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Iran Report: October 25, 1999

25 October 1999, Volume 2, Number 42

IRAN REACTS PREDICTABLY TO INDYK SPEECH... "When the government of Iran is ready to engage, we will be too," Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk said in a 14 October speech to the Asia Society. Although this statement was not a new departure, it did represent a very clear enunciation of official U.S. policy towards Iran. Reactions of Iranian officials and media were predictable and indicate that Iran is far from ready for engagement.

Indyk reminded the audience that a year ago Secretary of State Madeline Albright said the U.S. is prepared to develop a "road map in which both sides would take parallel steps to deal with issues of concern" and lay the foundation for a normal relationship. Indyk went on to say that the Iranian government's response has been "hide-bound and unimaginative, insisting that the U.S. must first take a number of unilateral steps as some kind of precondition for an official dialogue."

Indyk described how Iranian officials are allowed to visit different locations in the U.S. to participate in "people-to-people" exchanges and suggested that U.S. officials should have reciprocal privileges. Indyk also said that the U.S. sanctions policy is a reaction to Iranian government practices that "violate international norms" and threaten the interests of the U.S. and its allies. Until Iran's behavior becomes more acceptable, the U.S. will oppose investment in its energy sector, bilateral debt rescheduling, favorable credit, and loans by international financial institutions.

Iranian domestic and international behavior is flawed in several ways, according to Indyk. From a domestic perspective, official Iranian treatment of religious minorities causes concern. International issues that are undesirable are Iran's support for Lebanese Hizballah, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's meetings with "leaders of Palestinian rejectionist groups," and causing trouble in Jordan. Indyk also expressed concern about Iran's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile development programs. "We continue to support a Middle East free of all WMD. But the kind of proliferation we see in the region today -- be it in Iran, India, or Pakistan -- is leading in exactly in the wrong direction."

Iranian reactions to Indyk's speech were predictable. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said the U.S. has built the "wall of mistrust" between the two countries, and it can "compensate for the past and present behavior only by taking practical, perceptible, and meaningful steps." Assefi referred to Indyk's views on WMD and Iran's role in the Middle East as "unfounded" and "leveled with the idea of bigger arms sales...[and to divert] public attention away from the weapons of mass destruction in the possession of the Zionist regime."

Iranian state radio said on 16 October that the behavioral changes U.S. officials want actually mean that Iran should act "according to Washington's desires and give up its Islamic principles." Torqabeh va Chenaran representative Mohammad Azimi said, according to the 17 October "Tehran Times," that the U.S. should accept Iran's preconditions, such as release of Iranian assets held in U.S. banks and banning anti-Iranian terrorist groups in the U.S. Ardebil's Ahmad Qazai-Niyari added that economic sanctions should be lifted. Referring to WMD, a 17 October "Tehran Times" editorial said Indyk forgot to mention "Israel, which is the main source of insecurity in the region, with more than 200 warheads in its nuclear arsenal."

An editorial in the 16 October "Abrar" noted that Indyk's comments were almost identical to Albright's earlier ones, and furthermore, Iran had never supported terrorism and was in fact a victim of it. It went on to say that, despite Indyk's words to the contrary, the U.S. was dictating preconditions to Iran. "Payam-i Azadi" was similarly unimpressed, and it added that Khatami, in his CNN interview of January 1998, was too generous in his comments about America. Imam Sadeq University's Professor Hojatoleslam Ayubi said Indyk's comments stemmed from American jealousy about Iran's relations with Europe.

"Kayhan International" editorialized on 18 October that Indyk was in a "cocoon of mistrust" and "talking nonsense" when he described Iran's WMD program. It added that Indyk's comments reflect "sheer ignorance of the existing realities." The 18 October "Jomhuri-yi Islami" suggested that "the only way to teach new lessons to to remain indifferent towards, and unaccepting of, its authoritarian principals." (Bill Samii)

...NCR TERRORIST DESIGNATION EARNS LITTLE PRAISE IN IRAN. In his speech to the Asia Society, Indyk mentioned the State Department's early-October inclusion of the National Council of Resistance as a cover name for the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) on its list of terrorist organizations. That group is also known under the following cover names: National Liberation Army of Iran, People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, Organization of the People's Holy Warriors of Iran, the Sazeman-e Mujahedin-e Khalq-e Iran, and the Muslim Iranian Student's Society. This designation makes it illegal for U.S. individuals and groups to provide funds or material support to the group, denies entry to the U.S. for the group's operatives, and requires that U.S. financial institutions block the organization's funds.

"Tehran Times" was unimpressed. The English-language daily editorialized on 16 October that this actually was a sop to monarchist Iranian exiles who are competing with the NCR for recognition as the genuine opposition-in-exile. "Abrar" praised the redesignation but noted that it was not very meaningful because the MKO is based in Iraq and supported by Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn. On 18 October, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" added that "the Hypocrites [MKO] continue to enjoy America's strategic support."

Any conciliatory effects of the redesignation were offset partially by a letter to Secretary of State Madeline Albright from 28 (out of 100) senators who urged reconsideration of the terrorist label. They suggested that the State Department "look afresh towards the possibilities that exist within Iran's democratic opposition, including the People's Mujahedin," AFP reported on 14 October.

On the other hand, parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri said, London's "Al-Hayah" reported on 17 October, that "we welcome the recent U.S. initiative and consider it positive." A condition for rapprochement with Washington, he added, is delivery of "the terrorists who fled Iran since the revolution and settled in the U.S., especially the hypocrites [MKO]." (Bill Samii)

U.S. CLAIMS OF RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION REJECTED. Iran's speaker of parliament, Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, said on 18 October that "because we are not obedient to the U.S., they allege that we do not have freedoms in Iran," IRNA reported. He was referring to U.S. State Department Spokesman James Rubin's 6 October citation of Iran, under the terms of the International Religious Freedom Act passed by Congress last year, as one of five countries of particular concern for violating religious freedom. This would make Iran liable for U.S. sanctions, although U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright has not decided on this yet. Research conducted by an American religious publication supports the State Department statement, but the Iranian government rejects it and Iranian religious leaders accuse the U.S. of having a double standard.

On 7 October, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi "categorically denied" accusations of religious persecution in the Islamic Republic. Assefi went on to say, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency, that followers of "divine religions" enjoy complete freedom in performing their rituals and actively participate in the country's social activities. According to Iran's constitution, the "Twelver" sect of Shia Islam is Iran's official faith, and there are three recognized minorities -- Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jews.

Supporting claims such as Assefi's was a "Religious Minorities in Iran" photo exhibition held at Yerevan's National Pictures Gallery. The exhibition showed Armenian Apostolic churches in Iran, as well as Armenian schools and the Ararat soccer team, the Noyan Tapan news agency reported on 6 October.

All the minorities, including Sunni Muslims, encounter governmental persecution (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 September 1999). Churches serving the Armenian Christian community are tolerated, but Persian-speaking churches which try to convert Muslims usually are closed, Tom White of Voice of the Martyrs, an evangelical Christian organization, said in the 7 October "Religion Today." Furthermore, 10 Christian pastors have been killed since 1979, and other Christians are terrorized and threatened, according to Abe Ghaffari of the Colorado-based Iranian Christians International.

Assefi also said the State Department statement showed the "double standard and biased policies of Washington." Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini-Najafabadi pursued the same theme at the 9 October Friday Prayers in Qom. During a discussion about violence against Pakistani Shia, Amini-Najafabadi said: "What is even more regrettable is that the arrogant powers, such as America and other states which talk so much about human rights and express so much condemnation for terrorism, maintain silence over these killings in Pakistan. If something happens in Iran, they [America and the West] raise a hue and cry over it. But all these acts of terror take place [in Pakistan] and all this blood is spilled in an unjust manner and yet they say nothing to condemn it." (Bill Samii)

HIZBALLAH GETS IRANIAN ENCOURAGEMENT -- AND POSSIBLY ARMS. In the first half of October, Iranian officials and their counterparts in Lebanon's Hizballah organization met several times in Tehran, according to official Iranian sources. Such meetings coincide with reported increases in Iran's supply of military equipment to Hizballah, according to reports from Israeli sources.

During the first two weeks of the month, Hizballah Secretary-General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah was in Tehran. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei told Nasrallah that "continuing the struggle" to liberate occupied territories is necessary, state television reported on 12 October. He also criticized Palestinian leaders who gave concessions to Israel and praised those who continue to fight Israel.

President Mohammad Khatami told Nasrallah that "the freedom of Qods [Palestine] is our common goal and we should not allow aliens to hatch plots to sow discord among us," IRNA reported on 10 October. This meeting occurred amidst announcements about an anti-Zionist conference that will be staged in Tehran from 8-10 February. Expediency Council chairman Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani called for "consolidation of unity amongst combatant groups" in his meeting with Nasrallah, IRNA reported on 11 October. Iranian Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri told Nasrallah of his hope that "the occupied territories would be liberated through the continuation of the Islamic resistance," state television reported on 9 October.

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi told Nasrallah that "confronting Israel is a fundamental Islamic duty" and it is necessary for "Jihadi groups to continue their struggle against the Zionist regime until they free the Holy Qods," IRNA reported on 11 October. Nasrallah also met with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, who "stressed on the support of Iran for the resistance movement of the Lebanese people and government," according to a 6 October IRNA report.

During this same period, there were several reports from Israeli sources about an increase in Iranian backed military activities in Lebanon. Tel Aviv's "Yediot Aharanot" reported on 24 September that Iran encouraged attacks against Israeli units in Lebanon, and that Amal has joined Hizballah in these attacks, although Iranian arms supplies through Damascus continue at the same pace as before. But on 7 October "Yediot Aharanot" reported that "Iran has recently started supplying weapons and materiel directly to Hizballah via airlifts to the Beirut airport." Hizballah sources, however, rejected the report, saying it is "entirely fabricated, seeking to justify the continuous Israeli aggression against Lebanon," Beirut's Al-Mustaqbal reported on 8 October.

This denial was no consolation to the Israeli Defense Forces, because Sheikh Muhammad Fadlallah had claimed that Hizballah has new and sophisticated weapons to use against the Israelis. According to Tel Aviv's "Hatzofe" on 12 October, there have been reports that Iran has provided Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Also, Imad Mughniyah, head of Hizballah's security apparatus, allegedly accompanied Sheikh Nasrallah when he visited Tehran, according to Tel Aviv's "Haaretz" newspaper on 15 October.

The 20 October issue of Beirut's "Daily Star," citing a "Haaretz" report, said that such stories have been planted by an Israeli psychological warfare unit to play up the threat from Iran and Hizballah. (Bill Samii)

IRAN ALLEGEDLY HELPS HAMAS AND PKK. Martin Indyk's comments about Iranian support for Palestinian rejectionist groups were provoked by Jordanian King Abdullah, according to the 18 October "Tehran Times." An Iranian Foreign Ministry official rejected similar claims as "completely baseless" IRNA reported on 30 September. But around the same time, reports of Iranian assistance for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were rejected by an "informed source" at the Iranian Interior Ministry who said, according to the 4 October "Tehran Times," "Laics easily lie." Despite such denials, some of these reports are harder to dismiss than others.

Official Iranian statements are very supportive of Hamas. When arrest warrants were issued in Jordan for Hamas officials who were visiting Tehran, Hamid Muayyir, President Mohammad Khatami's representative at the Organization of the Islamic Conference said, "They are welcome to stay for as long as they wish," Amman's independent "Al-Arab al-Yawm" reported on 13 September. While several of them left for Amman on 21 September, Abu Marzuk allegedly left for Aden on 9 October. Iranian state broadcasting denounced the crackdown on Hamas on 1 October and said the Palestine Authority is "bent upon suppressing all anti-Zionist moves." The U.S. designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization also was criticized by Iranian state broadcasting on 12 October.

Israeli sources also claim that Iran is behind Hamas activities. Dan Meridor, chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said there are two processes in the Arab and Islamic world, according to a 12 October "Mideast Mirror" report. One is the peace process supported by Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians, and the other is a counter process -- "Iran was obviously behind this struggle." Meridor went on to say that Iran encourages and provides weapons for groups opposed to this process. Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service in the West Bank said "Iran is supporting and aiding Islamic militants in an attempt to spoil the peace process," the "Jerusalem Post" reported on 13 October.

Turkish sources continue to link Iran with the outlawed PKK. When PKK forces began their withdrawal from Turkish territory, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said, according to Istanbul's "Zaman" daily on September: "we cannot say that the PKK will definitely not move to Iran. That option remains a possibility." Turkish intelligence sources then claimed, according to Istanbul's "Radikal" daily on 14 September that Iran "transferred an arms depot it controlled in Iraq to the PKK." Turkey's Office of the General Staff announced on 28 September that by moving to Iran and other countries, the PKK indicated the organization's intention of continuing its terrorist activities. On 7 October, the semi-official Anatolia news agency published "intelligence units' reports" that detailed Iranian assistance to the PKK in the areas of arms supplies, training, basing rights, and possibly in drug trafficking.

Iran-based drug trafficking may not be the PKK's only source of income. Turkish Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Yusuf Gokalp said smuggling of sheep and cows from Iran earns the PKK a 10-15 percent commission per head, the Anatolia news agency reported on 10 October. (Bill Samii)

... AND CHECHNYA, TOO? Some of the attempts to link Iran with liberation movements, global terrorism, and Islamic fundamentalism are less credible than others. For example, an unnamed Armenian businessman said Chechens fighting Russian forces have received weapons and explosives from Iran via intermediaries in Armenia and Belarus, London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 15 October. In exchange, Iran gets items needed for its missile program. This seems an odd way to do things, since Russia already provides many of Iran's missile-development needs. Also, a Russian Defense Ministry press officer said that the Chechens are trying to organize "arms deliveries from Iran," according to the official Russian RIA-Novosti news agency on 16 October. Meanwhile, according to the 20 October "RFE/RL Newsline," Allakhshukur Pashazade, head of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus, wrote to Russian President Boris Yeltsin to protest "what he terms Moscow's deliberate policy of genocide in Chechnya." Pashazade charged Russia with masterminding the August incursion into Daghestan by provoking violence that could be portrayed as terrorism. (Bill Samii)

TRIALS AND CONVICTIONS OF STUDENTS. Addressing a meeting of Tehran University officials, President Mohammad Khatami called for a "decisive, careful, and speedy confrontation" with the people behind the July demonstrations that started there, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported on 19 October. It seems that his orders are being followed, with news of another conviction, news about the arrest of political dissidents, and identification of one of those sentenced to death. Also, students and a professor were tried for their parts in the publication of a "blasphemous" play, and another student publication was closed.

In its statement commemorating 100 days since the outbreak of the July demonstrations, the Islamic Association of Students at Shahid Rajai University expressed its concern about the Revolutionary Court's handling of students' cases. It went on to say, according to the official "Iran" newspaper on 18 October, that the conviction of students from Tehran's Shahid Rajai and Amir Kabir Universities "could well have unfavourable consequences."

The Shahid Rajai University conviction refers to Mehdi Fakhrzadeh, a student who was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for his part in the demonstrations, according to the 17 September "Sobh-i Imruz." He was imprisoned on 17 July and was tried without legal representation by the Revolutionary Court. This seems to contradict Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi's late-September comments that the university students involved in the July demonstrations are "innocent and not guilty."

Also, three students at Amir Kabir University -- Abbas Nemati, Mohammad Reza Namnamat, and Ali-Reza Aqai -- were tried in a case relating an insulting play about the Twelfth Imam that was published in a student magazine called "Mowj." The trial of a fourth student, Hamid Ahangari, was postponed so he could prepare his case. Professor Mehdi Sajadehchi was tried, too, on charges of having encouraged the students.

"After a thorough cross-examination the accused confessed to being guilty," the Ministry of Intelligence and Security claimed in a 3 October communique. That must have been quite a confession, because it later emerged that one of the original four suspects was a "university employee for photocopying," Reuters reported on 14 October. Aqai, furthermore, is "in charge of the bulletin board" at the university, IRNA reported on 20 October.

The case was presided over by Press Court Judge Said Mortazavi, who also serves as the prosecutor. Six clerical members of the Supreme Court served as his advisers. According to the lawyer of one of the students, the writers did not intend to "insult Islamic values but serve Islam by revealing the nature of some people who pretend to be followers of the Twelfth Imam but in fact follow their own interests," "The Guardian" newspaper reported on 21 October. Professor Sajadehchi defended himself by saying, "often I did not pay full attention to the articles submitted by students," according to IRNA.

Judge Mortazavi will be busy, because soon he will preside over the case of "Anjuman," the publication affiliated with the Islamic Student Association of Science and Industry University. The publication was banned due to a Law Enforcement Forces complaint about its printing photos of the attack against a university hostel in July, "Sobh-i Imruz" reported on 21 October.

Reza Kermani, Qodratollah Jafari, and Hussein Shahriari, all members of the nationalistic Pan-Iranist Party, were arrested recently for their parts in the July demonstrations, "Arya" reported on 10 October. Revolutionary Court Judge Ghulam-Hussein Rahbarpur had said in a 12 September "Jomhuri-yi Islami" interview that investigations against the Pan-Iranists were continuing. Pan-Iranist leader Mohsen Pezeshkpour told RFE/RL's Persian Service that the arrest, release, and re-arrest of Pan-Iranists has been continuing since July.

Meanwhile, the weekly "Aban" reports that a death sentence for Malous Radnia (also known by the inappropriate nickname Maryam Shansi) is a certainty, according to the 18 October "Iran News." Radnia was arrested on allegations that she had played a part in the July demonstrations (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 July 1999). In a 19 July television broadcast of MOIS statement No. 4 on the demonstrations, the announcer said Radnia was a member of Manucher Mohammadi's National Union of Students and Graduates. The MOIS statement added: "She was actively involved in the unrest and would continuously place false reports at the disposal of foreign media on the developments."

There is an unpleasant contrast between all these events and Khatami's words at a 21 October library opening. During that event, the Iranian president said that "inquisition into people's thought, restriction of thought, and failure to respect the very nature of thinking will cause backwardness," according to IRNA. (Bill Samii)