Iran: Ministers' Exits Could Hint At Further Changes
By Vahid Sepehri
August 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- In Iran, two economy-minded ministers of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's government stepped down on August 12. Some observers see the departures of Industry and Mines Minister Alireza Tahmasebi and Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh as part of an effort to give President Mahmud Ahmadinejad greater control over policy-making in two key areas.
Whether they were resignations or thinly veiled dismissals is unclear. But the appointments on August 12 of caretaker ministers for the Oil and the Industry and Mines portfolios confirmed the result.
Departing Oil Minister Vaziri-Hamaneh was made a presidential adviser on oil and gas.
No new post was announced for the outgoing Industries and Mines Minister Tahmasebi.
The president appointed Ali Akbar Mehrabian, an official charged with the implementation of gasoline-rationing plans, as the acting industries and mines minister. He picked Gholamhussein Nozari, a deputy oil minister and head of the National Iranian Oil Company, to be acting oil minister.
There has been much speculation over the departures. AP suggested that both ministers had resisted some of the president's intended changes at their ministries -- including personnel changes or appointments that included presidential allies or confidants.
Several commentators said Vaziri-Hamaneh was not keen on the president's frequent promises to uncover and root out a purported "oil mafia" -- officials or state-affiliated businessmen who have allegedly used their connections to earn fortunes on the sidelines of grand oil-sector deals. AP quoted Tehran-based observer Said Shariati as saying on August 13 that Vaziri-Hamaneh's removal may have been a response to the unpopularity of recent gasoline rationing.
Reuters noted on August 13 that the Oil Ministry was also accused of agreeing to provide Pakistan and India natural gas through the "Peace Pipeline" project at a disadvantageously low price. Vaziri-Hamaneh recently rejected claims by parliamentarians that Iranian negotiators had agreed to sell gas at a 30 percent discount. He said there has been no agreement on price, so no discount could have been given. The daily "Etemad" cited regional gas sales as a factor suggesting Vaziri-Hamaneh had been removed. The same paper on August 13 observed that Vaziri-Hamaneh had also failed in the past two years to attract investment from major international oil companies.
Reuters quoted an unnamed Oil Ministry official as saying that, in the end, Vaziri-Hamaneh simply never enjoyed presidential favor -- he was appointed as a safe and technocratic choice in 2005, after parliament rejected three initial Ahmadinejad nominees as unfit for what is seen as a technical and specialist ministry. The daily "Etemad" suggested that Ahmadinejad would like to appoint a closer ally to help him eliminate what he's referred to as the "oil mafia" and to be seen to put oil money on people's "dinner tables." It quoted a deputy head of the parliament's Energy Committee, Hossein Afarideh, as saying that Vaziri-Hamaneh was "never approved by the government." He added that he "expected [Vaziri-Hamaneh] to be removed much sooner than this."
The outgoing industry and mines minister, Alireza Tahmasebi, has faced more concrete problems. Tehran-based economist Said Lailaz wrote in "Etemad" on August 13 that figures provided in recent years by Iranian Central Bank hinted at weak -- and declining -- industrial output. Lailaz wrote that the growth in the Persian year to March 2007 of the value of industrial output was the lowest in seven years despite significant state investment each of the past two years. Lailaz forecast continuing industrial decline, leading him to conclude that "for the first time since the [Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88], the engine of Iran's economy, the industrial sector, has effectively broken down." Lailaz did not lay the blame solely on Tahmasebi; on the contrary, he pointed out the role of what he described as "contradictory" government policies. He said the government apparently preferred to pour money into its own job-making schemes, rather than into existing industrial enterprises. Lailaz also argued that industry was hurt by the government's tampering with tariffs, and by its liberalization of some imports while the prices of some domestically made goods were fixed. Moreover, he noted the inflationary effect of the spending of billions of petrodollars inside the country. Lailaz wrote that Tahmasebi might, of course, have objected, or resisted government moves, or resigned earlier. One foreign-based website that covers events in Iran, rooz.com, observed on August 13 that Tahmasebi had been reluctant in the past two years to cite figures for the industrial and mining sectors, and was inclined to blame problems on a "mischievous" press.
The ministerial removals were criticized on August 13 by centrist politician and Expediency Council member Mohammad Hashemi. Hashemi said that it was illogical to disrupt the public administration and undermine two key economic ministries halfway through the presidential term (2005-09). He warned that cabinet-level changes could destabilize the ministries, prompting job-security concerns among ministry staff members. Given the criticism, it is notable that Hashemi -- a brother of Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani -- used to run state television and radio.
Broader Presidential Agenda
President Ahmadinejad has made no secret of his desire for a number of changes in the government structure. He has effectively abolished the state budgeting and economic planning body, and merged it with the presidency. He has also called for changes in the banking system, and recently fixed interest rates against the advice of bankers and economic bodies like the Money and Credit Council. His finance minister, Davud Danesh-Jafari, has stated the government's intention to merge numerous state councils and committees -- like the Money and Credit Council -- into four or five councils. Alireza Tahmasebi had dismissed as rumor reports of a planned merger of the Trade and Industry ministries, "Hamshahri" reported on August 7. The aim of such changes is ostensibly to make the state economic and decision-making apparatus a more malleable -- and more efficient -- instrument in the hands of an executive branch that is determined to control key aspects of the economy in order to serve certain social and political goals.
The administration's envisaged changes might come to affect other ministries. President Ahmadinejad on August 12 told officials in Tehran that the Foreign Ministry requires a different structure to better serve key foreign policy principles. Ahmadinejad couched the change in a broader effort to "change in step with [Iran's] global responsibility." He said that goal included the spread of what he described as justice and "kindness" around the world, and changing "the structure of international relations in the interests of nations," "Hamshahri" reported on August 13.
Ahmadinejad has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not avoid radical moves out of any fear of subsequent criticism. The daily "Aftab-i Yazd" has pointed out in several recent editorials that parliament has frequently criticized the president but -- in the end -- voted for many or most of his initiatives. So Ahmadinejad might have come to see such criticism for what it is: talk.
He might thus proceed with further changes and reappointments intended to empower his radical government.
Iran: Wife Of Jailed Union Leader Hopes International Support Will Secure His Release
August 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian union leader Mansur Osanlu has been in jail since July 10, when he was detained by plainclothes agents. Even before his arrest, the head of the Tehran bus drivers union had been under increased government pressure stemming from his labor activities. On August 9, protesters gathered outside Iran's embassies in several countries to call for his release, along with another detained labor leader. Osanlu's wife, Parvaneh Osanlu, told Radio Farda correspondent Roozbeh Bolhari this week that she hopes international support helps ensure her husband's release.
Radio Farda: Can you tell us about your husband's private life?
Parvaneh Osanlu: He was born in 1959 in Tehran and has three brothers and one sister. He has been working for Tehran's bus company for 25 years, 12 of them as a bus driver. After 12 years, Mansur was transferred to the administrative department of the Tehran bus company because he was suffering from back pain.
Mansur has a high-school degree and studied physics at university for three years. But his financial situation forced him to quit his [university] studies and take up two shifts a day to be able to make ends meet.
From his early days as an employee of the Tehran bus company, Mansur got involved with workers' issues and began informing his colleagues of their rights and of labor laws. Because of these activities, the bus company kept transferring Mansur to different locations. But this only allowed him to meet many different workers.
Mansur has two sons: Sahesh, 22, who has a university degree in graphic design but is currently unemployed; and Pooyesh, 17, who received his high-school diploma in computer design.
In 2004, Mansur helped organize the Bus Drivers Union Congress that relaunched the [Syndicate Workers of the Tehran Bus Company] activities. [He ] was beaten and put in jail. But he continued his actions in the face of increasing difficulties.
Radio Farda: What impact have your husband's union activities had on his family life?
Osanlu: We're a very close family. During the past three years, Mansur has been very involved with syndicate activities. This has hurt our financial situation. But Mansour speaks the truth; and because I am convinced of this, I will stick by him and tolerate all the hardship.
Radio Farda: What do you think about the international community's support for [your husband], and what do you hope it will achieve?
Osanlu: I hope the international community's support will continue and that it will eventually help secure [Osanlu's] release from prison. And I hope Iranian officials will realize that his activities aren't political. He is only helping workers understand and exercise their rights according to Iranian and international labor law. I hope he will one day be able to see the results of his work. Already, his activities have helped improve bus drivers' conditions. For example, bus drivers' salaries have been raised by $180. In addition, they now receive coupons, milk, and cakes on a regular basis, as well as two sets of clothing per year. That's why all bus drivers like Mansur and his union colleagues.
Radio Farda: Some Iranian officials have accused Osanlu of being a political activist who has received funds from the United States amounting to $100,000. Is that true?
Osanlu: That is a complete lie. [Mansur Osanlu] doesn't even own a house. If he were after money, he would have sold himself a long time ago. These lies are spread because of his union activities.
No Decision On Detained Iranian-Americans After Inquiry
By Golnaz Esfandiari
Haleh Esfandiari (left) and Kian Tajbakhsh as they were shown on Iranian television on July 17
August 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian judicial authorities say they have completed their investigations into the case of two detained Iranian-American academics, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, who are facing security charges.
The official IRNA news agency quoted Tehran Deputy Prosecutor Hassan Haddad on August 12 as saying some "written work" remains to be done in the case and that then a decision will be made on their fate.
"This is obviously a political issue that can be solved only by the [Iranian] political leadership."
It is not clear whether the end of Iran's investigation into the case of Haleh Esfandiari, the head of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; and Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with the Open Society Institute, will lead to their release.
Officials have been quite vague about the case and Hadad has not explained what he means by "written work."
There is some speculation that the two academics could be forced into signing a written statement or a false confession in order to be released from prison.
Former political prisoners have said upon release that they had been under pressure to write long accounts about their activities, sign false confessions, or commit themselves not to get involved in activities officials see as being against the country's national security.
A number of people in the past held on security charges have been released after making "confessions" that were often aired on state television.
Imprisoned At Evin
Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh appeared on Iranian television in July in a program that -- according to Iranian officials -- showed that the two are linked to a U.S. plot to destabilize Iran's Islamic establishment.
Human-rights groups and relatives of the two Iranian-Americans strongly condemned the program and said any statements that were given were coerced.
Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh have been in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since their arrest in May.
The Iranian government has restricted access to them and little is know about their conditions.
An Iranian rights group, the Student Committee of Human Rights Reporters, said in an August 11 statement that both of the scholars are facing difficult physical and psychological conditions in prison. The two are reportedly being held in solitary confinement with no personal contact with their families or lawyers.
The situation has led to serious concern over their fate and calls for their release by rights groups, the United States, and a number of academics and politicians.
Several websites have been launched in their support. One is freekian.org, which includes a petition for the release of Tajbakhsh, photos, news, and articles about his arrest.
The website has videos by his friends and colleagues including Alex Schwartz, the chairman of the Urban Policy Analysis and Management Program at the Milan School of Management, where Tajbakhsh used to work.
"It's shocking what has happened, I find it particularly mind-boggling that he -- who is perfectly transparent in everything that he did -- that he who was working, actually, for the Iranian government on many occasions, yet has these accusations made against him," he said. "It defies reason, it defies any common sense."
The American Islamic Congress has created freehaleh.org in support of Esfandiari. On the site is a petition for her release and news and information about her case.
Nasser Weddady is the outreach director for the Hands Across the Middle East Support Alliance, which is the American Islamic Congress's civil-rights initiative.
Weddady tells RFE/RL that the arrest of the Iranian-Americans -- including peace activist Ali Shakeri and the authorities' refusal to let Radio Farda broadcaster Parnaz Azima leave Iran -- is a "huge mistake" on the part of the Iranian government.
Pawns In A Hard-Line Battle?
Weddady said "It is very important for the Islamic Republic of Iran to understand that by holding a 67-year-old grandmother and an academic and a businessman and a reporter, it is doing itself immeasurable damage in the eyes of the international community because ultimately the question that will be asked is: 'why is such a strong country like Iran afraid of a 67-year-old grandmother?' It is a question that a lot of us have been asking ourselves since her arrest."
There has been lots of speculation about the reasons behind the arrest of the Iranian-Americans, including that they're the victims of the increasingly tense relations between Tehran and Washington.
But Weddady believes that the issue has to be put in the context of internal Iranian politics and attempts by hard-liners to justify further curtailing freedom in the country.
Radio Farda broadcaster Parnaz Azima (file photo)
"It is in the hands of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, just to pick up the phone, make a phone call and ask for [Esfandiari's] release because this is obviously a political issue that can be solved only by the political leadership," he said.
On August 12, Haddad said that the case of Shakeri, who is with the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California-Irvine, is not linked to the cases of Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh.
He did not mention Radio Farda broadcaster Azima, who has been barred from leaving Iran.
Azima's U.S. passport was confiscated upon her arrival at Tehran's airport on January 25, where she flew to visit her mother.
She has been charged with working for Radio Farda and spreading propaganda against the state.
Azima has denied the charges and emphasized that she has always adhered to the journalistic principles of being impartial and objective.
Iran: International Protest Day Highlights Jailed Labor Leaders
Mahmud Salehi has been in custody since April 9
August 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Five members of the Tehran bus drivers union were reportedly detained today before entering the home of the union's jailed leader.
The group was planning to hold a protest outside the house, calling for the release of Mansur Osanlu and another jailed union activist, Mahmud Salehi.
The gathering was part of what organizers hoped would be a worldwide day of protests to free the two men. The International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF) said its union affiliates would demonstrate in front of Iranian embassies in their countries, request meetings with Iranian diplomats, and present letters of protest.
A Radio Farda correspondent in Australia reported today that a group of Iranians had gathered in front of Iran's embassy in Canberra. Similar rallies were reported in Sweden and Germany.
The head of the Tehran bus drivers' union, Osanlu was detained on July 10. Salehi, a bakers union activist, was detained on April 9 in Iran's western Kurdistan Province.
In Tehran today, Osanlu's wife, Parvaneh, tells Radio Farda that security forces surrounded the house, preventing anyone from entering.
"There are a lot of security personnel in front of our door," she says. "We feel insecure, of course. My children are worried and upset; it's a very abnormal situation. We're innocent here, we have nothing, we are under pressure for nothing."
Radio Farda reports that five members of Tehran's bus drivers union were detained before entering the house.
The union was planning to hold a rally outside the house today.
Salehi's wife expresses cautious optimism about today's global campaign.
"I'm optimistic regarding this campaign, [but] we can't be 100-percent optimistic that Iranian officials will retreat from the sentences and arrests [of workers and union activists]," Parvaneh Osanlu says.
The Brussels-based ITWF says it is "extremely worried" about the health of both Osanlu and Salehi, who have been deprived of legal representation or medical care.
Mansur Osanlu in early 2007
In London, the head of the International Transport Federation, David Cockroft, says it's time the Iranian government stopped its harassment of people he says are "doing the simple job of defending the rights of trade union members."
"We're deeply shocked and angered by the continued harassment of the leadership of the [Tehran bus drivers] trade union," Cockroft says. "We demand the immediate release of [Mansur] Osanlu and of [Mahmud] Salehi of the bakery workers union."
In London, the rights group Amnesty International accuses Iranian authorities of arresting the men in order to "halt their efforts to build strong trades unions capable of defending the human rights of workers."
The ITWF says Osanlu's imprisonment is the latest move in a two-year government campaign against him and his union. It says union meetings have been "brutally" broken up, and Osanlu and his supporters have been repeatedly jailed and beaten.
(Radio Farda's Roozbeh Bolhari contributed to this report)
Iraq: Al-Maliki Seeks To Strengthen Ties With Iran
Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki (file photo)
August 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will go to Iran today where he will hold talks on August 8 with Iranian officials on economic and political cooperation. The two countries have greatly expanded bilateral relations following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo discusses what al-Maliki hopes to achieve.
RFE/RL: What is the purpose of al-Maliki's visit to Iran?
Kathleen Ridolfo: This is al-Maliki's second visit to Iran since he took office and it comes within the context of bettering political relations and economic relations and -- of course more importantly -- securing relations between Iran and Iraq. Al-Maliki is, of course, a Shi'ite leader and the Shi'ites have very close ties to Iran and so there are a lot of questions in the minds of some observers wondering whether or not this is aimed at colluding or in some way strengthening those ties between the [Iraqi] Shi'ites and the Iranian regime or whether the talks are more general.
RFE/RL: Is this visit connected with the recent Iranian-U.S. talks on Iraq's security? The two sides have already had three sessions where they have discussed security issues, including the creation of a committee aimed at bringing security and stability to the country.
Ridolfo: It's very likely that the talks will come up, as you know some demands were asked of the United States and Iran by the Iraqi government [on August 6], so there was a list of 10 requests that they addressed in terms of security and border control so this will come up in the talks; in addition there will probably be some discussions...[about] internal matters among the Shi'ite parties in Iraq. A delegation from [former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim] al-Ja'fari's Al-Dawah Party already headed to Tehran earlier this week to have meetings with Iranian officials ahead of al-Maliki's visit; so the relationship between al-Maliki and some members of [Al-Dawah]...particularly Ibrahim al-Ja'fari...are quite tense at the moment and there is some question as to whether Iran will intervene in these affairs and try to weigh in on the situation emerging from within the Shi'a parties in Iraq.
RFE/RL: So is al-Maliki looking for Iran to mediate?
Ridolfo: I don't know actually that al-Maliki is looking for Iran to mediate. A delegation did go to Tehran, according to media reports, so someone from within or some elements from within the Al-Dawah party may be looking for Iran to mediate, but at this point it's really unclear who is behind that.
RFE/RL: What is al-Maliki hoping to gain from his talks with Iranian officials?
Ridolfo: Probably some more concrete assurances from the Iranian as far as what they will do toward the security [situation], although generally when we see these talks very little does emerge. In the past when there have been talks between the Iraqi government and the Iranians we see more concrete movement in terms of economic accords but in terms of political accords very little happens.
I want to add that it will be interesting to see what does emerge on the political front between al-Maliki's talks with the Iranians because Wednesday, August 8, is the 19th anniversary of the cease-fire agreement between Iran and Iraq coming out of the eight-year war between the two countries. So it will be quite interesting a) to see if al-Maliki makes a statement about that anniversary, and b) if the anniversary is noted in any other context such as agreements between the two countries in terms of strengthening their relations.
RFE/RL: How would you describe Iran/Iraq relations at this point?
Ridolfo: I would say that the Iraqi government has gone to great lengths to have good relations with Iran because Iran is its neighbor. In fact, [Iraqi] President [Jalal] Talabani has said on several occasions -- most recently over the weekend -- that Iraq has strong ties with Iran and Iraq appreciates the efforts of the Iranians toward promoting better security in Iraq.
That being said, of course Sunni Arabs in Iraq are distrustful of Iran and they are quite concerned with the Iranian involvement in Iraq, as are U.S. forces. If you recall, the second in command of U.S. forces in Baghdad said on [August 5,] that Iranian-trained Shi'ite militias were responsible for 73 percent of the attacks on U.S. forces in Baghdad...in July.
Iran's Ebadi Complains To UN Over Detained Scholar
August 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has complained to the UN Human Rights Council over the "arbitrary detention" of U.S.-Iranian academic Haleh Esfandiari.
In a letter addressed to the council, Ebadi, who is a lawyer, calls for Esfandiari's release and for a "fair and open trial."
Ebadi told Radio Farda she decided to write to the UN body because Iranian judiciary officials ignore her legal demands including access to Esfandiari, who is her client.
"I have always repeated that we hope all our problems can be solved by judicial officials in Iran, but since I see that, inside Iran, no attention is paid to my legal demands as a lawyer, I have to use all legal possibilities that are available domestically and internationally to help my client," said Ebadi.
She said Esfandiari has been kept in solitary confinement for three months on suspicion of harming national security.
Several human rights groups and the United States have called on Iran to release Esfandiari and two other Iranian-Americans who are currently jailed in Iran.
Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with the Open Society Institute, and peace activist Ali Shakeri are reportedly also facing security charges.
Rights groups have also called on Iran to allow Radio Farda broadcaster Parnaz Azima to leave the country.
Azima’s passport was taken from her upon her arrival in Tehran in January.
(with material from agency reports)
Tehran Cracks Down On Dress Code In Summer Heat
By Niusha Boghrati
August 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The recent, hot summer days in Iran are seeing one of the strictest crackdowns against "lax dressing" in years.
"More than 527,000 people have been warned, over 20,000 have been arrested and then released conditionally, and a total of 2,265 cases -- including men and women -- have been presented to judiciary sources for trial on the charge of noncompliance with the Islamic dress code," according to deputy Iranian police chief Hossein Zolfaghari. He added that hundreds of shops and dress manufacturers have also been shut down for providing "improper clothes."
Those figures are likely to have risen since Zolfaghari's statement on June 25, as the crackdown grew in intensity during the first month of the summer.
Teams of police have been patrolling streets of major cities -- particularly Tehran -- since the crackdown began in April, arresting young girls and boys who do not follow the strictest interpretation of the Islamic dress code.
Room For Interpretation
Article 638 of Iran's criminal code describes" noncompliance with the Islamic dress code" as a crime. The law asserts that all girls and women who reach maturity, according the Shari'a, must cover their head and body -- that the only parts of the body that can be exposed in public are the face, the hands from the wrist down, and the feet below the ankle.
But there is no precise definition of "bad hijab," or lax appearance in violation of Islamic dress, in Iranian law. But that concept is the target of the recent crackdown, and such police plans are derived from the "noncompliance" article.
Authorities suggest that the crackdown's objective is to put pressure on citizens who "pay no attention to the Islamic social values through the way they dress." Young male offenders are mainly identified through "Western hairstyles," and shirts bearing Western logos or, in some cases, with short sleeves. For girls -- whom the rules are much stricter -- wearing short or Capri pants, small or loose scarves, tight-fitting coats, light-colored dresses, or heavy make-up entails consequences.
Such items and fashions burst onto the clothing scene during former President Mohammad Khatami's reformist administration, when women had alternatives to the traditional long, dark-colored, loose-fitting gowns that had previously been compulsory. But that appears increasingly likely to change.
'Everyone Is Scared'
"From the time that I heard about the strict plan, I began to change my clothing," a young girl, Maryam, tells Radio Farda. "I put on long and loose-fitting dresses with tight scarves."
"If you look at the people in Tehran," she adds, "you will understand that everyone is scared. I am scared."
Tehran's police chief, Ahmad Reza Radan, acknowledged the changing atmosphere when he told state-run television, describing the "fruitfulness" of the newly launched plan. "You can realize the difference in the general appearance of the society now, compared to some months ago when the plan began."
The confrontation with offenders of the official interpretation of the Islamic dress code is not new to Iranian society. Each year, with the beginning of the hot season, police warnings briefly kick off then faded away within some weeks.
An Iranian woman purportedly bloodied by police over her "lax" attire
"But this time it is different" says Peyman Barati, a student of political science at Tehran's Azad University who two months ago was prevented by his university's disciplinary committee from attending one of his final exams because of his appearance. "That was [ex-President] Khatami's government that used to confront hard-liners and prevented the police from making it hard on the youth," Barati says. "But now the government, the parliament, and many other authorities see eye to eye. Now the power is in the hands of the same people who were once archenemies of Khatami's theory of flexibility and relative social freedom. This time, there is no reason for [hard-liners] to retreat."
Evidence suggests that the methods of the Iranian police in confronting widespread dress-code noncompliance in larger cities have taken a major turn during the recent crackdown.
Some argue that firmness, consistency, and the vast dimensions of the recent police operation vividly highlight a tendency to roll back society to the pre-reform atmosphere.
"We have taken a different approach to social issues from the previous administration," Tehran police chief Radan says.
The "different approach" in many cases has resulted in friction between patrols and the young "offenders" in which police have harshly and physically confronted people.
"I saw two girls of around 16 in Evin [prison in Tehran] who were arrested for dressing 'improperly,'" Zeinab Peighambarzadeh, a women's rights activist who was herself arrested for her activities to fight discrimination, tells Radio Farda. "They had been beaten badly and their bodies were all bruised. The only reason they were beaten was that they had protested the behavior of the police officer who arrested them. The girls were taken to solitary-confinement cells and were kept there for days while handcuffed."
Compounding A Problem?
Critics say the harsh practices and withholding of what human rights defenders describe as basic social freedoms can result in hidden outrage and leave all of society more vulnerable. "Denying the young generation social freedom causes a general nervousness that makes sensitive youngsters more rebellious," says Tehran-based psychiatrist Mahdis Kamkar. "The lack of a place for them to vent their fury could result in underground behavior that increases the vulnerability to destructive agents like drugs."
While conservative officials have applauded the crackdown as important to protect the security of society, more moderate voices have publicly questioned its implementation.
Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi was among the most prominent figures to oppose the current crackdown. He warned police of what he saw as a likely "countereffect" of harsh approaches. Hashemi-Shahrudi added that "bringing women and girls to the police station [on charges of defiance of the dress code] will do us nothing but harm."
Another prominent religious figure to have openly criticized the crackdown is the Grand Ayatollah Abdol-Karim Musavi, who said "the harsh approach will result in people distancing themselves from religion." He asked officials to stop the program, stressing that similar plans "did not work out well in the first years after [Iran's 1979 Islamic] revolution."
Meanwhile, according to what social-affairs expert Mohammad Ghaed tells Radio Farda, "these cases of social violence are also meant to send a message to the political rivals -- a message that says, 'We are tough in our stance and are determined to maintain power.'"
Words And Action
Police and other officials have repeatedly denied the use of force in enforcing the social operations. But pictures and short videos caught on mobile phones and posted on the Internet hint at a different story. Scores of posted pictures and videos show Iranian police apparently using force against individuals accused of dress-code noncompliance.
In one of the most alarming cases, protests were sparked by images of a girl's face covered in blood after a purported beating by police in Tehran's "7 Tir" square. At the time, police officials said they would investigate the incident.
Weeks later, Tehran police chief Radan said the investigation revealed that the girl had "defied the police" and attempted to "disturb the public order," which he described as a crime. Radan blamed the young girl, saying she had "instigated the incident herself."
Less than a month later, when asked in a television interview about the alleged use of force by Tehran police during the current crackdown, Radan replied that he was unaware of any such cases.
(Radio Farda's Mohammad Zarghami contributed to this article.)
Ahmadinejad Deriving Power From Rhetoric
By Vahid Sepehri
August 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Perhaps one of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's most remarkable traits since taking power two years ago today has been a fondness for bombastic remarks.
Such comments have given him an international profile not unlike that held by the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1980s.
Comparison To Khatami
The fiery discourse may also have given Ahmadinejad some of his power in Iranian domestic politics. But while this may have strengthened his political position against some institutional opponents and critics, it may not assure either his reelection or win his radical supporters too many seats in next year's parliamentary elections.
The supreme leader must have the system's survival as his primary concern. And he may feel revolutionary speeches by the president are a less solid ground for the Islamic republic's long-term survival than the "expediency" so dear to some members of the Shi'ite clergy.
The impact of Ahmadinejad's rhetoric on the political scene can also be compared to the popularity enjoyed by his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami.
The rhetoric and the popularity constituted a less tangible component of the two presidents' power, allowing them -- at least for a short time -- to take the initiative.
Unable To Reform
In Khatami's case, his popularity and electoral support seemed to give him the upper hand against conservative opponents for many months or even the early years of his eight-year presidency.
But this popularity -- along with his mild-mannered approach -- did not allow Khatami and a reformist-majority parliament to impose a reforming and liberalizing agenda.
The system and mechanics that disperse power in Iran and put key areas of foreign and nuclear policy-making into the hands of an oligarchy headed by the country's supreme leader have proved too inflexible to allow a reforming or a radical president to impose their agendas upon certain essential state objectives.
Whether radical like Ahmadinejad or reformist like Khatami -- there is a middle policy-making ground with which Iran's presidents must seemingly conform.
But Ahmadinejad's rhetoric has proved a powerful instrument of political leverage inside Iran. With the support of some powerful clerical allies -- such as Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati and prominent conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi -- the president has once more brought the radical and revolutionary discourse into prominence.
Ahmadinejad has allowed Iran's more hard-line political elements to renew their pressure on the press, civil bodies, and labor activists, and to recreate something akin to the fear-filled environment of the first decade following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Talk is once again about enemies, treachery, and "creeping coups" by foreigners who are plotting with the help of domestic agents. In the economy it's about corruption and of the thieving rich living the high life in contrast with "the people" whom Ahmadinejad ostensibly champions.
Observers have seen this Manichaean rhetoric as fuelling an increasingly polarized atmosphere: the media may speak of radicals and moderates, but in the discourse of the president and his allies, the picture is of friends and enemies, the pious and the impious, revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries.
The reformist daily "Aftab-i Yazd" asked in a July 30 editorial if there could be a government of moderation in the country when opponents and critics are demonized; or any peaceful cohabitation of groups essentially loyal to the religious polity.
Part of the president's "stunning" rhetoric has been focused on moderate hard-liners -- those perceived to be most threatening to his radical current among extreme hard-liners.
These moderate hard-liners are pragmatic elements that have effectively absorbed the "institutional" reformists of the Khatami era to form a front representing a less revolutionary and more rational and "expedient" model of government.
The main elements of this front seem to be Khatami and former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the technocratic-style Executives of Construction Party, and former officials associated with the Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khatami administrations such as Hasan Rohani or even the less politicized judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi.
It seems both sides have their strengths and weaknesses. Both have their share of state offices, their influence, and sway over a little army of clients and friends.
In addition, the hard-liners use bombast and verbal attacks as an instrument of intimidation and -- many would argue -- sometimes the courts, too.
Negating Postrevolutionary Ideals?
The moderate hard-liners use -- as best that they can -- the counterrhetoric of moderation, consensus, and expediency.
This might be a weakness for the "moderates." Who in Iran could forcefully assert that expediency is now the slogan of a regime born of a revolution? Which public official or press editor would dare state that the revolution is over -- that people are tired of it -- and that the state must now pay less attention to "cancerous" Israel and more to interest rates, public transportation, or privatization? It would be akin to a negation of Iran's postrevolutionary ideals and history.
Ahmadinejad has also brought his rhetoric to economics. His decisions in this area suggest a streamlining of economic policy-making bodies and a shortening of the economic link between the executive branch and the public than any decision to privatize in line with state and constitutional projects.
His move to transfer the shares from state-owned companies to workers in the form of "justice shares" seems a reluctant version of privatization, and more like a boost to the cooperative sector.
Where is the privatization, some observers have asked, when state-appointed managers continue to make the decisions in these firms? Meanwhile, the intermittent denunciations of corruption -- or threats to reveal officials who have their hands in the public purse -- are the economic complement to Ahmadinejad's tirades against the enemy within or his verbal desecration of Israel.
Voters Not Intimidated
But while this may intimidate even his most powerful critics, it may not be enough to keep the presidential party in power. Not one faction has all the power in Iran, and political groups seem to work in shifting alliances. The Ahmadinejad discourse is not attractive to all members of the conservative family in Iran. His populist style has intermittently alienated the clergy in Qom, which could have an impact on the preferences of some voters.
Additionally, voters are not necessarily intimidated by the threatening discourse, as shown by the results of two elections last December which -- in spite of government assertions to the contrary -- were perceived by many observers to have signified a public rejection of Ahmadinejad's presidency.
Another factor in the life of the president is the role of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Like all senior officials, he must have the system's survival as his primary concern. And he may feel revolutionary speeches by the president are a less solid ground for the Islamic republic's long-term survival than the "expediency" so dear to some members of the Shi'ite clergy.
In a hypothetical confrontation between the radical hard-liners and the "pragmatists," Khamenei may well choose expediency over populism -- a political firecracker that could explode in his face. Moderation and expediency may -- in such a case -- prove to be the decisive strengths.
Tehran Cooperating 'Just Enough' To Avoid More UN Sanctions
Iran's Arak heavy-water plant is said to still be years away from operation (file photo)
WASHINGTON, August 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A technical team from the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to arrive in Iran
today to discuss that country's nuclear program. Last week, IAEA
inspectors visited a heavy-water reactor facility at Arak.
is the vice president and director of studies at the Council on Foreign
Relations in Washington, and the former senior director for
nonproliferation and export controls at the National Security Council.
Radio Farda's Fatemeh Aman recently asked him to discuss the latest
events in the controversy over Iran's nuclear program.Radio Farda:
Without IAEA monitoring there is a risk of the Arak reactor being configured to produce plutonium. The reactor has been kind of monitored by commercial satellite imagery, but the IAEA inspections slowed down significantly in the past few months. How important do you think it is that IAEA inspectors can now visit Arak?Gary Samore:
It is not very important in the immediate sense because the reactor is still many years away from completion and operation. I think it is important politically, because Iran is trying to delay and weaken the next UN Security Council resolution by demonstrating greater cooperation with the IAEA.... And part of Iran's strategy is to give the IAEA more access to nuclear facilities under construction like the reactor located at the Arak heavy-water facility as well as offering to discuss with the IAEA some of the questions the agency has about past nuclear activities.Radio Farda:
So you think the motivation of Iran agreeing to respond to the outstanding questions about Iran's past activities is just to avoid sanctions?Samore:
That's entirely what it has to do with, because some of the countries on the Security Council have indicated that they do not want to pass another sanctions resolution if it will disrupt the cooperation between the IAEA and Iran. So Iran has offered to improve its cooperation with the IAEA with the intent of providing the reason to delay the next Security Council resolution.
So far, this strategy has been successful because five permanent Security Council members have agreed to postpone consideration of the next sanction resolution until September. And my guess is that in September Iran will, again, try to demonstrate just enough cooperation with the IAEA to provide further reasons to delay the next Security Council resolution. The Russians and the Chinese, as well as the IAEA, will argue that the Security Council should allow more time for the IAEA and Iran to resolve the questions about [Iran's] past activities.Radio Farda:
But assume that Iran is really trying to delay the new round of sanctions, if their tactics could result in slowing down Arak's construction, one could argue that it would be advantageous to Western interests.Samore:
Well, they are not offering to slow down construction at the Arak facility. What they are doing is giving the IAEA the opportunity to visit the facility before it is ready for international inspections. But, as I said, the Arak facility will not be finished and operated for many years, so it does not really pose an immediate concern.
A much more immediate concern is the enrichment facility located at Natanz. And, in that case, there is also some evidence of Iran slowing down the installation of centrifuge machines and giving the IAEA a little more access to the facility, but Iran still refuses to accept the UN Security Council demand to suspend all of its enrichment activities as a condition for beginning international negotiations. And I do not see much evidence right now that Iran is prepared to accept the UN Security Council demand.Radio Farda:
Many Iranian officials have attempted to downplay the significance of the sanctions against Iran. Some experts argue that sanctions have not even brought a poor county like Cuba to its knees. How effective are sanctions to force Iran to stop enrichment?Samore:
Well, Western strategy is designed to impact the domestic power struggle within Iran between different factions of the government. And the belief in the United States, in London, and Paris is that the opponents of President [Mahmud] Ahmadinejad will have a stronger basis for arguing that Iran should avoid confrontation if the UN Security Council imposes sanctions that will add to Iran's economic difficulties.
I mean, Iran has a number of economic difficulties that have nothing to do with sanctions. But the belief is that sanctions can help tip the balance of power in favor of those factions in Iran who argue that Iran should accept the temporary suspension of the enrichment program in order to pursue international negotiations with [the permanent five members of the UN Security Council] plus Germany.
Now, whether that strategy will work or not, we do not know. The argument is that the first two sanctions resolutions are not enough and you need to pile on more sanctions in order to really have an impact. Obviously, Iran wants to avoid additional sanctions and that is why it is taking steps to cooperate with the IAEA to prevent or weaken the next sanctions resolutions.Radio Farda:
Beside the offer for a pause in both UN sanctions and Iranian uranium enrichment that IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei has suggested, he also mentioned leaving Iran with a partial-enrichment capability. What is the farthest the West would go to peacefully make Iran stop its facility at Arak?Samore:
I think certainly that what the Iranian government has indicated is that it would accept the solution that would allow Iran to retain or pursue an enrichment capability subject to additional political and technical constraints. For example, additional IAEA inspections or even joint ownership with foreign companies.
And that kind of solution is not acceptable to the Western powers because they fear that once Iran develops an enrichment capability -- even under international inspection -- Iran still could decide in the future to use that facility for military purposes if it expels inspectors or nationalizes the facility or if it builds a secret facility somewhere that would be based on the same technology. So, those kind of compromises are not acceptable to the U.S., U.K., or France, and I think if the negotiations ever begin -- that would be one of the issues to be discussed. But at this time, that is not something the Western powers are prepared to accept.
Iran: U.S. Official Says Sanctions Prompting Debate Within Iran
Ambassador Schulte speaking with RFE/RL today
PRAGUE, August 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iran last week allowed UN inspectors to revisit the Arak heavy-water plant. The move came following talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. Reports say a new round of talks between the two sides will be held next week. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari discussed Iran's renewed cooperation with the UN nuclear agency and the future of the Iranian nuclear dispute with the U.S. IAEA Ambassador Gregory Schulte, who visited RFE/RL on August 2-3.
RFE/RL: Iran has recently showed renewed cooperation with the UN nuclear agency. How do you see that? Is this real cooperation or is it a delaying tactic to prevent a further escalation of the nuclear dispute?
Gregory Schulte: I think all countries in Vienna and at the UN would welcome real cooperation, but we're waiting to see is this, in fact, real cooperation. Iran's government has a history of, before a Security Council resolution, suddenly saying that they are prepared to cooperate. But they put conditions on it; they say we will only cooperate in the future if the Security Council doesn't act.
"There are those who want to make this be an issue between Iran and the United States. And this isn't an issue between Iran and the United States. This is an issue between Iran's leadership and the rest of the world."
So this time we're waiting to see if this is real. They've allowed some limited step. They've allowed inspectors, for example, to go into the heavy-water reactor being built at Arak, and they've said that they're prepared to resolve some outstanding issues. We're waiting for this, but they've also indicated that they're still not prepared to implement the Additional Protocol [to the Nonproliferation Treaty], which is really crucial for the IAEA to have full access to the information and facilities they need to do their job. And they've also indicated that cooperation is dependent upon Security Council actions.
So the bottom line is we would welcome cooperation; we hope this is a plan for real cooperation, but we're also watching very skeptically because this could all very easily be just a delaying game.
RFE/RL: And meanwhile are you also considering -- not just the United States but also other Security Council members -- more sanctions against Iran?
Schulte: Unfortunately, yes we are. And we are doing that because Iran has not fully cooperated with the IAEA. We're doing that because Iran has not complied with previous Security Council resolutions that require it to suspend these activities -- like uranium enrichment and production of the heavy-water reactor at Arak -- that they don't need for civil purposes but that countries generally believe are part of the military program.
So, as long as Iran is failing to take those, actions we are now going forward with our partners toward a third resolution. Again, our goal is not to sanction Iran; our goal is to get a diplomatic settlement. But to have a diplomatic settlement, the leadership of Iran needs to make a choice -- do they want to move forward with these programs that aren't necessary for civil purposes or do they want to negotiate with the rest of the world? Do they want sanctions lifted? Do they want economic opportunities? Do they want to have opportunities for discussions on regional-security issues? All those opportunities are on the table, plus the offer by [U.S.] Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice to be there at the table with Iran as an equal partner, with Russia and China and our European colleagues, those offers are on the table.
The leadership of Iran just has to make the decision to come to the table, and they need to show that by suspending these activities of concern.
RFE/RL: Iran has said many times it is ready to come to the table, but without any preconditions. Would this be acceptable to the U.S. under any circumstances?
Schulte: Iran has actually created its own precondition. The precondition created by the leaders in Iran is they want the world to agree to their illegal activities before they negotiate, and we are not prepared to agree to those illegal activities. At first, the IAEA Board of Governors asked Iran to suspend these activities to build international confidence, because basically the world has lost trust in the activities and the word of the Iranian leadership. And then, when this didn't happen, the Security Council stepped in and made this be a requirement. Now Iran wants to negotiate without suspending these activities. Well, they need to abide by the Security Council. This is the rule; this is international law. They need to suspend these activities.
RFE/RL: Some critics believe the United States is also responsible for the impasse that we're facing now, for not having talked to Iran before, several years ago, when Iran was ready. What is your answer to those critics?
Schulte: My answer is that there are those who want to make this be an issue between Iran and the United States. And this isn't an issue between Iran and the United States. This is an issue between Iran's leadership and the rest of the world. The United States is working very closely with our European friends and allies, very closely with Russia, with China, very closely with countries around the world who share our concerns about Iran's nuclear program and who have all called upon Iran to change course.
An IAEA delegation holding talks in Tehran last month (epa)
Even countries across the nonalignment movement, at the last board meeting we had, called upon Iran to abide by their international commitments to build confidence. We want Iran's leaders to listen to that and, as I said, in what was a major decision for the United States, we said we're prepared to come to the table and join in these negotiations.
RFE/RL: You mentioned that the international community is considering more sanctions against Iran. But there is some skepticism, and it seems that UN sanctions are not being been fruitful and that they're only making Iran more defiant.
Schulte: I think the sanctions have had some impact.
RFE/RL: The UN sanctions or the financial sanctions or steps that the United States has been taking against Iran on its own?
Schulte: There are sanctions that the UN has put in place, and there are steps that individual companies, countries, and banks have taken who've made decisions that it doesn't make sense to invest in Iran given the policy of the leadership. And I think all of this, to my knowledge, has started a debate within Iran.
Of course, it's a debate that authorities are trying to suppress, about what makes the most sense. There was a fascinating poll recently where people in Iran, of course, support nuclear rights; we support peaceful nuclear use. But, on the other hand, the people of Iran don't want a nuclear bomb, particularly if it means they're left in complete isolation.
"What nuclear weapons would buy Iran is, first, complete isolation and sanctions within the international community rather than moving the Middle East towards a nuclear-weapons-free zone. It would probably move the Middle East toward a nuclear-weapons arm race, and that's not in the interest of Iran, not even in the interest of Iran's security."
Iran is a great country with great people, with a great history. The United States wants a very different, positive relationship with Iran. In many ways, the U.S. and Iran are natural partners and in many ways their interests should come together. But the leadership in Tehran needs to make some fundamental decisions. I mean -- do they want to confront the rest of the world and region or do they want to cooperate? Do they want to violate their international commitments or do they want to abide by those commitments? And we hope they make the right decision, because we think the right decisions will be good for the world and -- it's not for us to judge the interests of the Iranian people -- I would think it would be best for the Iranian people as well.
RFE/RL: The United States is convinced that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is totally peaceful. The IAEA says it needs more time to investigate the issue, and for some it is hard to believe the United States, especially after what happened with Iraq.
Schulte: If you don't want to believe the United States, don't listen to us. Look at reports that have come from the director-general of the IAEA; look at assessments made by other countries; and look at some of the facts and questions that are on the table. [IAEA Director-General] Muhammad el-Baradei has told us that after four years of intensive investigation, he can still not certify the peaceful nature of this program, and the reason why he can't is largely because Iran has refused to cooperate with the IAEA. They've refused to implement the Additional Protocol, and they've said that they're not going to provide advanced information on new nuclear facilities. They've [also] denied individual inspectors the right to visit there. They've refused to explain the history of contacts with the A.Q. Khan network.
Iranian President Ahmadinejad visiting the Arak heavy-water plant last year (epa)
If this is a peaceful program, why don't they cooperate with the IAEA? If this is a peaceful program, why are they so determined to move forward with uranium-enrichment capabilities when it doesn't make any commercial sense? If this is a peaceful program, why are there unexplained ties to the military? And I think you find countries around the world asking those questions, coming to the same conclusion that we have that this is really a cover for a military program.
This is why countries from around the world first call upon Iran to build confidence by cooperating with the IAEA, suspending these activities. And that's why now the Security Council has required them.
RFE/RL: Ambassador Schulte, the Iranian nuclear dispute has become, in a way, part of your life. I mean you have to deal with it on a daily basis. Do you see an end to it in the near future?
Schulte: That depends on the decisions that are made in Tehran. We would all like to see an end to that. We'd all like to see a very different relationship with Iran, and we think Iran should be playing a very important role in the region. We think it has that potential.
But, again, the leaders have to make the right decisions. They need to make the right decisions, not just in the nuclear area but in other areas too. They should be supporting the Middle East Peace process, rather then trying to undermine it. They should be working to suppress terrorism rather than being a major funder of it....
So, I would like this crisis to come to an end, but it depends on Iran's leaders and, so far, Iran's leaders seem to be very determined to be defiant. And maybe they've come to the decision that this needs to be a long crisis, in which case we'll have to sustain our diplomacy. We have to sustain and increase the pressure and, unfortunately, none of this is good for the people of Iran.
RFE/RL: And if the international community is not successful in stopping Iran's nuclear program, would the United States consider preemptive measures, such as a military strike?
"The leadership of Iran just has to make the decision to come to the table, and they need to show that by suspending these activities of concern."
Schulte: That's not my business in Vienna. What has been made very clear to me is that our goal is to achieve a diplomatic settlement, and we are working very hard with Russia, with China, with our European allies to obtain that settlement. Sometimes I think that perhaps the only person in the world who would like a military option is [Iranian] President [Mahmud] Ahmadinejad, which is sad. I think we would all like a peaceful resolution. I think the outlines of a peaceful resolution are on the table. We are ready to negotiate with the current leadership of Iran, if only they make the right decisions.
RFE/RL: The United States has had some success in dealing with North Korea over its nuclear program, and North Korea is shutting down its reactor. Can this inspire Iran or could it be applied in the Iranian nuclear dispute?
Schulte: I hope this would inspire Iran, and I hope they would see that there are diplomatic ways out of these crises. Of course, we're still not done with North Korea -- there is still the hard work and hard diplomacy that needs to continue. So I would hope this would inspire some in Iran who would say, "Look, there is a diplomatic way out of this crisis." But occasionally people try to draw too-strong parallels between Iran and North Korea and, occasionall,y people say, "What if the leadership of Iran decides to follow the path of North Korea?"
This is a shameful comparison as far as I'm concerned. North Korea is no model for Iran; it's not a model that the people of Iran deserve, and I hope it's not a model that the leadership of Iran wants. What have nuclear weapons bought North Korea other than some attention on the world stage? Not much. And I think if you think about Iran, what would nuclear weapons buy Iran? What nuclear weapons would buy Iran is, first, complete isolation and sanctions within the international community rather than moving the Middle East towards a nuclear-weapons-free zone. It would probably move the Middle East toward a nuclear-weapons arm race, and that's not in the interest of Iran, not even in the interest of Iran's security. If the goal is to protect Iran's security, the best way to do that is to follow the model of a country like Germany that's never acquired nuclear weapons, or follow the model of South Africa, which is an important global player and gave up a nuclear-weapons program.