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Iran Report: May 5, 2008

Iran Set To Reject Nuclear Incentives Offer By World Powers

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband (center) with his U.S. and German counterparts, Condoleezza Rice and Walter Steinmeier

Iran looks set to reject a new offer by the international community to give up some nuclear activities in exchange for unspecified incentives.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband appeared cautiously optimistic last week when he emerged from the talks in London with his counterparts from the United States, Russia, China, France, and Germany.

"Iran says that it wants to play a constructive role," Miliban said. "We believe that the rights that it seeks need to be accompanied by a clear set of responsibilities, and it's in the spirit of seeking to fulfill both rights and responsibilities that we're making the new approach to Iran on the basis of today's meeting."

But Iran was quick to pour cold water on the offer, which reportedly outlined possibilities of technical assistance if Iran gave up its uranium-enrichment program. On May 3, one day after the talks, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said any offer should not enter what he called the “forbidden zone,” a reference to demanding that Tehran halt its enrichment activities.

The next day, on May 4, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in state matters, also weighed in. He said Iran would not give up the program, which world powers fear will be used to build nuclear weapons.

“It is a national duty not to fear any sanction,” Khamenei said. “We should not allow anybody to deprive Iran of its legitimate rights.” He added, “No world power can make Iran retreat from its path.”

No Talk Of New Sanctions

The offer comes amid three sets of sanctions already imposed by the Security Council on Iran for refusing to halt controversial uranium-enrichment activities. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there had been no discussion of imposing new sanctions on Iran during the London talks.

According to Miliband, the new proposal, similar to an offer made in 2006, was again designed to show Iran “the benefits of cooperating with the international community,” which he said has a “grave problem” with Iran’s nuclear activities. Iran says those activities are purely peaceful. Miliband did not reveal details of the new offer and said the content of the latest proposal would only be disclosed to the government of Iran.

The world powers consider enrichment suspension the key condition to resuming negotiations with Iran. Tehran has always rejected that condition.

The stalemate, among other issues, has led to calls by some politicians and observers for direct talks between Iran and the United States. The archfoes have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Gains From Engagement

But Norman Lamont, a former British finance minister, tells Radio Farda that any such talks could be possible only after the U.S. presidential elections, when a new administration comes to power in Washington.

“In the recent past, Iran has decided it has been pretty successful in advancing its interest in its foreign policy and possibly it’s been less interested in talking," Lamont says. "I hope that’s not the case, because I think both sides have a huge amount to gain from engagement. And I think after the American presidential elections -- whether there is a Republican president or a Democratic president -- I think the opinion will be that there should be attempts to open a dialogue with the U.S.”

In Baghdad, the United States and Iran have held limited, low-level talks in recent months focused on security in Iraq. But Iran's Foreign Ministry has said Tehran would not hold a fourth round of talks with the United States until U.S. forces end an assault against Iraqi Shi'ite militias. Washington accuses Tehran of supporting the militias.

Iranian Muslim Delegation Seeks To Spin Meeting With Pope

Did the Iranians overstate their interaction with the pope? (file photo)

A delegation of Iranian Muslim leaders this week visited the Vatican for a three-day seminar on "Faith and Reason in Christianity and Islam” and a brief meeting with Pope Benedict XIV.

The gathering, part of the Vatican’s ongoing dialogue with Muslims, was the sixth such meeting between the two sides in more than a decade.

In a joint statement, participants in the seminar condemned the use of religion to justify violence -- a point that Benedict himself made in a controversial 2006 speech in Germany that sparked a firestorm of protest across the Muslim world. Indeed, the Vatican said the pope was "especially pleased" with the seminar's theme.

However, a statement by the eight-person Iranian delegation -- members of Iran’s Center for Interreligious Dialogue of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization -- appeared to play up the personal meeting with Benedict on April 30, indicating the delegation was seeking to spin the papal encounter for public-relations purposes back home. The Iranians officials, who included Mahdi Mostafavi, an adviser to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad -- seemed to suggest that the encounter with Benedict was much longer and more significant than it actually was.

Ahmad Rafat, a veteran Vatican-watcher and Rome correspondent for Radio Farda, said Iran "needs somehow to say they have the support and the collaboration of the Vatican in what they do." "But the Vatican is very cautious," he continued. "What the Vatican says in the official press statement published on its official website -- there is no mention of what the pope had said to the Iranian delegation.”

According to Rafat, the Iranian delegation wrote in their closing statement that the pope spoke to them for some time. “But afterwards, they quote him only saying ‘Thank you for the Koran, that is a very nice book and I’m glad to receive it,’" Rafat said. From the Iranian communique, "somehow you would think the pope had a long, long discussion with them -- even if nothing is quoted. The way they wrote for an Iranian audience, it looks like the pope told them something very important. But when they quote the pope, it’s only ‘thank you very much.’”

In their joint statement, the seminar participants agreed that "faith and reason are both gifts of God to mankind" and "intrinsically nonviolent." They added: "Neither reason nor faith should be used for violence; unfortunately, both of them have been sometimes misused to perpetuate violence."

The Roman Catholic and Iranian delegation also urged that interreligious dialogue avoid easy generalizations. “Christians and Muslims,” the statement says, “are called to mutual respect, thereby condemning derision of religious beliefs." The statement adds: "Religious traditions cannot be judged on the basis of a single verse or a passage present in their respective holy books."

In March, the Vatican set up a permanent office for dialogue with Islam. The move was partly in response to a call last year by 138 Muslim scholars from around the world for dialogue with Christians, especially Catholics.

The talks with the Iranians, which began under former Pope John Paul II, will continue at regular intervals every two years. The next gathering is due to take place in Tehran in 2010.

Iran Named As Top State Sponsor Of Terrorism

Dell Dailey, the coordinator of the U.S. State Department's Office for Counterterrorism

The U.S. State Department has issued its annual report on terrorism around the world. The report concludes that Iran is the world's "most-active" state sponsor of terrorism due to its continued support for Hizballah in Lebanon, the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and training and equipping Shi'ite militants in Iraq.

The report also lists Syria, North Korea, Cuba, and Sudan as among the top state sponsors of terrorism in 2007. The report says there was a 16-percent increase in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2007 due to resurgent extremist activity there and in Pakistan.

The State Department also says attacks in Iraq dropped between 2006 and 2007 but still accounted for 60 percent of worldwide terrorism casualties. The report concludes that the Al-Qaeda network and its affiliates remain "the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners."

RFE/RL Washington correspondent Andrew F. Tully spoke about the report with Dell Dailey, the coordinator of the State Department's Office for Counterterrorism.

RFE/RL: In your presentation at the State Department, you referred to Iran as the world's "most-active" state sponsor of terrorism during 2007. Why?

Dell Dailey: They support the Taliban in Afghanistan. They support militant militias in Iraq. They support Hizballah, obviously, and they support Syria in its activities in Lebanon. So those four areas show that Iran's busy. It's busy meddling. It's busy in the terrorist business. And since they are a nation state, there's a certain amount of omnipotence that you can't do with a nation state that you might be able to do with a nonstate actor. So that's kind of why we put them at the very top.

RFE/RL: What was the state of terrorist activity in Iraq during 2007, and what groups are responsible?

Dailey: Since Iraq has turned out to be a very, very active battlefield, and [with] the success of our Iraqi armed forces and the presence of coalition forces, there's a pretty powerful conventional [military] presence. Now this compels the insurgents, the militant militias, and Al-Qaeda in Iraq to go to what we assume as nonstandard or asymmetric warfare techniques, like suicide bombing and terrorist attacks, because they can't go straight at a unit with forces on the ground because coalition forces are so powerful. They work that to their advantage and they go after both the civilian population and the coalition forces. And about 5,500 Iraqis -- civilians, nearly all Muslims -- [have been] killed by these terrorist groups. So because there's that much activity going on, we think that Iraq turns out to be the centerpiece for the activity.

RFE/RL: Afghanistan, of course, was the safe haven for Al-Qaeda when it mounted the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. What was the state of terrorism there last year?

Dailey: The Taliban, as a result of a very aggressive drug-production process in some of the agricultural regions, have been able to revitalize their fundamentally unpopular position with all this money. Because drug money can buy people, buy weapons, buy information, buy supplies, buy protection, and the Taliban have taken drugs to do this for them. And with that they've had a resurgence.

Our advantage is that the [UN's International Security Assistance Force] -- with the rapidly and vastly developing Afghanistan military and Afghanistan law enforcement -- we've been able to go after these folks. So there's been a lot more contacts -- combat actions -- that increase the numbers as showing that there's a lot more activity going on.

But don't be misled. Many of those [contacts] are driven by the aggressive action by both ISAF and the other coalition forces. So my take is, there's more activity going on, we're driving most of it, but the fact that the Taliban got their hands on this massive drug-growing capability really turned out to be a disadvantage for us.

RFE/RL: Outside Afghanistan, were there significant terrorist movements in the former Soviet states in Central Asia in 2007?

Dailey: Kazakhstan has identified 14 organizations in one of its declaration orders as foreign terrorist organizations. Uzbekistan has a pretty repressive government and as a result has, I would say, been pretty aggressive on terrorism against itself. But we don't see a universal, uniting, overall terrorist effort in Central Asia right now.

RFE/RL: Overall, are governments improving their abilities to fight terrorist groups? Or are these groups developing faster than governments can cope with them?

Dailey: Unequivocally, the governments are improving in their abilities to fight terrorism. For example, we're improving our counterterrorism finance capability [to freeze terrorists' bank accounts with] the establishment of the Financial Action Task Force. Countries are passing their counterterrorism legislation to go after terrorism. And with that counterterrorism legislation in place, they now have moral justification to go after terrorism with these rules, with these laws, with this legislation.

Find them, put them in their judicial system, have good evidence, have good prosecutorial presentation, have good judicial review and oversight, and have appropriate type punishments if they're found guilty, and then, of course, incarceration systems to put them in, and then systems to rehabilitate them afterwards. These are all going on right now that weren't going on five or six years ago. So the countries are becoming better in that area.

Law enforcement. Information sharing on an international basis. Capacity-building for both military and police systems have all dramatically improved. So it's our preparation as individual nations with bilateral support from stronger nations. And our multilateral institutions -- for example, the UN's counterterrorism efforts and some of its Security Council legislation and its General Assembly counterterrorism strategy -- all of that makes it more powerful for us to fight terrorism -- by a country, in that area regionally, and internationally. So we certainly are better off.

Nuclear Cargo For Iran Gets Stuck In Azerbaijan

By Breffni O'Rourke

A Russian technician at Iran's Bushehr nuclear facility (file photo)

Authorities in Azerbaijan are demanding more complete documentation before they will release a consignment of Russian equipment destined for an Iranian nuclear power plant under construction at Bushehr.

It's now been more than a month since Azerbaijani customs officials pulled aside a small convoy of trucks on March 29 at Astara, on the border with Iran, refusing permission for further forward movement of the goods.

The trucks had come from Russia, dispatched on a journey to Iran by the Russian state company Atomstroieksport. They carried 10 tons of equipment destined for Bushehr in southwest Iran, which is being built with Russian help.

Russia has insisted that the shipment's papers are in order, and Iranian officials dismiss suggestions that it might contain banned material.

The director of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Kenan Aliyev, says the authorities are "not giving the green light," adding that "until Baku decides it's time to let it go, [the shipment] will be staying there."

"The Russian side and the Iranian side are protesting," Aliyev says. "The Iranian Foreign Ministry [on April 28] called on the Azerbaijani authorities to release the shipment [and] the Russians are trying to convince the Azeris that there is nothing wrong with the documentation."

Baku Wary

Azerbaijani officials have said special government permission will be needed to release the cargo, which they say consists of heat-insulation material, listed as being worth a mere $171,000. The authorities say they want to be sure that the goods do not fall under UN sanctions imposed upon Iran over its refusal to cease uranium enrichment.

The UN Security Council has approved three rounds of sanctions against Tehran since December 2006.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad dismissed the initial package of UN sanctions as a "scrap of paper" and said the international community would have to get used to the idea of a nuclear Iran.

In the latest development over the Bushehr shipment, the Turan news agency quoted sources as saying that the Russian Embassy in Baku has handed the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry detailed information about the technical characteristics of the cargo.

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini scoffed at the suggestion the insulation is banned material. "The consignment is within the framework of Iranian-Russian cooperation with respect to the completion of Bushehr power plant under the framework of international regulation," he said. "There is no ban regarding the consignment."

'Political Decision'

Some Russian officials have already dismissed the idea that the paperwork is really to blame, saying they see a "political decision" by the Azerbaijani government to hold up the shipment.

RFE/EL's Aliyev says it is possible that Azerbaijan is trying to show its muscle to its two powerful neighbors. The Azeris have been squeezed for centuries between the Russians and the Persians, and the present Azerbaijan has tense relations with Tehran.

But according to Russian officials quoted by Reuters news agency on April 23, more is at stake than mere political posturing. They say timely delivery of the insulation material is important if the Bushehr construction schedule is to be met. One unnamed official reportedly said it would be "expedient" to find a solution to the problem.

The project to build Iran's first nuclear power plant is already years behind schedule. Work originally started at the site in the 1970s under a German company but later petered out, and since the Russians took over construction there have also been numerous delays.

The United States has long criticized Russia's assistance in the Bushehr project, although President George W. Bush in December expressed support for Moscow's delivery of nuclear fuel to the facility.

Washington recognizes Iran's right to civilian nuclear power, but officials are wary of any development that could help Iran acquire nuclear weapons, which U.S. officials have accused Iran of clandestinely aiming to do.

At the same time, the United States has developed a close relationship with the independent Azerbaijan, which emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union.

RFE/RL's Aliyev notes Azerbaijan's close ties to the United States and Israel, which President Ahmadinejad has publicly suggested should be "wiped off the map."

"Azerbaijan has close cooperation on border issues with the United States; it's possible that Azerbaijan is cooperating unofficially with the United States," Aliyev says. "But there is no indication that the Americans asked Baku to stop this shipment."

Washington has said little about the wrangle over delivery of the insulation. However, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, speaking at a news briefing on April 28, appeared to distance the United States from the cargo dispute.

"In our view, this is something that the Azerbaijani and Russian governments need to work out consistent with everybody's UN Security Council resolution obligations, enforcing those obligations in terms of the transshipment of materials potentially for illicit purposes -- I'm not suggesting that at this point," McCormack said. "So those two countries need to work this out."

The first reactor at Bushehr is nearing completion. Russia has already delivered the nuclear fuel that will fire up the reactor, probably early next year.