Milevsko may provide air-conditioning equipment for Bushehr has led to threats of sanctions by the U.S. and Great Britain. The Czech government approved a bill on 23 February banning the deal, and a state of legislative emergency was declared to hasten the bill's approval. But then Communist deputies used parliamentary rules to block putting the legislation on the agenda right away. Additional legislative blockages came from the ruling Social Democrat party.

The Civic Democratic Party (ODS), which is the largest opposition party in parliament, supported legislation against the deal. But ODS leader Vaclav Klaus said ZVVZ Milevsko should be compensated if the deal is blocked. This may be because Livia Klausova, Klaus's wife, has been deputy chairwoman of Milevsko's supervisory board "for years," "Lidove Noviny" reported on 28 February. This effectively makes her "number two" in the company.

Iranian charge Sharif-Khodai said that "We regard the campaign around Bushehr...a present for the U.S. minister Madeline Albright in connection with her trip to the Czech Republic." Indeed, President Vaclav Havel reassured visiting U.S. Secretary of State Albright that the deal would not go ahead. Havel said that "I have assured Albright that the Czech Republic will of course act in solidarity with the international democratic community and will not allow the export to Iran of components which might be used to the benefit of nuclear arms industry," CTK reported on 5 March.

Jan Sula, former head of Czech economic counterintelligence, said it was not in Havel's remit to make such promises. He added, CTK reported on 6 March, that the Czech intelligence services do not have any information indicating that the equipment might be abused for the production of nuclear weapons. Sula complained that Prague is giving into political pressure from abroad, and it should demand compensation from the U.S.

The Czech Chamber of Deputies passed the relevant bill on 8 March. It "bans Czech exporters from exporting goods, or providing services, blueprints or information in connection with the nuclear plant in Bushehr. The violation of the law is punishable with a fine of up to 20 million crowns [about $560,000] and confiscation of the delivery," according to CTK. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said ZVVZ Milevsko will be compensated and "not a single man will be laid off." The compensation will consist of a debt-for-equity swap and alternate orders, "Pravo" reported on 8 March. Before becoming law, the bill must be approved by the Senate and signed by the president. (Bill Samii)

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY IN IRAN. International Women's Day was commemorated across the world on 8 March. Amnesty International noted in a statement that there have been few improvements in women's rights and protection in Iran and many other countries, despite promises made five years ago in Beijing at the Fourth World Conference on Women.

Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi told RFE/RL's Persian Service that "In Iran we are witnesses to inequalities in the law." She explained: "We have a law that does not recognize a woman as a complete individual with fewer rights, but we must understand where this law came from." Ebadi said defenders of such legal inequalities cite Islam as a justification. But she explained that Father of the Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said in the early years of the Islamic revolution, and Source of Emulation Ayatollah Yusef Sanei said last year, that "woman and man in the eyes of Islam are equal" and any laws making them unequal are unacceptable

Ebadi described her expectation of the newly-elected parliament. "The elected officials should know that if women didn�t participate this result would not have been realized and maybe a different result and different people would've been elected. Therefore, the desire of women, which is improving the laws and realization of their rights, should be paid attention to. ... We are not saying give rights to women, we are saying that woman and man are creations of God and the law for them must be identical."

Just a day earlier a controversy had emerged about what newly-elected female representatives' parliamentary apparel. Shiraz's Tahereh Rezazadeh and Tehran's Elahe Kulayi said they would wear the manteau and a scarf, covering just the upper body and the head, rather than the chador, which covers the entire body.

Losing incumbent Marzieh Dabbagh told RFE/RL's Persian Service that she was not surprised to hear such statements from women who did nothing for the revolution and who do not have the right values: "it is natural for them to say such things." Dabbagh predicted that "our people will not be silent" and the two new parliamentarians will take note.

"Entekhab" reported on International Women's Day that three times more women that men attempt suicide in Iran. Last year, 2,557 people killed themselves, which is a 109 percent increase from the year before.

Azadeh Kian-Thiebaut of the CNRS in Paris told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the main thing that drives Iranian women to suicide is physical violence by their husbands, fathers, or brothers. Kian also believes that mental abuse, brought about women's weak legal rights vis-a-vis their husbands, is another cause of suicide. Other contributory factors are a husband's right to take a second wife, child custody laws, and the impossibility of leaving the country or working without the husband's permission. As a result, Kian said, women reach a point where "they have little choice but suicide."

Another factor that contributes to women's despondency was described at a Tehran conference marking International Women's Day. Zeinab Darai, a municipal councilor from Salakh, pointed out that the employment rate for Iranian women is only 10 percent, while it stands at 42 percent in developed countries and 32 percent in Latin America, according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)

STUDENT ACTIVISM CONTINUES DURING TRIAL. The trial of about 20 law enforcement officers for raiding a Tehran University hostel in July 1999 continued, with its third session on 7 March, the fourth session on 9 March, and fifth session three days later. Nasser Kuhi, director of the Tehran University dormitory, told the court that the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) disregarded his request to stay out of the dormitory while he tried to defuse the situation.

Then, former Tehran LEF chief Farhad Nazari explained that he did not instruct the LEF to enter the dormitory and anybody who did so disobeyed him. Nazari then said that some of the plaintiffs are not students and are actually responsible for the violence and destruction. "Some of the plaintiffs have confessed that they took part in destroying buildings, attacking the police and disturbing law and order. These plaintiffs were condemned by the Revolution Court before, and confessed that their actions were premeditated. Some of them were carrying hand-grenades and personal weapons. Even on the subsequent days, the rioters captured some of the weapons of the law-enforcement officers."

Nazari also blamed Kuhi, saying that "The clashes started when the director of the dormitory began quarrelling with the deputy law-enforcement commander of central Tehran." But deputy-commander Amir-Ahmadi told the court that "I never talked with Kuhi ... Kuhi may have talked with a colleague."

Attorney Hojatoleslam Mohsen Rahami questioned Nazari's competence for running security in Tehran, because "he had been police commander of a small province before undertaking such a grave duty in Tehran, despite the fact that even in that small province he had not acted successfully," IRNA reported on 9 March. An LEF official defended Nazari's record, and he said that the LEF, through counterintelligence chief Brigadier-General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, will proffer charges against Rahami for defaming Nazari. (Naqdi's eight-month sentence for torturing suspects was confirmed in February.)

The July incident can be traced to the LEF's lack of accountability, "Sobh-i Imruz" suggested on 8 March. Such incidents could be avoided if there was greater unity between the various student groups, a recent discussion of the student movement in Iran concluded, according to the 9 March "Khorasan."

Meanwhile, Mehdi Aminzadeh, head of Shahid Rajai University's Islamic Association, received a summons for insulting the LEF by demanding the dismissal of the LEF commander, "Fath" reported on 7 March. Students at Gorgan's Azad University started a protest action, accusing the administration of permitting government harassment of students, the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran reported on 8 March. Classes at Shahr-i Rey's Azad University were suspended, "Bayan" reported on 9 March, to avoid a threatened student protest over poor instruction and facilities. And students at Ahvaz's Oil Industry University refused to attend classes to protest poor management, "Iran" reported on 2 March. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN RECOUNT CONCLUDED, PROVINCIAL RESULTS ANNULLED. The recounting of votes in Tehran to dispel complaints about fraud in the 18 February parliamentary election is approaching its end. Deputy Interior Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohaqar said ballots in 540 boxes had been recounted with no change, and the recount would be concluded "early next week," IRNA reported on 8 March. The same day, Hojatoleslam Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi of the Central Monitoring Board said it is not necessary to continue the recount, because the few changes after counting the first 500 boxes were insignificant, IRNA and state television reported.

Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani urged that the recount continue to eliminate any ambiguities, IRNA reported on 11 March. And Deputy Interior Minister Ali Mohaqar said that the recount revealed changes at the bottom of the list, according to IRNA.

Meanwhile, the Guardians Council has annulled the results in Bandar Abbas and Minab (Hormozgan Province) and Gachsaran (Boir Ahmadi va Kohkiluyeh Province). Interior Ministry Deputy Mustafa Tajzadeh, who heads Iran's election headquarters, said the Guardians Council has not offered any evidence for doing this, IRNA reported on 11 March. He added that some of the council's inspectors were not impartial.

The Tehran City Council has filed a libel complaint against parliamentarian Ahmad Rasulinezhad for his claims of electoral fraud, "Hamshahri" reported on 28 February. And the 31st Ashura Division of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps is going to file a complaint against the governor of Shabestar, who claimed soldiers at the garrison were told who to vote for, "Kayhan" reported on 9 March.

The runoff for 65 undecided seats will be held on 21 April. In preparation for this, the Islamic Iran Participation Party is waging "an intensive wave of psychological war" against the governor-general and its rivals in Khuzestan Province, where it fared poorly, the conservative "Jomhuri-yi Islami" claimed on 1 March. (Bill Samii)

INDIVIDUAL OWNERSHIP OBSTRUCTED. The Guardians Council blocked aspects of the 3rd Five Year Development Plan that focus on ending state domination of several industries. Government control of banks and insurance companies will continue, although the establishment of private banks will be permitted and state banks can sell 49 percent of their shares. The state's monopoly in air, rail, and other forms of transport will be maintained. Privatization in the telecommunications, power, and water industries was blocked, too, although private mining may be permitted.

The sale of 85 percent of Pars Khodro, Iran's third largest automobile manufacturer, on the Tehran stock market seems, at first glance, like a sign of greater privatization. But the purchasers were the state Social Security Investment Company and the second-largest automobile company, Saipa, in which the government holds 48 percent of the shares. The other main shareholders in Saipa are government funds, London's "Financial Times" reported on 6 March.

Foreign investors are very interested in the Iranian automobile market, according to the "Financial Times." France's PSA group (Peugeot and Citroen) lead the way, with Peugeots being assembled in Iran under a licensing agreement with Iran Khodro. Saipa assembles Citroens and South Korean Kias, and it is in negotiations with Iveco, Renault, and Volvo. Reports that Fiat intends to buy Iran Khodro, however, were denied by the Iranian firm's public relations office, according to the 6 March "Tehran Times." (Bill Samii)