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Iran Report: March 28, 2007

Tehran Outraged By Latest UN Resolution

By Vahid Sepehri

The UN Security Council voting to adopt the sanctions resolution on March 24

March 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Unsurprisingly, senior Iranian officials have rejected UN Security Council Resolution 1747. The additional UN sanctions were approved unanimously on March 24 in a continuing bid by the international community to curb Iran's nuclear program.

Iran's cabinet voted the following day to reduce Iranian cooperation with UN nuclear inspectors. Officials in Tehran have denounced the latest resolution as illegal, impractical, and unrepresentative of international opinion.

The latest resolution enhances sanctions imposed on Iran in December (Resolution 1737), after Iran refused to halt atomic fuel-making activities in response to UN demands. It increases the number of Iranian individuals and firms purportedly linked to Iran's nuclear and ballistic programs whose foreign assets are to be frozen. It also imposes a ban on Iranian arms exports and urges states to refrain from extending loans to Iran.

Some Western states suspect Iran could use its developing nuclear know-how in a future bomb-making program. Those are charges that Iran rejects, but Tehran now has two months to comply verifiably with UN demands to halt uranium-enrichment and related activities. If it does not, it could face further sanctions.

Iran Defiant

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told the Security Council on March 24 that the resolution was "illegal, useless, and unjustified." He also said the sanctions are "too small" to force Iranians to "relent" in what he called "their rightful and legal demands." He insisted that Tehran "wants neither confrontation nor anything beyond the integrity of its rights." But he added that Western states are misinformed if they think resolutions can weaken Iranian resolve.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki (epa file photo)

Mottaki warned that "the only good [that can come] of this resolution" is persuading "free" countries to distrust "multilateral and international mechanisms" in pursuing their "rights." He reiterated that Iran's program "is entirely peaceful" and said "Iran has stated its readiness to resolve any concerns in this regard."

The Iranian foreign minister also accused the authors of the latest "assault" on Iran of bullying members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- and now of the Security Council -- into repeatedly voting against Iran. He said the resolution does not reflect the views of most UN members.

He insisted that members of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of the Islamic Conference "in their most recent position," in September, "supported Iran's position." Mottaki claimed that the "reality" is that "a few members of the Security Council have, to pursue their political goals, taken the issue out of the [IAEA] as the technical and principal body dealing with this subject, and transferred it to the Security Council." He accused these states forging and fabricating evidence against Iran.

On March 25, Mottaki accused rival governments of "abusing" the Security Council, according to the AP. He said in New York that the 5+1 powers -- Security Council permanent members plus Germany -- imposed preconditions on talks with Iran because there was no "political will" on their part to reach an agreement with Tehran.

Calls For Resumption Of Talks

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said on March 25 that the resolution violated the Security Council's duties to safeguard the rights of UN member states in line with Article 25 of the UN Charter. The spokesman said the Security Council has to respect the law and added that the IAEA has not so far accused Iran of deviating from peaceful nuclear activities. He proposed "unconditional" talks "with a precise timetable" to remove any "ambiguity" on Iran's program.

Alaeddin Borujerdi, a legislator and head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, has called the resolution "unacceptable and unfeasible" and "based on America's pressure," Mehr reported on March 25. Borujerdi is also a senior member of the nuclear committee of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

He suggested that the 5+1 powers return to the "negotiating table as soon as possible." He also claimed that if negotiations "had begun a few months ago without" what he called an "irrelevant insistence on [enrichment] suspension," the international community would have been in a better position today to reach a general agreement. Borujerdi said reticence displayed by Security Council members Indonesia and South Africa before the vote showed there was no real consensus on the resolution. He said those and other nonaligned states showed "serious opposition" to "pressure" on Iran in any meeting "not dominated by America."

Borujerdi rejected any suspension of enrichment activities by Iran in exchange for a suspension of sanctions. He claimed Iran did this in the past but achieved nothing because of 5+1 opposition to a "mutually acceptable solution."

No Relenting On Enrichment

Another legislator and a member of the parliamentary presidium, Hamid Reza Haji-Babai, warned after the latest Security Council vote that "there is no possibility of [suspension] by Iran" as such a move is against national interests and public wishes, ISNA reported on March 25.

Iran may well react beyond verbal protests, and restrict access to its installations by IAEA inspectors. Borujerdi told Mehr on March 25 that "parliament will certainly" react to Resolution 1747 when it reconvenes after Iran's new-year holidays in April and after consultations with relevant officials.

The enrichment facility at Natanz (Fars file photo)

More immediately, government spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said on March 25 that the cabinet had approved the suspension of parts of Iran's program of cooperation with the IAEA. He noted that the move was in line with a parliamentary law passed on December 27, 2006, obliging the government to review such collaborations.

Elham said Iran's Atomic Energy Organization would suspend the implementation of sections 1 and 3 of "peripheral arrangements" to the safeguards agreement signed with the IAEA in 2003 concerning enhanced Iranian cooperation. Elham said Iran had accepted in that agreement -- specifically in those sections -- to give the IAEA six months' notice on details of any of its plans or decisions on creating "any form of installations or on implementing any nuclear-related program," while Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) members are required to give just three months' notice. It was unclear if this was part of Iran's past commitment to implement the additional protocol to the NPT or a separate agreement.

The resolution and Iran's reactions appear for now to have left the dispute in a legalistic and verbal quagmire. Both sides cite legal clauses or evidence -- or the increasingly pseudo-legal territory of the international community's wishes and concerns.

But the impasse is over the key issue of enrichment and fuel making. And continuing Western distrust of Iran's potential or future use of related know-how -- and perhaps more broadly of the Islamic republic's intentions in the foreign policy sphere. The question of how to address this distrust remains.

Naval Incident Heightens Tensions With Britain

By Breffni O'Rourke

An Iranian coastal watchtower on the Shatt Al-Arab (file photo)

March 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The seizure of 15 British Navy sailors by Iran is threatening to turn into a diplomatic incident after Iranian naval forces on March 23 took the sailors into custody, saying they were trespassing on Iranian waters.

Britain strenuously rejects this, saying the sailors were engaged on a routine antismuggling patrol in Iraqi waters. Prime Minister Tony Blair called Iran's seizure of the 15 sailors in the Shatt Al-Arab waterway "very serious," and he regards the Iranian action as "wrong and unjustified."

"I hope the Iranian government understand how fundamental an issue this is for us," Blair said. "We have certainly sent those messages back to them very, very clearly indeed. I hope that this can be resolved over the next few days, but the quicker it is resolved the easier it will be for all of us."

Iranian Charges

However, the Iranian government appears unwilling to simply hand back the 14 men and one woman. It says it is considering court action against them for illegal entry into Iranian territorial waters. Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki claimed this is not the first such incident.

"The Iranian authorities intercepted these sailors and marines in Iranian waters and detained them in Iranian waters," Mottaki said. "This had happened in the past as well. And in terms of legal matters, we are looking into that and it's under investigation."

Britain has demanded immediate consular access to the detainees, and their swift release. However, the Iranians have taken them to an unknown destination and said that consular access "may" be granted at some later date.

The 'HMS Cornwall' in the Persian Gulf (epa file photo)

The British account of the incident is that the sailors were on a routine motorboat patrol in Iraqi waters, inspecting merchant shipping for smuggled goods, when their two launches were surrounded by armed Iranian naval units, and taken away. All are crewmembers of the British frigate "HMS Cornwall."

Bargaining Chips

The incident occurs at a time of high tension between the world powers and Iran over Tehran's refusal to obey a UN demand to abandon uranium enrichment. On March 24, the UN Security Council decided unanimously to impose new sanctions on Iran.

Iran has responded with continued defiance. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said that not for "one second" will Iran stop its nuclear program. There are international fears that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, something that Tehran denies.

Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said that because of the new sanctions, Iran will limit its cooperation with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based body that monitors compliance with nonproliferation rules.

British commentators, notably "The Times" daily, have linked the gunpoint detention of the Britons to the overall deterioration in the situation, saying that the boarding party may have been deliberately ambushed so that they can be used as "hostages" in the broader game.

Professor Ali Nourizadeh, of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, agrees with that view. "I believe this was a deliberate, very well-planned operation which has taken place in the Shat Al-Arab; they dragged the British soldiers over to Iranian waters to arrest them. It was a well-planned operation by a special unit of the [elite] Revolutionary Guards' navy."

Nourizadeh says the aim of the mission was to capture a large number of British military personnel and to use them as bargaining chips for the return of Revolutionary Guards captured by U.S. forces in Iraq. The Americans have described the captive Iranians as agents; but Iran has called them diplomats.

Show Of Strength

Nourizadeh also outlines a secondary motive which he sees in play, based on the Iranian government's expectation that the UN Security Council would pass the new sanctions package, which it did do the following day.

"They [the Iranian authorities] wanted to show to the Iranian people that they are strong, they are in control, and, if necessary, they are willing to fight with the British, and say, 'Look what we did, in bringing all those [captured British] soldiers to Tehran,'" Nourizadeh says.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic contacts continue. Both the British and Iranian governments summoned diplomats from the other side on March 25, and British officials say the British ambassador in Tehran, Geoffrey Adams, was seeking another meeting today.

In the aftermath of the naval incident, the ISNA news agency quoted the commander of naval forces of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Morteza Saffari, as warning the United States against mounting any military attack on Iran.

Mexican Museum Shows Domestic Side Of Persian Culture

By Vahid Sepehri

An eagle devouring a hare from the 6th century B.C.

MEXICO CITY, March 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Mexico's National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City is hosting a rare display of Persian artifacts, providing a panorama of Persian arts and handicrafts from 6,000 B.C. to the early 20th century. This is reportedly the first such exhibition in Latin America.

"Persia: Fragments Of Paradise" was arranged in collaboration with the Iranian Embassy in Mexico and comprises items from Tehran's national museum. It seems quite topical, coinciding with the March 23 screening in Mexico of the already polemical film "300," which many Iranians complain paints a negative picture of ancient Persians.

Domestic Persia

Most items in the exhibition are household items -- bowls, pottery, gold, and silverware. They reveal both the long history of sedentary living on the Iranian plateau and a love of home and domestic activities: eating, drinking, and serving -- the essential components of social life in the Middle East.

Notable items include a finger-sized "Venus Of Sarab" from the western Kermanshah Province -- a terracotta figurine with bulbous thighs and breasts dating from around 6,000 B.C.

MORE: A gallery of images from the exhibition.

The National Anthropology Museum exhibition shows another Iranian civilization: one that is humane and fonder of idyllic pastures, home, and the luxuries of daily life than of war.

Another terracotta item is a large, but fine bowl from Esmailabad near Qazvin, west of Tehran, dated 5,000 B.C. and painted with a constellation of rhomboid motifs.

A nearby section displays several earthenware bowls from around 1,000 B.C, found in several sites in Gilan, northern Iran. These are vessels with humanoid and animalistic features: human legs or elongated spouts suggesting bird beaks.

Animal and floral motifs recur in all the artistic periods encompassed by the show. This might be surprising, as relatively few Iranians today have household pets. The importance of animals may be due to the nomadic origins of Iranians and their constant contact with nature.

Lions, gazelles, birds, and bulls abound. Bull heads are a favored feature, whether as handles on silver jugs; on conical drinking vessels known as rhytons; or, in giant dimensions, as capitals on the hundreds of columns supporting the ceilings at Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Persian kings from the 5th to the late 4th centuries B.C.

The World Of Ancient Persepolis

The Mexico exhibition also has video displays to provide background information. A large screen shows a computer-generated reconstruction of buildings and ceremonies at Persepolis, revealing what stones and photographs might not: the feel of the place in its hey-day.

The ruins of Persepolis (Fars file photo)

Persepolis was a gigantic complex begun in the late 6th century B.C, built over generations, and burned down in 331 B.C. by Alexander the Great. An announcer on the video reads out, in ancient Persian with Spanish subtitles, the lines on a silver plaque found at Persepolis, reporting the inauguration of the palace under Darius I. It is likely the first time many museum-goers have heard the sounds of the ancient Persian language.

To help Mexicans contextualize the displays in historical terms, large posters provide a simultaneous chronology of historical developments in Mexico and Iran.

The posters show that wheat was being cultivated in Iran in 5,000 B.C. and corn in Mexico about the same time. But the chronologies also show that while sedentary living developed synchronously in these distant lands, civilization -- or systematic government over large areas -- sped ahead in the Middle East.

Mexico And The Middle East

Many of Mexico's pre-Columbian cities flourished from the time of the Roman Empire onward. The exception is the Olmec civilization -- the earliest large-scale civilization of central America, which left behind some colossal sculpted heads in the state of Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico. The religion and mythology of the Olmecs, who coincided broadly with the Assyrians in the 9th century B.C., then the Medes and Achaemenid dynasties, set the cultural tone and worldview for subsequent civilizations in Mexico.

An Olmec sculpted head (AFP file photo)

The next leading city of ancient Mexico, Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, began to develop at about the time of Persepolis, when many cities and empires had already come and gone in the Near East. The Mayan city-states -- now a collection of fantastic ruins punctuating the jungles of southern Mexico and central America -- are relatively "modern."

The Mayan peak era coincided with the advent of Islam, the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad, the 11th Seljuk Turks, and even the early Ottomans in Anatolia or the Safavids in Persia. The Aztecs flourished from the 14th to the 16th centuries, when Persian civilization, pulverized by the Mongols and by Tamerlane, was, in many respects, in decline.

Two Sides To Every Story

No doubt many of the thousands of visitors, including schoolchildren, who have seen the exhibition will soon see the film "300," which depicts, with somewhat extravagant imagery, the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C, when 300 Spartans led by one of their kings, Leonidas, defended a pass against a much larger Persian army of King Xerxes I.

The film has upset many Iranians, including the Iranian government, for its presentation of the ancient Persians as grotesque and decadent. Had he lived, the New-York based Palestinian academic Edward Said might have termed the film a perfect example of the Western vice he examined in his book "Orientalism" -- a distorted vision of the East as essentially different, impervious to reason and moderation, and threatening.

The National Anthropology Museum exhibition shows another Iranian civilization: one that is humane and fonder of idyllic pastures, home, and the luxuries of daily life than of war. The multinational empire of the Achaemenids brought peace to the Middle East for two centuries.

Another legacy of Persia is its institution of a particular vision of monarchy: the universal monarchy, featuring a single and uniquely legitimate monarch. It was a concept that was an enduring part of the monarchical principle throughout European history, and eagerly espoused by Persia's political heirs: Alexander, the Seleucids, the emperors of Byzantium, the Hapsburgs, and the Romanovs.

"Persia: Fragments Of Paradise" was due to end on March 25, but was extended until April 22.

Film On Ancient Persian-Greek Battle Angers Iranians

By Breffni O'Rourke

A scene from "300"

March 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A Hollywood film with the simple title "300" is arousing anger in Iran. Directed by up-and-coming filmmaker Zack Snyder, the film portrays the ancient battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Greek Spartans barred the way to the grand army of Persian King Xerxes I.

But many Iranians say the movie gives a distorted view of the Persians as decadent, cruel, and stupid.

The Iranian government has taken the row over "300" to the United Nations. In a letter to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Iranian Ambassador Mohammad-Reza Dehshiri described the film as an "insult" to Iranian culture.

He called on UNESCO to take up its responsibility to promote coexistence rather than "hatred, war, and arrogance."

In Tehran, "Time" magazine correspondent Azadeh Moaveni says there is a general sense of outrage among Iranians. Iranians living abroad are also disturbed.

"Sparta was a slave society, so the whole idea of them being upholders of democracy is kind of ridiculous," one film critic told RFE/RL.

MORE: Coverage in Persian from Radio Farda.

'I Was Shocked'

"It's very important for me not to remain silent, particularly about issues that are very sensitive in my view, and national honor and prestige are among them," Mitra Farokhzad, an Iranian living in the U.S. state of Arizona, told Radio Farda. "When I watched the movie's trailer and some parts of it, first I didn't understand it because it was very weird. But when I saw how they are portraying King Xerxes, I was shocked and thought, why are they giving such a [negative] picture of a great person?"

Some observers believe the Iranian government is exploiting the anger over the Hollywood production to advance its own political agenda. They say the authorities are provoking nationalistic feelings to get Iranians to rally in support of the government at a time when the Islamic republic is under international pressure over its nuclear program.

The U.S. film distributors, Warner Brothers, deny that "300" is deliberately meant to disparage any culture. They say it is a fictional work with the sole purpose of entertaining audiences. The film is proving something of a hit among the public, taking in $70 million in its first week.

History And Art

"300" tells the story of the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, when 300 Greek Spartans were able for three days to block the advance of a Persian army numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Thermopylae is a narrow pass between the mountains and the sea, where the sheer numbers of the Persians was to no advantage. Repeatedly the Persians attacked, only to be thrown back with heavy casualties.

In the end, through an act of Greek treachery, King Xerxes' army was able to surround the Spartans, who were all killed, along with their leader, King Leonidas.

The film sticks closely to the account given by ancient historians, including Herodotus, a Greek. It's the portrayal of the two warring sides that has caused the antagonism. The Greeks are seen as noble defenders of Western culture, while the invading Persians are seen as decadent, irrational, and barbarous, with King Xerxes receiving a particularly unflattering portrait.

Victors Write The History

But U.S.-based film critic Joe Queenan questions the need for so much fuss over "300." He told RFE/RL that the film is merely "ridiculous," with its comic-book style and likeness to a video game.

Queenan also notes that history is written by the victor, in this case the Greeks, who have elevated the story to the level of myth. He says the Persians have their own stories and, if they don't like the Greek version of Thermopylae, they could have written their own version.

A poster for "300" (AFP)

Queenan suggested that today's Iranians should view the affair from a broader angle.

"If the Iranians made a film about Genghiz Khan's invasion and destruction of Persia in the 13th century, then the Mongols might turn around and complain about the way they were portrayed," he argues.

Queenan also takes issue with the film's underlying suggestion that Spartans had set out to protect proto-Western democratic values from the Asian hordes.

"Sparta was a slave society, so the whole idea of them being upholders of democracy is kind of ridiculous," Queenan says. "The Athenians did not let women vote and had a lot of slaves, but still the situation [concerning democracy] was not completely out of control there like in Sparta, where they killed children. They killed deformed children. They killed off a lot of girls. It was a total militaristic society, so there is a direct line from the Spartans to the junkers and Prussian military, to the Nazis."

The battle of Thermopylae gave heart to the Greeks, who later that year won a decisive naval victory at Salamis. A victory on land followed the next year, and Xerxes withdrew, ending the Persian attempt to extend its empire into Europe.