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Iran Report: June 14, 1999

14 June 1999, Volume 2, Number 24

IRAN SEES WESTERN PLOT IN KOSOVO OUTCOME. Iranians appeared to welcome the prospect of a settlement on Kosovo. But some continued to question the motives behind Western involvement there. And the Iranian government used the occasion to show its growing interest in the rest of the Balkans.

Whatever happens, Iran has no intention of giving either NATO or the West any credit. The Iranian foreign ministry's Director of Central and Northern Europe Department, Rasul Mohajer, told IRNA on 2 June that the visit to Belgrade by Viktor Chernomyrdin had led to the Yugoslav government's acceptance in principal of a peace proposal. And "Kayhan International" 񠷨ich is affiliated with the Supreme Leader's office -- said on 3 June: "if the NATO attacks were meant to end Serbian brutalities against Kosovar Muslims, we would have supported them wholeheartedly; however, unfortunately the case is otherwise."

A day earlier, state radio described the airstrikes and any ensuing peace agreement as part of a Western conspiracy for domination of the Balkans. "During the establishment of the interim government, the West will attempt to train forces loyal to it in order to ultimately win power in Kosovo ... For the socialist government of Belgrade is a major strain on the way of the geographical expansion of NATO and full domination of the capitalist system on this region. So it is natural if the West does everything to destroy it." The editorial concluded that the West wants instability to justify its military and diplomatic presence.

There was greater enthusiasm about the Hague tribunal's indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes. Iranian state radio said on 27 May that "issuing an international warrant for Milosevic's arrest is a unique, but essential and useful measure." It expressed the hope that "Western governments would intensify their endeavor to find diplomatic, non-military solutions." The broadcast went on to classify the indictment as a "positive measure" compatible with pressure "to compel this regime to abandon resistance against the international community's peace proposals."

Iran continues to be active elsewhere in the Balkans. In mid-May an educational complex constructed and equipped by Iran's Construction Jihad Ministry was inaugurated in Sarajevo. The head of the Bosnian Martyr Foundation, Safar Khalilovic, thanked Iranian Ambassador Homayoun Amir-Khalili and Construction Jihad representative Ahmad Khoda-Karami for their country's assistance. At the end of May, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Euro-American Affairs Morteza Sarmadi told Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic that Iran wants to strengthen its cooperation with Bosnia. Sarmadi also met with Bosnian Mufti Mustafa Tiric, Bosnian Federation Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic, and parliamentarians during his trip to Sarajevo. In Tehran, Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mines chief Ali-Naqi Khamushi told his Macedonian counterpart, Dusan Petreski, that following a Macedonian delegation's visit, opportunities for economic and commercial cooperation have been increased. (Bill Samii)

TURKEY, OCALAN, IRAN DESCRIBE IRAN-PKK RELATIONS. Turkish officials, according to the "Turkish Daily News" on 27 May, believe Iran is becoming the main mentor of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkish intelligence reports also claim that Iranian and Greek military personnel are training PKK personnel in northern Iraqi areas controlled by Jalal Talebani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; PKK militants trained in Greece fly to Iran and are taken to the Turkish border by Iranian military vehicles; and Iran buys sensitive military items for the PKK in Europe. Turkish officials also have warned, according to the Ankara daily, that Turkey will repeat its "determined stance against Syria" if Iran's pro-PKK activities continue.

PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan described aspects of the terrorist organization's relationship with Iran during his trial on Turkey's Imrali Island, the semi-official Anatolia news agency reported on 1-2 June. Ocalan said PKK personnel went to Greece for military training via aircraft originating in Iran. He said "there are no training camps of the terrorist organization in Iran," and most of the weapons, including missiles, sent to the PKK via Iran were confiscated. He admitted that there is a PKK hospital there at which ideological training is given, with the knowledge of the Iranian authorities. Ocalan denied the existence of a PKK drug laboratory in Iran. Responding to the prosecutor's question about arms shipments seized in Sanliurfa, Cilvegozu, and Gaziantep, Ocalan said: "They were not coming to us. They were going to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran would deliver it in the border if it had come to us."

When asked about the establishment of the PKK, Ocalan said the Palestine Liberation Organization was instrumental: "They trained us at their camps." Many Iranians were trained at these camps too, such as Ahmad Khomeini, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Montazeri, future Executives of Construction Party founder Mohammad Qarazi, Jalaleddin Farsi, Ayatollah Ali Janati, Office for Fostering Unity founder and Students Following the Imam's Line leader Hojatoleslam Mohammad Musavi-Khoeniha, and future Revolutionary Guards commander Abbas Zamani. Also, according to Ervand Abrahamian's "Radical Islam: The Iranian Mojahedin" (1989), members of the terrorist Mojahedin Khalq Organization trained at PLO camps in the same time period.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi rejected all the allegations made by Ocalan, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on 3 June Assefi said the claims are aimed at damaging relations between Iran and Turkey, and Iran has constantly denied Turkish allegations that it has any links or renders any support to the PKK on Iranian soil. A day earlier, IRNA reported, several times, Greek and Cypriot government denials of Ocalan's allegations. (Bill Samii)

NORWAY NAMES AMBASSADOR TO TEHRAN. A source at Norway's embassy in Tehran told Reuters on 1 June that his country and Iran have upgraded their diplomatic ties to ambassadorial level. Oslo's choice as the new ambassador is Svein Aass, serving currently in Norway's U.N. mission. Since deciding to reinvigorate ties with Iran, Norway has moved with some alacrity. This month, a Norwegian service company will undertake a seismic project covering the entire Iranian offshore sector, the "Middle East Economic Survey" reported on 31 May. Other Norwegian firms are also expressing an active interest in the Iranian petroleum sector (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 10 May 1999). On 8 June, the Center for Iranian and Norwegian Trade will hold a seminar in Oslo for representatives from both countries. Iran is reciprocating with tremendous generosity. Iran Air, the national airline, will begin a weekly flight to Oslo via Larnaca on 20 June, Mahmud Shekarabi, Iran Air's general manager to Greece and Cyprus, told IRNA on 27 May. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN'S NEW MAYOR. On 1 June the Tehran City Council unanimously selected Morteza Alviri as the capital's new mayor. Tehran Council head Abdullah Nuri said Alviri was selected after the other possible choice withdrew his name from contention, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. The appointment was approved by Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari per Article 71 of the councils' law, in which the appointment of mayors for cities with populations of 200,000 or more are proposed by the city council but formally appointed by the interior minister.

Alviri holds degrees in electrical engineering and management. He served in the Islamic Revolution's committees in 1979, and in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' central council in 1980. Initially affiliated with the leftist Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, Alviri served in the first and third Parliaments. Alviri was an open supporter of dissident cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, according to the 1 June broadcast of RFE/RL's Persian Service, and for this reason he was prevented from running for the fourth Parliament. He then abandoned leftist economics for market economics, leading some to denounce him. Alviri served in a number of planning and budgetary bodies, and also in the National Security Council's economic committee, the Atomic Energy Organization, and the Ministry of Mines and Metals. Most recently, he was secretary of the Supreme Council for Free Trade Zones.

The new mayor is a technocrat identified with Expediency Council chairman Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's Executives of Construction Party. In a 2 June interview with the conservative daily "Resalat," however, council member Said Hajjarian denied that Alviri was chosen due to support from Rafsanjani or because of any behind-the-scene ("posht-i pardih") negotiations. And council member Mohammad Atrianfar told RFE/RL that Alviri was selected because of his strong management background.

Most newspapers expressed satisfaction with Alviri, or at least the fact that his election may put an end to the endless speculation and commentary about the case of his imprisoned predecessor, Gholamhossein Karbaschi. Endorsements came from the dailies "Hamshahri" -- affiliated with Tehran municipality -- and "Khordad -- published by reformists. The former said Alviri will continue his predecessor's efforts, while the latter said Alviri is a close friend of Karbaschi's who knows the city's darker and brighter points. "Sobh-i Imruz" said Alviri was a good choice because he was familiar with Tehran's economic and political peculiarities, he can work with the council, and he is familiar with political developments following the revolution.

The conservative "Jomhuri-yi Islami," on the other hand, grumbled that the council chose Alviri in less than 30 minutes. "Keyhan -- affiliated with the Supreme Leader's office -- described its "Expectations of the Mayor" on 2 June. Without naming Karbaschi specifically, the conservative daily complained about urban renewal projects which wasted resources on making Tehran a showpiece of reconstruction. "Kayhan" also complained about policies that made land costly and led to the construction of skyscrapers. "The new mayor must separate his path from the past."

New mayors in other major cities are: Ahmad Nowruzi (Mashhad), Ebadollah Fathollahi (Tabriz), Yousefali Darunparvar (Semnan), Amir Reza Yousefian (Hamedan), Mehrdar Salari (Kermanshah), Nader Sakenian Dehkordi (Shahr-i Kord), Farajollah Rajabi (Shiraz), and Abbas Rowshan Ardakani (Karaj). (Bill Samii)

REACHING OUT TO THE EXILE COMMUNITY. Reports from a variety of sources indicate that many Iranians want to leave the Islamic Republic. But despite that, Tehran has launched a campaign to try to induce wealthy Iranians to return from exile.

Evidence of the desire to leave is mounting. In early-April the Swedish Foreign Ministry filed charges against its Tehran embassy for illegally issuing visas and residency permits in exchange for bribes. According to Sweden's TT news agency and the "Dagens Nyheter" daily, the charges were filed after Swedish officials inspected the embassy twice. A Swedish Foreign Ministry official told RFE/RL the investigation is continuing. In mid-April, according to "Arya" daily, a wrestler from Mazandaran refused to return to Iran after a tournament in Italy. Traveling on a Schengen visa, he is seeking asylum in an unnamed European country.

Meanwhile, some 22 Iranians were arrested in Hakkari Province of eastern Turkey after entering the country illegally, Anatolia news agency reported on 11 May. Three Iranians were arrested while trying to enter Croatia from Bosnia-Herzegovina illegally, Zagreb's official HINA news agency reported on 17 May. Despite having died their hair blond to match the pictures in their stolen British passports, two Iranians were arrested in Brunei as they tried to board a flight to Brisbane, the "Bandar Seri Begawan Borneo Bulletin" reported on 28 May.

But an interview in the 29 May "Khordad" suggests that Tehran is focusing its attention elsewhere. What Iran wants and needs is cash and management expertise to run its various industries. Akbar Torkan, head of the state-owned Industrial Development and Renovation Organization (IDRO), told "Khordad:" "People whose innocence has now been proven and whose properties were nationalized after the Islamic Revolution, can recover their assets in the first six months of the current year as long as the confiscated assets are under the jurisdiction of the IDRO." IDRO's offer to return confiscated assets is relatively superficial. Its holdings are inconsequential in comparison to those of some para-statal organizations, such as the Oppressed and Disabled Foundation (Bonyad-i Mostazafan va Janbazan).

In an interview with "Iran Daily," Torkan said owners would receive their assets in "cash or shares," which would be adjusted for inflation for the past 20 years. He did not say which of the three exchange rates would be used, nor did he say shares of what.

Torkan neglected to mention some other peculiarities encountered by Iranians trying to recover their assets. For example, they must pay off any debts accumulated in their property's name. They will have to pay fines. And they will find it difficult to fire any employees of confiscated businesses or oust current residents from their former residences. (Bill Samii)

SENIOR CLERIC DENOUNCES JUDICIARY. During a recent lecture, Ayatollah Yusef Janati-Sanei "accused the judicial authorities of inquisition and false accusation," the hardline daily "Keyhan" reported on 1 June. He also called for the lifting of restrictions on Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, who has been under house arrest since the late-1980s. At the end of Sanei's lecture, seminary pupils and religious scholars shouted slogans and protested.

Sanei is a Friday Prayer Leader who by definition is expected to support conservative aspects of the regime wholeheartedly. Montazeri, on the other hand, consistently denounces Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's qualifications. Sanei served as a state prosecutor-general, a member of the Guardians Council and Assembly of Experts, and in the Supreme Judicial Council. In July 1997, the leftist "Salam" newspaper referred to him as a Grand Ayatollah.

By March 1998, Sanei seemed to have recognized the need for civil society institutions, saying that the word of Islam must be disseminated through legal channels. The next month, he and five other ayatollahs met with Tehran district mayors to discuss the trial of Gholamhossein Karbaschi. London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 8 January that Sanei is a leader of the religious reform group who announced in a statement distributed throughout the country that he "is happy about President Mohammad Khatami's success in his mission."

If the "Keyhan" report is correct, then it shows the conservative religious establishment's increasing disgust with what passes for justice in Iran. By voicing his opinion, however, Sanei runs the risk of being confined, as were Ayatollahs Ahmad Azari-Qomi, Yasubedin Rastegari, Sayyid Hassan Tabatabai-Qumi, and Mohammed Shirazi. (Bill Samii)

ANNIVERSARY OF KHOMEINI'S DEATH COMMEMORATED. On 4 June the tenth anniversary of the death of Father of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi-Khomeini was commemorated in Iran. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, in a speech broadcast the previous night (3 June), mainly addressed two issues. He first talked about freedom by discussing Khomeini's mystical teachings, saying mysticism represented the truth of religion, whereas theology was the form. Khatami then condemned mystical espousal of isolation from society, because social affairs, public welfare, and mysticism all function together in Islam. In the religion;s history, Khatami said, isolationist mysticism resulted in despotism. Khomeini's teachings, on the other hand, resulted in the freedom the people now enjoy.

Khatami went on to say that the existence of societal differences is natural. He pointed out the contradiction that in European countries differences are seen as "signs of progress, democracy, and social maturity," but in the Iranian case they "are said to be proofs of tension, weakness, and collapse." Suppressing such differences is to "deny divine traditions." Also, Khatami praised Khomeini's successor, the Guardian of the Revolution, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini-Khamenei. Khamenei was described as "the foundation and pillar of the system."

Khamenei himself preached the 4 June Friday Prayers sermon at Khomeini's shrine south of Tehran. He said that the Islamic system created by Khomeini laid the groundwork for freedom. "Some people think that they are now going to teach freedom, freedom of opinion, freedom of choice to the Imam, the Imam's system, the Islamic system. These newcomers!" Government officials were "raised by the Imam, ... there's no need for others to come and teach them these things."

Khamenei also addressed the issue of social justice, saying it was very important for Khomeini and explained the creation of the Construction Jihad Ministry and numerous para-statal foundations. At the same time, "our revolution is not a revolution over bread," it is "based on faith." Khamenei also said "that which is unacceptable for America, for arrogance, for the world-devourers is this country's independence." He also claimed that this group is hostile to Islam.

Many Iranian officials, ranging from Expediency Council chairman Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to Parliamentary Speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri also publicly praised Khomeini, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. Congratulatory comments came from other country's whose religio-political leaders owe an intellectual debt to Khomeini. For example, Hizballah figure Ali Musawi from Lebanon, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine secretary-general Ahmed Jibril, and deputy head of the Bosnian ulama Hafez Esmat all hailed Khomeini. (Bill Samii)

BATTLE OVER THE MEDIA HEATS UP. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei recently sent a message which in the short-term can be regarded as the opening salvo in the effort to control Iran's media, but which in the longer-term may be an indicator in the Spring 1999 parliamentary election.

Speaking to an audience of Iranian publishers in the third week of May, Khamenei said: "The enemy is trying to attack the political system in the Islamic Republic with the aid of cultural devices." Disseminators of "philosophical or political thought," Khamenei warned, "may be knowingly or unknowingly pursuing a plot for sabotage and subversion."

Broadcast media, as well as publications, are also a concern, so the law banning satellite dishes must remain in effect, Khamenei said. He went on to say, according to state radio, "we should identify ways to prevent transmission of satellite transmissions proportional with the advance of technology." To provide an alternative to foreign sources, state radio and television chief Ali Larijani said at the seventh annual Voice And Vision festival in Zibakenar on 25 May, there will be efforts to expand official satellite, radio, and television networks. He later described his accomplishments: production of television programs in the past five years increased by 400 percent, reaching 27,000 hours; the number of television networks increased from three, with 20 hours of daily transmission, to 13 with 150 hours of daily transmission; and seven provincial networks had also been established; and radio broadcasts increased by 220 percent, reaching 145,000 hours.

Not everybody thinks Larijani's strategy is effective. Rather than simply more broadcasts, some believe there should be better ones and a greater variety. "Azadi" weekly reported at the end of May that different channels just repeat the same films and programs, and many of them are not interesting.

Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani told students at Shahroud University that the government disagreed with the satellite receiver ban, "Iran News" reported on 18 May. The conservative "Resalat" daily on 19 May rejected such a "surrender to the enemy's cultural onslaught" and said it was "tantamount to committing suicide because of fearing death." Hojatoleslam Torabi, Friday Prayer Leader of Kuhdasht (Lorestan Province), took exception to Mohajerani's comments, the conservative "Jebheh" weekly reported on 29 May, saying the law was appropriate because the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament) ratified it. Furthermore, "His excellency the minister thinks this is Europe or America? This is a system, an Islamic system. And these people, they are a Muslim people."

But above all, the Supreme Leader likes Larijani's ideas, which explains his appointment to another five-year term on 26 May. This is a very important position, because newspapers and print media have a limited circulation outside the main cities. "Kayhan International" -- published under the supervision of the Supreme Leader's office -- noted this, saying "no other top level position in this country is under the continuous day and night observation of the people."

As the attack against broadcast media was initiated, the attack against print media was revived, having started in March with the closure of "Zan" daily. In mid-May, Former Islamic Culture and Guidance ministry official Issa Saharkhiz was summoned on charges of allowing publication of a special issue of the banned "Zan." At the end of May, Fereidoun Verdinejad, managing director of the state news agency and director of the English-language "Iran Daily" and Persian-language "Iran," was arrested. His arrest was in connection with a cartoon his newspaper ran showing a television serving as a toilet's cistern. Then Mohammad Reza Zohdi, editor of "Arya," was arrested on charges of disclosing military information.

Others in print media who have been summoned for hearings are Latif Safari of "Neshat" and Said Hajjarian of "Imruz." Also, Hojatoleslam Abdullah Nuri, who publishes "Khordad," has been summoned by the Special Court for the Clergy. A voice in their defense was that of Deputy Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister on press affairs Shaban Shahidi-Moaddab, saying: "I formally protest the mistreatment of the press corps. Currently, journalists do not feel safe." He continued, according to Reuters: "The press court should act in a manner compatible with the dignity and honor of the press. Our managing editors have a good reputation."

These media-related events can be seen in the context of Iran's continuing factional struggle and are not, therefore, completely unexpected. What is of particular interest is the impact of media affairs on the pending parliamentary elections. A little over a month ago, parliament decided against giving Mohajerani a vote of no-confidence. At that point it seemed the body was taking a popular stance and siding with the reformists, perhaps thinking the issue was one on which votes would be cast in the election. Thus, it appeared that the body and its large block of independent members was turning away from its conservative tendencies.

Last week, however, the very same parliament re-elected the conservative speaker, Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, with 161 out of 246 votes. Then, 228 parliamentarians signed a letter in which they declared that "like the leader, they too sense the cultural inroad of the enemy in the form of a plot for transformation and overthrow of the system, ...[and] ... they will spare no effort to foil such a conspiracy," IRNA reported.

It is, therefore, extremely difficult to predict the outcome of next year's vote. And how the parliamentarians weigh in on these recent media-related events may only be a sign of political opportunism and expediency. (Bill Samii)