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Iran Report: August 2, 1999

2 August 1999, Volume 2, Number 31

SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY -- KHATAMI IN HAMADAN. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami visited several towns in Hamadan Province, southwest of Tehran, from 27 to 29 July. He made a series of speeches that are likely to be well-received by different sectors of Iranian society, be they moderate-reformist, conservative, or hardline.

The media, furthermore, portrayed his speeches in different ways to suit different audiences. Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), for example, aired much of his major speech in Hamadan city, but it did not include a lot of the audience reaction, according to RFE/RL's Persian Service. The hardline "Kayhan" newspaper on 28 July portrayed the crowd reaction differently, saying people affiliated with students traveled from Tehran to Mashhad and "tried to create chaos by chanting provocative slogans against the values [of the Islamic Republic]." The daily continued: "suspicious elements had circulated rumors in the city that Hizbullah [of Hamadan] intended to disrupt Khatami's speech."

During his Hamadan speech, Khatami said Iran has faced terrorism, economic pressure, sanctions, and a "destructive campaign to arouse world public opinion against this honorable and great nation," just "for the sake of its devotion to Islam, independence, and freedom." The president said events in the past two years and the recent riots in Tehran were links "in the chain of conspiracies of the past 20 years against the system of the Islamic Republic and against the honorable people of Iran."

There are efforts to "pit the seminary and university against each other," he said, and even more inaccurately, to "create the illusion that there are disputes" within the national leadership. "No such dispute has ever existed. I want to declare here that the president and the government enjoy full and complete harmony with the eminent leader and carry out his orders."

Khatami criticized the 8 July attack on a university dormitory as "a crime" and expressed his hope that an investigatory committee--with participants from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, the Interior Ministry, and the Judiciary--will have answers soon. But what happened after 8 July "was an effort to go beyond the boundaries. It was to express vengeance towards the system. act against national security with deviant slogans. ...a scenario to distort fundamental slogans." Khatami seemed especially upset because the demonstrations were "a declaration of war against the president and his slogans." Furthermore, the events made it appear that security can be guaranteed in Iran only through "force and oppression."

Khatami praised the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) for not using gunfire in ending the unrest. He went on to say that the only person killed in Tehran was a member of the LEF. Khatami then said only 1,200 people were arrested, and he urged the MOIS to respect their rights. Khatami also said 1,000 people already have been released. But Tehran Revolutionary Prosecutor Hojatoleslam Qolam Hussein Rahparpur said 1,500 people were arrested, and those who have been released "could be summoned at any time for interrogation," state television reported on 31 July. The arrests are continuing.

Khatami emphasized the importance of his election, because it "led to many great achievements and incidents," such as getting the previously apathetic to vote. He also said the election unified the generations. Khatami encouraged people to look forward to the February 2000 parliamentary elections, so they can choose "the management method and style for the administration of the country, as well as the direction of the system." People were urged to abandon their factional views and participate "in the arena of competition."

State radio broadcast Khatami's 28 July law-and-order address to Ministry of Post, Telegraph and Telephone employees. He said: "The criterion for being a citizen of this country is to accept the law and the existing discipline." He continued: "Should Islam be according to your own taste? The system has rules and regulations. ...The law says that Vilayat-i Faqih is the basis of the system; therefore, anyone who has accepted the law should also accept this."

In a 28 July talk with clerics, academics, artists, and officials, Khatami "cautioned against plots of the enemies of the Islamic Revolution to distort the image of Islam and lead the younger generation in the wrong direction," according to IRNA. In Nahavand, according to IRIB, Khatami told young people: "You must perceive your identity and not lose your resolve to foreigners. You must bear in mind that your identity lies in an Islamic and Iranian culture."

Khatami was accompanied by several of his ministers or their deputies, and they visited other cities in the province, such as Kabutar-Ahang and Razan. Much of their engagements and comments dealt with employment issues, factory and development project openings, tourism, and, in light of the draught, water projects. (Bill Samii)

ARRESTS, CONFESSIONS, AND PRESS REPRESSION. Issues involving the July unrest, the press, factional politics, and foreign intervention have become intertwined. Newspapers are closed and journalists arrested, and new "foreign forces" are blamed. Meanwhile, reformists call for straight answers and equal application of the law.

The managing director of the daily "Salam," Hojatoleslam Mohammad Asqar Musavi-Khoeniha, was tried by the Special Court for the Clergy on 25 July. He faced charges of spreading fabrications, disturbing public opinion, and publishing classified documents. This latter charge is the most relevant, because it referred to a letter written by the now-deceased Ministry of Intelligence and Security official Said Emami. The letter detailed plans for a crackdown on the reformist press (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 July 1999).

This letter was published the day before parliament approved a tough new press law. Subsequently, parliamentarians lodged a complaint against Khoeniha, saying publication of the letter discredited them, IRNA reported on 25 July. Hamid Reza Taraqi of Mashhad also said "Salam" had a "considerable role in the recent unrest." Khoeniha was found guilty and will be sentenced later.

The hardline newspapers that had published a threatening letter from 24 Islamic Revolution Guard Corps officers to President Mohammad Khatami (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 1999) also faced legal problems. On 21 July the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry filed a warning against these publications--the weekly "Javan" and the dailies "Kayhan" and "Jomhuri-yi Islami." "Jomhuri-yi Islami" said on 22 July that the whole matter of the letter was part of the "psychological warfare" being waged by "revisionist newspapers, nationalist and pseudo-secular newspapers." Not only that, "the heads of all belligerent groups commented on the subject by way of interviews with the Persian services of foreign radios."

Responding to the Press Court's investigation, the IRGC said the letter was not secret. The president's office, however, said the letter was classified "top secret," "Neshat" reported on 27 July. And just to make sure that observers do not think there are any divisions in the national leadership, Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi reiterated the IRGC and Basij's support for Khatami, state television reported on 31 July.

Safavi also warned the press against "following the steps of the enemies," "Iran News" reported on 1 August. Possibly to emphasize this message, 50,000 members of the IRGC will conduct exercises in the northeast of Tehran from 4-6 August, Safavi told state television.

There have been other press-related issues in recent days as well. Kazem Shokri of "Sobh-i Imruz" was imprisoned for publication of an article that, according to IRNA on 20 July, distorted religion, doubted the Koran, and insulted the divine prophets. On 22 July Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Saduqi complained that the law is using double standards in dealing with the press. Then, on 28 July, the Office for Strengthening Unity, a pro-Khatami Islamist student group, filed suit against the hardline dailies "Kayhan," "Resalat," and "Abrar." The student group charged that the newspapers were publishing false reports about their organization and about the student movement in general.

The IRNA daily "Iran" reported on 29 July that Massoud Dehnamaki and Soheil Karimi of the Ansar-i Hizbullah were arrested at the offices of the organization's weekly, "Jebheh." In a conversation with RFE/RL's Persian Service, Dehnamaki said he was not under arrest. Another "Jebheh" correspondent, Reza Monjezipur, was arrested last week, as was former "Zan" correspondent Camellia Entekhabifar, the "Tehran Times" reported on 1 August.

The MOIS claimed to have made progress in its investigation of the riots, issuing its fifth communique on 26 July. It affixed particular blame for the violence on the jailed Heshmatollah Tabarzadi and the Islamic Union of Students and Graduates he leads. In a twist of logic that is hard to follow, the MOIS said the Norwegian Solidarity Committee, RFE/RL, VOA, and the Belgian branch of the Nation of Iran Party "compelled" Sweden's foreign minister to "adopt a position against the Islamic Republic." The communique also stated that "a large group of hooligans, thugs, and riffraff" have been arrested already, and "additional groups of thugs and riffraff have been identified on pictures and films and are being arrested."

The second heavily edited confession of student leader Manuchehr Mohammadi was broadcast on 26 July (the first was broadcast on 19 July; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 1999). This broadcast added some details to the previous one, because Mohammadi's contacts in America were named (Ramin Ahmadi and Dr. Masali). Further details on the methodology of the Islamic Union of Students and Graduates were provided as well. According to the "confession," the organization would stage fights between itself and other groups. Then, when foreign radio stations called to get information, "we...blamed the Ansar-i Hizbullah."

Mohammadi said a "so-called policy of promoting tension and the policy of weakening the system is not only pursued by us, but I feel there are other groups and movements that pursue the same policy. We, in fact, received financial assistance from America on three or four occasions...all their efforts and endeavors were aimed at making Iran appear to be an unstable country." He continued: "You should not assume I was the only one."

Such remarks are likely to be used as a justification by the security forces for suppressing dissidents. Voices of discontent will be dismissed as foreign agents, and their suppression will be conducted under the pretext of counterespionage. The MOIS communique, furthermore, makes it clear that the crackdown will continue for some time.

Not all Iranians are satisfied with the simplistic and facile explanations coming from the government. A group of present and former parliamentarians issued a statement that "Neshat" published on 26 July. They asked why the MOIS concentrates on Mohammadi when everything in his confessions is already public knowledge, while at the same time the MOIS "refuses to provide details about Said Emami or the individuals responsible for the attack on the university hostel and groups which seek violence." Another statement from nationalist figures including Habibollah Payman, Taqi Rahmani, and Ezzatollah Sahabi, demanded answers about the serial murders of intellectuals and dissidents last winter, "Neshat" reported on 28 July. (Bill Samii)

NO TRADE FOR ARRESTED JEWS. The case of 13 Iranian Jews who, along with other Iranians, were arrested and charged with espionage, was not mentioned much during the July demonstrations in Iran. But according to an assessment of the Israeli Foreign Ministry cited in the 13 July "Maariv," Israel believes that the Iranian government may become more flexible and consider a possible "humanitarian gesture of releasing elderly Jews and those under 13.

Other Israeli reports backed this up. The "Yedioth Ahronoth" daily reported on 21 July that "mediators" sent by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed a trade for the 13 Jews. The Israeli newspaper went on to report that Israel rejected any linkages, fearing the possibility that other Iranian Jews would be used similarly.

Meanwhile, in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi rejected the Israeli report of a possible trade, saying it was "like a bad joke and carries no truth," the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on 22 July. Assefi continued: "the Zionist regime lacks legitimacy; we do not officially recognize it. Therefore, such rumors are published for propaganda purposes."

Objecting to French National Assembly President Laurent Fabius' earlier condemnation of the whole case, the "Tehran Times" on 12 July accused him of being "under the influence of Zionists [because] his wife is a Zionist with close links to Zionist circles." That same day, Paris Mayor Jean Tiberi and city councilors joined a demonstration against the Jews' detention. (Bill Samii)

TURKISH SOLDIERS AMBUSH IRANIAN SHEEP. Both Iran and Turkey agreed, after some initial confusion, that Iranian forces apprehended two Turkish soldiers on 22 July. They also scheduled a meeting to discuss Iranian allegations that Turkish aircraft entered Iranian air space and bombed Iranian bases and killed several soldiers and civilians.

But even after the two sides met on 28 July, the situation was only partially clarified. According to IRNA, the Turks agreed to pay compensation. But Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told the semi-official Anatolia news agency that his investigation confirmed the bombing was against the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) base in northern Iraq--not in Iran.

Relations between Turkey and Iran have been similarly clear for several weeks. An Iranian Foreign Ministry official said Turkish forces intended to attack the border region of Qotur in West Azerbaijan Province but were repelled by the Law Enforcement Forces, IRNA reported on 23 July. Subsequently, Turkey's NTV reported that two soldiers were captured by Iranian forces. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said: "probably it was not a deliberate incident, if there was such a border crossing. This was out of the question. Our two privates are not in a position to invade Iran," Anatolia reported on 26 July. Turkish Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu said, according to Anatolia on 26 July, "The recent incident is about livestock crossing to the other side. The recent incident took place when our soldiers tried to bring back the herds that wandered into Iran."

Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Gholamhussein Bolandian appeared to agree. He said, IRNA reported on 29 July, the two soldiers were 40 meters into Iranian territory and were waiting to ambush a flock of sheep.

Turkish leaders also commented on allegations that their air force bombed Iran on 18 July. Turkish Air Force chief Ilhan Kilic said that if any Iranians died it was because they were in the Kurdish-held parts of northern Iraq, according to the "Milliyet" daily on 26 July. He said: "Our planes...bombed a PKK camp inside the northern Iraq border...There were Iranian officers at the camp and they died. What can we do about that?" Chief of General Staff Hussein Kivrikoglu said, according to "Hurriyet" on 26 July, that it was impossible for Turkish F-16s to bomb Iranian territory accidentally. He said bombing runs are pre-planned and computerized.

The Turkish delegation issued its preliminary report on the incident on 29 July. It said that "one of the three sites indicated by the Iranian authorities is in northern Iraq, outside Iranian territory," TRT television reported. A final report will be issued after soil and metal samples are analyzed.

The key issue is Iran's continuing support for the PKK, which Turkey is increasingly unwilling to tolerate. Ecevit said on 26 July: "we have some complaints about Iran. The PKK's existence in Syria became nearly extinct, but Iran seems to take the place of Syria. Iran takes the PKK under her wings. This is an attitude that cannot suit good neighborhood and friendship relations." Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem reiterated concern about terrorism in a 27 July meeting with Iranian Ambassador Muhammad Hussein Lavasani, according to TRT television.

Iran has always denied a PKK connection. Furthermore, a 27 July commentary on Iranian state television said, "Turkey has never been able to provide documentary proof to the Iranian side in support of its claim." Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Sermet Atacanli, however, said on 28 July that "we conveyed this evidence [about the PKK in Iran] to Iran." He continued, according to Anatolia, "We expect more cooperation and initiatives from Iran on this issue." (Bill Samii)

U.S. GRAIN HAS 'GENETIC PROBLEMS.' Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Treasury Department announced on 26 July that new regulations will expedite bulk sales of wheat, corn, and some other food commodities to Iran. Cotton and tobacco are excluded.

Changes in the laws on the export of food commodities, first announced on 28 April, were eagerly anticipated in U.S. farm states and among commodities traders. Recently, they were encouraged by separate statements from the governments of the U.S. and Iran. On 13 July the USDA announced that Iran's imports of rice, corn, and coarse grains will increase in 1999-2000, and Iran's deputy agriculture minister, Mohammad Mirmohammadi, made a similar prediction in "Arya" on 18 July.

The Iranian government shows no public interest in purchasing U.S. products. Iranian officials say that unilateral sales by the U.S. do not benefit Iran. Iranian Deputy Commerce Minister Massoud Karbasian, for example, told "Iran News" on 26 July that "We will not purchase American products until the United States lifts its economic sanctions against Iran." Wheat probably will be purchased from traditional sources, such as Canada, Australia, and Europe, Karbasian said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said "lifting of sanctions on wheat and foodstuffs is more in line with interests of American companies rather than Iran." He continued, IRNA reported on 8 July: "Lifting of sanctions would be meaningful if it covers investments in such important fields as oil and petrochemical industries." These reactions echo that of Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi when a possible sanctions waiver was first announced on 28 April. At the time, he said it was a "unilateral" act which serves only American companies (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 1999).

Iranian factional politics might also be behind antipathy toward purchasing U.S. grain, a 28 July Reuters analysis suggests. It said "wealthy Tehran merchants...control most of the grain importing bodies in Iran," and they support "conservative Islamists." These individuals, in turn, reject dealing with the U.S., and Iranian moderates do not want to promote an action that can be misinterpreted and used against them. European grain traders told Reuters that any possible purchases of U.S. grain must wait until the 2000 parliamentary elections.

A third possibility is Iranian concern about the quality of its imports. Agriculture Minister Issa Kalantari said Europe will not buy American products because of their "bad quality" brought on by "genetic problems," IRNA reported on 29 July. Because it does not have access to European markets, Kalantari said, "the Americans want to export their products to Third World countries instead." Wheat imports from Iraq were banned a month ago for a similar reason. Abbas Mirzai, head of the Plant Preservation Bureau of Kurdistan's Agriculture Organization, said Iraqi wheat is infected with a parasitic weed, "Iran Daily" reported on 30 June.

Iran blames much of its agricultural shortfall this year on a drought. The director of Gilan Province's agricultural organization, Esmail Negaresh, announced on 25 July that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) granted $400,000 worth of irrigation equipment to the province. He went on to say, IRNA reported from Rasht, that the equipment should arrive in two weeks. (Bill Samii)

IRAN LASHES OUT AT GERMANY OVER ARREST. An Iranian national, Hamid Khorasandi, has been arrested in Germany for trying to infiltrate Iranian opposition groups there, according to press reports at the end of July (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 1999). On 28 July Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said Khorasandi is not connected with "any governmental or non-governmental agencies, institutions or organizations in the Islamic Republic of Iran." Iran's embassy in Bonn, however, will act to "make sure that the rights of the arrested Iranian national are protected according to the laws."

A 29 July English-language commentary on Iranian state radio said: "the simultaneity of the arrest of the Iranian national on charges of espionage with the arrest of 13 spies of the Zionist regime in Iran is a matter worth pondering." What is worth pondering is that the arrests in Iran occurred in February-March, while the one in Germany occurred in July. Unwilling to let facts get in the way, the radio commentary concluded that "influential Zionist circles in Germany" are raising this issue "in order to overshadow the arrest of the Zionist regime's spies in Iran."

Nor was this the only attempt to discredit the Germans. A 29 July report in "Kayhan" said, "the German embassy has given financial assistance to some counterrevolutionary individuals." "Kayhan" also claimed that arrested student leaders Manuchehr Mohammadi and Gholamreza Mohajerinezhad "had connections with the German Green Party (an extremist pro-Zionist party)...[and] were guests of the Heinrich Boll Foundation."

The Iranian government may be trying to pressure Germany into releasing Khorasandi. Helmut Hofer, a German who was out on bail after being convicted of illicit relations with a Muslim woman, was imprisoned again on 1 August, IRNA reported. This time, Hofer was arrested after Law Enforcement Forces reported his "relationship with certain suspicious foreigners" and "in order to prevent Hofer from fleeing the country." (Bill Samii)