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Iran Report: April 26, 1999

26 April 1999, Volume 2, Number 17

IRAN'S MIXED REACTION TO CLINTON'S MESSAGE. At a 12 April White House event, President Bill Clinton said: "I think it is important to recognize, however, that Iran, because of its enormous geopolitical importance over time, has been the subject of quite a lot of abuse from various Western nations. And I think sometimes it's quite important to tell people, look, you have a right to be angry at something my country or my culture or others that are generally allied with us today did to you 50 or 60 or 100 or 150 years ago." Many observers interpreted this as partial fulfillment of the Iranian demand that the U.S. apologize for what Tehran views as American misdeeds.

But this hope was dampened two days later, when U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Martin Indyk described America's "interest in seeing a constructive and productive relationship develop with Iran," according to Agence France Press. Indyk said for this to occur, all Iran has to do is address three issues: "One: Iran's program to develop weapons of mass destruction and missiles; two: opposition to the peace process, and three: support for terrorist activities and subversion."

The initial Iranian response to Clinton's comments came from the Friday Prayer leaders, most of whom are appointed by the Office of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in their 16 February sermons. In Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said: "They are repeating what they have been saying all along. What kind of double-standard policy is this?"

In Qom, Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini-Najafabadi said: "maybe some simple-minded people will say thank God that Clinton has now confessed. ...Our people are not going to believe this before they see action from America...Have the Iranian people seen any action on your part to prove that you are telling the truth and not lying? These are acts of deceit and trickery. One of their plots is the radios that they have set up...They have set up [Radio Free Europe/] Radio Liberty for propaganda. They provoke our domestic enemies to weaken the Islamic system."

Another response from the Supreme Leader's office came through "Keyhan," a daily it supervises, on 19 April. It described preparations for celebrations of the 19th anniversary of the failed hostage rescue mission, when eight Americans died in the Tabas desert in Khorasan Province.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 21 April that a rapprochement depended on a "practical change" in Washington's attitude. Interior Ministry deputy Mustafa Tajzadeh said on 17 April that "[Clinton's] admission speech could be assessed as a new U.S initiative in regard to the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Parliamentarian Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, who has favored dialog with the U.S. in the past, said: "American statesmen should take brave and realistic actions to make up for their wrong behavior towards the Iranian people and the Iranian revolution." The conservative parliamentarian Mohammad Javad Bahonar, reflecting on Clinton's words, said: "We believe it is necessary to say such things. They had to be said and they were said too late. However, we do not believe that they are enough. We are waiting for a change in the American statesmen's behavior towards Iranian affairs and the sacred system of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Tehran University Professor Ebrahim Motaghi told "Iran" newspaper on 19 April that after so many years, Clinton's comments were noteworthy. Professor Davud Hermidas Banvand said: "it is expedient that Iran should reply suitably on the formation of a new horizon for a constructive relationship." But not all Iranian academics think this way. In a 17 April interview with Iranian state television, Professor Najafqoli Habibi complained about America's pursuit of hegemonic policies.

Overall, positive reactions were in the minority. Abbas Abdi, who last summer met in Paris with one of the hostages he had taken in 1979 and who has been severely criticized for the meeting, said the only people who trust America are undemocratic, "Arya" reported on 18 April. "Before we look at words, we look at actions, and these people have shown that not only will they kiss America's hand they will go lower."

An editorial in the pro-Khatami daily "Salam" concluded that Clinton's comments were insufficient and in any case had been said before. What was needed, the paper said, was more than understanding the anger of Iran: America must "officially apologize to the Iranian people." "Sobh-i Imruz" said: "Iranian officials should not underestimate U.S. willingness for the resumption of ties." Clinton and Indyk's comments were contradictory, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" said, which "unveils the U.S.'s mischievous policies with respect to Iran." Another editorial in the same daily said "bitter experience" shows that American officials hope to use the "deceitful policies of the past." This time, however, "'Satan's co-singers' inside Iran will now sing in union with them."

Iran does not need America, "Resalat" editorialized on 19 April, because it has good relations with its neighbors and with Europe. The conservative daily "Qods" said on 20 April that Clinton's comments were nothing new and were not a specific message to Iran. "Qods" complained that the U.S. wants other countries to terminate commercial relations with Iran, and it is pressuring Moscow to do so. Another sign of American duplicity, "Qods" said, is the anti-Iranian broadcasts of "Radio Azadi" (RFE/RL).

Mohammad Mehdi Faqihi of the new conservative daily "Entekhab" told "Tehran Times" on 20 April that "Clinton's overture is a political tactic in order to deceive the Iranian nation." He went on to say that it was a commercial decision, because "American companies are suffering financial losses" as their rivals establish ties with Iran. Masoud Rezai of the conservative "Arzesh-ha" cited as another example of U.S. efforts to establish ties the occasion when former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane visited Iran. Rezai did not say that McFarlane's trip was intended to secure the release of American hostages held by Lebanon's Hizballah. (Bill Samii)

CONTINUITY IN APPROACH TO KOSOVA CRISIS. Iran's approach to the Kosova crisis and NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia, entering their fifth week, remained essentially unchanged. Iran is making a greater display of acting in its role as head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Iran is still trying to exert influence through its Russian allies. And state media varies in its portrayal of the crisis, sometimes showing anti-Western items, and other times carrying items that portray the refugees' perspective.

On 19 April a delegation from the OIC Contact Group�Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Turkey�headed by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, went to Moscow to discuss the crisis with Russian officials. Iran's ambassador to Moscow, Mehdi Safari, told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that "holding talks with Russian officials is in light of the traditional influence of Russia over Yugoslavia, as well as its permanent membership in the UN Security Council." Safari said the OIC calls for "cessation of NATO attacks, immediate return of the Kosovar refugees to their homeland, and resumption of peace talks between the belligerent parties." Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov promised, according to the dpa news agency on 20 April, to discuss the Kosova Liberation Army as a source of potential danger to European and Islamic states. And Kharrazi observed that "the UN Security Council had not yet fulfilled the role that was expected of it."

From Moscow, Kharrazi and the OIC delegation went to Rome and then Tirana, where they visited refugee camps. On 21 April, Kharrazi announced that the OIC will continue its humanitarian aid to the refugees, but the solution lies in their repatriation. This, in turn, "depends on retreat of the Yugoslav forces from Kosovo and reaching a diplomatic solution to end the crisis."

IRNA continues a tendency which emerged recently. This means that some reports about the refugees include their demands for continued NATO airstrikes. A 17 April interview with refugees in Albania said, for example: the refugees are in total support of the continuation of NATO bombings until Kosova is free." Other reports use the refugees to make a point. An example of this is the report on 17 April that 117 Kosovar Albanians are being housed by Israel in a former Palestinian village. But, "Palestinians see little difference between what the Serbs are doing to the Kosovars these days and what the Zionists did to the Palestinians 50 years ago."

IRNA also carries stories that cast the Kosova crisis in starkly anti-Western terms. On 20 April British parliamentarian Alice Mahon was quoted as saying the bombings played a "big part" in the escalation of ethnic cleansing. Another report on the same day referred to "NATO's war," in connection with Western arms sales. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting continues to portray the airstrikes as the cause of the refugee crisis. (Bill Samii)

PRESS REPRESSION CONTINUES. The closure of "Zan" daily and the trial of its publisher, parliamentarian Faezeh Hashemi, were just salvos in an offensive against freedom of expression by hard-liners in the Iranian government. Hashemi questioned the admissibility of her being tried before a revolutionary court, since she was faced with a press-related offense, but the court ruled that publishing letters from the ex-empress was a "counterrevolutionary act and propaganda on behalf of the monarchy." The Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture spoke out on her behalf, saying that the press court should hear the case. Addressing parliament, Hashemi said the conservatives were out of touch and unrepresentative. Some parliamentarians responded by preparing a motion to eject Hashemi from parliament and revoke her credentials, the conservative daily "Abrar" reported on 22 April.

The Iranian Journalists' Association said the "Zan" closure was "devoid of legal grounds," IRNA reported on 12 April. Also, many journalists lost their livelihoods and others would no longer feel secure in theirs, the association warned. In a letter to President Mohammad Khatami, 320 independent journalists requested his protection and support. In a roundtable described by "Neshat" on 20 April, 10 journalists roundly condemned the closure. "Khordad" began publishing a column called "Zan in Khordad" in a gesture of defiance, and another called "Zan in Jahan-i Islam" appeared.

But the Judiciary's anti-press onslaught continued throughout the country. The publisher of Sanandaj's Kurdish-language "Sirwan" weekly was summoned "for publishing falsehoods and slander against an adviser of the head of the judiciary." It seems more likely that the real issue is publication of an article about financial mismanagement in the Kurdistan Province governorate, "Hamshahri" reported on 14 April. In Gilan Province, seven journalists were imprisoned, "Neshat" reported on 17 April. Such incidents may explain columnist and Khatami-supporter Amaoldin Baghi's observation that the judiciary is operating politically and is answerable to no authority, "Khordad" reported on 21 April.

On 16 April, Kerman Friday Prayer leader Hojatoleslam Seyyed Yahya Jafari sermonized that the press is causing disunity in the country. The Interior Ministry filed a complaint against the dailies "Qods" and "Keyhan," and the weeklies "Yalisarat Al-Hussein," "Jebheh," "Sobh," and "Siyasat." Newspapers attacked each other, too. "Neshat" filed a complaint against "Qods," and "Qods" complained about "Neshat" in a column.

Nasser Safarian, the daily "Salam's" movie critic, was held for two days and questioned for signing a letter demanding answers to the murders of dissidents and intellectuals. He was released on the road to Behesht-i Zahra cemetery, he told "Neshat" on 17 April. "Neshat" Director Latif Safari had to appear before the Tehran revolutionary court on charges of questioning the Islamic Revolution and supporting the monarchy, "Qods" reported on 18 April.

Conservative figures are blaming the press for the country's problems. Parliamentarian Ahmad Rasulinejad said that some domestic publications held the clue to the recent assassination of an Army general, "Abrar" reported on 17 April. Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps General Yahya Rahim Safavi said: "The influence of the anti-revolutionary elements in the country's press should be stopped." Four senior ayatollahs wrote to President Mohammad Khatami, asking him to confront the press's "violation of religious principles, efforts to undermine Islamic belief, and distortion of ethics," "Jomhuri-yi Islami" and "Keyhan" reported on 19 April. The Student Basij of Tehran Universities also complained about press excesses, "Sobh-i Imruz" reported on 20 April.

But just as some publications are closed, some new ones emerge. Islamic Guidance and Culture Ministry official Issa Sarkhiz said 15 new publications have been licensed, IRNA reported on 19 April. Eight of them will be produced by the Islamic Propagation Organization, and two will be produced by the IRGC. (Bill Samii)

MOHAJERANI IMPEACHMENT MOTION. On 21 April, 31 parliamentarians submitted a motion for the interpellation of Islamic Guidance and Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani. The motion said Mohajerani had not restrained the press sufficiently and had questioned the Judiciary's performance. He had advocated separation of religion and politics, as well as establishment of relations with the U.S. Mohajerani was also guilty of founding the writers' association. "The Ministry failed to support intellectual and cultural movies and instead films were produced with aim of making profits" and fewer movies about the Sacred Defense (Iran-Iraq War) were produced. Finally, he was accused of misappropriating funds deposited for the minor pilgrimage (Hajj). Mohajerani must appear before the Majlis for questioning within ten days, IRNA reported.

Mohajerani explained to "Iran News" on 22 April that if interpellated, he will run for parliament. Tabriz parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Milani said Mohajerani is seen as a political opportunist without a concrete stance. If interpellated, Milani said, Mohajerani will become a martyr, and if given a vote of confidence, he will be strengthened. Also, supporters of President Khatami may close ranks around Mohajerani.

A possible replacement for Mohajerani is Islamic Guidance and Culture Ministry deputy Ahmad Masjidjamehi, "Arya" reported on 22 April. (Bill Samii)

KADIVAR APPEALS SENTENCE. Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar was sentenced by the Special Court for the Clergy to 18 months in prison, IRNA reported on 21 April. Kadivar's lawyer, Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Musavi-Tabrizi , said they will appeal the conviction. Kadivar was tried on 14-15 April for spreading propaganda against the system of the Islamic Republic, spreading fabrications, and causing public anxiety.

Perhaps to head off the criticism that would emerge over the Kadivar conviction, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the release of Hojatoleslam Assadollah Bayat, the "Tehran Times" reported on 20 April.

Kadivar is not the only clerical intellectual who has had run-ins with the Special Court recently. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Taqi Fazel-Meybodi's departure for the pilgrimage was delayed when the Special Court ordered he be held at Mehrabad Airport, "Neshat" reported on 7 April. Fazel-Meybodi also has the kind of thinking which is threatening to Iranian hard-liners. For example, in a 14 December interview with "Khordad," he said: "Violence has been tested in various societies throughout history, and no government has been able to continue its rule by relying on threats and assassinations. From the religious point of view, there is no justification for such actions. In Islam everyone has the right to state his view." He also spoke out in Khatami's favor.

On the day of the Kadivar conviction, "Neshat" editorialized that the Special Court had been created at the time of Mehdi Hashemi's arrest (1986). It was necessary because of the circumstances at the time to create a court that would "secure the respect and prestige of the clergy." But now the court was illegal, the editorial said, although it did not explain why. "Sobh-i Imruz" said on 17 April that the legality of the Special Court is in question. Mohammad Salamati of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (not to be confused with the Iraq-based Mujahedin Khalq Organization) also questioned the Special Court's legality, "Iran" daily reported on 22 April. "Hamshahri" wanted to know why the Islamic Human Rights Commission was kept out of Kadivar's trial if the Special Court is so irreproachable.

Kadivar said a cell at Evin Prison is like a cleric's room at the front. For him, therefore, being in prison is equal to being at the front, "Khordad" reported on 18 April. (Bill Samii)

PUBLIC ANGER OVER SLOW PACE OF PROSECUTIONS. It is over three months since the identification of MOIS personnel involved in the murders of dissident politicians and intellectuals Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar, Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, and Mohammad Mokhtari. Although Prosecutor Hojatoleslam Mohammad Niazi delivered the files to the Tehran military court, "Zan" daily reported on 4 April, nothing has yet been done.

There is increasing dissatisfaction with the lack of answers. "Khordad" reported on 18 April that a group of (unnamed) Iranian religious and political figures sent a letter to President Khatami's office in which they requested a complete account of the recent murders as well as the speedy trial of the murderers.

There was another hint that some are unhappy with events related to the security services. "Qods" asked if the MOIS should be eliminated due to the "murder of two-three writers" or because it could not prevent the assassination of a military officer, "Arya" reported on 17 April.

In what might be a clue to the identity of one of the killers of intellectuals and dissidents, "Zan" reported on 6 April about the resignation of MOIS Deputy Director Pour-Mohammadi. Eleven days later, "Salam" reported that one of the killers, a ten-year veteran of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, was a foreign agent. Although the first intelligence minister, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi Reyshahri, never trusted this official, his successor, Ali Fallahian-Khuzestani, trusted the official and made him a department director.

Niazi tried to deflect criticism by saying on 21 April that experts are working on the case "round-the-clock," and the evidence would be made public at the "appropriate time." As might be expected, Niazi said there is much evidence of "foreign hands being at work."

Niazi also dismissed allegations about the failed attempt in January to assassinate Tehran Justice Department chief Hojatoleslam Ali Razini. Niazi was referring to a reports in the pro-Khatami daily "Salam" on 17 April and the conservative "Jahan-i Islam" on 18 April that several men associated with the Hojjatiyeh Society are behind the murder attempt. Founded in the 1950s as an anti-Bahai organization, it is believed that many members of the Hojjatiyeh Society entered government service after the Islamic revolution. Around 1983 there was debate that the society opposed the concept of Vilayat-i Faqih, and eventually its founder, Sheikh Mahmud Halabi, was forced to withdraw to Mashhad. The Hojattiyeh Society ceased its activities in 1983 and its members were absorbed into the Islamic Coalition Association (Jamiyat-i Motalifih-yi Islami), which is one of the main conservative pressure groups.

The unsuccessful assassins believed that as long as those responsible to the Islamic Republic are in power, "Salam" said, the Imam of the Age (who is in occultation) will not return. They had, therefore, drawn up a list of names for elimination. Several of the accused, the daily reported, were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Also, there are allegations that the network had Basij ties. An objection to the "Salam" allegation of IRGC involvement was published in "Keyhan" on 20 April. The conservative "Qods" daily reported on 17 April that the would-be killers were independent operators not associated with any group.

In a related issue, the "Tehran Times" reported on 15 April that former Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi is likely to succeed Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani as spokesman of the Council of Guardians. Emami-Kashani recently resigned for health reasons. Dori-Najafabadi is secretary of the Assembly of Experts. (Bill Samii)