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Iran Report: September 4, 2000

4 September 2000, Volume 3, Number 34

IRANIAN OFFICIALS MEET U.S. COUNTERPARTS. Several official Iranian delegations have been and will be visiting New York City in late-August and early-September. Parliamentarians from around the world, including representatives from Iran, began a three-day summit of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) on 30 August at the UN to boost cooperation among themselves and with international organizations. The Iranian delegation to that meeting was led by speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi. Jewish parliamentarian Morris Motamed and female parliamentarian Elahe Kulayi also attended the event, as did Ismail Gabbarzadeh and Davud Hassanzadegan.

Visa requests from two Iranian officials were rejected by the State Department. Spokesman Phil Reeker explained that "the two Iranian legislators were denied visas on national security grounds."

Parliamentarian Alaeddin Borujerdi complained that "America's State Department has not provided any convincing reason and has not supplied any explanations regarding its refusal to issue a visa [to me]," "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 29 August. It is not unlikely that the refusal is connected with Borujerdi's role in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the subsequent hostage crisis. Borujerdi said the U.S. action was inappropriate because he was invited by the UN. The IPU, however, is not a UN body.

Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai's visa application was also rejected. A former commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, his connections with state terrorism may have weighed unfavorably in the application process.

Karrubi met with representatives of Chevron, Conoco, and Exxon Mobil on 31 August. He told them that "American must put an end to these sanctions and abandon its hostile behavior towards the Islamic Republic of Iran," state television reported the next day. Karrubi later voiced confidence that the oil companies favor elimination of the sanctions.

A potentially more significant development occurred at a reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when members of the Iranian delegation had the chance to meet with some of their American counterparts: Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), Representative Robert W. Ney (R-OH), Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-NY), and Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY).

Karrubi "called on the U.S. senators [and representatives] to try to make the U.S. Congress stop its hostile behavior towards Iran and not to put under pressure foreign and American firms which are willing to establish relations with Iran," IRNA reported. He cited "anti-Iran sanctions and negative propaganda launched by U.S. mass media" as examples of U.S. hostility. Karrubi also said that the Iranian people "advocate promotion of relations between the American and Iranian nations in the cultural and scientific fields."

Specter later described the talks as "warm and friendly." Specter went on to say that "It's time to start a dialogue with Iran, and since there isn't an official government-to-government dialogue, this parliamentary contact will be the way to break the ice," according to "The Los Angeles Times."

Ackerman said that he was encouraged by the Iranians' call for greater people-to-people dialog and more cultural exchanges. Ackerman added that he was also impressed by the inclusion of a woman and the only Jewish parliamentarian in the delegation. "They were trying to show inclusiveness," Mr. Ackerman told "The New York Times," interpreting the gesture as a response to "the noise we were making."

Some observers, "The Los Angeles Times" reported, saw the meeting as the "opening round in an initiative designed to formally end tensions and move more decisively to renew diplomatic relations" between the two countries. Citing "well-informed Iranians," the California daily added that Iran's UN mission has been authorized to "initiate and expand official contacts with both official and unofficial Americans." Whether or not this is the case, it seems clear that such a meeting could not have occurred without the approval of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Bill Samii)

KHAMENEI DISCUSSES RELATIONS WITH U.S. "When we say we do not want these relations [with the U.S.]," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on 15 August, "it is very simplistic to think that we have done so with our eyes closed. No, this is not so. A lot of study and research has gone into such a statement. In other words, this statement is the fruit of a great deal of research, study, and calculations." In remarks to Iranian diplomats that was broadcast several times during the month, he gave three reasons why Iran is not interested in having relations with the United States.

First of all, Iran rejects a unipolar world dominated by the U.S. because "America does not really have the moral or the political competence to lead the world." All America has to offer, according to Khamenei, is "its superior industry, its complex technology, it advanced sciences, and its wealth, which bring it diplomatic and military power." "We cannot accept this," the Supreme Leader said.

Furthermore, the U.S. is overly demanding. "No matter how many concessions you grant to them, there is still another one just around the corner...If you refuse to give them this, then all hell breaks loose." Khamenei said that U.S. demands escalate constantly, and if there are negotiations, the U.S. will be in a position to impose its will. The Supreme Leader wondered what price Iran will have to pay for negotiations. He expressed concern that even if Iran does call for the resumption of ties, America will come up with a pretext for rejecting this unless Iran makes more concessions.

Finally, according to Khamenei, the U.S. does not understand political Islam, which is "what has kept the Americans outside our doors for some 21 years." He goes on to say that the U.S. opposes an "Islamic political system. ...They perceive political Islam as a threat and search for a way out."

Khamenei described what he called American mistakes during his late-July trip to Ardebil Province. He said during a speech in Meshkinshahr that although a great deal of rural development has occurred since the revolution, the more remote areas were ignored by the monarchy, "emphasizing that the previous despotic regime had the support of America," according to state radio. In another speech, Khamenei said that because the Basij is "the organization that safeguards the Islamic revolution and Islamic values, the enmity of American and Zionist espionage services towards the Basij is all the more intense." Thanks to the Basij, Khamenei said, "America will not be able to do anything against the revolution." (Bill Samii)

DIPLOMATIC FRENZY OVER JERUSALEM. The Iranian government's request that Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg meet with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami during the latter's early-September trip to New York may be part of the diplomatic frenzy of negotiations preceding Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassir Arafat's planned declaration of an independent Palestinian state by 13 September. The Jerusalem Committee of the Organization of the Islamic Conference met in Morocco on 28 August, furthermore, and it is possible that Khatami wants to relay the OIC's views to Stoltenberg.

Arafat has already visited many capitals--including Tehran and Oslo--since the inconclusive Camp David talks in July. Arafat was to meet former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in Oslo in early-August, but they held a phone conversation instead. Afterwards, Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland said that "we fully support the Palestinians' right to establish a sovereign state but the best thing to do would be to do it within the framework of negotiations. Then the state can truly be sovereign and live in peace with Israel."

Jagland then traveled to Alexandria and met with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Amr Musa to discuss the status of Jerusalem and of Palestinian refugees. Jagland declared after the meetings that an agreement based on compromise could be reached by the autumn, "being aware of the fact that Jerusalem is a holy city, not only for Christians and Jews, but first and foremost for the Muslims," Reuters reported on 24 August. (This is, essentially, Iran's declared position.) Jagland also said Norway could help with refugees because of its experience in the camps. Arafat arrived in Egypt right after Jagland left.

The Jerusalem Committee of the OIC was established in 1975 to preserve the city's cultural heritage and represent Islamic countries' views on the city's future. Representing Iran at the 28 August Jerusalem Committee meeting in Agadir, Morocco, was Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Other members of the Committee are Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Syria. The committee's post-meeting statement called for the resumption of talks on the basis of UN land-for-peace resolutions, and confirmed "its support for the state of Palestine and its sovereignty over al-Qods [Jerusalem] and all the holy Islamic and Christian shrines. It also confirms that al-Qods is the capital of an independent Palestinian state," IRNA reported on 29 August.

On his return to Tehran, Kharrazi added that the Palestinian refugees' situation was discussed in Morocco, and unnamed "Christian leaders" also participated in the meeting. Kharrazi condemned President Bill Clinton's earlier suggestion that the U.S. Embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

President Khatami, while attending the 6-8 September UN Millennium Summit, is scheduled to address the "Dialogue of Civilizations" meeting, which has been organized by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Khatami is to meet 30 of his counterparts, IRNA reported on 2 September. (Bill Samii)

OIL AND POLITICS BETWEEN TEHRAN AND OSLO. The main topic of Iran-Norway talks in New York may be the high politics of Middle East peace, but the low politics of oil may come up on the sidelines. As oil prices hover at high levels, with a $31/barrel price for Brent Crude October futures, Western states are becoming increasingly unhappy. The White House, for example, has urged Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to increase production to lower prices. But Norway, which is not an OPEC member, joined OPEC's lowering of production rates earlier this year

Iranian OPEC representative Hussein Kazempur told Reuters on 29 August that such U.S. demands are "politically motivated." He also said that the countries complaining about high prices are themselves responsible: "The hue and cry about the level of the price is not justified as long as high taxes by the consuming governments are imposed."

It is believed that Norway, along with Mexico, is being considered for OPEC membership. An OPEC policy meeting is scheduled for 10 September in Vienna.

Moreover, Norway's biggest oil company, Statoil, may have all of the state's oil assets transferred to it soon. This would make Statoil the West's fourth largest listed oil company, IRNA reported in July. Statoil, furthermore, is increasing its activities in the Caspian region: Statoil said it may invest up to 50 billion Norwegian crowns in the region over the next 10 years; and Rolf Magne Larsen, its vice president for international exploration and production, is scheduled to arrive in Baku in September. Statoil already holds an 8.56 percent stake in the Azeri-Chargi offshore field; a 25.5 percent stake in the Shah Deniz field; a 15 percent stake in the Alov, Araz, and Sharg prospects; and a 4.76 percent stake in Kazakhstan's Kashagan oilfield. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN PARTICIPATES IN WORLD PEACE SUMMIT. An Iranian delegation led by Ayatollah Abdullah Vaez-Javadi-Amoli attended the four-day Millennium World Peace Summit in New York. He read a message from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the 29 August meeting. Khamenei said that Iran is a successful example of a political system based on religion, and he noted that all divine religions face the major challenge of corruption, IRNA reported. Earlier, Javadi-Amoli conveyed Khamenei's greetings to Muslims living in the U.S., he visited New York's Razi Islamic School, and he met with some university lecturers. (Bill Samii)

NEW DEFENSE PRODUCTS AVAILABLE FOR EXPORT. Several new military products were introduced during Iran's late-August Government Week, and Minister of Defense Admiral Ali Shamkhani said that Iran's defense industries were now producing goods for the domestic and foreign markets. Among the new products are Raad illumination shells; bullets; and Tariq ammunition for submarines. Shamkhani told state television that five explosives-production projects are underway. One of these is for use in urban terrain and will be delivered by 38 mm tear-gas launchers. Also, the laboratory production of HMX--described by Iranian state television as the most powerful type of non-atomic explosive--began.

The Al-Sabehat 15, described on state radio as the "first prototype mini-submarine," was launched at Bandar Abbas on 29 August. It has a two-man crew and can carry three divers. Shamkhani said that it is constructed specifically for the Persian Gulf's humidity, temperatures, salinity, and shallow depths. Project manager Mehdi Sharifi Zamani said the submarine can conduct reconnaissance, deliver commandos, and plant mines.

Zamani added, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 30 August, that "we have the capability to built more advanced submarines and steps have already been taken to design and build such submarines."

Production of an electro-optical tracking device for air-defense artillery began, and Shamkhani attended the opening of a laser gyroscope-manufacturing project at the Shiraz Electronic Industries. This same facility will produce, Shamkhani said, computer monitors. Initially 100,000 units can be produced, and next year 200,000 units can be produced, which will meet internal requirements and demand for exports.

Iranian military production, Shamkhani told state television on 24 August, is aimed at defensive needs and export potential. The Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics is Iran's research leader, and the focus is on producing weapons that can "give us maximum benefit and have minimum production cost." Iran exports weapons to 11 countries, and according to Shamkhani, these products are comparable with their Western counterparts but are less expensive.

Shamkhani added that facilities producing military goods also contribute during peacetime because similar technology is used in both fields. The defense sector is active in the agricultural, medical, electronic, and household goods industries. (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS JEWISH ESPIONAGE CASE. Fars Province Judiciary chief Hojatoleslam Hussein Ali Amiri said on 3 September that the appeal court reviewing the trial of 13 Jews and four Muslims on espionage charges has postponed its ruling until later this month. Amiri said that the judges could not agree on several issues. On 21 August, Amiri had said that the appeals court was attempting to determine whether or not the charges against the accused actually constitute crimes, which may result in a reduction of their sentences.

Defense attorney Ismail Nasseri told AP on 21 August that the prisoners' morale is very low because they think the sentences were excessively harsh and surpassed their expectations. The prisoners' families had met with Amiri on 8 August to request better conditions. Their demands included an increase to two Kosher meals a week, the return of the prisoners' property, and the unfreezing of their bank accounts.

President Khatami discussed the case when he met with representatives of Iran's Jewish community on 24 August. First he told them that "The Zionists, under the name of the Jewish religion, are carrying out racist and usurpative policies." After that encouraging comment, he told them that the case of the Iranian Jews convicted for espionage in July would be "dealt with in accordance with the law," state television reported.

Morris Motamed, a Jewish parliamentarian who is part of the Iranian delegation at the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting in New York, also discussed the case. He said that his requests to see the prisoners have been rejected. His requests to see the relevant files have been rejected, too, so he is unwilling to say whether or not the trial was fair, "Iran News" reported on 28 August. Motamed told RFE/RL's Persian Service that Iranian minorities have the same access as their compatriots to all facilities in the country.

Many outside observers are less cautious than Motamed and are convinced that the trial was a sham. Tehran is worried that protests against the case will mar visits to the U.S. by official Iranian delegations. The official Islamic Republic News Agency, therefore, reported on 20 August that a fax from the prisoners' families condemned "self-serving and treacherous activities of individuals who do not have any connections to the Iranian people during the visit to the UN headquarters in New York by President Mohammad Khatami and other Iranian officials." The fax, according to IRNA, also expressed concern about "acts perpetrated by the spent political forces in cooperation with the most reactionary Zionist groups who intend to create disturbance [sic] at international gatherings" during the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting and the conference of religious leaders.

Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi discussed the case with state television on 26 August. "The [MOIS] was responsible for discovering the whole thing which took several years to complete. ...We insisted that the trial should be totally open. [It was not open.] The reason was that the crimes were so obvious that it was not possible to dispute them. It was a great plot by the Zionists, who mislead a number of our Jewish fellow citizens by taking advantage of their religious sentiments, and established this organization against the Islamic Republic. ...If the organization had continued it could have certainly threatened our security and possibly even that of the region."

Yunesi compared this case with those of Israeli spies in the U.S. "If this case had happened in America, the Americans would not have shown the respect that we showed for the Jews. We know that people have been tried in America for spying for Israel, and that they have received heavier sentences. But the Americans accused and condemned us over this case." (Bill Samii)

KHORRAMABAD UNREST SHOWS POLITICAL DIVISIONS. What has turned into a week of violent demonstrations shows the ideological and methodological gap between different Iranian political factions, but it also suggests that there may be increasing radicalization of society. The consequences of such an occurrence could be even more violence.

As of 3 September there were reports of clashes between civilians and security forces in Khorramabad, Luristan Province, with more troops arriving, but the unrest started off in a relatively minor way. Two Islamic intellectuals, Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar and Abdul Karim Sorush, came to Khorramabad on 24 August to address the annual meeting of the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU, or Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat, the largest pro-Khatami student organization). They were greeted at the airport by hard-line protesters and after waiting six hours, were forced to go back to Tehran. The mob was informed that its gathering was illegal, but this had no effect, and in fact, the mob attacked and injured the provincial deputy-governor, who is a disabled veteran.

Kadivar told "Hayat-i No" that he saw the same mob chasing after Interior Ministry official Mostafa Tajzadeh, who had been in town to address the OSU one day earlier. Tajzadeh, however, managed to make his flight.

The next day, Khorramabad's Friday Prayer leader, Hojatoleslam Seyyed Kazem Husseini-Mianji, said that "Those two people ran away. Now we must get the rest of the unwanted guests and this gang out of this province as quickly as possible. Luristan is not the place for them."

OSU members, meanwhile, protested by holding their noon prayers at Luristan University campus. They carried pictures and placards declaring their support for President Mohammad Khatami, as well as Kadivar and Sorush. Hardliners held a brief counter-demonstration, "Hayat-i No" reported on 26 August. Later in the evening, clashes broke out but were stopped by the Law Enforcement Forces.

More violence occurred on the 26-27 August, with reports of up to 40 people being injured. LEF officer Ardeshir Karami was killed, a bus carrying students from Khorramabad to Borujerd was attacked, and there was extensive property damage. At Karami's funeral on 29 August, protesters attacked Governor-General Nurollah Abedi and chanted slogans against Interior Ministry officials.

Responsibility for the unrest depends on one's perceptions. Some of the more hardline publications, such as "Kayhan" and "Resalat," reported that the events in Khorramabad resulted from spontaneous actions by local citizens. "Resalat" even claimed that speeches at the student gathering covered subjects like ending the system of Vilayat-i Faqih, and there were demands for armed resistance. Observers on the scene and the Khorramabad governorate rejected such assertions, saying that the troublemakers were not locals and were bussed in.

Luristan IRGC commander Brigadier-General Gholamreza Suleimani said the OSU was responsible for the violence and damage, and he condemned local officials who spoke favorably about the OSU, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 28 August. He warned that "If the false claimants of tolerance and rationality believe that, when they take their next steps, they will again meet with a restrained and limited response from the brave Basiji and Hezbullahi people of Khorramabad, they are mistaken."

Habibollah Asgarowladi of the hardline Islamic Coalition Association told the 31 August "Iran News" that the unrest was "U.S.-favored," but he did not elaborate. Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said during the 1 September Friday Prayers that apportioning blame would have to wait for an official investigation, but he proceeded to remind the congregation that "there are elements inside the country who are bent on fulfilling the promise given by the Americans that this would be a tumultuous year for Iran. " He also denounced as a provocation the fact that the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, which launches terrorist attacks against targets in Iran, is allowed to operate in the U.S.

Mohammad Behzadi, a religious-nationalist activist in Iran, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that hardline pressure groups from other parts of the country were brought to Khorramabad to stage counter-rallies and to attack the students. Behzadi suggested that the reformist victory in the parliamentary election and President Khatami's decision to stand for elected office again have pushed the conservatives to adopt increasingly repressive measures.

The Judiciary ordered the state inspectorate (National Control and Inspection Organization), under Hojatoleslam Ebrahim Raisi, to investigate the violence on 29 August. Based on past experience (July 1999 riots, serial murders investigation, etc.), there is little reason to have high expectations of the inspectorate's findings. But looking at the past, it seems pretty fair to conclude that once again, hardline pressure groups, such as the Ansar-i Hizbullah, with the connivance of sympathizers in the intelligence, security, and law enforcement forces, were the main perpetrators of violence.

The OSU was once willing to mix it up with the hardline vigilantes, but it is increasingly reluctant to do so now that it is part of the political system. Amin Rezai, a student activist from Ahvaz who witnessed the violence in Khorramabad, told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the OSU has adopted a policy of "active pacifism," while political activist Taqi Rahmani admitted that this policy is coming under increasing criticism.

As the OSU becomes more mainstream, more radical student groups, like Heshmatollah Tabarzadi's Islamic Union of Students and Graduates, may take the mantle of student leadership as they become increasingly attractive to the youth. Combined with the largely frustrated demands of the biggest segment of the population, this may soon result in something very unpleasant. (Bill Samii)