RFE/RL Iran Report – 08/09/2005

RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
_________________________________________ ____________________
RFE/RL Iran Report
Vol. 8, No. 31, 9 August 2005

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

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HEADLINES:
* IRAN GETS NEW PRESIDENT
* AMERICA IS AT AHMADINEJAD’S CONFIRMATION
* WOMEN WEIGH KHATAMI’S LEGACY ON GENDER ISSUES
* KHATAMI RECEIVES MIXED MARKS FOR HIS ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL
LEGACIES
* HUNGER STRIKER REFUSES MEDICAL TREATMENT
* LAWYER JAILED FOR DISCUSSING SPY DOSSIERS
* VIOLENCE ROCKS TEHRAN
* KURDISH UNREST IN IRAN SPREADS
* IRAN RECEIVES LEBANESE HIZBALLAH’S LEADER, THEN
SYRIA’S
* IRAN COMMENTS ON CENTRAL ASIAN DEVELOPMENTS
* BAGHDAD COMPLAINS ABOUT INFILTRATORS FROM IRAN
* NEW COMMERCIAL AGREEMENTS BETWEEN IRAQ AND IRAN
* ISRAEL ADJUSTS IRANIAN NUCLEAR ESTIMATE
* EUROPEAN NUCLEAR OFFER DEEMED UNACCEPTABLE
* WORK AT BUSHEHR NUCLEAR PLANT ACCELERATES
************************************************************

IRAN GETS NEW PRESIDENT. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
confirmed the presidential decree of Mahmud Ahmadinejad on 3 August
at a ceremony in Tehran, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA)
reported, in line with Article 110 of the country’s constitution.
In his first speech as president, Ahmadinejad called for the
elimination of weapons of mass destruction, state radio reported. He
also called for the elimination of double standards that try to
reduce some countries’ access to the same benefits other
countries have. Ahmadinejad described his priorities as justice,
peace, public rights, and he said his government will stress
attention to people’s needs, the promotion of justice, serving
the masses, and the country’s spiritual and economic progress.
“I regard myself as a drop in the boundless ocean of the
Iranian people,” he said, “And in gratitude for the opportunity given
to me to enable me to offer my services, I rub my forehead into the
dust on the ground to express my gratitude before Almighty God.”
Ahmadinejad added, “I pledge to repay the people for their trust and
the hope they attach to me through my sincere service.”
Ahmadinejad took the oath of office at the legislature in
Tehran on 6 August, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported.
His term will last four years. (Bill Samii)

AMERICA IS AT AHMADINEJAD’S CONFIRMATION. The United States was a
featured part of Supreme Leader Khamenei’s speech at the 3 August
ceremony, state radio reported. Khamenei criticized U.S.
officials’ statements about the Iranian presidential election in
June and said: “The Iranian nation, for its part, does not accept
their democracy. What pride can there be in the democracy in which
the money of Zionist capitalists speaks the loudest? And what can it
teach the people of the world?” Khamenei stressed that Iran is a
“peace-loving nation” but warned “the global arrogance and especially
the Great Satan and America” that Iran will defend its rights. (Bill
Samii)

WOMEN WEIGH KHATAMI’S LEGACY ON GENDER ISSUES. The presidency of
Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami ended on 3 August, when his successor,
Mahmud Ahmadinejad, was installed. Khatami’s landslide election
victory on 23 May 1997 owed a great deal to support from female
voters. Women make up about half of Iran’s eligible voters, and
Khatami actively courted their backing. As he leaves office,
observers are debating how much he managed to achieve for Iranian
women.
Khatami appeared to recognize this constituency’s backing
when, following his election, he appointed a woman, Masumeh Ebtekar,
as his vice president for environmental protection and appointed
Zahra Shojai as his women’s affairs adviser. Despite the demands
of women in 2001, when he was reelected, Khatami did not select any
women for his cabinet, although he chose Zahra Rahnavard as his
senior adviser on cultural affairs.
Khatami’s attitude on gender issues was summarized in a 4
July statement in Tehran, when he said, “We should have a
comprehensive view of the role of women and before anything else,
should not regard women as second-class citizens,” Fars News Agency
reported. “We should all believe that both men and women have the
capability to be active in all fields, and I emphasize, in all
fields.”
Farideh Ghayrat, a Tehran-based lawyer and the spokeswoman
for the Association for the Defense of Prisoners Rights, told Radio
Farda in May that the political atmosphere is more open now than it
was eight years ago. Ghayrat credited Khatami with creating an
environment that encourages women to participate.
However, she continued, this trend has stopped short of any
significant improvement in the legal arena. “Legally, there has been
no change [in the condition of women],” she said. “We cannot say that
women now, according to the law, have more competence in taking
responsibilities. Women still have trouble with ordinary laws, not to
speak of running for office.”
Marzieh Mortazi-Langarudi, a reformist women’s rights
activist, told Radio Farda that female activism has been on the rise
during the Khatami presidency. She added that women now have more
confidence to fight for their rights. Moreover, Mortazi-Langarudi
told Radio Farda, religious laws that created an authoritarian
atmosphere and tied a woman’s fate to her gender and physique are
being challenged, and this is an important step. “In general, the
women’s movement grew relatively well during the reformists’
[leadership],” Mortazi-Langarudi said. “I think women’s most
urgent claim has been equality in human rights and gender rights.
Steps have been taken. Women have more self-confidence in seeking
their rights. I think that during [the reign of] Khatami, there was
no stagnation. Stagnation was before Khatami, when no one could
challenge the laws that appeared holy.”
Women serve in the legislature, and they are eligible to
serve in municipal councils. However, no females serve in the
Assembly of Experts, an elected body that is restricted to clergymen.
In the last two presidential elections, women have registered as
candidates, but have not passed through the vetting process. That is
because the law uses a vague Arabic term — rejal — that is
interpreted in such a way that the chief executive must be a man.
Mahnaz Afkhami, who served as deputy minister of women
affairs before the 1979 Islamic revolution, told Radio Farda that
“what is really important is not simply whether a woman can achieve a
high post, but rather what the position of that woman is on the
women’s issues and women’s rights.” Afkhami suggested that
when the basic principles of democracy and human rights are not
respected, the presence of a few women in the presidential race is
irrelevant. “If you are seeking democracy and equality, such
political games would not make any change,” Afkhami said.
Khatami spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh defended the
president’s efforts during a meeting of deputy governors and
governors-general for women’s affairs in Tehran in early May. “We
had not claimed that we would be able to bring about sexual justice,”
he said, according to “Etemad” on 4 May. “Nobody should expect us to
bring about that kind of sexual justice in a matter of 10 or 15
years. What Khatami’s government did in a democratic society was
to turn the issue of sexual justice into an issue of the day, rather
than allowing it to be confined to intellectual circles, to the
extent that today no politician can easily ignore that issue.” (Bill
Samii, Fatemeh Aman)

KHATAMI RECEIVES MIXED MARKS FOR HIS ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL LEGACIES.
In the final days of his presidency, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami
met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. During that meeting,
Khatami discussed what he saw as the accomplishments of his
administration during his two terms in office (1997-2001 and
2001-05). Khatami was very upbeat, but outside observers gave mixed
marks to his economic and political record.

Boost From The Oil Boom

During his meeting with Khamenei, according to Iranian state
radio on 2 August, Khatami described his administration’s efforts
to deal with economic issues such as unemployment and inflation.
Khatami said poverty is something the incoming government of Mahmud
Ahmadinejad must confront, and he noted that the poverty rate had
fallen sharply during his eight years in office.
Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, a professor of economics at Virginia
Polytechnic Institute and State University (aka Virginia Tech),
described Iran’s economic realities in a 2 August interview. “The
situation has improved both in terms of real wages and in terms of
unemployment. [Iran has] much lower unemployment for the
30-years-and-older [age] group. In fact, if you look at the latest
data on employment (about 3 percent unemployment for men and 6
percent for women), it’s so low for that group [that] it’s
hard to imagine it will fall any lower…. For the younger
[citizens], it hasn’t improved much.”
Youth unemployment is where Khatami failed, according to
Salehi-Isfahani. “[Khatami] did not do enough to help the young
people, especially young women…. Urban women’s unemployment
rate was 60 percent in 2004,” he continued. “This is an
astronomically high figure. For men 20-24 years of age, it’s also
very high — 25 percent.” Khatami tried to resolve this problem by
pushing through a package of unemployment benefits that targeted
young people. This effort was misplaced because the Iranian economy
just was not capable of absorbing the large increase in young job
seekers..”
It is not clear to what extent the overall economic upturn is
due to Khatami’s policies. Oil revenues have climbed in recent
years, Salehi-Isfahani noted, and this is inevitably accompanied by
an economic boom, income increases, and a fall in unemployment.
“Khatami in the last five years has been riding this oil boom,”
Salehi-Isfahani continued. “This is not to say he hasn’t done
anything. External events such as oil prices and internal events —
some policy — may have contributed to this improved situation. I
believe it’s mostly the external factors, the rising oil price is
responsible for this improvement.”
Salehi-Isfahani said Khatami intended to introduce new
programs, but he eventually continued the economic reforms initiated
by his predecessor, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. This
encouraged investment and led to privatization. “The private sector
has been continuously growing in term of employment and output at the
expense of the public sector,” Salehi-Isfahani said. “Those are
important achievements of Khatami, but really it is more staying the
course as opposed to coming up with the program and doing something.”
The average Iranian citizen’s situation has improved over
the past eight years, with real wages increasing. Salehi-Isfahani
said the annual economic-growth rate has been in the 5-7 percent
range, which places Iran in the top 20 percent of the world’s
fastest-growing economies. Salehi-Isfahani went on to say that the
poverty rate has declined, mainly because “you have a system of
subsidies that protect the poor from hunger and you have a booming
economy and booming employment.”
Not all the subsidies helped the poor, however, and recent
studies have found that much of the gasoline subsidy goes to
relatively well-off people. “That does not benefit the poor,”
Salehi-Isfahani said. “But, if you look at the subsidies, especially
for food and medicine, the poor benefit a lot from them and this is
what is holding Iran together.”
A discussion of the economic legacy of the Khatami presidency
can seem abstract until one gets a sense of how an Iranian lives.
Mehrdad, a young disabled man in Tehran, told Radio Farda that nearly
all of his activities take place in his own home. Mehrdad works on
his computer and writes a weblog. He said he is financially dependent
on his father, who is retired from the army and has a modest income.
Mehrdad went on to say that there are few training centers for the
disabled, and getting to them is difficult. “There is only one in
west Tehran, and I need to spend 4,000 tomans [about $5] just for
transportation. The government has only 10 buses for disabled
transportation for the whole Tehran Province.”

Mixed Political Accomplishments

Khatami’s presidency probably will be remembered best for
its political impact. But his efforts to achieve reform within a
constitutional framework were not entirely successful, not least
because they were countered by unelected institutions, such as the
Guardians Council. Furthermore, hard-line institutions managed to
violate citizens’ rights without having to account for their
activities. Therefore, Khatami’s presidency has received mixed
reviews from many observers.
One perspective is that the new open discourse on issues such
as civil rights, democracy, and social freedom created a new and
unprecedented environment in Iran. Majid Tavalai, editor of the
monthly “Nameh,” said this environment boosted Iranians’ courage.
“The official discourse on human rights and democracy created an
umbrella for people under which they felt secure to express their
opinions and demands,” Tavalai said. He went on to say that this was
not a stable or consistent trend, referring to the reduction in
social and political activities after the crackdown on student
demonstrators at Tehran University in 1999, the mass closure of the
reformist press from 2000 onward, the trials of participants in a
conference in Berlin in 2000, and the continuous arrests of political
activists.
Tavalai said a sense of hopelessness gradually came to
dominate society. “In this time the conservatives managed to raise
the costs of political activism resulting in its rapid decline and
its limitation to a small group of elites,” Tavalai said, adding that
people came to dislike politics and adopted a more apolitical
lifestyle.
Former parliamentarian Qasem Sholeh-Saadi at one time sided
with the reformists, but he broke with them over what he saw as a
lack of resolve on Khatami’s part. Asked if the president created
the environment in which Iranians could express themselves,
Sholeh-Saadi retorted that Khatami himself was a product of the
bravery of the Iranian people. “Khatami himself by his own accounts
and that of his friends cannot be categorized as a courageous man,”
Sholeh-Saadi said. “So he cannot be credited for the people’s
bravery. People themselves created this environment and not Khatami.”
Sholeh-Saadi conceded that some institutional improvements
did take place during Khatami’s presidency, and he credited the
president with revealing the serial killings of dissidents by alleged
rogue elements in the Intelligence and Security Ministry. He also
praised the country’s first municipal elections, which took place
in 1999. Sholeh-Saadi described these as fairly minor achievements
and insisted that Khatami actually hindered progress in other areas,
such as the crackdown on students and the jailing of journalists and
dissidents. He criticized Khatami for doing nothing to change the
constitution, which effectively stripped the president of power.
Sholeh-Saadi said Khatami should have led the people to the streets,
but that he proved to be more of an obstacle to reform than its
promoter. (Bill Samii, Fatemeh Aman, and Maryam Ahmadi)

HUNGER STRIKER REFUSES MEDICAL TREATMENT. Hospitalized journalist
Akbar Ganji, whose hunger strike began in early June, is refusing
medical treatment, Milad Hospital spokesman Sirus Tabesh told IRNA on
4 August. Tabesh described Ganji’s situation as “dangerous” and
getting worse.
Ganji’s wife, Masumeh Shafii, told Radio Farda on 30 July
that her husband currently weighs 50 kilograms. Ganji, who is
technically a prisoner, is currently in the hospital in Tehran. He
told his wife there on 30 July that neither he nor his attorneys
have, nor would they ask for a pardon or a conditional release,
Shafii told Radio Farda. It is Iran’s government, he told her,
which should ask to be pardoned for jailing him “illegally” for 2,015
days, she said.
Ganji was jailed for writing articles alleging involvement by
state officials in the killing of dissidents in the 1990s. The
judiciary says he could be eligible for a conditional release, if he
asks for it, for having almost served out his sentence.
Shafii also told Radio Farda on 31 July that she would
protest and call for his release on 3 August outside the United
Nations office in Tehran.
On 30 July, a reportedly “very large” number of sympathizers
gathered outside Ganji’s house, Mohammad Maleki, a participant,
told Radio Farda on 31 July. They reportedly included liberal
politicians and writers. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

LAWYER JAILED FOR DISCUSSING SPY DOSSIERS. Abdolfattah Soltani was
arrested in Tehran on 30 July and taken to an unknown place,
apparently for divulging the contents of a nuclear espionage case,
Radio Farda and the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on
31 July. Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad said on 31 July that
Soltani discussed the case with the families of defendants. “I do not
know why they behave this way. They have so much professional
experience,” he said. The Information Ministry, he added, has a full
dossier on Soltani. But lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Radio Farda
that Soltani should first have been summoned to court to hear
charges. Dadkhah added that the judiciary spokesman has spoken about
the charges as if Soltani were already convicted. Radio Farda
reported on 31 July that men presenting themselves as judiciary
agents searched Soltani’s house “five days before” his arrest,
and took away unspecified papers and documents. Soltani told Radio
Farda on 23 July that he believed the Tehran chief prosecutor Said
Mortazavi was taking measures that would lead to his “arrest and
torture.” Iranian officials reported the arrest of a dozen “nuclear
spies” in December 2004 (see “RFE/RL Iran Report,” 27 December 2004).
(Vahid Sepehri)

VIOLENCE ROCKS TEHRAN. Deputy Prosecutor-General Masud Moqaddas, who
also worked as a judge, was shot to death on 2 August by one or two
men on a motorcycle as he crossed Ahmadi Avenue in Tehran. Tehran
Police Chief General Morteza Talai said there was no known motive for
the killing, but did not rule out that the crime could have a
political connection. Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said
Moqaddas — who was known as a hard-liner — headed the Tehran
judiciary complex and focused on social vice cases. He also handled
the trial of journalist Akbar Ganji — who is currently on a hunger
strike, AP reported. Tehran Prosecutor’s Office official
Abbas-Ali Alizadeh said the killing has nothing to do with
Ganji’s case and will have no effect upon it, the Fars News
Agency reported.
One day after the burial of Moqaddas, Judge Said Mortazavi
discussed the assassination, state television reported on 4 August.
Mortazavi said a group identifying itself as the Armed Youth of
Cherikha-yi Fadai has taken credit on its website. “However, I think
that this is a false claim or at least we have not reached the
conclusion that this group was responsible,” he said, adding that the
investigation is continuing.
Also on 2 August, a small explosion occurred in Tehran near
the building housing the offices of British Airways (BA) and British
Petroleum. Ambassador John Dalton told reporters that “We do not know
who the target of the explosion was. The Iranian authorities
responded very quickly and I’m grateful for that. I will be
consulting them about additional precautions which may be necessary
for British companies,” RFE/RL reported.
Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali Asqar
Ahmadi denied that the BA office was the target, baztab.com reported,
and he would not dismiss the possibility that the same group
responsible for explosions in Tehran in early June could be
responsible for this incident. Meanwhile, the Hadian-i Aftab
Association plans a demonstration outside the British Embassy on 3
August, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported on 2 August.
The association’s secretary, Vahid Mahabadi, said this is to
protest the burning of an Iranian flag when the country’s
national soccer team was in the United Kingdom. (Bill Samii)

KURDISH UNREST IN IRAN SPREADS. An unknown number of people violated
a ban on demonstrations and gatherings and rioted in the city of
Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province, on the evening of 1 August, IRNA
reported the next day. Before police quelled the unrest, rioters set
four autos alight and broke the windows at a bank.
In a continuation of unrest in predominantly Kurdish parts of
Iran, the Baztab website reported on 3 August, there have been some
violent incidents in Saqqez, Kurdistan Province. Members of a
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) affiliate called the Kurdistan
Independent Life Party (PJAK) set the local husseinieh (a prayer
hall) on fire and broke the windows of some banks. The PJAK members
reportedly shot at security personnel, but there is no accurate
accounting of the casualties. Baztab noted that the unrest has been
continuing for three weeks, since the killing by security forces of a
Kurdish activist known as Shavaneh (see “RFE/RL Iran Report,” 19 July
and 26 July 2005).
IRNA described the demonstrators in Saqqez as “a bunch of
anarchists” on 3 August.
Iranian security forces posted near the city of Haji-Omran,
Piranshahr, West Azerbaijan Province, clashed with PJAK militants on
4 August, state television reported. The Middle East News Agency
reported on 4 August that Iranian missiles have landed in Iraq during
these clashes.
Kurdistan Province journalist Masud Kurdpur told Radio Farda
on 4 August that after several weeks of unrest the calm of the grave
has descended over the predominantly Kurdish cities of northwestern
Iran. Kurdpur noted that several regional publications — including
“Ashti” and “Atoo” — have been closed and their heads — Burhan
Lahuni and Delir Azadikha — arrested. Lahuni said his publication,
which is published in Kurdish and Persian, was temporarily closed by
the provincial court on 4 August, IRNA reported. Only 45 issues of
the daily have been published so far.
Kurdpur also told Radio Farda that after the unrest the towns
have a noticeable security presence, and he noted the arrest of
Kurdish activists.
One of the ones he mentioned is Roya Tolui.
Humanrightsfirst.org said Tolui was arrested on 2 August. It demanded
her release, as well as the release of other Kurdish activists. Tolui
is described as a vocal critic of the Iran government’s stand on
minority and gender issues. (Bill Samii)

IRAN RECEIVES LEBANESE HIZBALLAH’S LEADER, THEN SYRIA’S.
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Lebanon’s Hizballah
organization, arrived in Tehran on 31 July, Radio Farda and other
news agencies reported. Nasrallah met with Foreign Minister Kamal
Kharrazi on the first day of his visit, and on 1 August he met with
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani,
President-elect Ahmadinejad, and President Khatami.
“Success, victories, and progress of this popular and
faithful force in political, cultural, social, and military domains
of Lebanon are results of purity and reliance on God’s will that
should be preserved and institutionalized as the main factor in the
fight against enemies of Islam,” IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
Khatami denounced calls for Hizballah’s disarmament, IRNA
reported.
Middle East expert Alireza Nurizadeh told Radio Farda that
aside from the longstanding military and security contacts between
Iran and Hizballah, Nasrallah and Khatami have developed a close
relationship in recent years. This trip is an opportunity for the
Lebanese official to bid farewell to outgoing friends in government,
and it is an opportunity for Nasrallah to establish contacts with the
newly elected leadership.
Nasrallah met with Supreme Leader Khamenei, parliament
speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, and Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani on
2 August, Iranian news agencies reported. Khamenei advised his guest
that “America has truly become weak in the region and its defeat in
Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran are all signs of this very fact,” state radio
reported. Nasrallah responded: “The most important objective pursued
by America, Israel, and some European countries regarding
Lebanon’s recent events is to disarm Hizballah and to implement
[UN Security Council] Resolution 1959. But the massive participation
of the Lebanese people in the elections, the unity among different
groups and the insight of the Muslims, the outcome of the elections
was against America’s expectation and in addition to its presence
in the parliament the Lebanese Hizballah took seats in the cabinet as
well.”
Haddad-Adel told his guest that Iran is interested in the
reconstruction of Lebanon, IRNA reported. “The U.S. always supports
despotic regimes and for the time being they have changed their
policy by taking up the banner of democracy…. The conspiracy was
defused in Lebanon,” he said.
Continuing his visit to Iran, Nasrallah met on 3 August with
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan
Rohani, IRNA reported.
Lebanon’s “Al-Diyar” daily
() reported on 3 August that
Nasrallah’s visit to Tehran is especially important now because
the organization has lost some of its support from Damascus. The
article noted that Hizballah must coordinate its activities with the
new Iranian leadership, and it said some Hizballah leaders are very
happy with the outcome of the Iranian presidential election.
Hizballah’s leaders, “Al-Diyar” reported, “will find the new
Iranian leadership to be more flexible and more forthcoming in
supporting the party’s strategy,” and it will take “a hard-line
stance when it comes to the subject of Hizballah since it considers
this party a vital political and security arm for the Islamic regime
in Iran.”
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Tehran on 7
August for a two-day visit, SANA and IRNA reported. Minister of
Housing and Urban Development Ali Abdulalizadeh met the visitor at
the airport, and al-Assad then met with his counterpart, Mahmud
Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad said at a joint press conference, “Common
threats to Iran and Syria require joint cooperation from the two
countries more than ever,” IRNA reported. He added that there are no
limits to Tehran-Damascus cooperation. (Bill Samii)

IRAN COMMENTS ON CENTRAL ASIAN DEVELOPMENTS. “Following the
disintegration of the Soviet Union, America redoubled its efforts to
use political, economic, and cultural instruments within the
framework of a new order, based on its militarism, to enter the
strategic zones of the newly independent republics, particularly in
Central Asia,” an Iranian state television commentary announced on 31
July. The commentary went on to say that the Central Asians know a
U.S. presence will not contribute to stability or security in their
countries, and it has actually contributed to political instability
and even changes in state structures.
The commentary follows reports that Uzbekistan has given the
United States six months to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad air base in
that country (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” 1 August 2005). The Shanghai
Cooperation Organization — of which Uzbekistan is a member and which
recently granted Iran observer status — called for the withdrawal of
foreign forces in early July (see “RFE/RL Iran Report,” 14 June and
13 July 2005). (Bill Samii)

BAGHDAD COMPLAINS ABOUT INFILTRATORS FROM IRAN. “One of the biggest
one-week death tolls for U.S. forces in Iraq and a continuing surge
in killings of Iraqi forces and civilians showed that the insurgency
is increasing its lethality and expanding its scope,” “The Washington
Post” reported on 7 August, citing U.S. and Iraqi officials and
casualty counts. There are indications that Iran could be
contributing to that rising body count.
Anonymous U.S. military and intelligence officials asserted
in the 6 August edition of “The New York Times” that “many of the
new, more sophisticated roadside bombs used to attack American and
government forces in Iraq have been designed in Iran and shipped in
from there.” These supposedly sophisticated new bombs include shaped
charges, which are designed to penetrate armor. A shipment of these
from Iran was reportedly captured in northeast Iraq.
The anonymous sources mentioned possible and worrying
cooperation between Shi’a Muslims from Iran and Sunni Muslims
from Iraq. However, Ken Katzman of the Congressional Research Service
was skeptical. “Iran’s proteges are in control in Iraq right now,
yet these weapons are going to people fighting Iran’s proteges,”
he said in “The New York Times.” “That makes little sense to me.”

Supporting The Sunnis?

It may seem counterintuitive that Iranian support would go to
Sunnis. Yet the factionalized nature of the Iranian state provides
ample opportunity for government agencies to engage in activities
that run counter to official policy or logic. The Islamic Revolution
Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security
traditionally deal with the clandestine aspects of foreign policy.
Personnel from these agencies interact with Shi’a Iraqi groups
like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its
Badr Corps, Al-Da’wah Al-Islamiyah, and the Islamic Action
Organization, as well as Kurdish groups such as the Patriotic Union
of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Yet the IRGC and the
Ministry of Intelligence and Security also dealt with Kurdish
Islamists, such as the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, Ansar Al-Islam,
and the Kurdistan Islamic Group.
The U.S. capture of explosives in northern Iraq — rather
than in the south where Iran has greater influence — suggests that
they could have been funneled through the Ansar Al-Sunnah or Abu
Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s group. This does not necessarily mean
that Iranian agencies are trying to undermine or otherwise harm their
Shi’a co-religionists. Their motivation may be to contribute to
an insurgency that either forces the United States to leave Iraq, or
at least, undermines U.S. claims to be contributing to regional peace
and security.
Some American officials, as well as Iraqi ones, have gone on
the record voicing unease about Iranian intentions.
In a 1 August speech in Baghdad, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay
Khalilzad referred to Iran’s mixed record on relations with Iraq,
RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq reported. “Iran is working along two
contradictory tracks,” he said. “On the one hand, Tehran works with
the new Iraq; on the other there is movement across its borders of
people and material used in violent acts against Iraq.” Khalilzad
noted that Iran is pursuing diplomatic relations with all its
neighbors, but stressed that activities that run counter to this
principle must end.

Iran And Syria

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari struck a similar
note in an interview that appeared in “Al-Sharq al-Awsat” on 1
August. He agreed that foreign gunmen are entering his country and
added: “Terrorist elements are infiltrating from neighboring
countries, particularly from Iran and Syria. We have asked these
countries’ authorities to control their borders and stop the
infiltrations.” He said Syria and Iran could stop the infiltrations
but they are not doing so.
It could be a coincidence that Syria’s President Bashar
al-Assad arrived in Tehran on 7 August for a two-day visit. Al-Assad
met with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, as well as Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah
Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The two presidents reportedly discussed
cooperation on Iraq. Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the visitor that
cooperation between Iran, Syria, and Lebanese Hizballah is necessary
and would block, in the words of Iranian state television, “the
violation of the rights of the Iraqi and Palestinian nations.” Iran
and Syria are the two main foreign supporters of Lebanese Hizballah,
which the U.S. State Department has designated a terrorist
organization.
Anonymous “Pentagon and intelligence officials” told the 6
August “New York Times” that Hizballah or Iran’s Islamic
Revolution Guards Corps might have brought the recently discovered
explosives into Iraq. The newspaper quoted “American commanders” who
compared these explosives to those used by Hizballah against Israel.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in Los Angeles
on 4 August: “There’s no question but that Iran is a problem for
Iraq as well in terms of their developing a reasonably representative
system. The last thing the Iranians want is to see Iraq succeed as a
democracy, as a representative system, as a moderate state. It’s
exactly in conflict with the situation in Iran, which has a small
handful of clerics who run the country.”
Tehran dismisses these allegations. Referring to
Rumsfeld’s remarks, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza
Assefi said on 7 August that Iran has no reason to interfere in Iraqi
affairs, IRNA reported. Assefi said the United States is trying to
justify what he described as its “failure” in Iraq by blaming an
enemy of its own creation. (Bill Samii)

NEW COMMERCIAL AGREEMENTS BETWEEN IRAQ AND IRAN. Iraqi Transportation
Minister Salam al-Maliki said in Baghdad this week that Iran intends
to build a $20 million-$25 million international airport in Al-Najaf,
“The Washington Post” reported on 3 August. Al-Maliki added, “The
funding will come from a soft loan from Iran, and it could open as
soon as in the next four months.” He said that Tehran and Baghdad are
negotiating the return of some 150 aircraft that were flown to Iran
so they could avoid being destroyed in the 1990-91 Gulf War, and
Iraqi technicians could go to Iran soon to examine the state of the
passenger jets.
There is some skepticism about Iran’s generosity, with an
anonymous Iraqi politician telling “The Washington Post,” “In
general, no country gives this kind of loan without other interests.”
The politician added, “I think this doesn’t go without something
in return.”
In the southwestern Iranian city of Abadan on 2 August the
head of the local Chamber of Commerce, Industries, and Mines,
Gholamreza Akbarizadeh, met with his counterpart from the Iraqi city
of Al-Nasiriyah, Jabr al-Ghazi, IRNA reported. They signed a
memorandum of understanding in which they agreed to discuss
cooperation on communications, information exchange, and joint trade
fairs. (Bill Samii)

ISRAEL ADJUSTS IRANIAN NUCLEAR ESTIMATE. An anonymous “high-ranking
IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] commander” was quoted as saying in “The
Jerusalem Post” on 1 August that because Iran is no longer running
separate and independent military and civilian nuclear programs, the
estimated date by which the country could develop a nuclear weapon
has been moved back. If there was still a secret military program,
the source said, a bomb could be ready by 2007, but because the
military program now depends on the civilian one the earliest
possible date is 2008. A more likely date is 2012, according to the
source.
One day later, “The Washington Post” reported that a new
National Intelligence Estimate — which represents the consensus
opinion of the U.S. intelligence community — described credible
indications that the Iranian military is conducting clandestine
activities but there is no information linking these activities
directly with a nuclear weapons program. Although it remains unclear
if the Iranian leadership has decided to build nuclear weapons, an
anonymous “senior intelligence official” said, “it is the judgment of
the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is
determined to build nuclear weapons.”
The estimate speculates that Iran is unlikely to have the
ability to build a nuclear weapon before “early to mid-next decade,”
and according to “The Washington Post” this is a pushing back of the
deadline. This represents a reduced belief that Iran has distinct
military and civilian nuclear programs. Four anonymous sources
familiar with the estimate said, however, that there is evidence of
“clandestine military work on missiles and centrifuge research and
development that could be linked to a nuclear program.”
Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, director of the U.S. Defense
Intelligence Agency, told the Senate in February 2005 that Iran might
be able to produce nuclear weapons “early in the next decade” (see
“RFE/RL Iran Report, 1 March 2005). (Bill Samii)

EUROPEAN NUCLEAR OFFER DEEMED UNACCEPTABLE. Supreme National Security
Council Secretary Hassan Rohani informed Iranian President Mohammad
Khatami in a 31 July letter about some of the proposals European
states may make to reach an accord with Iran over its disputed
nuclear program, agencies reported the same day. Rohani wrote that
“comments and evidence” suggest that the EU may give its “full
support to a program of nuclear-energy production in Iran, including
supplying power stations from Western sources,” IRNA reported.
A European deal may include assurances of nonaggression and
respect for Iran’s territorial integrity, facilitating the
transfer of advanced technologies, technological cooperation, and a
more swiftly concluded trade deal with the EU, IRNA reported. The
foreign ministers of Great Britain, France, and Germany — the three
states negotiating with Iran — and EU foreign-policy chief Javier
Solana have written to Rohani, asking Iran to wait one week to hear
the details of a proposed deal, AP reported on 31 July.
Iranian officials have said Iran will not wait a week to hear
EU proposals, and may renew halted activities at a plant in Isfahan,
central Iran, though not sensitive uranium enrichment at another
plant, agencies reported on 31 July.
Supreme National Security Council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi
said on 31 July that the council would meet that day to discuss
reactivating the Isfahan plant, and will consider EU proposals if
received by 12:30 GMT that day, AP reported. The Isfahan Uranium
Conversion Facility transforms uranium ore into a gas fed into
centrifuges that enrich uranium.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said separately
in Tehran on 31 July that Iran’s deadline to the EU would end on
1 August, IRNA reported on 31 July. He said EU proposals seemed in
any case “without content,” as they will likely not state that Iran
can legally make fuel. Iran, he said, will inform UN nuclear
inspectors in Tehran “today or tomorrow” about the renewal of
activities in Isfahan, AP and IRNA reported. Separately, Great
Britain, on behalf of the EU, warned Iran on 31 July not to take any
steps that would jeopardize talks, AP reported, citing a Foreign
Office statement.
Following Tehran’s announcement that it intends to resume
operations at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, the European
Union has urged it to reconsider, Reuters reported on 1 August. A
letter from Tehran to the International Atomic Energy Agency
announced intentions to remove the seals on the facility.
Speaking on behalf of the EU, Germany said it, France, and
Great Britain will submit a list of proposals on cooperation in
nuclear, economic, and political arenas. There is speculation that
the EU proposal will not meet Iranian expectations, EU diplomats told
Reuters, and Tehran is using resumption of activities at the Isfahan
facility in order to exert pressure.
In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said,
“We’ve repeatedly said that if they’re not going to abide by
their agreements and obligations, then we would have to look to the
Security Council,” dpa reported.
The “Financial Times” reported on 2 August that Tehran
decided late on 1 August to extend by 48 hours its deadline for the
resumption of activities at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in Los Angeles
on 4 August, “It certainly looks [like] that country [Iran] is on a
path where they are quite determined to have nuclear weapons,” RFE/RL
reported. “And the Europeans and the United States and the rest of
the world has to make a judgment about what kind of a world
that’s going to be, given the fact that they’re on the
terrorist list and that they’re sponsoring terrorism
continuously.”
The European Union submitted its nuclear proposal to Iran on
5 August, news agencies reported. The proposal says Iran can continue
to develop its nuclear program if it is only for civilian purposes,
AFP and “The New York Times” reported. Anonymous diplomats told AFP
that the proposal rules out Iran’s enriching uranium and
reprocessing plutonium, and much of it focuses on fuel and access to
it. The proposal recommends allowing Iran to purchase nuclear fuel
and send it elsewhere for disposal, and it reportedly calls for
continuation of the suspension of uranium conversion. Other aspects
of the proposal reportedly focus on industrial and technological
cooperation, energy issues, and intellectual property rights.
Anonymous diplomats cited by “The New York Times” added that the
proposal includes security guarantees and mentions human rights and
terrorism, representing a full spectrum of Western relationships with
Iran.
Speaking at a 5 August briefing in Brussels, European
Commission spokesman Stefaan de Rynck said, “Clearly, the fact that
this package has been [offered] expresses our firm commitment to
opening a new chapter in our relationship between the EU and Iran,
and now, it’s up to our Iranian partners and counterparts to
study the proposal and react in due course,” RFE/RL reported. “Of
course, in the meantime, we expect [from Iran] full compliance with
the Paris agreement — which includes the suspension of nuclear
fuel-cycle activities.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi acknowledged
receipt of the proposal, state television reported. He said relevant
entities, including the Supreme National Security Council, will
discuss the proposal.
Assefi said on 6 August that the EU’s proposal is
unacceptable, IRNA and state television reported, and it ignores what
he called Iran’s right to enrich uranium. He accused the
Europeans of wasting time.
The next day, Assefi said Tehran is unworried about the
possibility that Iran will be referred to the UN Security Council,
RFE/RL reported. He added, “I suggest that the Europeans avoid the
language of threat. The Europeans have called an emergency meeting
for the IAEA on [9 August] about Iran’s nuclear case. We think
the referral of Iran’s case to the Security Council would be
unlawful and politically motivated. If one day they refer Iran’s
case [to the UN Security Council], we won’t be worried in the
least. The Europeans should choose their way.” (Vahid Sepehri, Bill
Samii)

WORK AT BUSHEHR NUCLEAR PLANT ACCELERATES. The spokesman for the
Russian firm building the nuclear power plant in the southern Iranian
city of Bushehr said on 2 August that the company is rushing to
overcome delays, ITAR-TASS reported. Irina Yesipova, spokesman for
Atomstroieksport, said they are three months behind schedule. “Under
the working schedule the reactor’s physical launch is due in the
fourth quarter of 2006,” she said, adding that 4,000 Russian
specialists and Iranian builders are working there and the number
will increase to 5,000 by year’s end. She added: “the Iranian
side has arranged for round-the-clock work without any days off,
[not] even religious holidays.”
Iranian Ambassador to Russia Gholamreza Ansari said on 5
August that the plant “will be commissioned in June 2006,” ITAR-TASS
reported. He added that it will generate power for the national grid
by the end of 2006. While it is possible that Iran will cooperate
with Europe on future nuclear projects, Ansari said, Russia is a more
likely and logical partner because of their many years of working
together. He said representatives from the two countries are already
discussing the construction of new power units. (Bill Samii)

NOTE TO READERS: An Iranian newspaper, “Tehran Times,” on 1 August
reproduced without authorization an article by Bill Samii that first
appeared on the RFE/RL website
(
664703D100BE.html). The “Tehran Times” names Samii as the author, but
it does not identify the original source of the article, thereby
conveying the false impression that the piece was written for the
“Tehran Times” (). Moreover,
the “Tehran Times” heavily edited the article and omitted its last
400 words, effectively changing the meaning and intent of the piece.
Bill Samii did not write this or any other article for the “Tehran
Times” or any other Iranian publication. The Iranian daily did not
contact the author or RFE/RL to request permission to reproduce the
piece.

*********************************************************
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.

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