RFE/RL Iran Report – 04/11/2005

RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
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RFE/RL Iran Report
Vol. 8, No. 15, 11 April 2005

A Review of Developments in Iran Prepared by the Regional Specialists
of RFE/RL’s Newsline Team

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HEADLINES:
* CORRUPTION A WORRY IN IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
* OBSERVERS FEAR MILITARIZATION OF POLITICS
* PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE LOOKS SOUTH FOR SUPPORT
* LEGISLATURE LOOKS INTO FATAL SOCCER RIOT
* SCHOOL HOSTAGE INCIDENT DEFUSED
* IMAM KHOMEINI AIRPORT TO REOPEN THIS MONTH
* KHATAMI CHATS WITH ISRAELI COUNTERPART AT POPE’S FUNERAL
* SYRIA TO WITHDRAW FROM LEBANON BY END OF MONTH
* TALABANI ELECTION LEADS TO UNREST IN IRAN
* KYIV EYES IRAN’S GAS FOR USE AND TRANSSHIPMENT
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DATES SET FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE REGISTRATION. Mujtaba Reshad,
head of the Presidential Election Headquarters, said on 3 April that
registration of prospective presidential candidates will begin on 10
May and continue for five days, “Iran Daily” reported on 4 April. The
Interior Ministry will forward this information to the Guardians
Council, which will screen the applications until 24 May. Individuals
whose candidacy is accepted can campaign from 27 May until 24 hours
before election day — 17 June.
By-elections for 10 seats in parliament will take place on 17
June as well. Prospective candidates can register for these seats
from 10-17 April. (Bill Samii)

CORRUPTION A WORRY IN IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Widespread
Iranian concern about financial and professional corruption is
reflected by the fact that most prospective candidates for the
upcoming presidential election have addressed this issue. Tehran
parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli has said the unity of
Iran is threatened by corruption, nepotism, and favoritism,
“Siyasat-i Ruz” reported on 4 April, and that the next
president’s greatest duty is to address these issues.
Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces
candidate Ali Larijani likewise stressed corruption and economic
issues during campaign speeches over the Noruz holiday. And Tehran
Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad said during a visit last month to Ahvaz
that the government should fight all forms of corruption, “Hemayat”
reported on 13 March.
Corruption is not merely a word for candidates to throw
around during their campaigns. Iran is rampantly corrupt, according
to Transparency International’s most recent report
(). That
survey placed Iran 87th out of 145 countries in terms of the degree
of corruption “as seen by business people and country analysts.” Iran
ranked 2.9 on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to zero (highly
corrupt).
The Payam Airport smuggling case raises questions regarding
the government’s seriousness about attacking corruption. Arrests
were made in October after authorities learned that Customs
Administration officials at Payam Airport, near Karaj, were allegedly
cooperating in the illegal shipment of goods from Dubai and other
international locations. Tehran parliamentarian Alireza Zakani,
however, said that, four months after the arrests, the main defendant
in the case remains at large, “Siyasat-i Ruz” reported on 27
February.
The cases of Shahram Jazayeri and Nasser Vaez-Tabasi also
raise questions about the government’s desire to deal seriously
with corruption. Jazayeri was convicted in 2002 in a major corruption
case involving 50 defendants, many of them sons of prominent clerics
known colloquially as “aqazadeh.” In September 2004, his 27-year
prison sentence was partially overturned, and he is occasionally
released from prison on leave. Vaez-Tabasi, the son of Imam Reza
Shrine Foundation (Astan-i Qods-i Razavi) head Ayatollah Abbas
Vaez-Tabasi, was released immediately after his July 2001 arrest for
allegedly illegally selling shares in a state-owned enterprise. He
and his co-defendants were acquitted in March 2003 on the grounds
that they were ignorant of the law.
These and other prominent corruption cases grab headlines for
a while and then fade away. Kermanshah parliamentary representative
Abdul Reza Mesri, according to “Hambastegi” on 20 December 2004,
asked on 19 December: “While reports on economic corruption are
regularly published in the country, why is nothing heard about the
punishment of corrupt persons?”
One reason for the lack of follow-up on these cases is that
the press is heavily politicized. Conservative newspapers such as
“Kayhan,” “Resalat,” and “Jomhuri-yi Islami” are quick to accuse
reformist political figures of wrongdoing. Often they do this by
citing anonymous sources, and in other cases they quote people
selectively and out of context. Pro-reform newspapers, motivated by
professional ethics or a sense of self-preservation, are more
cautious about printing corruption accusations, as the press court is
more likely to punish them.
Another reason relates to a general lack of accountability in
Iran. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the state took control of
the economy and para-statal organizations (bonyad) were created to
promote social welfare and restore economic justice. Yet these
foundations, as well as some other state institutions, do not answer
to the government or to shareholders, and parliamentary
investigations into their activities have been less than effective.
The findings of a parliamentary investigation into the Oppressed and
Disabled Foundation (Bonyad-i Mostazafan va Janbazan) in the 1990s
were never released to the public. A May 2003 parliamentary report on
Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) ended without result,
although it found major infractions, such as concealing revenues and
failure to pay duties and taxes. The head of IRIB at the time, the
same Ali Larijani who is now running for president, denied all the
allegations and nothing came of the case.
Weaknesses in the law are another reason for extensive
corruption. There are many loopholes that corrupt individuals can
exploit. The involvement of state officials in business affairs,
furthermore, is not forbidden.
This last area is one that could be in for a change.
Hojatoleslam Abdolreza Izadpanah, spokesman for the Headquarters for
Fighting Economic Corruption, said in mid-March that efforts to
reform laws on trade, taxation, foreign investment, and money
laundering reflect an effort to attack corruption, “Mardom Salari”
reported on 17 March. A proposed bill on privatization, he said,
would prohibit the involvement of public-sector employees —
including those from the executive, legislative, and judicial
branches, the Guardians Council, the Expediency Council, the military
and provincial organizations — in government transactions.
Iranians are likely to welcome serious efforts to end
corruption, but the government has failed to produce any so far.
Public pressure on elected officials, especially during the months
before the presidential election, could change this situation. (Bill
Samii)

OBSERVERS FEAR MILITARIZATION OF POLITICS. The possibility that an
individual connected with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)
could be elected as Iran’s next president is causing some
consternation in Iranian political circles.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accepted 43-year-old
police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf’s resignation on 5 April, the
Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Before succeeding
Brigadier General Hedayat Lotfian as police chief in June 2000,
Qalibaf was commander of the IRGC Air Force. Another prospective
candidate with a serious background in the IRGC is Mohsen Rezai, who
commanded the corps for 16 years.
Qalibaf’s plan to be a candidate in the presidential
election indicates the militarization of the political process,
several articles in the 4 April issue of “Eqbal” newspaper suggest.
“Eqbal” and “Farhang-i Ashti” reported on 4 April that younger
conservatives associated with the Islamic Revolution Devotees’
Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami) and the Islamic Iran
Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami) support
Qalibaf.
Interestingly, there are allegations that another former IRGC
official and current presidential candidate, Larijani, is supported
by the military. The Baztab website reported on 17 March that a
clerical official in the IRGC has a high position in the Coordination
Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, the mainstream conservative
body that backs Larijani.
The Developers themselves have not been very forthcoming on
their choice. A recent Developers press conference turned out to be
something of a bust, “Etemad” and “Eqbal” newspapers reported on 5
April. The many reporters at this event expected to learn something
about the conservative organization’s preferences in the upcoming
presidential election, but Developers’ spokesman Mehdi Chamran,
who is a member of the Tehran municipal council, was not very
specific. Previously, Larijani appeared to be their favorite, but
Chamran said a choice has not been made yet and added, “We support
all those who adhere to fundamentalist thinking.” He continued: “If
they [the candidates] select a particular candidate among themselves,
we will support their choice. We do not wish to act as a council that
selects the candidate. We want the people to make the final choice.”
He said the Developers were created at a stage when the
fundamentalists were “in a state of despair and uncertainty.” Chamran
described his organization as “an ideology and an intellectual
movement.”
Reformist politician Mustafa Tajzadeh wrote in “Eqbal” on 4
April that if Larijani or Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad wins the
election, a militarized administration will emerge and it will try to
reassert the revolutionary and religious values that existed in the
early years of the revolution. Tajzadeh compared this to prewar
Germany and the Nazi Party’s actions.
Reformist presidential candidate Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi
said in a late March meeting with officials from his election
headquarters that in recent years he has warned of the military’s
involvement in political affairs, the daily “Etemad” reported on 3
April. “[I] have repeatedly condemned it and have openly criticized
them,” he said. Karrubi said it is a mistake to ignore the actions of
the IRGC, the Basij, the Guardians Council, the judiciary, the
Special Court for the Clergy, and agencies affiliated with the
supreme leader. Karrubi said his attitude toward these institutions
includes “strong reactions” when he was not in office and a
“respectful but firm stance” when he was speaker of parliament. “I am
confident that if people elect me I will solve many of the existing
problems by making use of the same methods,” he said.
Qalibaf is an interesting candidate for president. “Farhang-i
Ashti” reported on 4 April that under his command the previously
unpopular police force earned a much better reputation. He created
the 110 rapid-reaction system (see “RFE/RL Iran Report,” 8 April
2002, and ), which made the force operate more
efficiently, and he also eliminated the influence of political
factions in the police.
Yet Qalibaf’s respect for civilian leadership of the
government is limited, He is one of the 24 IRGC commanders who in
July 1999 sent a letter to President Mohammad Khatami warning that if
he did not act to quell student unrest, they would not stand by idly
and would take matters into their own hands (see “RFE/RL Iran
Report,” 26 July 1999).
Qalibaf is not the only person the young conservatives are
considering as a presidential candidate. Tehran Mayor Mahmud
Ahmadi-Nejad, Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli,
former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and Expediency Council
Secretary Mohsen Rezai have their backers. If the young conservatives
do not select Qalibaf, “Farhang-i Ashti” reported then he could be
tapped as a conservative victor’s interior minister. (Bill Samii)

QALIBAF RESIGNATION COULD AFFECT WAR ON DRUGS. The daily “Siyasat-i
Ruz” reported on 5 April that police chief Qalibaf, who has resigned,
will be succeeded by his deputy, General Ali Abdullahi. The daily
questioned Abdullahi’s ability to meet the position’s
responsibilities for counternarcotics efforts and intercepting
smugglers. “Siyasat-i Ruz” urged Qalibaf not to leave the police
force and to continue to serve the country. (Bill Samii)

CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE DISCUSSES ECONOMIC POLICIES. The conservative
Coordination Council’s likely candidate for the 17 June
presidential election, Larijani, described the economic policies of
his prospective government during a 31 March press conference in
Mazandaran Province, Fars News Agency reported. He said he would
encourage privatization by issuing shares in state-owned enterprises,
and he would reduce economic activities that take place through
officials’ connections. Larijani said the government must be
streamlined so it can satisfy the needs of public-sector workers and
still fulfill its role. Larijani said his government’s economic
policies would be based on Islam and public participation. (Bill
Samii)

CONSERVATIVES SET TO ANNOUNCE THEIR CANDIDATE. Mohammad Reza Bahonar,
a leading member of the Coordination Council, said that the main
conservative group will announce its candidate on 21 April, “Mardom
Salari” reported on 3 April. “The final decision has already been
announced inside the organization and the name of our final candidate
has been submitted to the Coordination Council of the provinces.” He
added, “Although we have chosen our candidate, the opinion polls will
continue until the final days.”
Kashmar representative Ahmad Bloukian said the Coordination
Council has informed its provincial offices that Larijani is its
candidate and has begun activities on his behalf, “Mardom Salari”
reported.
Guilds and Bazaar Association Secretary-General Ahmad
Karimi-Isfahani said on 3 April that Larijani is the leading
candidate in the conservatives’ opinion polls, ISNA reported, but
there will be more polls.
Conservative legislator Mohsen Kuhkan was quoted by “Mardom
Salari” on 3 April as saying that there probably will be three
different conservative groupings — Larijani’s supporters, the
Islamic Iran Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami),
and the coalition of “fundamentalist” candidates (Mahmud
Ahmadi-Nejad, Mohammad Qalibaf, Mohsen Rezai, Ahmad Tavakoli, and Ali
Akbar Velayati). (Bill Samii)

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE LOOKS SOUTH FOR SUPPORT. The South United
organization will back the candidacy of Expediency Council Secretary
Mohsen Rezai, “Farhang-i Ashti” reported on 7 April, citing an
unnamed parliamentarian. According to the newspaper, there are 11
million potential voters in the southern provinces, and the
organization is being created to secure their support for Rezai.
Presidential candidates increasingly are trying to gain the support
of provincial voters. (Bill Samii)

FILM MAKER WANTS TO BE IRAN’S PRESIDENT. Karim Atashi, who
manages the Honar-i Haftom movie studio and who has made some 50
films, said on 3 April that he intends to run in the 17 June
presidential election, Mehr News Agency reported on 4 April. (Bill
Samii)

LEGISLATURE TO LOOK INTO FATAL SOCCER RIOT. Speaker of parliament
Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said on 4 April that the legislature’s
Culture Committee should investigate the fatal events following a
Tehran soccer match two weeks earlier, the Islamic Republic News
Agency (IRNA) reported. About seven people were trampled to death and
some 40 others were injured after a World Cup qualifying match
between Iran and Japan at Azadi Stadium on 25 March (“RFE/RL Iran
Report,” 30 March 2005). Talesh parliamentary representative Bahman
Mohammadyari said during the 4 April session that security officers
prevented spectators from leaving the stadium and used water cannons
against them, IRNA reported.
Radio Farda reported on 4 April that a commission has been
selected to investigate these events, but it has not issued a report
yet. It is not clear who ordered the closure of exit doors to Iranian
fans, whereas the doors for Japanese fans remained open. The brother
of one of the injured spectators said fans began leaving around the
80th minute of the match, Radio Farda reported, but the doors
remained closed. But an official from the Physical Training
Organization insisted that all the doors were open.
Daily newspapers in Tehran reported on 6 April that the
security forces were responsible for the post-match deaths, Radio
Farda reported. Citing judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad, the
newspapers reported that there were 120,000 spectators in the
stadium, whereas it only has room for 100,000 people. Moreover, a
helicopter was used to channel spectators into an exit hall that was
60 meters long but only 7 meters wide. (Bill Samii)

SCHOOL HOSTAGE INCIDENT DEFUSED. A 25-year-old man armed with an
AK-47 rifle held students at the Razi boys’ school in northern
Tehran hostage for several hours on 7 April, Radio Farda reported. He
gave up after speaking with his mother and police officers. The
hostage taker was wearing military fatigues, and one of the young
hostages told Radio Farda that the name on the uniform was Mahmud
Rahimi. The man complained of mistreatment by his superiors,
according to a hostage. Dr. Hamedian, the school’s principal,
said the hostage taker complained that financial and personal
difficulties led to his actions. Several students told Radio Farda
that the hostage taker was very sympathetic and gentle, and they
indicated that they felt sorry for him. One student said all but two
of the teachers fled, and the two who remained spoke with the hostage
taker and calmed him down. (Bill Samii)

JOURNALISTS’ GUILD CHIEF’S FOREIGN TRAVEL BARRED.
Journalists’ Guild head Rajabali Mazrui was prevented from
leaving the country to attend a conference in Denmark, ISNA reported
on 6 April, citing guild Secretary Masud Hushmand. No reason for the
ban was provided, Hushmand added, and he opined that this will prompt
an adverse reaction from the international press community. Hushmand
demanded an explanation from the relevant authorities.
The managing director of “Sharq” newspaper, Mehdi Rahmanian,
appeared at the prosecutor’s office on 6 April to face 32
complaints, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported. He faces
accusations of trying to agitate the public by publishing lies.
The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance closed the
monthly “Karnameh” on 7 April for publishing allegedly “immoral” news
and poems, Reporters Without Borders reported, and it closed the
pro-reform intellectual magazine “Jameh-yi No” on 8 March. (Bill
Samii)

IMAM KHOMEINI AIRPORT TO REOPEN THIS MONTH. Deputy Roads and
Transport Minister and Civil Aviation Organization Chief Nurollah
Rezai-Niaraki told Iranian state radio on 5 April that the Imam
Khomeini International Airport will reopen on 30 April. All flights
to and from the United Arab Emirates will begin using the airport on
that date, and other international carriers will be invited to use
the airport after that date. Domestic flights will continue to use
Mehrabad Airport.
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps personnel closed the Imam
Khomeini airport on its first day of operation in the spring of 2004
on the grounds that the role of a Turkish firm — TAV — in operating
the facility posed a security risk (see “RFE/RL Iran Report,” 19
April and 17 May 2004). The legislature interpellated Roads and
Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram after the airport’s closure
concerning the giving of the contract to the Turkish company.
Current Roads and Transport Minister Mohammad Rahmati said on
5 April that the cabinet has not decided what to do about the TAV
contract, iranmania.com reported, citing ISNA. After the airport
reopens, he said, Iran Air and another firm with majority Iranian
shareholders will operate it. (Bill Samii)

WORKERS HAVING PROBLEMS. Police were called in to disperse employees
of the Alborz carpet company, located in Sari, Mazandaran Province,
who were demonstrating on 6 April against the factory’s recent
closure, ILNA reported.
Bus drivers in Semnan Province went on strike on 6 April and
gathered at bus terminals and the provincial transport department,
ILNA reported. They were protesting one company’s decision to use
chartered buses to take riders outside city limits, although the news
dispatch did not explain why this is controversial.
Labor House Secretary Alireza Mahjub on 3 April denounced a
recent meeting of the Supreme Council for Labor, ILNA reported. The
meeting was held to discuss changing the minimum wage, he said, but
the government and employers’ representatives did not stand by
their obligations. Mahjub said that in the last few years workers
have not received their wages or their bonuses, and that this appears
to be a customary practice. Mahjub said the labor minister ignored a
requirement that the minimum wage must exceed the poverty line by 1
million rials (about $122), and he also ignored adjustments for
inflation. As a result, Mahjub said, the minimum wage for office
workers should be 2 million rials and 1.22 million rials for
laborers. Mahjub argued that laborers should receive at least 2
million rials.
Some Iranians, meanwhile, lack employment altogether. On 4
April, “Iran Daily” reported that many female residents of the
earthquake-stricken city of Bam need jobs. About 4,000 women are the
sole breadwinners in their households, and charity from the Imam
Khomeini Relief Committee and the State Welfare Organization does not
meet their needs. (Bill Samii)

WAR GAMES BEGIN IN NORTHERN PERSIAN GULF. The Morvarid war games in
the northern Persian Gulf have commenced, state television reported
on 6 April. Submarines, missile boats, and troop carriers, as well as
aircraft, are participating in the two-day exercises.
Major General Mohammad Salimi, commander of the regular armed
forces, visited the Second Naval Base in Bushehr on 7 April and said
the navy’s presence in the south shows the military’s
vigilance, Fars News Agency reported. Salimi also visited the 6th
Shahid Yasini air base, visited an S-200 missile site, a Hawk
medium-range missile site, and air defense installations. (Bill
Samii)

NUCLEAR PROGRAM THE FOCUS OF KHATAMI’S EUROPEAN TRIP. Iranian
President Khatami visited Europe in the first week of April, and
during the trip the predominant issue was the status of Iran’s
nuclear program.
Khatami met with Austria’s President Heinz Fischer and
Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel during a 4 April visit to Vienna, IRNA
reported, while Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with his
counterpart, Ursula Plassnik. The two sides discussed bilateral ties,
commercial issues, and events in the Middle East.
The nuclear issue appeared to be a major topic as well.
Khatami said at a joint press conference with Fischer, “Nobody in the
world wants to have weapons of mass destruction, and Iran does not
want to have such weapons, but we need to use nuclear power for
electrification, and therefore we ask the whole world and the
European Union to help us keep those power plants,” Reuters reported.
At the meeting with Schuessel, he said Iran is trying to resolve
concern over Iranian nuclear activities through cooperation with the
EU and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Kharrazi told
Plassnik, “We are having very good cooperation with the [IAEA],” IRNA
reported.
Khatami flew to Paris from Vienna on 4 April and met with
French President Jacques Chirac the next day, Radio Farda reported.
The main topic of the meeting was the nuclear impasse. Khatami told
reporters afterwards that Iran and the European Union have made
progress in their discussions on this subject, saying, “I think we
have taken steps forward.” He also said that the ultimate agreement
between Iran and the EU must recognize what Iran sees as its right to
develop nuclear power. Tehran insists on mastery of the complete
nuclear fuel cycle, whereas Europe and the U.S. want Iran to forego
the enrichment of uranium. Khatami said he hopes serious progress
will be made at a 29 April meeting of officials from Iran, France,
Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Also in Paris on 5 April, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and
his counterpart, Michel Barnier, discussed the nuclear issue, AFP
reported.
Before his meeting with Chirac, Khatami attended a meeting at
UNESCO headquarters in Paris on 5 April, international news agencies
reported. Khatami gave the opening speech at the International
Conference on the Dialogue among Civilizations, Cultures and Peoples,
according to the UNESCO website
(;URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_
SECTION1.html).
The terrorist attacks of September 2001, Khatami said, proved
that “dialogue among civilizations had become a political and
economic emergency.” Khatami said “dialogue” implies an active
process of communication. “Dialogue is at once beautiful, moral, and
a guarantor of truth,” Khatami said. He added: “As a Moslem, I have a
firm conviction that the beauty of religion stems from justice… any
understanding of religion that, in one way or another, justifies
injustice stands against the true sense of religion.” He condemned
violence. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika spoke after
Khatami, and said that, “dialogue among civilizations is one of the
motors of progress.” He said terrorism is not part of Islam.
Khatami flew on to Rome to attend the funeral of Pope John
Paul II. Khatami met with Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi on 7
April, Iranian state radio reported. Khatami reportedly emphasized
that his country’s cooperation with the IAEA demonstrates that
Iran is not violating its international commitments. (Bill Samii)

IRAN AND ALGERIA SIGN AGREEMENT. Minister of Defense and Armed Forces
Logistics Ali Shamkhani and Algerian Interior Minister Yazid Zerhoumi
signed a memorandum of understanding on bilateral cooperation on 4
April, IRNA reported. Shamkhani arrived in Algeria on 2 April for a
three-day visit. Shamkhani met with President Bouteflika, Prime
Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, and parliamentary speaker Abdelkader
Bensalah. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI CHATS WITH ISRAELI COUNTERPART AT POPE’S FUNERAL.
President Khatami and Israeli President Moshe Katsav shook hands and
chatted at the 8 April funeral of Pope John Paul II, international
news agencies reported. Khatami and Katsav, who was born in Iran,
spoke in Persian about their mutual hometown, Yazd. Hagit Cohen, a
spokesperson for Katsav, described this as a “historic moment and
unique opportunity,” reported “The Jerusalem Post.” The next day,
Khatami denied this. “These allegations are false…I have not had
any meeting with a personality from the Zionist regime,” he said
according to the BBC.
Khatami expressed his condolences on the pope’s death in
a 3 April message, IRNA reported. Khatami met the Holy Father in
March 1999 in a symbolically important meeting of the heads of the
Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Roman Catholic Church
(see “RFE/RL Iran Report,” 15 March 1999).
Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi also expressed
condolences over the pope’s death and encouraged members of all
faiths to work for peace and justice, “Etemad” reported on 5 April.
Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani expressed his
condolences during his 8 April sermon in Tehran, IRNA reported. He
urged the Christian community to follow the teachings of Jesus more
closely. He added, “The approaches pursued by the world Christians
today differ drastically from the authentic teachings of Christ,
since the followers of Jesus — peace be upon him (PBUH) — cannot
remain Christians and at the same time remain silent and indifferent
toward the crimes committed by the United States and the other
superpowers around the globe.” Hashemi-Rafsanjani continued, “The
world’s Christians should shout in protest against the United
States and tell the White House leaders that their conduct has
defamed Christ (PBUH).”
Iranian state radio also commented on the pope’s funeral
on 8 April. “The massive turnout at the Pope’s funeral clearly
reflects the world community’s strong opposition to war-mongering
America and its unilateralist approach on the international scene,”
according to the commentary. “Without a doubt, this message will not
be lost on the American President George Bush, who is attending the
Pope’s funeral.” (Bill Samii)

SYRIA TO WITHDRAW FROM LEBANON BY END OF MONTH. UN envoy Terje
Roed-Larsen said, after meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
and Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara, that Damascus has pledged that
the last of its troops will leave Lebanese territory by 30 April,
Radio Farda reported on 3 April. The Syrian pullout from Lebanon will
slightly reduce Iran’s ability to influence events there,
although its close relationship with Hizballah means that it is not
completely left out.
The Syrian pullout is called for in UN Resolution 1559, a
measure that prompted Iranian condemnation last autumn (see “RFE/RL
Iran Report,” 11 October 2004). In the wake of the 14 February
assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and the
resulting international pressure on Syria, furthermore, Tehran
offered advice on dealing with possible economic sanctions and
expressed unity with Syria (see “RFE/RL Iran Report,” 21 February
2005).
Foreign Minister Kharrazi met al-Shara and al-Assad in
Damascus on 2 April to discuss Lebanese affairs, Iranian state radio,
IRNA, and SANA reported. Kharrazi noted that Tehran-Damascus
relations are expanding, and he and his counterpart condemned U.S.
support for Israel. Iran and Syria have had some of their “most
fruitful cooperation” in Lebanon, an Iranian state radio analyst
calling himself “Mr. Kazemzadeh” said on 2 April. This should
continue because “one of the main objectives of the foreign players
in the political crisis in Lebanon…is to change the traditional
political and military balance in their own favor.”
Kharrazi confirmed in the 7 April issue of France’s “Le
Monde” and London’s “Al-Hayat” daily that Syrian forces are
withdrawing from Lebanon, and he insisted that Syria is serious about
the withdrawal. He agreed that France and Iran can influence events
there, and he indicated that this is a natural role for Iran.
However, he was adamant that external interference in Lebanese
affairs must be avoided and outsiders should not try to fill the
vacuum left by Syria.
The disarmament of Hizballah, as called for in Security
Council Resolution 1559, is a form of external interference, Kharrazi
said. It is too soon for Hizballah to disarm, he said, because of the
continuing threat from Israel.
Enthusiasm about the Syrian withdrawal may be premature. The
Lebanese opposition, as well as U.S., European, and UN officials,
asserts that covert Syrian assets in Lebanon are working to ensure
that Syrian domination will continue after the withdrawal, “The
Washington Post” reported on 31 March. (Bill Samii)

TALABANI ELECTION LEADS TO UNREST IN IRAN. President Khatami
congratulated Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani on 7
April on his election as Iraq’s president, IRNA reported. Khatami
said this development shows that Iraqis are determined to run their
country without outside interference, and he added that Iran is ready
to cooperate with and assist Iraq. (On Talabani’s election and on
the new prime minister, Ibrahim al-Ja’fari of the al-Da’wah
al-Islamiyah party, see “RFE/RL Iraq Report,” 8 April 2005.)
In Iran, joyful young Kurds in Mahabad and Piranshahr
celebrated in the streets on 6 June by igniting fireworks and
displaying Kurdish flags, Baztab website reported. Fifteen police
officers were injured in resulting clashes, and 40 demonstrators were
arrested. The Student Movement for Coordination Committee for
Democracy in Iran reported that demonstrations and clashes also
occurred in Baneh, Marivan, Saqez, and Sanandaj. Security forces
allegedly used rubber bullets and tear gas against the demonstrators,
who were shouting anti-regime slogans. (Bill Samii)

IRAN, IRAQ SIGN CONSULAR AGREEMENT ON PILGRIMS, BUSINESS PEOPLE.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi met with Iraqi Deputy Foreign
Minister Sa’d al-Hayani in Tehran on 7 April, IRNA reported. The
two signed consular documents on the exchange of pilgrims and on
facilities for businessmen and industrialists. They also discussed
the future signing of agreements on cultural and religious
cooperation.

KYIV EYES IRAN’S GAS FOR USE AND TRANSSHIPMENT. In early
February, Interfax announced that Ukrainian President Viktor
Yushchenko will make an official visit to Iran in the “first half of
the year.” The topics to be discussed during the visit were listed as
bilateral relations and joint projects in the energy sector.
The announcement of Yushchenko’s trip to Iran, coming so
soon after his inauguration, served to underscore the importance that
Kyiv attaches to finding alternative energy supplies while seeking to
wean itself away from its dependence on Russian oil and gas.
Tehran has been on the Ukrainian energy compass for the past
few years as a potential supplier of oil and gas. Kyiv also sees Iran
as a country where Ukrainian companies can provide considerable
expertise in energy related construction projects, and as a market
for oil drilling equipment and large diameter pipes.
Iran, according to the International Energy Administration of
the United States () has
proven reserves of 28 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. That is
18 percent of the world’s proven gas reserves and second only to
Russia. Around 62 percent of Iranian natural-gas reserves have not
been developed.
Ukraine also sees itself as a possible transit route for
Iranian gas destined for European Union markets — primarily in
Central Europe and Germany. As such, Ukraine could earn considerable
money on transit fees, that could in turn be used to purchase Iranian
gas for the Ukrainian domestic market.
During Yushchenko’s visit to Germany in March, Deutsche
Bank agreed to provide Naftohaz, the Ukrainian oil and gas monopoly,
with a credit line of $2 billion. The Ukrainian side will decide how
this money is to be spent. Some analysts in Kyiv believe that it
might be allocated to renovating the aging Soyuz pipeline and
preparing it for the task of delivering Iranian gas to Germany.

THE TURKMEN CONNECTION Interest in Iranian gas was renewed in Kyiv
after Viktor Yushchenko was elected president and Turkmenistan
unexpectedly raised the price it charges Ukraine for natural gas in
January by 32 percent, that is, to $58 per 1,000 cubic meters.
Another factor contributing to interest in the Iranian route
is that the contract for Turkmen gas to Ukraine ends in December
2006. After this date, Ukraine will be forced to buy Turkmen gas from
Gazeksport, a subsidiary of Russia’s Gazprom.
On 28 March, RIA press agency reported that a Ukrainian
delegation led by Fuels and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov and the
head of Naftohaz were given assurances by Gazprom head Aleksei
Miller, who stated: “We support the Ukrainian side’s proposal to
move to monetary payments for the transit of gas through Ukrainian
territory and to raise the tariff rates to the European level.”
Miller added: “Gazprom, for its part, can fully meet Ukraine’s
requirements in Russian natural gas at European-level market prices.”

The Ukrainian side is approaching this promise with caution,
given Gazprom’s history of manipulating the gas market in order
to promote the Kremlin’s political agenda. There is also
considerable doubt that Gazprom is capable of meeting long-term
commitments for gas deliveries to the West.
On 6 March, IRNA reported that the Ukrainian deputy minister
of oil and energy held talks in Tehran with Iran’s Deputy Foreign
Minister for International Affairs Hadi Nejad Husseinian during the
third meeting of the two countries’ energy commissions. At this
meeting, the Ukrainian side proposed buying 15 billion cubic meters
(bcm) of gas from Iran, to be delivered via a proposed pipeline whose
route has still not been agreed upon.
The currently proposed routes for this pipeline are:
— Iran to Armenia and then on to the Georgian port of Supsa,
and from there along the bottom of the Black Sea to Feodosia in the
Crimea. Once in Ukraine, the gas can enter into the Ukrainian “Soyuz”
trunk pipeline for delivery to the EU. According to a recent estimate
done by a Ukrainian energy think tank, the cost of this 550 kilometer
route would be some $5 billion and it would be able to transport some
60 bcm per year.
— Alternately, the pipeline can run from Iran to Armenia
then to Georgia, on to Russia and end up in Ukraine. No cost estimate
has been announced for this route.
The IRNA report mentioned that Ukraine and Iran are to hold
an expert meeting in Tehran in May to discuss the financial aspects
and construction and implementation of the project as well as the
amount of gas to be exported. “Tehran and Kyiv will then make the
final decision,” IRNA reported.

TWO POWERFUL OPPONENTS Opposition to a Ukrainian gas deal with Iran
is likely to come from two countries — Russia and the United States.

On March 19, Interfax reported that deputy CEO of Gazprom
Aleksandr Ryazanov stated that he does not consider the transit of
Iranian gas through Armenia to Ukraine and onward to Europe to be
viable.
“I can’t even image how this could be done at all,”
Ryazanov said, adding that the Iran-Armenia-Georgia-Russia-Ukraine
and Iran-Armenia- Georgia-Ukraine transit routes mentioned in the
press are unrealistic and economically unsound.
Ryazanov did not specify why the routes are unrealistic. The
Ukrainian side is likely to view his objections as being more
political then economic.
The way the United States views the pipeline proposals are
still unknown.
But in the case of a proposed gas pipeline from Iran to
supply Pakistan and India, the United States took a rather dim view.
“Washington warned Pakistan not to go ahead with its
Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, saying that this project
will strengthen Iran and thus negatively affects the United States
economically,” Al-Jazeera reported on 19 March.
It is likely that the Iranian-Ukraine pipeline project was
discussed in Washington during Yushchenko’s first official visit
as president to the United States, from 4 – 7 April).
U.S. concerns will most likely be centered on the potential
problems that could arise if the EU should become overly dependent on
Iranian gas, instead of being overly dependent on Russian gas.
As an alternative route, the United States has been backing
the idea of an energy corridor for moving Caspian-basin energy to the
West. That corridor would include a gas pipeline that would bypass
Russia and its pipeline system. The downside of this project is the
role that Turkmenistan would play in it and the reliability of its
often erratic leader Saparmurat Niyazov.
While the United States does not want to “strengthen Iran,”
it has also been urging Ukraine to diversify its gas supplies. Given
Ukraine’s limited options for such diversification — the
Norwegian gas fields are rapidly being depleted and Ukraine’s
demand for gas is not decreasing — the Iranian pipeline might be one
of the few possible options open to Kyiv. (Roman Kupchinsky).

*********************************************************
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved.

The “RFE/RL Iran Report” is a weekly prepared by A. William Samii on
the basis of materials from RFE/RL broadcast services, RFE/RL
Newsline, and other news services. It is distributed every Monday.

Direct comments to A. William Samii at [email protected]
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