22 May 2000, Volume 3, Number 20
TEHRAN RECOUNT HALTED. Iranian state radio announced on 18 May that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered a halt to the recounting of votes in Tehran from last February's parliamentary elections, and the Guardians Council announced the results on 20 May. Reformists, however, are not very happy with the final outcome. Meanwhile, the parliament's first session is scheduled for 27 May, and new parliamentary factions are being formed.
Guardians Council Secretary Ahmad Jannati had written to Khamenei that 867 ballot boxes had been recounted. Infringements they found included "the discrepancy between the number of the ballot papers and the actual number of votes cast, the existence of votes which did not have the supervisory seal of approval, the discrepancies observed during the vote recount, the absence of a proper format, the fact that some ballot papers had been torn, and the absence of sealed ballot boxes." Jannati sought guidance because the recount would take a long time.
Khamenei ordered the halt because counting the ballots in all 3,000 boxes would take too long and because there were insufficient grounds for disputing the validity of the ballots in the remaining boxes. In cases where the ballot box's invalidity was proven, the results "must be declared to be invalid." In his letter to the council, which was described by state broadcasting, Khamenei instructed that those suspected of negligence or tampering with the ballot boxes should be identified and prosecuted. An "informed source" told IRNA that the results might be announced by 20 May.
There was quite a bit of speculation on what these results would be. Some believed that candidates in the 28th, 29th, and 30th places -- Ali Reza Rajai, Elias Hazrati, and Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani -- would have to run again in by-elections later (either in November or next year), "Bahar" reported on 16 May. Guardians Council member Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Abbasifard, however, said that there would be no changes at the bottom of the list, "Iran" reported on 17 May.
When the results were actually announced by IRNA on 20 May, Hashemi-Rafsanjani had moved up to 20th place, and another conservative candidate, Gholamali Haded-Adal, had won a seat. The 29th and 30th places were left empty, and they will be decided in by-elections. The council annulled 726,000 votes. This gives reformists about 70 percent of the parliamentary seats.
There still are questions about parliamentary leadership. The next speaker of parliament will be Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi, secretary of the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), according to the 17 May "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." Leadership of right-wing, conservative candidates will be managed by a council, "Hamshahri" reported on 18 May. Another faction will be the Society of Iranian Producers, which aims to "provide security for investment by avoiding factional struggles," "Tehran Times" reported on 16 May.
Meanwhile, the Guardians Council has approved the results in 28 constituencies where run-off elections were held in early-May, according to state television on 18 May. (Bill Samii)
AMID CLOSURES, NEW PAPERS TO APPEAR. Discussing freedom of expression and the media, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani said that although former Interior Minister Abdullah Nuri is in prison, the book containing his defense has already sold 150,000 copies. "This demonstrates the freedom of thought regardless of political affiliations," Mohajerani said, according to IRNA on 15 May. He added that the closure of 17 publications "cannot impede the cultural growth in the country." Despite this opinion, several international bodies are circulating petitions expressing concern about the situation in Iran. A recent announcement that six new dailies and three banned ones will soon resume publication, furthermore, indicates that the media is following a familiar pattern.
The day after Mohajerani extolled the level of freedom of thought in Iran, "Ham-Mihan," the daily published by former Tehran Mayor Gholamhussein Karbaschi, was ordered closed by the Tehran Public Court. There were 17 charges against the daily, including the spread of false reports against the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, the Basij, the Law Enforcement Forces, the Judiciary, the parliament, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, as well as "creating division among the officials of the sacred system of the Islamic Republic." Karbaschi, however, said that since the daily's opening in February, he had not received any complaints, according to IRNA.
Also, Said Pur-Azizi, managing director of "Bahar" and the head of President Mohammad Khatami's press office, was summoned by the Press Court on charges of publishing falsehoods and insults. Indeed, by 20 May managing editors from 17 publications had received court summons, according to IRNA.
International concern about this situation persists. A petition condemning the continued imprisonment of Akbar Ganji, Mehrangiz Kar, and Shahla Lahiji -- for their participation in the Berlin conference -- as "egregious violations of their civil rights and the due process of the law," is being circulated by Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University and Arien Mack of the New School University. They can be reached at email@example.com.
Also, the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN issued an appeal on 16 May "calling for the immediate and unconditional release of journalist Ganji, publisher Lahiji, and writer, editor, and lawyer Kar in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory."
The publications that will be coming out soon, according to the 9 May "Iran," are "Iranian," whose license holder is Haj Seyed-Javadi, "Akhbar," whose license holder is Ahmad Safaifar, and "Tose-i," whose license holder is Qoli Sheikhi. Others are "No Sazi," whose license holder is Mohammad Reza Jalaipur, "Hayat-i No," whose license holder is Hadi Khamenei, and "Ray-i Mardom," whose license holder is Yadollah Eslami. There also will be "Naqsh-i Jahan," "Mellat," and "Sobh-i Karun." (Bill Samii)
JEWS MAY BE EXECUTED. Three more suspects in the closed trial of 13 Jews accused of espionage on behalf of the U.S. and Israel confessed during hearings in the third week of May. Their lawyers, meanwhile, are voicing their objections to Iranian state media's broadcasts of the confessions. Also, claims that the accused will not face capital punishment were rejected by the judiciary.
Referring to the first televised confession, Geneive Abdo of "The Guardian" wrote on 5 May that "Mr. Tefileen's [sic] admission was not what many western governments and journalists want to hear." She went on to say that "Western bias over the Jewish case is fuelled by the western media." Abdo pointed out that a Human Rights Watch observer also criticized the televised "confession."
It is not just Western observers and allegedly biased reporters who are criticizing the confessions. Esmail Nasseri, who represents three of the accused, told AP on 15 May that "The interviews have been shown without our permission and without our clients consulting us about giving them." He warned that "we will file a lawsuit against all those involved."
Two more suspects -- Farhad Saleh and Asher Zadmehr -- confessed to working for Israel at the 15 May hearing. They both admitted to membership in an espionage network, but they denied being founding members. Saleh said he collected information about Iran's military and industrial centers and passed it on to Mossad. Parts of Zadmehr's confession were broadcast by Iranian state television.
And Javid Bin-Yaqub confessed at the 17 May hearing. He said that he started his espionage activities in 1981, IRNA reported. Bin-Yaqub said Mossad had played on his religious sentiments, and he "expressed regrets to the Iranian nation for his acts and called on them to pardon him." His confession was broadcast on 18 May.
Defense lawyer Esmail Nasseri said that the confessions were not coerced, and the accused collaborated with a foreign state out of religious enthusiasm, "The Guardian" and "Iran Daily" -- the Islamic Republic News Agency's English-language publication -- reported on 16 May.
Zadmehr's lawyer, Said Karam-Nejad, demanded that the state produce evidence to corroborate the confessions, and he said that "We are here to defend him and to show that the confessions alone are of little value." The defense also is demanding that the eight Muslim suspects be made available for questioning in court.
Judicial official Hussein Ali Amiri told Reuters that the espionage network had existed for more than 15 years, and "We have so much direct evidence. Equipment used for espionage...We also know the place where meetings with Mossad agents were held in third countries. ...we have seized copies of the exact material." Amiri went on to say that "The key figure in the group is not living in Iran, but lives abroad."
Amiri rejected the desire of Lawyers Without Frontiers to have two of its representatives attend the hearing. He said that "The judiciary has not invited any international or human rights organization to be present at the court, it will not do so, and it will not allow their presence at the court." He reiterated that "Iranian judiciary officials have not invited the lawyers." Amiri said that the French lawyers' request to meet with the accused without the presence of reporters was denied, IRNA reported on 17 May. And the hardline "Jomhuri-yi Islami" said on 20 May that the French lawyers were actually "Spies Without Frontiers."
Amiri also rejected reports that the accused will not face capital punishment. In an interview with Iranian state radio on 17 May, he said that "this news is completely baseless and a sheer lie."
"If these Jews are sentenced and hanged in cold blood, the Iranian government will be committing a state crime," according to a petition from former French prime ministers Edouard Balladur, Alain Juppe, and Pierre Mauroy, as well as former European Commission President Jacques Delors. It asked that "democratic states then break off ties with what would be a barbarous regime." (Bill Samii)
WORLD BANK APPROVES LOANS TO IRAN. Despite U.S. opposition, the World Bank approved some $232 million dollars worth of loans to Iran for a sewage system in Tehran and basic health facilities on 18 April. It is the bank's first loan package to Iran in more than six years.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 17 April that despite a recent easing of some trade sanctions against Tehran, Washington remains opposed to making the loans. Boucher said that "It remains our policy to oppose multilateral lending to Iran, including by the World Bank. Congress had directed that the U.S. oppose multilateral lending to countries that are designated by the Secretary of State as state sponsors of terrorism. Iran has been so designated."
Opposition to the loans was galvanized by the current trial of 13 Iranian Jews on charges of espionage for Israel and the U.S. Jewish organizations in the U.S. are leading this effort. Malcolm Hoenlein, head of the conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, explained that "We've gotten quite a bit of support from Canada, the U.S., and others. We've not asked that it be cancelled, just that it be delayed." Hoenlein rejected the validity of the confessions made by several suspects in the case. "All of the confessions are contradictory. All acknowledge they didn't have confidential information. the lawyers for the Jews asked for an additional session in order to bring all the defendants together to show the contradictions."
Washington worked hard to get other members of the bank's board to vote against the loan. Canada and France shared this view, while Great Britain supported the loans. The final vote of the bank's board of directors was 21 to 1, with Canada and France abstaining. "The director who represented Israel," according to the 19 May "Financial Times," voted in favor of the loan.
Members of the World Bank board told the 17 May "Financial Times" that they are reluctant to politicize the organization and would override U.S. concerns for that reason. But after the vote, Bank President James Wolfensohn said the board supports the reform policies of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.
The Heritage Foundation's Jim Phillips told RFE/RL that he thought "the administration would be correct to oppose the World Bank loans to Iran now because that signal suggests to Iranian hardliners that they can continue their terrorism with very few consequences." Shahriar Afshar of the San Diego-based Iranian Trade Association, which promotes economic engagement with Iran, disagreed. He told RFE/RL that "You can politicize it all you want. This is strictly about improving the sewage infrastructure of a major megalopolis, which is Tehran, and the second loan is about helping -- almost planned parenthood and health-care development for children in Iran. I mean, if we have an oil-for-food program for Iraq, what possible reason could we have to oppose loans to help Iran deal with those issues domestically?" (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN ROLE IN NEW PIPELINES. Pakistani ruler General Pervez Musharraf met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 15 May to discuss proposals for a gas pipeline between the two countries. The 1,600-kilometer line from the Dauletabad fields in Turkmenistan's south to the central Pakistani city of Multan is considered a key future outlet for the Central Asian republic's gas reserves. But the two countries hope to get Iran involved in the project.
Niyazov told a 17 May news conference that the talks covered the construction of a gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan to Pakistan across Iran and Afghanistan. The two governments will continue their talks with Iranian and Afghan leaders, he added. The next meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organization will hear a joint statement from the two countries calling for foreign companies' involvement in the project, Niyazov said.
Also, Musharraf will sign an agreement for construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan when he visits Iran to attend the Economic Cooperation Organization summit in June, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources cited by Islamabad's "The News" on 18 May. The project could earn Pakistan over $500 million in transit fees, but the exact figures have not been decided yet. According to the Pakistani daily, Tehran has been insisting that once the project is started there should be a guarantee that it would not be abandoned. Pakistan would be allowed to import gas through the pipeline as needed.
There may be some changes afoot regarding a gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia, also. Construction of the pipeline has been delayed because of budgetary shortfalls for the $120 million project. Armenian Energy Minister David Zadoyan, however, said that energy officials from Armenia, Iran, and Greece will meet on 26 May to discuss the issue. According to Zadoyan, "This is a key priority for our country because, as you know, the only pipeline crossing into Armenia passes through Georgia. In case it is blown up, we'll be in trouble, as we were in the past. This is why the Iran-Armenia pipeline is so important." Russia's Gazprom is involved in the project, and the head of Mitsubishi Corporation's Moscow office, Hiroshi Kawaishi, visited Yerevan to investigate funding, Noyan Tapan reported on 9 May.
In a related matter, India's Minister of External Affairs, Jaswant Singh, will visit Tehran on 19 May. It is believed that energy issues and the gas pipeline will be among the topics of discussion, Mumbai's "The Times of India" reported on 18 May. Furthermore, an unnamed Iranian company is to provide Romania's Rafo Onesti with 200,000 metric tons of petroleum a month for at least six months, Bucharest's Mediafax reported on 16 May. The first shipment is expected on 20 May, Ion Marian, the leader of Rafinorul trade union, told Mediafax. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN AND GUUAM. The ambassadors of the five GUUAM member states -- Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova -- told an RFE/RL seminar on Capitol Hill on 17 May that their countries plan to expand their cooperation both with each other and with the United States. In fact, the organization's pro-West orientation has been fairly clear since its inception in October 1997, when the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine announced that they would cooperate in the establishment of a Eurasian, Trans-Caucasus transport corridor and would increase their cooperation in other fields. Yet GUUAM has received little public attention from either the Iranian government or from the Iranian media.
But this silence on GUUAM -- which at various times has announced an interest in cooperation in peacekeeping activities and integration within the Euro-Atlantic and European security and cooperation structures; mutual assistance in the production and transportation of oil and gas and a "special partnership" with NATO; and joint lobbying for "accelerated development of Caspian oil deposits and the construction of multiple pipelines directly to international markets" -- probably does not indicate indifference.
By studying Iranian views on bilateral and multilateral issues, one can extrapolate where Iran's concerns may rest. In the security arena, concrete Iranian concern can be seen in three ways. The first is the announcement in July 1999 by Iranian state media of a trilateral security agreement with Greece and Armenia. But when news of this broke, Greece appeared to back down, saying that only discussions on areas of mutual cooperation would be held and defense issues were not part of the agreement. Indeed, Greece and Iran called on Georgia to join this alliance. In fact, cooperation discussions between the three countries date from at least August 1995.
The second indication of Iranian concern is comments about a possible Western military presence in the Caucasus. In January 1999, Azerbaijan's State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade proposed the deployment of U.S military aircraft to the Absheron peninsula, and the chief of the presidential cabinet, Eldar Namazov, confirmed his country's readiness to host a U.S. military base. Tehran's Joint Staff chief, Hassan Firuzabadi, warned that "the Israelis and the Americans are approaching us from the north," and he made comments about "Shiite Azeris with Iranian blood in their veins." The official "Iran" newspaper, which is affiliated with the pro-reform and pro-Khatami Islamic Republic News Agency, warned that the region would not permit this military presence.
Tehran also indicated its unhappiness when it was reported that Westerners would replace the Russian personnel in the Kabala radar station. A newspaper ("Kayhan International") affiliated with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's office warned that "It is not in Baku's interest to annoy it's giant southern neighbor."
The third indication of Iranian concern is its support for subversion and espionage in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Baku frequently complains about the activities of Iranian intelligence operatives (ex: February 1999). Tehran also is home to Makhir Javadov, whose brother led a coup attempt in March 1995, and who it is feared will be set loose against Baku if a NATO base is established in Azerbaijan.
Tehran also is involved with Central Asian terrorism, according to the State Department's most recent report on the subject. Specifically, Tehran is believed to support the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which has staged bombings in Uzbekistan as well as two hostage-takings in Kyrgyzstan.
Iranian concern also extends to the oil and gas arena. Iran and Azerbaijan are at odds over the division of the Caspian Sea and related oil exploration issues. The recent find of the huge Kashagan oilfield in the northern Caspian may confuse the issue even more. This discovery would improve the economic viability of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, which the U.S. is promoting and Iran opposes. Furthermore, Ukranian Ambassador Kostiansyn Hryshchenko told the RFE/RL briefing that a pipeline from the Caspian to Odesa is being considered.
Also, Tehran is negatively inclined towards the Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP), which would compete with a gas pipeline connecting Iran and Turkey and possibly one connecting Khoy and Nakhichevan. This pipeline may eventually compete with one that Iran and Armenia have been trying to complete, also. The TCP would transport Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan may eventually use it, according to U.S. ombudsmen for Energy and Commercial Cooperation in the NIS Jan Kalicki. Turkmenistan's February 1999 agreement with American firms for construction of the pipeline was rejected as "invalid and unacceptable" by the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
A related issue which may be an irritant to Tehran is the creation of a special unit, with NATO assistance, to guard the pipeline. Defense ministers from the GUUAM members have already had discussions on this subject, and the U.S. in involved also.
Tehran may welcome two aspects of GUUAM -- its emphasis on reducing ethnic and religious tensions in the region, and its support for countries' territorial integrity. Iran is home to ethnic Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, and Turkmen who have all, at various times, militated for greater national rights. GUUAM's work may reduce the possibility of a spillover effect.
And Tehran's interest in territorial integrity can be seen in its stance on the war in Chechnya and in its efforts to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Describing these conflicts as a major threat to regional security, Iranian Vice President Hasan Habibi said at a Eurasian summit in Almaty that Iran seeks to strengthen its cooperation with Central Asian and Caucasian countries, Moscow's Interfax reported on 27 April. Tehran's view on this issue is similar to Moscow's. Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a visit to Tashkent on 18 May that "recently, criminal attempts have been made through terrorist means to divide up the post-Soviet space. And if we don't halt this aggressive attempt, together with our Uzbek friends here in the south, we will encounter it at home."
To summarize, Tehran has had little to say about GUUAM. And because it has continuing trade relations with all of its members on a bilateral basis, it probably does not want to confront them about it directly. Indeed, it may hope to eventually benefit from the TRACECA transport corridor. But from a security perspective and because of its close relationship with Moscow, it seems very unlikely that Tehran welcomes the associated presence of Western security organizations. (Bill Samii)