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Iran Report: May 3, 1999

3 May 1999, Volume 2, Number 18

TEHRAN REACTS TO US SANCTIONS WAIVER WITH DISDAIN. On 28 April, the White House announced that American companies will be able to sell food and medicine to Iran, Libya, and Sudan. The move appears to reflect a growing sense in Washington that unilateral sanctions have not worked as intended because companies in other countries have readily worked to fill the vacuum left by the non-involvement of American ones. Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat also told the "Washington Post" that funds spent on food and medicine will not be available for other purposes, such as terrorism or acquisition of Weapons of Mass Destruction. As if to underline this approach, oil company Mobil's request to market Iranian crude oil in a swap arrangement was declined.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was distinctly underwhelmed by the White House's gesture. In a 29 April interview with state radio, he said: "This is a unilateral lifting of sanctions and it serves American companies. ... There has been no change in the fundamentals of American policy towards Iran." Kharrazi went on to say Iran wants relations with other countries on the basis of mutual respect, equality, and non-intervention, but American policies are inconsistent with these principles. "As long as they do not amend their conduct and behavior, we will obviously make no changes in the way we view and perceive America."

Iranian state radio wavered between gloating and realism. One broadcast said Washington had "surrendered." Another broadcast said the decision is a reaction "to the extensive international pressure as well as the increasing pressure of the American firms. ... huge economic pressures are concealed behind the White House's political measures."

Enthusiasm for the waiver can be expected from Iranian-led Niki Trading Company, which wants the Treasury Department to approve its request to sell $500 million worth of agricultural goods to Iran.

The waiver will be welcome in many agricultural states, too. Dow Jones Commodities Service reported on 16 April that prices for U.S. corn, wheat soybeans, and livestock "continue to flounder near record lows." Nelson Denlinger of U.S. Wheat Associates said sanctions "shut the U.S. out of 10% of the global wheat market." House of Representatives member Benjamin Gilman (R-NY),who chairs the House International Relations Committee, cited a Congressional Budget Office study that said most sanctioned countries are not traditional U.S. markets. Gilman also said that the up to $19 billion annual loss is small compared to the U.S. total national income of $6.6 trillion and total goods exports of almost $700 billion. (Bill Samii)

IRAN IDENTIFIED AS STATE SPONSOR OF TERRORISM. On 30 April, the U.S. Department of State's "Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1998" report was released, and Iran was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, along with Cuba, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. But in contrast to the last two years, Iran was not singled out as the �premier� state sponsor of terrorism. In 1996, Iran was referred to as "the primary state sponsor," and in 1997 the Report said "Iran remains the most active state sponsor of terrorism."

The State Department report, which annually focuses on "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience," said that Iranian terrorist activities included assassinations against overseas dissidents. But it noted that there were few such incidents in 1998 than in 1997, and it cited only one specific case which, because of the source involved -- the Iraqi-sponsored Mujahedin Khalq Organization (also known as the People's Mujahedin of Iran and the National Council of Resistance) -- may be unreliable.

The report also mentions the murders of intellectuals and dissidents in Iran itself. Committed by members of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, these cases still have not come to trial.

Tehran, the report notes, also has failed to take action on the Salman Rushdie death decree. The report acknowledges that "the Iranian government stated publicly that it would take no action to enforce" the decree, but it has done nothing to force the 15 Khordad Foundation to withdraw the $2.8 million bounty it has offered for killing Rushdie.

Other incidents mentioned in the report include the February arrest and expulsion of three MOIS officials by Kazakhstan's Committee for National Security, on suspicion of threatening the U.S. Embassy in Almaty. Another case involves the June killing of a Sunni cleric in Tajikistan by MOIS agents. In September, a militant Sunni group, the Sipah-i Sahaba Pakistan, accused Iran of killing two of its leaders. The State Department report did not mention that the SSP is connected with the murder of two Iranian diplomats.

Iran also is accused of "providing varying degrees of money, training, safe haven, and weapons," to groups that use terrorism. Such support goes to the Lebanese Hizballah, HAMAS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command. Iran is accused of providing a safe-haven for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). According to exiled Iranian President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, Iran supports Algeria's Armed Islamic Group (GIA), a view echoed by the Algerian government. The Egyptian government claims Iranian "militant groups" sponsor the al-Gamaat al-Islamiya (Islamic Group) and the al-Jihad group (also known as the Jihad Group and Islamic Jihad).

But the report also notes that Tehran itself has been the victim of terrorist violence. Several Iranian government officials were killed by the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, and there was an attempt to kill Mohsen Rafiqdust, head of the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation (Bonyad-i Mostazafan va Janbazan). And the case of Iranian diplomats murdered in Afghanistan still has not been solved. (Bill Samii)

IRAN LINKED WITH KLA AND WITH SERBS. The continuation of NATO air strikes against Yugoslavian forces has been matched by a continuation in overt Iranian activities regarding the conflict in the Balkans but with a twist: While allegations of Iranian aid to the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) have been repeated, there are now reports of Iranian aid to Serbian organizations allied with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

On 30 April, Belgrade's state-owned, pro-Milosevic news agency, Tanjug, reported that the KLA is supported by many foreign states. Tanjug reported: "Many terrorist activities of the organization are organized and prepared in Iran with the help of other Islamic countries: Pakistan, Turkey, Syria." On the other hand, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said although Iran supported the Bosnian Muslims militarily, it would not supply the KLA with weapons deliveries, because "the situation in Kosova is different from the Bosnia war," the German daily "Franfurter Allgemeine" reported on 24 April.

Curiously, there are reports that Iran is part of a secret alliance including Yugoslavia, Russia, and Iraq. The Paris-based Arabic newspaper "al-Watan al-Arabi" reported on 23 April that a delegation of Iranian intelligence officers paid "an important secret visit" to Moscow to discuss details of the alliance. The Iranians requested the most-up-to-date Russian arms, in exchange for which they pledged that the Bosnia experience would not be repeated. Iran promised to "not escalate its solidarity with the Muslims of Kosova to the extent of sending units of the Republican Guards or Hizballah units or military equipment to help the Kosova Liberation Army. The Iranians pledged not to arouse Islamic sentiments and not to rally and finance extremist movements, as happened in Bosnia, for jihad [holy war] in Kosova."

The newspaper also reported the existence of an older tripartite arrangement between Belgrade, Baghdad, and Tehran. Leading Iranian figures in this deal were Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, former IRGC chief Mohsen Rezai, and former Minister of Intelligence and Security Ali Fallahian. Via this arrangement, Iraqi oil was smuggled to Iran, and Yugoslav companies based in Tehran would then sell the oil, repaying Iraq with arms and military equipment. Also, these companies ensured the delivery of oil and banned equipment to Yugoslavia.

Foreign Minister Kharrazi clarified his country's stance on the Kosova conflict in the "Franfurter Allgemeine" interview. He said: "As Iranians we do not approve of the NATO air strikes because they are not covered by the Security Council. On the other hand, we must not give rise to any doubts about the fact that the Serbs' atrocities, which we sharply condemn, must also be prevented. Therefore, we take the view that one must deal with Belgrade in coordination with the United Nations." Kharrazi said the use of ground forces would cause differences of opinion among OIC members. Regarding the expulsion of mostly-Muslim Kosovar Albanians from their homes by the Serbs, Kharrazi said "NATO further promoted this course of action by its air strikes." vMehran Shafiei, head of Iran's Red Crescent Society said Iranian aid to the refugees continues, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on 30 April. Shafiei urged other Muslim countries to increase their assistance to the refugees. Two days earlier, there was a demonstration in Tehran "to condemn perpetration of crimes against Kosovar people by Serbs and NATO," IRNA reported. At the end of the demonstration a declaration was issued that "massacre and homelessness of the oppressed Balkan Muslims are the results of the agreements reached in secret among rulers of the world blasphemy." (Bill Samii)

COUNCIL ELECTION RESULTS AND TEHRAN MAYOR. On 26 April, the Central Supervisory Board of the State Local Islamic Council Elections announced the final election results in 16 provinces. In Tehran Province, according to state radio, the results for Karaj were declared null and void. In Tehran itself, the results were declared null and void for Abdollah Nuri, Said Hajjarian, Mohammad Atrianfar, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh and Ahmad Hakimipur. The replacements are Davud Seleimani, Mohammad Hossein Haqiqi, Hassan Abedini, Seyyid Mansour Razavi, and Yahya al-Eshaq. If the Interior Ministry objects, Central Election Supervisory Board member Ahmad Rasulinejad told "Tehran Times" on 22 April, "the there is the possibility that all the elections will be declared null and void."

But the Tehran Council's first meeting was attended by President Mohammad Khatami, as well as the candidates whose election was disallowed. At the meeting, Khatami denounced what he called monopolistic forces seeking to model society according to their interpretation of religion and law.

All results in Ilam, Zanjan, Kohkiluyeh va Boyer Ahmadi and Yazd were endorsed, while results in the Isfahan Province towns of Fuladshahr, Alavijeh, Najafabad, Goldasht, and Dehaq, as well as the central district of Najafabad, were declared null and void. Results in Rostamabad and Dehkohneh villages of Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari Province were not ratified. In Sistan va Baluchestan Province the results for Chabahar and Zahedan cities were declared null and void. Results in the Kerman Province towns of Bezanjan and Jebal-e Barez were declared null and void.

Election results in East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan Provinces were endorsed. When asked about Mahmoud Ali Chehragani, an Iranian-Azeri academic who was supposedly placed under house arrest and whose candidacy for the elections was disallowed, Iran's Ambassador to Baku, Alireza Bigdeli rejected the allegations. In a 25 April interview with Baku's "Yeni Musavat" daily, Bigdeli asked how Chehragani could be under house arrest if he contacted "Baku-based ANS TV channel, Radio Liberty, and other mass media?" Bigdeli also rejected allegations of martial law in towns predominantly settled by Azeris.

In Gilan and Hormozgan Provinces, the results in almost all towns were ratified. Although results in most towns of Kermanshah Province were ratified, the results in the city of Kermanshah were recounted. As a result, there were some changes in the final results. The results of candidate Jalal Jalalzadeh were disallowed in Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province. Also, Soroush Akbarzadeh's election in Rasht was declared null and void. The election of specific individuals in several towns was disallowed, although state media did not explain why.

Only a day after the election results were announced, Central Supervisory Board member Seyyid Mujtaba Musavi-Ojagh said: "The decision on the validity of the elections in 16 provinces announced by this board is also not in accordance with the letter of the law." Musavi-Ojagh said the Board decision was invalid because there was not a quorum at the actual meeting.

The Tehran Council will select the replacement for former Mayor Gholamhussein Karbaschi, who was convicted on corruption charges. The Islamic Republic News Agency reported on 28 April that Karbaschi has been instructed to present himself at the Order Execution Unit of Tehran's Special Judicial Complex within seven days, so he can begin his prison term at Evin Prison.

"Arya" mentioned three candidates for Tehran mayor on 17 April. A name that has appeared before is that of soccer federation chief Mohsen Safai Farahani. Two new-comers to the candidate pool are Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, a leader of the coalition of student associations called the Office for Strengthening Unity, and former Minister of Heavy Industry Behzad Nabavi, who is a leader of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization.

A week later the same newspaper announced that Asgharzadeh's candidacy had picked up support from the leftist Militant Clerics Association (Majmae Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), but there was also a new candidate on the scene. Danesh Ashtiani, a deputy in the Ministry of Culture and Higher Education, is favored by a leftist coalition called the Forces in the Imam's Line. (Bill Samii)

UNHAPPINESS WITH STATE BROADCASTING. Unhappiness with Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the sole domestic provider of television and radio, is a constant feature of Iranian life. But the recent attack against Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani has caused renewed criticism of IRIB, whose director, Ali Larijani, is selected by the Supreme Leader. Abbas Abdi told "Khordad" daily on 25 August that if the parliament wants to interpellate Mohajerani for what is in newspapers, then it should launch a military attack against IRIB. Abdi said the Islamic Guidance and Culture Ministry does not produce the newspapers, whereas IRIB produces what it broadcasts. "All the unethical materials and pictures published by newspapers are still less than the unethical programs broadcast by the TV only during the week."

In January, 88 Members of Parliament sent a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei requesting reforms in the IRIB. In the letter they complained that state broadcasting was not impartial and "instead of safeguarding national interests, is evidently backing a certain faction." The parliamentarians wrote that such behavior will "encourage tension, discredit the important media tot he people, and ultimately deal fatal blows to our holy Islamic system, "Zan" reported. (Bill Samii)

KADIVAR DEFENDS INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM. The April trial and conviction of Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar generated a great deal of discussion in both the Iranian and the Western press. The Special Court for the Clergy, on the basis of published interviews Kadivar had given, convicted him for spreading propaganda against the system of the Islamic Republic, spreading fabrications, and causing public anxiety. By examining one of these interviews, one sees why Kadivar's views are so threatening to some elements in the Islamic Republic. By convicting Kadivar of expressing such views, hardliners hope to intimidate other potential "deviationists."

In an interview published in the 10 February "Asr-i Ma," Kadivar defended intellectual freedom, using the concept of apostasy (irtidad; renunciation of one's religious faith) to explain himself. He explained that the Koran does not address apostasy from a sect or an ideology, and that only those who have left the religion are apostates. If one explores theoretical aspects of religion, therefore, one is not necessarily an apostate. "People should be regarded as innocent and as faithful believers, unless the contrary has been proved." "Making such an accusation about the ulama, scholars, and researchers would be doubly wrong," because they naturally explore religious subjects.

He then turned to current Iranian politics and hardliner accusations of apostasy. "They seldom say that the person has become an apostate against the state. Nevertheless, by resorting to such devices they wish to accuse certain movements of apostasy." A jury must decide if someone is an apostate, and academic exercises are free of such considerations. There is a difference between academic work and "work aimed at propagating and publicizing."

Article 24 of the Constitution permits freedom of the press and publications, except where Islamic principles or public rights are violated. This opens the way to abuse, permitting "men of religion to ban anything they dislike." While Kadivar advocates supervision of children's publications, censorship of other works, including newspapers, should be unacceptable.

Kadivar also criticized those who misuse the law and religious principles to maintain power. Sharia and the Constitution forbid eavesdropping and monitoring of conversations, but this is still done on the grounds of national security. Those who frequently use this excuse are like the shepherd who cried wolf too often. Eventually, "even if someone is really acting against the national interests nobody would believe any warnings of danger." What is happening is that leaders "mistake themselves with Islam, with national interests or with the interests of the system, and in this way believe that they should be immune from criticism." So instead of describing dangers to themselves, they claim that there is a danger to the revolution, the system, and religion.

Misuse of religion in Iran, Kadivar said, leads to public dissatisfaction. As an example, Kadivar cited the issue of hijab (Islamic dress code). He said that people make a big deal over hijab violations, but "pay no attention at all to the issue of poverty whose importance is much more than the lack of hijab." The failure to obey hijab rules indicates dissatisfaction, "even a feeling of revulsion," with some religious teachings as currently implemented. This results from "a kind of illegitimate mixture between religion and daily politics, [and is] why we have witnessed a negative resistance towards religious teachings."

Some of Kadivar's views were interpreted as being against Vilayat-i Motlaq-i Faqih (guardianship of the jurisconsult). He argued that it is permissible and healthy to oppose aspects of the system within a legal framework, saying, "From both a legal, as well as a religious point of view, it is quite permissible to criticize the Supreme Leader or the ruling establishment." But some say that the Supreme Leader is beyond reproach, Kadivar opined, so although the monarchy was ousted, there seems to be a new royalty. "They have pushed out the tyrannical king from their mind and have replaced it with a Just Faqih. However, their attitudes towards the Just Faqih is the same as their former attitude towards the imperial relationship. In fact, instead of believing in Vilayat-i Faqih, they seem to believe in the Kingship [saltanat] of the Faqih."

Kadivar criticized the Assembly of Experts, which is the only body authorized to question the Supreme Leader, for not actually doing so. The solution to this is to "bring about a culture of dialogue, the culture of criticism and questioning." Legal opposition and dialogue in seminaries and universities will "improve the health of the society." It is not illegal to criticize the law intellectually, Kadivar said, although it is an offense to incite people to act outside the law.

Kadivar ended the interview by observing that "the inappropriate actions of many of those who set claim to religion at our time have resulted in a great deal of cynicism regarding religion and religious teachings." His conviction will only strengthen this cynicism. If President Mohammad Khatami acts to have Kadivar released, he will be criticized by hardliners, but by allowing the conviction to stand, Khatami's promises of civil society and rule of law are likely to appear empty to his supporters. (Bill Samii)