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Iran Report: October 2, 2000

2 October 2000, Volume 3, Number 37

NO RESPITE FOR THE PRESS. Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mostafa Moin-Najafabadi told students at Sanandaj's University of Kurdistan on 25 September that Iran's universities have established 1,000 student publications and 400 scientific publications. In spite of such impressive numbers, publications and journalists still face problems with the state.

"Talieh" has been banned pending the disposition of charges against it for violating the terms of its publisher's license. The Special Court for the Clergy closed down Bushehr's "Khalij-i Fars" weekly on 21 September. "Hamshahri" reported that the southern publication was banned for disturbing public opinion and spreading lies, and it speculated that the real cause was publication of two interviews with reformist cleric Assadollah Bayat. And one of Kermanshah Province's two dailies, "Ava-yi Qarb," ceased its activities, with its officials citing financial difficulties, "Hamshahri" reported on 19 September.

The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance announced on 25 September that the case of "Gonbad-i Kabud" -- charged with printing morally offensive pictures -- has been referred to the press court for investigation and review. It was closed a few days later.

Mohammad Reza Bahonar, Akbar Baqerian, Mohammad-Mehdi Mazaheri, and Gholam Reza Husseinifar -- the managing editors of the weeklies "Jaam," "Milad," and "Mahan," respectively, as well as the daily "Javan" -- appeared before the press court on 25 September. They faced charges of publishing false materials and defamatory articles to distort public opinion. The Law Enforcement Forces accused "Milad" of publishing a defamatory picture, while Tehran Municipal Council member Ahmad Hakimipur complained that "Jaam" accused him of terrorist activities.

Subsequently, Bahonar was found guilty of publishing lies in an article linking Hakimipur to the March assassination attempt on reformist leader Said Hajjarian. Baqerian was found guilty of publishing a picture of an improperly dressed woman. Husseinifar was cleared of defamation charges.

Hearings for reformist journalist and author Hamid Kaviyani began on 26 September. Kaviyani is facing a complaint from hardline cleric Hojatoleslam Ruhollah Husseinian, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported.

The hitherto obscure "Ansar-i Vilayat" group took credit for a recent raid on an Isfahan bookshop. The group's spokesman told the Islamic Students News Agency on 19 September that books, magazines, and compact discs were seized because they were un-Islamic. In July 1999, the "Ansar-i Vilayat" had protested against Isfahan Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri. (Bill Samii)

JEWISH PRISONERS' SENTENCES REDUCED SLIGHTLY. The sentences of ten Jews convicted on espionage charges in July were reduced after their appeals. But the new sentences, which were announced on 21 September, have not satisfied anybody, either in Iran or abroad -- with one prominent exception.

* Hamid Teflin, the main defendant, sentence reduced from 13 to nine years.

* Asher Zadmehr, sentence reduced from 13 to seven years.

* Nasser Levy Hayyem, sentence reduced from 11 to seven years

* Ramin Farzam, sentence reduced from 10 to eight years

* Javid Ben Yaqub, sentence reduced from nine to six years

* Shahrokh Paknahad, sentence reduced from eight to five years

* Farhad Saleh, sentence reduced from eight to six years

* Farzad Kashi, sentence reduced from eight to six years

* Faramarz Kashi, sentence reduced from five to three years

* Ramin Nematizadeh, sentence reduced from four to two years

The sentences of the two Muslim defendants, Ali-Akbar Safaie and Mehrab Yusefi, still are under review.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was encouraged by the reduction in sentences, according to Reuters. But he was in the minority.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that "The United States is disappointed that today's appeals court decision in Iran does not overturn all of the convictions that were imposed on the 10 Iranian Jews on July 1st. We're also disappointed that the Iranian government has not released any of the 10 defendants from prison." Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi rejected Washington's criticism and said it amounted to interference in Iran's internal affairs.

"There was a lot of wishful thinking," speculated a "senior State Department official" in a 24 September interview with "The New York Times." Speaking on condition of anonymity, the State Department official was giving one reason why he and his White House counterparts were surprised by the new verdicts and why they thought some of the Jews would be released.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told Reuters that the sentences indicated the limited power of "moderates" in Iran and it is "an important signal to President Clinton, who wants to embrace the moderates."

Human Rights Watch expressed its disappointment on 22 September. Spokesmen for the Vatican and the European Union also expressed concern.

Iran's hardline "Jomhuri-yi Islami" newspaper also condemned the new sentences. The daily commented on 23 September that the sentences led to public suspicions that either the Judiciary backed down over "international Zionists' political and propaganda pressures," or it is influenced by a "Western-oriented political current within the country." This has led to the perception that foreign opinion has influenced the Judiciary.

Two days before the new sentences were announced, chief defense lawyer Ismail Nasseri announced that he and the other lawyers were threatened. He later told RFE/RL that "The nature of the threats was: we had to accept that the defendants were spies. We responded, you have to present us with evidence, but they could not." Nasseri said that "we have had threats on our life, and ourselves have been accused of being a spy, threatened that our license will be revoked, and that ultimately we may be removed from representing the defendants." Fars Province judicial chief Hussein Ali Amiri had rejected such claims and had challenged Nasseri to name the officials who threatened him.

Nasseri described the possibility of a pardon in his interview with RFE/RL. "It depends upon the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei]. I doubt that the Supreme Leader would want these people to serve their sentences fully." Nasseri said that if he continues to be the defense lawyer, and his clients request him to do so, his next step would be to contact the office of the Supreme Leader to request a pardon. On 25 September, however, Judiciary spokesman Hussein Mir Mohammad Sadeqi stated that the convictions were final and could not be appealed further, state television reported.

In a related matter, it was reported recently that 11 Jewish boys had disappeared after they were apprehended by Iranian security forces during separate attempts to flee the country. Attempts by relatives of those who have disappeared to get information about them have been unsuccessful, but it is believed that smugglers betrayed them as they tried to enter Pakistan. Rabbi Cooper said there have been reports that the boys have been seen in Iranian prisons. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI SPEAKS DURING SACRED DEFENSE WEEK. Iran marked Sacred Defense Week (21-28 September), which commemorates the war with Iraq (1980-88), with extensive maneuvers by the Basij Resistance Forces, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and the regular armed forces. There also were parades and inspirational speeches by top officials.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami described the role of the Iranian military at the 21 September parade in Tehran. He said that Iran is a defender of regional and international peace, state television reported, and it pursues a policy of tension reduction. He added, however, that when "force and bullying" play a part in international relations, "our nation has a right to be strong and powerful." The armed forces' strength is "the mean bastion of the nation's strength, the strength of the system, the strength of the leadership, and the strength of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Khatami said.

Khatami also praised the sacrifices of the martyrs. He added that the "living martyrs" -- the disabled, prisoners of war, and veterans -- should be honored, too. Khatami offered his respects to the martyrs' families. Khatami also attended the 23 September Supreme National Security Council meeting. At this meeting, Defense Minister Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani praised the memory of martyred commanders.

Major-General Gholam Ali Rashid, deputy head of the Armed Forces General Headquarters, reminded the audience at a 24 September ceremony that Iran is the region's superior military power, and it has "invaluable" experience in planning and operations in the west and south. He warned that although the military has deterred any aggressions since the war, the enemy now is trying to undermine the public's religious beliefs. (Bill Samii)

NEW MILITARY EQUIPMENT PUT ON DISPLAY. An important aspect of the exercises held during Sacred Defense Week was the opportunity to field test new equipment (and exaggerate such developments in public statements meant for both domestic and foreign consumption). Brigadier-General Fereidun Pak-Chehr, deputy commander of the ground forces in charge of the armed forces' self-sufficiency campaign, told state television that there are over 100 Iranian research and development projects. Pak-Chehr said that these activities have resulted in the production of, for example, the Zolfaqar tank and the Babr-400 tank transporter (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 August 2000).

What may have been intended to create the biggest impression was testing of the 1,200-kilometer-range Shihab-3, surface-to-surface missile on 21 September. An engine test, using solid and liquid fuel, was conducted to get information for the design and production of satellite guidance systems, according to Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani. Shamkhani said the missile had no military applications. It is speculated that Iran is developing a longer-range intercontinental ballistic missile, and it is believed that Iran has developed cruise missiles based on Chinese and French technology.

Mikhail Podgorely, editor-in-chief of Russia's "Yedarnaya Bezopasnost" (Nuclear Security), said that with a conventional head, the missile is not much of a threat. He warned that Iran could equip the Shihab-3 with a chemical warhead. There is concern, furthermore, that Tehran is trying to produce plutonium and highly-enriched uranium, and it is using cover organizations to acquire the necessary means to do so.

Shamkhani also described production of the Iran 140 aircraft, which can carry 52 people. The aircraft will undergo 60 days of ground-testing and will join the national fleet next February (during the Ten-Day Dawn that marks the anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's 1979 return to Iran). Shamkhani said the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics has orders for 127 such aircraft and can produce 12 a year. The aircraft is the result of a joint project with Ukraine, although Shamkhani said it was "built completely by Iranian experts."

The conventional military staged the Zolfaqar 3 exercises near Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province. During this event, the 206 reconnaissance helicopter, which is equipped with rocket launchers, was used for the first time. State television said that improvements to the helicopter increased its maneuverability and its weapons' accuracy. The aircraft was originally used only for training, according to Army Aviation Corps chief Brigadier-General Aqiqi-Ravan, but now it has a reconnaissance and tactical role. Aqiqi-Ravan added that such self-sufficiency is necessary because Iran cannot buy equipment from the U.S.

The model 206 helicopter is an upgraded U.S.-built Bell Jet Ranger, which was delivered before the 1979 revolution. Later modifications include connections for Soviet-made AT-2 Swatter anti-tank missiles.

The Sayyad armored vehicle is another new device that was used during the Zolfaqar 3 exercises. Now being mass-produced, it is a three-ton tracked vehicle that can carry six people and achieve speeds of 70 kilometers an hour. It can be dropped in by parachute.

Several days before Sacred Defense Week started, a new naval vessel was announced. Vice Admiral Abdullah Manavi announced that the navy is about to launch a locally-built rocket-launcher/destroyer. It was described as a "mini-vessel," and 90 percent of the rocket launcher and 70 percent of the destroyer was built by Iranian experts.

Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani explained at a 24 September ceremony that Iran's defense industries could supply the armed forces' "most sophisticated needs," "Iran Daily" reported. Not all of Iran's weapons production is intended for domestic use, however. Iran hopes to find a niche in the international arms market by producing low-cost weapons, and it already has 11 customers (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 September 2000). To increase this number, Iran will participate in an October military expo in Athens, IRNA reported on 16 September. The biannual arms fair is held under the auspices of the Greek Defense Ministry. (Bill Samii)

BASIJ FORCE TAKES CENTER STAGE. The importance of the Basij was evident in a 21 September parade in Tehran marking the first day of Sacred Defense Week. A battalion of Basij representing Iran's tribes participated, as did units representing the student Basij. They were followed by the chador-clad and weapon-carrying female Al-Zahra unit. Then came the Ashura battalions, singing patriotic songs, followed by Tehran Province Basij units.

The Basij, whose parent organization is the IRGC, earned such honors in the war with Iraq. The Basij had the highest number of casualties in the war, according to Hadi Qalamnevis, director-general of the Statistics and Information Department at the Martyrs Foundation (Bonyad-i Shahid). In total, Qalamnevis told IRNA on 23 September, 188,015 Iranians lost their lives during the war, and 43 percent of the casualties were Basijis. He added that 19 percent were in the IRGC, 23 percent were in the Islamic Republic Army, 2.8 percent were in the Law Enforcement Forces, and 1.2 percent were in the Construction Jihad.

The Basij continues to be important in terms of Iranian national security. There have been Basij maneuvers throughout Iran in recent months, as well as statements by IRGC and Basij officials that the organization would be taking in new personnel soon. This trend continued during Sacred Defense Week. Some 25 combat, logistics, and support battalions -- about 6,000 men -- participated in the Kowsar-i Vilayat exercise in Yazd Province. In Qazvin, the Basij exercise was named Heydar Karrar and included artillery and chemical warfare activities. In the Vizneh region of Gilan Province, 2,000 IRGC and Basij personnel participated in amphibious operations. 5,000 Basijis participated in the IRGC's Zolfaqar exercises near Shahr-i Kord in the southwest. Basijis also participated in the IRGC's Shahamat 79 maneuvers in the Persian Gulf.

An unidentified Basij commander said on 26 September that 30,000 Basijis in 76 battalions would take part in the Popular Resistance exercises, which were being held "in order to strengthen and prepare popular resistance forces in border areas." Brigadier-General Koluei added that the exercise marked the anniversary of breaking the siege of Abadan.

In Sistan va Baluchistan Province, the Public Resistance exercises were held near the towns of Zehak and Zabol and the districts of Niatak and Bidust. Zabol Basij commander Colonel Hussein Lakzaei told IRNA on 25 September that six battalions were participating in the maneuvers there. Iranian armed forces have been conducting counterinsurgency activities, as well as drug-interdiction, in both Sistan va Baluchistan and Khorasan Provinces for several years. It is believed that some of the counter-narcotics activities are actually part of the counter-insurgency campaign, and some individuals executed for narcotics offenses are actually Baluchi insurgents.

Discussing personnel issues, Basij commander Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi said that 5,850,000 people work with the Basij, and 30 percent of them are women, IRNA reported on 20 September. IRGC Commander Major-General Yahya Rahim-Safavi added that there are 7,000 female Revolutionary Guards, state television reported on 27 September. At an earlier ceremony in Ardabil Province, Hejazi said that 500 new Basij battalions would be created by 21 October. He added that as of March of this year, 1,000 Al-Zahra and Ashura battalions had been established, "Kayhan" reported on 14 September. Hejazi also introduced Ardabil's new Basij commander, Brigadier-General Hassan Karami, who succeeds Brigadier-General Yusef Shakeri.

Several top officials addressed Basij members during Sacred Defense Week. Expediency Council chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said at a 27 September meeting that Iran's history and the revolution owe a great deal to the Basij forces. Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani told Tehran Province Basij personnel that the force should not take part in factionalism and that it must symbolize national unity. IRGC chief Major-General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told a Basij gathering in Khorramabad that the revolution's enemies are trying to create generational divisions and to undermine religious beliefs. He added that the enemy is trying to create divisions between the universities and seminaries, state television reported on 28 September (The new school year is starting).

The 13th nationwide gathering of IRGC commanders preceded Sacred Defense Week, and several state officials spoke at this event. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on 16 September that political warfare always accompanies the military, economic, and cultural warfare organized by the "global hegemonic system." He stressed the importance of the media in resisting this cultural war. He said reassuringly that "I am absolutely certain that the global autocratic camp, namely, the [global] arrogance, will be trounced in the cultural war in the same way that it could not gain anything from the Islamic republican system [of Iran] during the military and economic wars."

Khamenei also praised the IRGC as a leader in training, scientific research, and logistics. He went on to say that "the enemy is terrified of the scientific strength and religious identity of the corps. It is trying to undermine the religious belief and unity of this precious and revolutionary collectivity by launching propaganda campaigns, inculcating and creating division."

Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai, who once led the IRGC, warned the commanders about those who question "fundamental values of the revolution [such as] the holy defense, the revolution, the Islamic system, and Islam," IRNA reported on 17 September. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi told the commanders that the IRGC must maintain its vigilance but it should refrain from any political or factional involvement.

Armed Forces General Headquarters Commander Major-General Hassan Firuzabadi told the commanders that the Basij is at the top of his organization's list of priorities, and he called for good management and an effective chain of command in the Basij. IRGC commander Yahya Rahim Safavi warned the commanders about the cultural onslaught and said the enemy is targeting society's religious values. According to IRNA on 18 September, he said that "the volunteer forces will respond to questions on the revolution and society's realities...with logic and dialog." To this end, Safavi said a website has been created.

The resolution issued at the end of the IRGC meeting stated that the IRGC will "resolutely defend the constitution, the Islamic laws, and the legitimate institutions of the system and of the country." The resolution added, according to state television, that the IRGC will support reform and progress "within the framework of the foundations and values of the revolution and system." (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN NAVY CONDUCTS MANEUVERS. IRGC naval forces held the Shahamat 79 exercises in the Persian Gulf. The maneuvers involved missile-launching vessels, ferries, personnel carriers, and aircraft, as well as SCUBA divers, marines, and Basij. After a rocket and naval artillery bombardment, marines and rangers attacked a hypothetical enemy's coast.

The regular navy held the Shahed 79 exercises in the northern Persian Gulf. This involved frogmen, sailors, and paratroopers who conducted mock attacks against enemy bases and vessels. Simultaneously, naval forces also staged the four-day, four-phase Meraj 79 maneuvers in the northern part of the Persian Gulf, Rear-Admiral Hussein Dasbusheri said. Air assets, missile launchers, special operations forces, and marines participated in Meraj 79.

The Nasr submarine and anti-submarine exercise was staged in the Gulf of Oman. It involved 1,500 people from the regular navy, the Imam Hussein Marines Brigade, and SCUBA divers, as well as warships, helicopters and airplanes, and a Tariq-class submarine. (Bill Samii)

PENTAGON THANKS TEHRAN. Pentagon spokesman Admiral Craig Quigley said on 26 September that U.S. vessels patrolling the Persian Gulf as part of the Maritime Interdiction Force have stopped only five ships this month, dpa reported. Quigley said this is quite a low number, and "we attribute that to the Iranian government being more restrictive in the use of its territorial waters to allow smuggling to take place." "And for that we're very, very appreciative," Quigley added.

General Anthony Zinni, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM, which has responsibility for Iran and the Persian Gulf states) gave a possible explanation for such a statement by the Pentagon. He told the 29 September "Washington Post" that Iran remains a problem, but the White House is trying to encourage moderates there, so "I got told to cool my jets on speaking out against Iran. " Zinni added that "their intelligence service is targeting us, they continue to produce weapons of mass destruction, there's too much to be done still." (Bill Samii)

CLANDESTINE ISRAEL-IRAN CONTACTS. Former Israeli Foreign Minister David Levi said in the 26 September "Yediot Aharanot" that he rejected approaches last year by "elements close" to the Iranian government to establish a dialog. He said that "I rejected the initiative outright because nothing good would have come out of it. It would have put us into an undesirable position with the United States. We were worried that because of the Iranian regime's domestic problems, we could only lose out." A "senior source" described the Israeli perception that the approach came from elements close to President Mohammad Khatami, but because the approach was made without Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's permission, it was believed that the initiative would be unproductive.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi rejected this report, IRNA reported on 26 September. He said that "The Zionist regime's withdrawal from south Lebanon, the deadlock in the so-called Middle East peace talks, further isolation of the Zionist regime in the world, especially in Islamic countries, and the internal political developments in Israel have all caused the Zionist media circles to disseminate such false news about Iran."

These are not the first reports about clandestine meetings between the two countries during the Khatami administration. There were August reports about Iranian-Israeli meetings in Cairo (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 August 2000), and 1999 reports of Iran-Israel contacts via British intermediaries (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 June and 11 October 1999). There also have been, supposedly, secret meetings regarding the Jews accused of espionage (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 2 and 30 August 1999). (Bill Samii)

DIALOG IN VENEZUELA AND CUBA. President Mohammad Khatami was in Caracas on 27-29 September to address the second OPEC summit. He was accompanied by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, and Finance and Economic Affairs Minister Hussein Namazi. In the first day of his visit to Venezuela, Khatami met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to discuss oil matters. Among the topics they discussed, according to IRNA, were direct talks with oil-consuming countries and an equitable solution to the oil price problem. Khatami said the producers get only 16 percent of the oil revenues while the industrialized states receive high taxes from the end users, and he suggested a reduction in taxes rather than pressure on producers and consumers.

During his address to the summit, Khatami reiterated his concerns about high taxes imposed by oil-consumers. He also encouraged the audience to "transform our age into the era of the dialog of cultures and civilizations; and relying on our cultural heritage as well as on our historical and political commonalties and backgrounds, let us open up new prospects for comprehensive, but a just and fair regional and international development." He stressed that all countries have a right to progress, but they also have a responsibility to promote democracy and alleviate economic inequality. Khatami also touched on environmental issues, and he suggested that natural gas production could be a topic for future discussions. Iranian officials have encouraged formation of a "gas OPEC" on other occasions.

At a dinner on 27 September, two women were detained for assaulting Zanganeh. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel said a woman threw an egg at Zanganeh, while an anonymous Iranian official said a woman slapped the head of the Iranian president's office and insulted him in English, AP reported. Khatami met with Iranians living in Venezuela, Iranian state television reported. He also met with Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan at Khatami's hotel suite a day after conclusion of the OPEC summit. Ramadan said the two sides discussed "how to improve relations and resolve existing problems," according to Venezuela Online News.

Khatami, accompanied by Agriculture Minister Issa Kalantari and Foreign Minister Kharrazi, went on to Havana for a two-day visit at the invitation of President Fidel Castro, who took the unusual step of greeting Khatami at the airport. During the trip, Khatami inspected the Center of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering west of Havana. Tehran and Havana have bilateral accords in biotechnology and scientific exchange programs. (Bill Samii)