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Iran Report: August 28, 2000

28 August 2000, Volume 3, Number 33

CALL FOR INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION IN BIOTECHNOLOGY. Tehran is emphasizing cooperation with foreign partners in the biotechnology field in its efforts to overcome what a newspaper described as insufficient budgets, lack of personnel, and unclear government policies. "Our country's scientific and university centers can compensate for the domestic scientific weaknesses and educational vacuums with the aid of foreign researchers and experts," "Afarinesh" had suggested in late-June.

When Cuban Agriculture Minister Alfredo Jordan visited Iran this spring, he and his Iranian counterpart, Issa Kalantari, signed a protocol committing themselves to cooperation in biotechnology, Havana's Granma agency reported on 27 May. Also, Iran and Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding to implement joint ventures in the biotechnology field, IRNA reported on 7 May. Similar memorandums, sometimes in the scientific and agricultural fields, have been signed with other countries in the last year.

Some of this may seem benign. Germs, bacteria, viruses, fungi, toxins, carrier insects, and dangerous plants, however, are all potential biological weapons.

Russian, Chinese, and Cuban scientists with biotechnology expertise already work in Iran. Some of them work at academic institutions, such as Tarbiat-i Mudariss University and Tehran University. Others work for military institutions, such as the Defense Industries Organization or the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. Still others are employed by governmental research bodies, such as the Pasteur Institute. And the Construction Jihad Ministry supervises the activities of the Razi Institute of Vaccines and Serum Research in Kerman and the Razi Institute of Hesarak, which performs venom and anti-venom studies.

The U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense reported in 1996 that it believes Iran has an offensive biological weapons program. And the Iranian military journal "Saff" published an article titled "Biological (Germ) Warfare, A New and Effective Method in Modern Warfare," in its November-December 1999 issue. With advances in Iran's missile program, the possibility of successfully delivering these weapons is increasing. (Bill Samii)

'EXTRAORDINARY MISSILE' ON THE WAY. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Vice-Admiral Ali Shamkhani told state television on 23 August that he will open 23 industrial, research, manufacturing, and services projects during Government Week. "And in the field of shore-to-sea missiles, God willing, we shall very soon bring an extraordinary missile to the inauguration phase," Shamkhani said. He also described the 1,200-kilometer-range Shihab-3 surface-to-surface missile, which was tested for the second time on 15 July. Soon to be inaugurated, Shamkhani said, are the Saeqeh and Sayyad-1 air defense missiles; and the Tufan, Towsan, and Misaq anti-tank missiles. Solid and liquid fuel variants of the various missiles, with different ranges and launching powers, have been produced, Shamkhani told state television on 24 August. He went on to say that "we are also investing in production of those military equipment that, with minimum cost, can have maximum effects on our deterrence capabilities. In fact we are investing in [our access] to space technology or its prerequisite field like missile technology by improving the range, accuracy, and destruction power of missiles. This is one of our main aims." (Bill Samii)

MULTIPURPOSE SATELLITES DEVELOPED. The mid-August announcement by Deputy Minister of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone (PTT) Mehdi Tabeshian that Iran is seeking tenders for construction of the multipurpose Zohreh satellite, and his description of two other Iranian satellite projects, may be either benign or malignant, depending on the uses Tehran may put such satellites to work.

Tabeshian said that Zohreh will have the capacity of beaming seven audio-visual channels and five telecommunication channels, IRNA reported on 16 August. The Mesbah satellite should be operational in three years. Deputy PTT Minister Mustafa Safavi described Mesbah as a research satellite for use by universities and research centers during a 31 July speech in Vienna, according to IRNA.

The satellites are being built with international partners. Tabeshian described a third, multipurpose satellite, built with the cooperation of Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, South Korea, and Thailand, that will be used for audio transmission, data transfer, and other scientific uses. Iran is building the satellite's communication and telescope systems, according to deputy managing director of the Center for Distance Measurement, Ahmad Talebzadeh. And in May, PTT Minister Mohammad-Reza Aref said Russia's Higher Education Ministry is working with Iran on a satellite, although he provided no further details.

Using satellites for communications and scientific research has become a common and accepted practice around the world. But by using modern satellite navigation systems, cruise missiles can attain great accuracy and can carry nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, Seth Carus, senior research professor at the National Defense University's Center for Counter-proliferation Research, writes in the September 2000 "MERIA Journal." Carus cites intelligence experts who believe that "Iran can now produce the C-802 anti-ship cruise missile, a Chinese system based on the French Exocet anti-ship missile." This system could be adapted to deliver biological or chemical weapons to neighboring states, according to Carus. (Bill Samii)

MORE SOLDIERS, MORE CONCERNS ABOUT IDEOLOGY. Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi, commander of the Basij Mobilization Forces, said on 21 August that Iran's forces would be increased by 1.5 million people by 20 March 2001. Hejazi added that, because of "the foreign cultural onslaught," there would be increased cultural training, IRNA reported. He added that currently there are 25 Basij centers throughout the country, reaching 140 by the end of the year.

Colonel Ali Asqar Rajai was introduced as the new Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander for Kashan at a mid-August ceremony. Rajai succeeds Colonel Ali Asqar Husseinnezhad. In his welcoming comments, Isfahan region commander Brigadier General Javad Karimi said that Kashan's 25,000 Basijis, 54 bases, and five battalions are the region's best.

At a June retirement ceremony for IRGC personnel, Hojatoleslam Eftekhari, the Supreme Leader's representative for the Qazvin IRGC, reminded listeners that "To serve the IRGC means to serve the Koran and Islam, and you should not forget the vision you had when you entered the IRGC. At present, you may not be bound by IRGC regulation, but you are bound by Islamic ones." Eftekhari regretted the decline in societal values, "Vilayat-i Qazvin" reported, saying that "We are living in a society today where people hardly accord any recognition to a veteran who defended three kilometers, or borders where the death rate was 70 percent, whereas thousands applaud a footballer who defends a 6-meter goalpost."

IRGC units have Supreme Leader's Representatives assigned to them, while most regular military units have Political Ideological Directorate representatives assigned to them. The new head of the Army's Politico-Ideological Directorate is Hojatoleslam Seyyed Mahmud Alavi, as specified in a decree issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, IRNA reported on 15 August. Alavi succeeds Hojatoleslam Mahmud Quchani. Earlier this year, Hojatoleslam Moin-Shirazi was appointed as the Head of the Ideological-Political Branch of the Air Force, Tehran Region. He was preceded by Hojatoleslam Nuri.

The role of ideology was spelled out by Joint Staff of the Armed Forces chief Major General Mohammad Salimi. "The army of the Islamic Republic of Iran is an ideological army and is loyal to the Vilayat-i Faqih, and its methods and actions are based on the solid and liberating teachings of Islam," he said during the 16 August "Armed Forces" television program. Salimi continued, "The culture of seeking martyrdom and total loyalty to the supreme commander of the armed forces, as the guardian of the cause of the Muslims, has its roots in the religious faith of the courageous personnel of the army. ...we military men in Iran are God's soldiers and are always victorious. Allegiance to the Vilayat-e Faqih for us is like a source of life."

Iran's Armed Forces General Headquarters Commander Major-General Hassan Firuzabadi said that Iran's interests rely on the principles of Vilayat-i Faqih. He defined these principles as the Supreme Leadership, Islamic government, territorial integrity, national sovereignty, independence, discipline, security, and public welfare, IRNA reported on 17 August.

Brigadier-General Akbar Dianatfar was appointed as deputy in charge of the human resources department of the Armed Forces general staff command headquarters, state television reported on 29 June. (Bill Samii)

WOMEN'S ROLE IN PUBLISHING DEVELOPS. Deputy Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei, speaking at a literary festival in Yazd, said that in recent years permits have been issued for 90 female-managed publications. Masjid-Jamei added that women have received 530 publishing permits, "Hamshahri" reported on 15 August, and 2,000 Iranian women had their work published last year. But the print media is as treacherous for women as it is for men.

Two female publishers, Faraneh Behzadi of the biweekly "Danestaniha" and Fatimeh Farahmandpur of the weekly "Gunagun", appeared before the press court on 21 August. Behzadi said during her hearing that she was forced to incriminate herself during the earlier interrogation because she could not make bail. She added, furthermore, that she was appearing without legal representation because she could not afford any.

Press Court Judge Said Mortazavi claimed that these two publications had just taken the place of publications banned in recent months. Indeed, "Gunagun" was started by staffers of "Tus," "Khordad," "Neshat," "Akhbar-i Eqtesad," "Asr-i Azadigan," and "Fath." All these publications share a website (, too.

But attorney Nemat Ahmadi, who represents "Gunagun," rejected the accusations in an interview with RFE/RL's Persian Service. He pointed out that a weekly and a biweekly could not replace so many newspapers. People buy these publications on the basis of their content rather than their appearance, furthermore, so any physical similarities are irrelevant.

What the courts do not eliminate the economy can deal with. "Sobh-i Khanevadeh," a newspaper geared towards housewives, stopped publishing due to financial problems and an inability to meet expenses, IRNA reported on 12 August. (Bill Samii)

MORE BAD NEWS ABOUT IRAN'S PRINT MEDIA. Positive developments in Iranian press freedom continue to be outweighed by negative ones. There have been more press closures and trials. President Mohammad Khatami discussed the media's problems during a lengthy interview, but he would not make any predictions about when the repression would end. Moreover, he at times even seemed to be critical of the press. Meanwhile, clerical intellectual Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar said that the current situation would continue until the Vilayat-i Faqih (rule of the supreme jurisprudent) is abolished.

"Iran-i Farda" managing editor Ezzatollah Sahabi was released from Evin Prison on 21 August, according to IRNA. His editor-in-chief, Reza Alijani, said that bail was set at 500 million rials (about $286,000). A new publication, "Jahan-i Islam," appeared on 16 August. Its director is Hojatoleslam Hadi Khamenei, who also heads "Hayat-i No."

The managing director of the Tehran municipality daily "Hamshahri," Morteza Alviri, who is also Tehran's mayor, was summoned to the court on the basis of 15 complaints. Aliviri's request for two weeks to prepare his defense was granted by Judge Said Mortazavi, state radio reported on 23 August.

"Qeseh-yi Zendegi" weekly was banned on 19 August after receiving a warning from the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry. Managing Editor Ahmad Asadi said that he was summoned for the publication of an "absurd and immoral article" and he had to retrieve all the copies of the following week's edition that had been distributed. The weekly had received earlier warnings, IRNA quoted the domestic press commission as saying.

The publishing license of Mostafa Izadi, the managing editor of the banned "Ava," was withdrawn by the press court. Judge Mortazavi banned Izadi from any journalistic activities and fined him, "Iran" reported on 17 August. "Iran" reported on the same day that Abbas Salimi-Namin of "Tehran Times" was summoned by the State Employees Court because of a lawsuit filed by the Interior Ministry.

Kurdistan Province's "Javanan-i Qorveh," a literary, cultural, and social monthly run by advisers to the governor general, was closed by a local court following a complaint by a local council member, IRNA reported on 16 August.

President Khatami answered some questions about the current media crisis in an interview with representatives of three official Iranian news organizations--Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the Islamic Republic News Agency, and the Iranian Students News Agency--that was broadcast on state television on 21 August. "The situation which has come about nowadays for our press and mass media is not satisfactory. I agree completely that any offense or deviation should be dealt with, but within the framework of the law. ...[a] selective approach to the press and the people is not desirable. Everything should be done within the framework of the law and regulations. We should know that our regime is strong enough so as not to give the impression that, God forbid, it is weak and afraid because of such a method."

The president gave an ambiguous answer when asked if the banned publications will be reopened soon. "Various institutions, be they executive or judicial...should take into consideration the interests, as well as the security, of our country. ...they should also take into consideration the basic rights of our people and other such things. They should act within a clearly defined framework...I also hope that academics and thinkers will be able to understand the situation and identify the threats and problems [we face] both outside and inside [Iran]. I hope that they will become wiser and that all of us will move in the direction of strengthening the system. ...[I hope that] the government, the press, the media and the people, as well as various institutions, will cooperate with one another in accordance with the basis provided by the law. ...God willing, those problems which have caused us pain and suffering will enable us to achieve greater and better consensus."

Khatami discussed the press again when answering a question about the unrest during July 1999. He said that "one of the problems of our press was the lack of logical and ethical safeguards. Had these been observed we would not have to pay the price which we paid."

It could be said that Khatami is involved in a balancing act, in which he is promoting reform and what he terms "Islamic democracy" within a constitutional framework, while simultaneously trying to avoid unrest or other threats to Iran's security. But that is a generous assessment. Iran's constitution defines the limits of reform, and Khatami is clearly a strong supporter of the constitution. There must be major changes in the constitution if reform is to progress.

Reformist cleric Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar explained that the compromise Khatami wants is unattainable, "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 21 August. "If we want democracy, the Vilayat-i Faqih must be abolished," Kadivar asserted. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENTARIANS TO FACE POST-ELECTION SUPERVISION? The recent suggestion by members of the Guardians Council that they might reject the credentials of sitting parliamentarians dashes hopes for a change in the council's hardline tendencies. Not only does this sharply reduce expectations of greater accountability and possibly greater transparency in the actions of the Guardians Council, but the body appears to have been inspired by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's blocking of debate on the press law.

The unprecedented insistence by some parliamentarians that Khamenei's letter about the press law should be read into the legislative record was met by a threat from Guardians Council spokesman Ayatollah Reza Ostadi. He said, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported, that anybody who does not show practical loyalty to the Vilayat-i Faqih would have his or her credentials revoked by the council. Guardians Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati's 18 August Friday Prayers sermon seemed to underline this approach. He said that "they [the deputies] were elected to serve Islam. If any of them should wish to propose a bill or do something contrary to Islam, they would not be representing the people. The parliamentary deputies' power of attorney is limited. They do not have any unlimited authority to do whatever they wish." Indeed, this would not be the first time that the council tried to get rid of parliamentarians after they have been elected and seated.

Some parliamentarians insisted that the council was not legally entitled to oust them after they were elected and their credentials were approved. Among the opponents of such actions and critics of Jannati's comments were Tehran's Rasul Montajabnia ("Iran," 17 August); Tabriz's Akbar Alami and Sanandaj's Jalal Jalalizadeh ("Iran," 19 August); and Orumieh's Shahrbanu Amani, Qaenat's Musa Qorbani, and Mashhad's Ali Tajernia ("Iran Daily," 20 August).

The constitution's Article 84 states that "Every representative...has the right to express his views on all internal and external affairs of the country." If the Guardians Council tries to oust a parliamentarian for speaking out on an issue, therefore, it would seem to contradict the constitution itself.

Article 98, however, gives the Guardians Council the right to interpret the constitution. Defenders of the council say, therefore, that it can oversee all aspects of the legislative process.

This latter interpretation has no legal or religious justification, Qom seminarian Hojatoleslam Assadollah Bayat told the 20 August "Hayat-i No." Bayat, who is a member of the Council to Review the Constitution and a former parliamentarian, explained that "supervision is one thing but interference is something totally different. If we expel a parliamentary deputy whose competence has been approved by the Guardian Council, the executive and supervisory boards, or if we expel a parliamentary deputy whose credentials have been approved by the Majlis, then we will be interfering with the business of the legislature. That is not called supervision."

Qazvin-based political activist Taqi Rahmani told RFE/RL's Persian Service on 20 August that the discussion started by Ostadi's comments goes beyond the previous ones about the Guardians Council's right of "supervision," and in fact, the council is trying to extend its power. Rahmani pointed that earlier this year, when it became clear that the hardliners would be losing control of the parliament, a lengthy article in the hardline "Jebheh" weekly recommended the establishment of a parliamentary court ("dadgah-i majlis"). This court should be run by the Guardians Council, "Jebheh" recommended, and if a parliamentarian acted inappropriately, the court could remove him.

Rahmani added that, once somebody is elected to the parliament, he or she is free to express his or her opinions. If there is such a form of supervision, Rahmani asked, how can a parliamentarian dare to say or do anything?

Isfahan representative Rajabali Mazrui provided an answer during the 16 August parliamentary session. He warned that "the deputies will not speak freely in the parliament because they are too afraid." (Bill Samii)

DOCTORS DAY MARKED IN IRAN. Iran's Doctors Day was celebrated in the fourth week of August, and recent reports from state and military officials indicate that health care in Iran is constantly improving in terms of quality and availability. Reports from the provinces and from medical officials, however, suggest that there are still significant problems, such as the availability of equipment and medicine.

Medical costs in Iran are the lowest internationally, Minister of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Mohammad Farhadi said during a 22 August address to physicians employed by Iran's Defense Ministry, IRNA reported. Furthermore, the Deputy Minister of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education, Dr. Akbar Sayyari, told a 10 August gathering of ministry personnel in Mashhad that polio, measles, and tetanus have been eliminated in Iran. He added that only 14 tetanus cases have been recorded since 1979, IRNA reported.

The Ministry of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education announced on 22 August that all Iranian children have been vaccinated against polio, tuberculosis (with BCG), hepatitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertusis (whooping cough), and measles. The vaccination program will continue because these diseases still exist in Iran's neighbors. Sayyari had said that the "National Plan for the Health of Mothers and Children" saved the lives of 400,000 children under one year of age, 250,000 below five years, and 25,000 would-be mothers.

Brigadier-General Naderi, head of the Army's Medical Health, Treatment, and Training Department, told state television on 19 July about some of his organization's accomplishments. Believing that prevention is better than treatment, they are involved in projects dealing with irrigation, sewage, garbage disposal, and sanitation. Also, medical students can choose from training in a variety of fields. This is translated into use of advanced methods, such as angioplasty, angiography, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Cardiac Surgery Center Number 502 does about 10 open-heart surgeries daily.

Military health care now subcontracts to facilities such as banks and private organizations, Naderi said. And the military's health insurance allows personnel to choose the physician and the hospital from which they will seek treatment. All costs at military hospitals are covered, while costs at private facilities are four times higher. Medevac and home-care facilities are planned, according to Naderi.

Deputy Health Minister Sayyari described some of the persistent health problems. Due to poverty and population problems, he said, 16 percent of Iranian children suffer from malnutrition while 40 percent of children suffer from overeating of the wrong kind of diet.

Iran's Hemophilia Center called for President Mohammad Khatami, his ministers, and speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi to introduce radical reforms in the country's Blood Transfusion Organization while trying to opt for effective guidelines in line with the latest standards of the World Health Organization (WHO), IRNA reported on 31 July. Furthermore, the Hemophilia Center asked for a budget that is sufficient for buying necessary equipment to provide uncontaminated blood.

The head of the Health Ministry's malaria department announced that 22,000 people are infected by malaria in the country. The figure shows 50 percent increase since shortly before the revolution, "Iran"--the IRNA daily--reported on 18 July.

Patients in Kermanshah, meanwhile, have complained about medicine shortages and a resulting black market. One patient, Ali Morati, said, "I have searched all the pharmacies to find a tetanus shot, but I have been unsuccessful so far. Because of this, I will have to spend a huge amount and go to Tehran to find this shot." A Sahneh township resident complained, according to the 12 June "Qods," "I pay over 90,000 rials in insurance payments per month, but in order to procure medicine, I have to go to pharmacies outside the hospital, and even purchase them on the free market." He went on to say that "The expensive medicines cannot be found in the pharmacies and hospitals, and in order to get them we have to pay large sums and get them on the free market."

Medicine shortages are not confined to Kermanshah. Dr. Abdi, the manager in charge of medicine at Kermanshah's Medical Sciences University and Treatment Services, told "Qods," "Unfortunately, the shortage of some medicines is one of the periodic problems that occur across the country, and is not exclusive to our province." He added that non-locals also come to Kermanshah for treatment and medicine, thereby depleting the local allocation further. According to Abdi, there are 144 pharmacies in Kermanshah, "but nevertheless, we are not denying the existence of a black market for medicine in the province."

Health Minister Farhadi admitted that some Iranian physicians are not doing well financially and that the medical profession in Iran does not have the strong reputation it once did. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN OFFERS TO NEGOTIATE WITH ABU SAYYAF. August has seen new developments regarding alleged Iranian ties with international terrorism (for an earlier discussion, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 July 2000). Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 23 August that Iran, as head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, is willing to negotiate for the release of about 10 foreign hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf group in the southern Philippines. Philippines Defense Minister Orlando Mercado had said previously that Abu Sayyaf is trained by, among others, Iranian personnel. Iran has denied links with Abu Sayyaf.

Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori charged recently that the leftist and anti-U.S. Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are getting weapons shipped from Jordan. Colombian officials told AFP on 21 August that they are investigating Fujimori's allegations. In October 1999 there were reports of arms being flown from the Caucasus via Iran and Jordan to the FARC. This time, Fujimori said that the weapons went from Amman to the Canary Islands, then Guyana, and then to Iquitos in northeastern Peru. Iran was involved in a construction project in the FARC-controlled Demilitarized Zone, but it withdrew from the project following expressions of concern over the possible involvement of Iranian military advisers by Colombian Defense Minister Luis Fernando Ramirez.

Argentina's intelligence chief, Fernando de Santibanes, disclosed the arrest of Pakistan's Mohammad Abbas Malik in Los Angeles on 15 August, AP reported. Malik's detention "is related" to the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and "may have a connection" with the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Mutual Association there. There have been persistent accusations that Lebanese Hizballah--acting on Iran's behalf--was behind the bombings. Santibanes said that allegations of Malik's links to the bombings were based on information obtained by Interpol, and Argentina may seek Malik's extradition.

Earlier, four out of 18 people indicted in a Michigan and North Carolina cigarette-smuggling ring--including supposed leader Mohammad Yussef Hammoud--that was allegedly raising money for Hizballah, pleaded innocent and requested a jury trial. One of the defendants, Fatme Mohammad Harb, is being held by the INS and will be arraigned later. The defendants waived arraignment, AP reported on 11 August, which is tantamount to an innocent plea. The group was arrested on 21 July. (Bill Samii)