RFE/RL Iran Report 03/14/2006

RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
_________________________________________ ____________________
RFE/RL Iran Report
Vol. 9, No. 9, 14 March 2006

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

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HEADLINES
* TEHRAN STANDS FIRM ON NUCLEAR AMBITIONS
* U.S. OFFICIALS STATE FIRM OPPOSITION TO IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM
* RUSSIA STAYS OPPOSED TO SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN
* LEGISLATORS BRIEFED ON NUCLEAR DOSSIER
* IRAN NUCLEAR REPORT TO BE CONVEYED TO UN SECURITY COUNCIL
* IRANIANS HAVE MIXED VIEWS ON NUCLEAR CRISIS
* AS NUCLEAR CRISIS ESCALATES, ARE DIRECT U.S. CONTACTS
BECOMING AN OPTION?
* HAHSEMI-RAFSANJANI REGARDS U.S. DEMOCRACY PLANS AS A
CULTURAL ONSLAUGHT
* KYRGYZ MINISTER SAYS U.S. BASE CANNOT BE USED FOR
OPERATIONS AGAINST IRAN
* TEHRAN SAID TO HAVE EXTRADITED PKK MEMBERS TO TURKEY
* SPEAKER SAYS IRAN FAVORS ISLAMIC STATES IN FOREIGN POLICY
* RUMSFELD SAYS IRAN’S QUDS FORCE OPERATING IN IRAQ
* MORE BOMBERS ARRESTED IN SOUTHWESTERN IRAN
* SECURITY IN EASTERN IRAN TO BE IMPROVED
* KURDISH LEGISLATORS IN IRAN DEMAND INQUIRY INTO ‘MASSACRE’
* IRAN MAINTAINS PRESSURE ON DISSENT
* POLICE INTERVENE AT WOMEN’S DAY CELEBRATION
* EXECUTIVE BRANCH DEFENDS BUDGET
* IRAN REPORTEDLY AGREES TO HIGHER PRICE FOR TURKMEN GAS
* IRANIAN, PAKISTANI, INDIAN OFFICIALS TO MEET OVER GAS
PIPELINE PROJECT
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TEHRAN STANDS FIRM ON NUCLEAR AMBITIONS. Supreme National Security
Council Secretary Ali Larijani said during a March 5 news conference
that not even the possibility of war would change Iranian nuclear
policy, state television reported. Larijani asked why Iran should
suspend its research and development activities, which he defined as
a right, and the pursuit of knowledge. He added that Iran does not
object to flexibility in discussions, but the interlocutors should be
“reasonable” and “logical.” “Why should we suspend?” Larijani asked.
“If we open this road, they may say a few years later that we should
not teach nuclear physics at our universities because the students
may learn something and one day become nuclear scientists.” A war
would not eliminate the Iranian knowledge base, he said, adding that
war would be counterproductive because there would be reduced
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision afterward.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on March 5
that an agreement between Iran and Russia or Europe remains possible,
the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. “The possibility of
reaching an understanding on nuclear issues with Russia or the
European states in the next few hours still exists,” he said.
“Everything is possible — agreement or disagreement.” Officials’
shuttle diplomacy between Tehran, Moscow, and Vienna in recent weeks
has failed to yield substantive results.
Larijani said in Tehran on March 7 that “friends and enemies
should know” that Iran will continue its “peaceful nuclear program”
and will not “falter in assuring the rights” of Iranians, Fars
reported the same day. “Iran’s future direction is to cooperate
with the [IAEA] and maintain a stable membership of the NPT [Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty], and we will not forego our evident nuclear
right,” he told a session of the Assembly of Experts, a body of
clerics tasked with selecting and supervising Iran’s supreme
leader. He said the “West’s haste” in reporting Iran’s
dossier to the UN Security Council showed the political motivations
of Western states that are concerned with Iran’s “inherent
philosophy” which, he said, could attract “all Muslims, both
Shi’a and Sunni, and other friends of freedom,” Fars reported.
The U.S., he said, is waging a “soft war” against Iran, consisting of
“sowing discord inside and…pressure from outside to provoke the
collapse of…unity” inside Iran.
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a crowd in Dorud in the
western Luristan Province on March 8 that Iran is determined to
pursue its nuclear program and that “countries currently pressuring
[Iran] cannot do a thing,” IRNA and the Iranian Students News Agency
(ISNA) reported. He said Iran has followed nonproliferation rules and
“now we want to safeguard our rights,” while adding that there is “no
evidence [of] Iran’s deviation from peaceful nuclear activities,”
ISNA reported. Western states “are telling us to submit to forceful
demands” and break “international treaties,” he said. Some states,
Ahmadinejad added, “are not members of the [NPT] and make atomic
bombs, but these supposedly international bodies pay no attention to
them,” ISNA reported. He was presumably referring to the IAEA, which
has voted to report Iran’s nuclear case to the UN Security
Council. The IAEA has said it cannot confirm that Iran’s program
is strictly peaceful, as Tehran claims. “You may not want to be
certain for another 100 years. Is the Iranian nation to fall behind
100 years?” Ahmadinejad asked.
He said the same day in Khoramabad, another Luristan town,
that Iran will respect “the security and peace” of all states,
“especially neighboring and regional states,” but Iranians “will not
be satisfied” with anything less than the “full use of peaceful
nuclear-fuel-production technology,” IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

U.S. OFFICIALS STATE FIRM OPPOSITION TO IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington on March
7 that uranium “enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian soil is not
acceptable” to Washington, AP reported the same day. She spoke at a
joint conference after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov to discuss Iran’s contested nuclear program, AP reported.
Lavrov stated that Russia does not have a new proposal for Iran other
than an original proposal to enrich uranium for Iran in Russia.
“There is no compromise new proposal,” he said. Iran has rejected
demands to totally abandon all enrichment-related activities, which
the West fears may allow it to make nuclear bombs.
Also on March 7, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney told a
gathering that the United States and “other nations…will not allow
Iran to have a nuclear bomb,” AP reported. He said Iran faces
“meaningful consequences” if it does not cooperate with the
international community over its program, while he added that
Washington is “keeping all options on the table in addressing the
irresponsible conduct of the regime.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi
reiterated Iran’s right to make scientific progress in Tehran on
March 7 and accused the U.S. of “surreptitiously” undermining nuclear
dossier talks between Iran and foreign states “every time it smells
the possibility of an accord…with the [IAEA], Russia, and other
states,” ISNA reported the same day. He said U.S. efforts intend to
severely weaken international bodies, block Iran’s progress,
maintain U.S. economic primacy, keep “middle positions for partners,”
and ensure that “southern” states are dependent on the “energy and
limited poles of economic power in the world,” ISNA reported. He
rejected charges of Iranian interest in nuclear bombs as “entirely
ridiculous and baseless.” Iran, he said, “will defend its evident
rights…and will under no condition forego its legitimate right.”
Separately, an unnamed diplomat told AP in Vienna on March 7
that Iran may suspend full-scale uranium enrichment for two years,
presumably as a compromise gesture. Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali
Asghar Soltanieh, told AP the same day, however, that Iran would
pursue small-scale enrichment for research. (Vahid Sepehri)

RUSSIA STAYS OPPOSED TO SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN. A new study by the
influential Foreign and Defense Policy Council (SVOP), a conservative
Russian think tank, says that Iran could have nuclear weapons within
five years, Russian media reported on March 3. The report noted that
some Russian experts think Iran could have such weapons in as soon as
six months. The study points out that a nuclear Iran would not be
beneficial for Moscow’s interests, but added that “Tehran will
not use weapons of mass destruction or pass nuclear technology to
other countries, and certainly not to terrorist organizations.” SVOP
believes that Saudi Arabia and Egypt would seek to acquire nuclear
weapons if Iran succeeds in securing its own.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the United
Nations headquarters in New York on March 8 that Moscow remains
opposed to sanctions against Iran following the decision by the IAEA
to forward its report on Iran’s nuclear program to the Security
Council, news agencies reported. He argued that the international
community “should act in a way that would not risk losing the IAEA
capacity and possibility to continue to work in Iran, [and] to
continue to clarify those questions which relate to the past Iranian
nuclear program. It is very important for the international community
and for the [nuclear] nonproliferation regime to get answers to these
questions.” He repeated Russia’s position that “that there is no
military solution to this crisis,” and added the same is true of the
position of the United Kingdom and Germany, “as [has been] publicly
stated by their ministers. I don’t think sanctions, as a means to
solve a crisis, have ever achieved a goal in the recent history.”
Lavrov said in Algiers on March 10 that Russia has not made a
secret “compromise” agreement with the Iranian authorities for them
to enrich uranium on their own territory, Interfax reported. He noted
that during his recent visit to Washington, “U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice thanked me for briefing her on [the latest
Russian-Iranian contacts] and complained that the American press was
abuzz with allegations regarding Russia’s [alleged]
‘compromise’ proposal on Iran’s research program.” He
added that Rice asked him to “deny these allegations…at a news
conference,” which he did. Russia has publicly made an offer to Iran
to enrich its uranium on Russian territory.
In related news, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a
statement on March 9 in which it called on Tehran to cooperate fully
with the IAEA, which recently decided to forward its report on
Iran’s nuclear program to the UN Security Council. (Patrick
Moore)

LEGISLATORS BRIEFED ON NUCLEAR DOSSIER. The head of Iran’s Atomic
Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi, and Deputy-Foreign
Minister Abbas Araqchi attended a special session of the
parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee on March
8 to brief legislators on the state of Iran’s nuclear dossier,
IRNA reported. They reportedly informed the committee that in the
present IAEA session, “the dossier may be sent to the [UN Security]
Council in the form of a statement,” committee member Kazem Jalali
told IRNA. The officials, Jalali said, told legislators that Iran
wants to pursue nuclear research but that “some European states and
America have tried to give the world the impression that [Iran] is
engaged in [uranium] enrichment to make nuclear weapons, when Iran
stresses nuclear research,” IRNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

IRAN NUCLEAR REPORT TO BE CONVEYED TO UN SECURITY COUNCIL. IAEA
Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said on March 6 that a
compromise on the Iranian nuclear controversy remains possible,
Reuters reported. El-Baradei said Iran has offered not to enrich
uranium on an “industrial scale” for two years, and it may be willing
to extend that period if it is allowed to enrich uranium on a small
scale for research. Indicating his optimism, el-Baradei said, “I am
still very much hopeful that in the next week or so an agreement
could be reached.”
Anonymous “diplomats” quoted by Reuters asserted that the
IAEA chief believes that reporting Iran to the United Nations
Security Council could harden Tehran’s stance and strengthen the
country’s political hard-liners. “Confrontation could be
counterproductive and would not [give] us a durable solution,”
el-Baradei said.
El-Baradei announced at a March 8 news conference in Vienna
that he will report Iran to the United Nations Security Council soon,
according to the nuclear watchdog’s website
(). “I will convey my report, as requested by the
February Board, to the Security Council today or tomorrow,” he said.
El-Baradei said it is up to the Security Council to decide how to
proceed, and he referred to his own action as “simply a new phase of
diplomacy.”
Subsequent comments by Supreme National Security Council
official Javad Vaidi were viewed by some observers as a threat. “The
U.S. may be able to deal a blow to us, but it should also be prepared
to receive a blow,” Vaidi said, according to IRNA on March 8. “If the
U.S. prefers this option, it is free to choose.” “The New York Times”
and other Western media quoted him as saying: “The United States may
have the power to cause harm and pain. But it is also susceptible to
harm and pain. So if the United States wants to pursue that path, let
the ball roll.” Vaidi also said Iran prefers “compromise and
cooperation” to resolve the nuclear crisis, IRNA reported. He said
Tehran is trying to determine how to proceed.
In live broadcasts from Vienna and Tehran, officials
downplayed the significance of being reported to the Security
Council, state television reported. “There was no resolution, no
referral, and there was no consensus,” Abdul-Reza Rahmani-Fazli of
the Supreme National Security Council said, adding that
el-Baradei’s actions are “a purely administrative procedure.”
This state of affairs, he continued, shows the peaceful nature of
Iranian activities.
Supreme National Security Council official Ali Asqar
Soltanieh said in Vienna on March 9 that Iran will continue to
cooperate with the IAEA, IRNA reported.
The real reason for opposition to Iran’s nuclear program,
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the Assembly of Experts in
Tehran on March 9, is that the United States is trying to retard the
country’s scientific development, state television reported.
Khamenei warned that if Iran forsakes nuclear energy, “the Americans
will then start speaking about [a ban on] university research;
therefore, the issue is not only about nuclear energy, it is about an
enemy consistently seeking a pretext to prevent the progress,
strength, and well-being of Iran.”
In Poldokhtar and Kuhdasht in western Iran the same day,
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said Iran wants peace and tranquility,
but it “will never surrender to bullying and unfair decisions of the
arrogant powers,” state radio reported.
Parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said on March 9
that Iran has cooperated with the IAEA, state television reported. He
said Iran will not succumb to American pressure, which he said is
contributing to Iranians’ hatred. He also linked the nuclear
issue with Iranian independence.
Hussein Shariatmadari, Supreme Leader Khamenei’s
representative at the Kayhan Institute, has called for Iran to
withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in light of
the IAEA decision to report his country to the Security Council. In
his column in the March 9, “Kayhan,” Shariatmadari wrote that he
predicted previously that Washington and its allies are powerless
versus Iran, and the Security Council cannot act on the U.S. threat.
Reporting Iran to the Security Council is a violation of IAEA
regulations and the NPT, he wrote, and the treaty is therefore
annulled.
Shariatmadari asked whether continuing membership in the NPT
is “justified,” and added, “Is it not yet time for the nuclear
officials of our country to leave the NPT on the basis of
‘expediency,’ in order to safeguard the country’s
‘honor,’ by taking a step based on ‘wisdom’?” The
words in quotation marks refer to what Supreme Leader Khamenei
declared are the state’s guiding principles. (Bill Samii)

IRANIANS HAVE MIXED VIEWS ON NUCLEAR CRISIS. Iranian officials remain
defiant after the International Atomic Energy Agency sent the
country’s nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council. Both
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad said a day after the March 8 referral that Tehran will
resist any pressure to alter its nuclear plans. Iranian officials say
they have the support of Iranians who are not willing to give up
their “legitimate right” to nuclear research and development. To find
out more about what Iranians think, Radio Farda asked its listeners
to express their views.
Many Iranians say they are worried that the transfer of
Iran’s nuclear case to the UN Security Council could lead to
sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Some listeners said that sanctions would only hurt the
Iranian people, not the government or politicians in general. “The
politicians have problems among themselves; why should people
[suffer]? [Politicians] should only think about the people,” one
said.
One man in Tehran had the same concern: “I would like to say
that U.S. sanctions do not have any affect on the government, only
people will be under pressure.”
Bad For The People
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said Iran will not be bullied
into renouncing its pursuit of nuclear energy (see above). This Radio
Farda listener agrees. He said that Iran should not bow to pressure.
“I’m calling from Tehran regarding the UN Security Council; I
think we have to resist,” he said. He added that he also believes
that despite increasing pressure Iran should continue its peaceful
nuclear activities. “Why does the U.S. speak about the rights of the
Iranian people such as the right to freedom of expression but it does
not recognize a peaceful nuclear program as a right of Iran,” he
said. “Why should Israel have nuclear weapons but the Iranian people
be deprived of having a peaceful program. We should realize that the
U.S. doesn’t want Muslim countries to have access to nuclear
science.”
Iran says its nuclear activities are solely peaceful but
Washington accuses Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons.
Iranian officials have termed the IAEA decision to forward
the Iranian nuclear case to the UN Security Council as “unjust” and
said it proves the West’s dual attitude “towards nuclear issues
in the world.”
But some Iranians who contacted Radio Farda believe the
referral of Iran’s case to the UN Security Council is a result of
the Islamic Republic’s “hard-line” policies and stances.
Against The Hard-Line
This listener from Lahijan, in northern Iran, seemed to
understand the international community’s concerns: “Unfortunately
in the last five or six months, instead of trying to gain more
friends in Europe, we have added to our number of enemies. [Those
countries in opposition to Iran’s nuclear program] say that if a
country that has for the last 27 years chanted ‘death to
America’ and has called for the transfer of another country (eds.
Israel) to other regions, gains access to an atomic bomb, then it
will definitely put its slogans into action.”
This man also believes the Iranian government is responsible
for the new phase of the confrontation with the West. “The Iranian
establishment claims that nuclear energy is the right of the Iranian
nation,” he said. “Aren’t freedom and democracy the right of the
Iranian people? The oil money is not the right of the Iranian people?
Why the names of Palestine, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and Syria are
included in our annual budget? Are they partners in our oil money or
are they from one of Iran’s provinces?”
Mehdi, from Tehran, told Radio Farda that the Iranian
government is putting its people at the risk of sanctions or even of
a military strike. “In my opinion, Iran’s nuclear case must have
been taken to the UN Security Council, because this regime has
threatened the life of 70 million people with its nuclear ambitions,”
he said.
But officials insist that Iranians consider the country’s
nuclear program is a matter of a national right.
According to a February survey conducted by the state Iranian
Students Polling Agency (ISPA), some 85 percent of Iranian citizens
are in favor of a continuation of the country’s nuclear
activities.
The poll also said that about 75 percent of the citizens
called for an expansion of nuclear technology, even in the case of a
referral of Iran’s nuclear case to the UN Security Council.
Some analysts, however, warn that if sanctions are imposed
the supportive public opinion could change, as many people will not
be willing to face the economic pressures. (Golnaz Esfandiari)

AS NUCLEAR CRISIS ESCALATES, ARE DIRECT U.S. CONTACTS BECOMING AN
OPTION? As the Iranian nuclear issue reaches crisis proportions and
the country faces international isolation, some voices in Iran are
suggesting that it is time to engage directly with the United States.
Such prodding is in direct contrast with leading state officials’
open hostility toward the United States and hints at possible
divisions. Indeed, contact with Washington has always been a
sensitive issue in Iranian politics and has been used as a weapon in
domestic power struggles. The United States, meanwhile, appears to
have elicited a negative response with the adoption of a more active
approach toward Iran. The developments reveal the difficulties the
two sides will have in establishing direct relations and reaching a
modus vivendi.
Tehran has long sought to portray international concern over
its nuclear program as a Western effort to retard the country’s
development. That argument is constantly repeated to domestic
audiences and employed for foreign audiences in the context of “Third
Worldism” and Islamism; this represents an effort to win support from
developing countries and the Islamic world, but it does not seem to
have met with much success. When the International Atomic Energy
Agency’s 35-member governing board voted in early February to
report Iran to the UN Security Council, only Cuba, Syria, and
Venezuela voted against the resolution, while Algeria, Belarus,
Indonesia, Libya, and South Africa abstained.
There are other forms of isolation facing Iran today, as
well. Strategically speaking, it is surrounded by the United States.
Recognition of such isolation was behind Iran’s 1988 acceptance
of UN Resolution 598, the Iran-Iraq War cease-fire. More recently, in
early 2003, the Iranian Foreign Ministry reportedly proposed direct
negotiations with Washington to deal with the subjects that concerned
the United States: support for terrorist groups and the alleged
nuclear weapons program.
Now, as Iranian shuttle diplomacy to Moscow, Peking,
Brussels, and Vienna fails to resolve the nuclear crisis and the IAEA
hardens its stance, voices in Tehran are again suggesting that
engagement with Washington might be necessary.
Kazem Jalali, rapporteur of the legislature’s National
Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in the 2 March “Aftab-i
Yazd” that Iran might as well eliminate the intermediaries and
negotiate directly with the United States. He explained that both the
Europeans and the Russians appear to be acting in line with U.S.
desires, and, furthermore, they are taking advantage of the lack of
alternatives to improve their negotiating position. He said such
talks would be feasible if the United States accepted the principle
of Iran using nuclear technology peacefully, but he added that
Washington seems to take a completely politicized stance on all
issues.
Urumiyeh legislator Javad Jahangirzadeh told “Aftab-i Yazd”
that Iran has already made clear the circumstance under which it
would talk to the United States, but it is unrealistic to expect that
Washington would change its behavior. Jahangirzadeh said he did not
foresee a rift between Washington and the Europeans, and the
involvement of Moscow and Peking has not helped.
Akbar Etemad, founder of Iran’s Atomic Energy
Organization and the agency’s first chief, announced that the
Russian uranium-enrichment proposal will not resolve the Iranian
nuclear standoff, Mehr News Agency reported on 24 February. He
recommended direct talks with the United States as a solution.
There has long been disagreement in government circles
regarding relations with the United States. In 1979, there were
disagreements pitting revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini and his Islamist entourage against secular nationalists like
Ebrahim Yazdi and Abbas Amir-Entezam. Contacts with Washington led to
the downfall of the Provisional Government of Mehdi Bazargan. The
Islamists and the student activists who seized the U.S. Embassy in
1979 used evidence of such contacts against their political
adversaries.
U.S. contacts continue to provide political ammunition for
Iranian political rivalries. Such contacts inevitably start out in
secret before coming to light and feeding political vendettas, and
anything but the most overt hostility toward Washington can engender
a backlash. When then President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami
expressed regret over the 1979-80 hostage crisis and invited
Americans for cultural and educational exchanges in January 1998, the
hard-line media lambasted him. Khatami is unlikely to have made such
comments without Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s prior
approval, but Khamenei felt compelled to iterate that he still saw
the United States as “the enemy of the Islamic Republic.”
But what one encounters more frequently these days is
criticism of Tehran’s diplomatic efforts. Reformist Ahmad
Shirzad, a nuclear physics professor who represented Isfahan in the
sixth parliament (2000-04), was quoted by the Iranian Labor News
Agency (ILNA) on 3 March as saying that Iran must gain international
confidence. “Either they should back down and let the arguments to
end, or they will drag this country through a tedious conflict which
will definitely bring greater harm,” Shirzad said. Iranians knew what
they were fighting for in the Iran-Iraq War, Shirzad continued,
adding, “What is our objective now?”
While in parliament, in November 2003, Shirzad had criticized
the secrecy surrounding the nuclear program, saying it contributed to
doubts about its peaceful nature. His colleagues denounced him, the
press excoriated him, and he was threatened at rallies in his
hometown. He was accused of backing U.S. accusations against Iran.
While Iranians consider engagement with the United States,
Washington is already taking a more active approach toward one of its
main foreign-policy problems. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice said during 15 February testimony before the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee that the administration will reach out to the
Iranian people directly, according to a fact sheet from the State
Department spokesman’s office. The 2006 U.S. budget allocates at
least $10 million to support political dissidents, labor leaders, and
human rights activists, as well as nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs) that are trying to establish networks in Iran.
The White House will seek an additional $75 million to create
a round-the-clock Persian-language television service and to improve
radio-transmission capabilities; and $5 million will go for
communication with Iranians through public diplomacy and the
development of independent Persian television and radio. The White
House will seek an additional $15 million for work with NGOs and
democracy-promotion entities, labor unions, and political groups; and
$5 million for outreach through student and visitors programs. The
“Financial Times” reported on 3 March that disputes over who will
control funding for Persian-language television has already erupted.
The State Department also has created an Office of Iran
Affairs. The office is one of several Iran-focused initiatives. The
others are Persian-language designated political and economic
reporting from Dubai, as well as public diplomacy outreach from
there, and similar functions in Baku, Frankfurt, Istanbul, and
London. This is part of an overall effort to reestablish a cadre of
Persian-speaking foreign-service officers and the State
Department’s Iran expertise to address the Iran challenge.
Senior officials’ frequent criticism of the United States
suggests no plans for engagement. Iranian state radio quoted
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad denouncing Washington over its support
for Israel during a 3 March seminar in Malaysia titled “International
Challenges and the Role of the Islamic World.”
The same day in Tehran, substitute Friday Prayer leader and
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani
also spoke out against the United States. The bombing of Shi’a
mosques in Iraq is part of an effort to weaken the development of
Islamic solidarity, Hashemi-Rafsanjani claimed, “because the Muslims
feel that the global arrogance, America in particular, intends to
create problems for the Muslim by promoting the Greater Middle East
plan.”
Four days earlier, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had
spoken out against the United States. He told a 27 February meeting
in Tehran of provincial governors-general that “the clash between the
Islamic system’s criteria and the demands of hegemonic powers”
means that “Iran’s Islamic government has constantly been facing
a predicted challenge over the past 27 years.” Khamenei charged that
Washington is behind political discord and factional disputes in
Iran, is trying to create ethnic strife in Iraq in order to weaken
the country’s government, and is responsible for recent the
publication in a Danish magazine of caricatures of the Prophet
Muhammad.
Also in late February, legislator Mohammad Mehdi Mofatteh
announced the annual passage of a budget item requesting unspecified
funds to foil “American plots,” “Jomhuri-yi Islami” reported. The
money will be used to support Iranian cases against the United States
before international tribunals and to counter a purported U.S.
cultural offensive.
In light of the long-standing official hostility toward the
United States and the underlying suspicion of U.S. motives, the State
Department’s measures have been poorly received in Iran.
Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Musavi-Jazayeri, the Friday prayer
leader in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, said in a 3 March sermon
that the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel are behind plots
in Iran and bombings in the southwest, provincial television
reported. Musavi-Jazayeri said “the allocation of more than $75
million for the so-called revival of democracy in Iran by criminal
America means carrying out such terrorist actions,” adding that
“America must understand that our people will repel their plots
through their increased vigilance.”
The day after Secretary of State Rice testified, Iranian
state radio responded. The broadcaster said U.S. support for
Persian-language media is “aimed at airing anti-Iranian propaganda”
and “reveals America’s failed policies of confrontation and
compromise against Iran in the last 26 years.” State radio claimed
Iranians trust the country’s official media while it said U.S.
media has failed to convince people of the Iranian government’s
ineffectiveness. “Although spending American dollars will attract its
stooges living abroad to Washington, it will not, however, further
America’s arrogant policies inside Iran,” Tehran radio said.
An editorial in the official state newspaper “Iran” on 19
February claimed that the U.S. budget allocation is a sign of
hostility and runs counter to international law. The Iranian public
shares this view, “Iran” added. The editorial argued that “all
Iranian forums and associations, including political, cultural and
academic personalities, almost unanimously believe that the decision
about the budget of $75 million is a part of the open and blatant
hostility and psychological warfare of America against Iran.” As for
exile media outlets, the newspaper accused them of “fighting and
squabbling against one another since day one of their birth,” adding
that “each of them considers itself to be more deserving and worthy
of the funds than others.” (Bill Samii)

HAHSEMI-RAFSANJANI REGARDS U.S. DEMOCRACY PLANS AS A CULTURAL
ONSLAUGHT. Expediency Council Chairman Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani
said in Tehran on March 8 that the United States’ stated plan to
bring democracy to the Middle East seeks to undermine Islam and
safeguard U.S. interests “in coming decades,” ISNA reported.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the Assembly of Experts, a body of senior
clerics, that “freedom and human development, women’s rights,
democracy…are some of the slogans they state to attain their”
regional goals. He called the U.S. plan, “by changing the culture of
the peoples of Islamic countries” in conformity with “Western
standards,” an effort to “separate people from Islam.” Fortunately,
Hashemi-Rafsanjani said, “the Americans have failed in Iraq and their
situation is different from what they thought…[Iraqis] want the
Americans to leave that country and have shown what they want in
elections.” In Afghanistan, too, he said, the constitution has not
turned out to be “what the Americans intended,” ISNA reported.
Washington, he said, is working to “encircle” Iran and “through the
nuclear dossier, human rights, Palestine and terrorism to…pressure
Iran.” Before such pressures, he added, unity among Iranians is “not
an order” but a “duty.” Whatever the decision with Iran’s
dossier, he said, “we must do our work.” (Vahid Sepehri)

KYRGYZ MINISTER SAYS U.S. BASE CANNOT BE USED FOR OPERATIONS AGAINST
IRAN. Foreign Minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov told the BBC’s Kyrgyz
Service on March 3 that the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan cannot be used
for offensive action against Iran, akipress.org reported the next
day. “In accordance with existing agreements, the mandate of the
Gansi air base extends only to the antiterrorist operation in
Afghanistan,” Jekshenkulov said. “The Gansi air base should not
present a threat to the countries of the Central Asian region,
including Iran. Consequently, its capabilities cannot be used for
military operations against third countries.” (Daniel Kimmage)

TEHRAN SAID TO HAVE EXTRADITED PKK MEMBERS TO TURKEY. Anonymous
Turkish sources were quoted by the Anatolia news agency on March 6 as
saying that the Iranian government has extradited seven members of
the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to Turkey. The seven, one of whom
is a woman, were reportedly handed over at the southeastern city of
Hakkari. (Bill Samii)

SPEAKER SAYS IRAN FAVORS ISLAMIC STATES IN FOREIGN POLICY.
Parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel told Jordanian
legislators in Tehran on March 7 that Iranian foreign policy will
prioritize better ties with Arab and Islamic states including Jordan,
IRNA reported the same day. He said at a meeting of the Iran-Jordan
parliamentary friendship group that Iran continues to support “the
Palestine ideal,” and denounced Israel as well as the presence of
U.S. forces in the Middle East, which he said are to assure U.S.
dominance of “the oil-producing region” and “pressure” Islamic
states, IRNA reported. Haddad-Adel invited Jordan’s parliamentary
speaker to attend a conference in Tehran next March or April to
discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Jordanian delegation
was led by legislator Muhammad Bani Hani, who told Haddad-Adel that
unity between Islamic states is the only way to confront “the plots
of the enemies of Islam,” and that Jordan supports Iran’s “right”
to a peaceful nuclear program. (Vahid Sepehri)

RUMSFELD SAYS IRAN’S QUDS FORCE OPERATING IN IRAQ. Donald
Rumsfeld told reporters at a March 7 press briefing in Washington
that the Iranian government is “putting people into Iraq to do things
that are harmful to the future of Iraq.” He added: “They’re
putting Iranian Quds Force-type people into” Iraq. Asked if these
forces are carrying out violence or trying to instigate political
instability, Rumsfeld replied: “I don’t think we could consider
them religious pilgrims.”
General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
said that the United States has found some improvised explosive
devices and weapons that it believes can be traced to Iran. Pace
added that there has been an influx of “individuals” across the
Iran-Iraq border but said he does not know if they are backed by the
Iranian government.
Rumsfeld, however, said: “Well, of course. The Revolutionary
Guard doesn’t go milling around willy-nilly, one would think.”
Pace said multinational forces are working with Iraqi officials to
enhance control of the Iran-Iraq border. Rumsfeld said the Iranian
government may some day view this move as an “error of judgment.”
(Kathleen Ridolfo)

MORE BOMBERS ARRESTED IN SOUTHWESTERN IRAN. Khuzestan Province Deputy
Governor General Mohsen Farokhinejad announced on March 4 that the
persons responsible for a bombing at the Saman Bank in Ahvaz on
January 24 have been arrested, Fars News Agency reported. He added
that the persons responsible for explosions at governorate buildings
in Abadan and Dezful have been arrested, too. “With the arrest of 15
others over the past week, all the perpetrators of the bombings in
Ahvaz, Abadan and Dezful have been arrested,” Farokhinejad said.
During the course of the arrests, Khuzestan Province Governor
General Amir Hayat-Moqaddam added, explosives, rifles, ammunition,
mines, terrorism videos, and books on the Wahhabi faith were seized.
Hayat-Moqaddam said not all the bombers have been arrested, and added
that the United Kingdom, United States, and Israel are behind the
bombings and insecurity in Khuzestan, “Aftab-i Yazd” reported on
March 5. Hayat-Moqaddam criticized the execution of just two of the
bombers on March 2, saying all seven should have been executed.
Ahvaz Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammad-Ali
Musavi-Jazayeri said on March 3 that the United States is behind the
violence in the province, provincial television reported. Referring
to the mid-February U.S. State Department request for funding for
Iran-related activities, he said, “The allocation of more than $75
million for the so-called revival of democracy in Iran by criminal
America means carrying out such terrorist actions, but America must
understand that our people will repel their plots through their
increased vigilance.”
Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam
Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei said on March 9 that more than 50 people
have been arrested in connection with bombings in southwestern
Khuzestan Province over the last year, IRNA reported. Speaking prior
to a cabinet session being held in the Luristan Province city of
Khoramabad, Mohseni-Ejei said the detainees have ties to Iran’s
external enemies.
Referring to the previous week’s execution of two people
in connection with bombings in Ahvaz, Interior Minister Hojatoleslam
Mustafa Purmohammadi said this does not bring the issue to a close,
“Aftab-i Yazd” reported on March 9. He added that the security
situation in Khuzestan had no bearing on President Ahmadinejad’s
cancellation of a visit there; rather, heavy rains precluded the use
of helicopters for transportation. Asked about his failure to provide
evidence of British involvement that he had promised previously,
Purmohammadi said. “In security and intelligence issues, evidence is
discussed in intelligence parlance.” He added: “That is not a legal
parlance so that one would dispatch documents. If we have to
establish the point by using legal parlance, they must allow us to go
to the area and carry out investigations in order that we can present
documents that are considered acceptable by a court.”
Purmohammadi’s background in the intelligence and security field
was a cause of concern during his parliamentary confirmation, and his
comments suggest that he still thinks in those terms. (Bill Samii)

SECURITY IN EASTERN IRAN TO BE IMPROVED. Speaking at the Mersad
military base in Kerman Province, Interior Minister Purmohammadi told
a gathering of police commanders and governors-general from the
eastern part of the country that the security situation in that part
of the country will improve soon, “Iran” reported on March 4. “In
order to provide and develop security, the military, law enforcement,
security, and service arrangements will change in the eastern parts
of the country,” he said. Iran’s eastern provinces have been
plagued by drug smugglers, and gangs sometimes kidnap people to
exchange them for imprisoned cohorts or secure ransoms. Sunni Baluchi
insurgents also are active in the southeast. (Bill Samii)

KURDISH LEGISLATORS IN IRAN DEMAND INQUIRY INTO ‘MASSACRE.’
Nine Kurdish parliamentarians have protested to President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad about the violent treatment of demonstrators in the town
of Maku, ILNA reported on March 4. The legislators’ letter said
the Kurds were protesting peacefully against the treatment of
co-ethnics in Turkey and also protesting against caricatures of the
Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. Men in plainclothes —
presumably vigilantes — attacked the demonstrators, killing or
injuring 35 of them. Many others were arrested and are imprisoned.
Who is responsible for “these crimes,” the letter asked, and what
government agency authorized such actions? “Why must some people use
government resources and equipment to settle ethnic scores and to
subject the Kurdish inhabitants of the town to such a merciless
killing?” The letter called on the president to identify these people
publicly and punish them. (Bill Samii)

IRAN MAINTAINS PRESSURE ON DISSENT. Iran is reportedly maintaining a
hard line against dissent through prison sentences against students,
Radio Farda reported on March 7. It reported a two-year suspended
jail sentence for Mehdi Shirzad, a student activist convicted of
“acting against national security” by taking part in an unauthorized
demonstration. He was earlier sentenced to solitary confinement for
50 days for participating in a student protest in 2003, Radio Farda
added.
Separately, Tehran student Peyman Aref is being prosecuted
for charges including engaging in publicity against “the system,”
acting against national security, and refusing to obey police orders.
He told Radio Farda that the latter is not, legally-speaking, a
criminal offense in Iran.
Separately, the wife of imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji,
Masumeh Shafii, has publicly accused the deputy-chief prosecutor of
Tehran, Mahmud Salarkia, of telling a “great lie” by claiming that
her husband is under constant medical care and receives regulated
visits and food parcels from visitors, Radio Farda reported. She said
visits were allowed reluctantly, and she was so thoroughly searched
on jail visits that there was no way she could take Ganji food.
(Vahid Sepehri)

POLICE INTERVENE AT WOMEN’S DAY CELEBRATION. Iranian police
forcibly dispersed a gathering to mark International Women’s Day
in Tehran on March 8, while a similar planned rally was banned in
Tabriz in northwestern Iran, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda reported. A
crowd outside the City Theater in downtown Tehran was broken up when
“police attacked and started beating the women,” a participant told
Radio Farda. “They dispersed everyone, and the gentlemen attending
the gathering were severely beaten, and some people were arrested,”
the source said. One of those beaten was Simin Behbehani, an elderly
female writer, the witness said. Behbehani was a prominent female
writer in pre-1979 secular Iran but now enjoys little official favor.
University authorities separately rejected a request by students at
Tabriz’s Sahand Industrial University to hold a similar rally.
That event was to include film screenings and be attended by female
journalists and former legislators, Radio Farda reported.
Tabriz-based journalist Peyman Pakmehr told Radio Farda that the
ceremony had been allowed in previous years. (Vahid Sepehri)

EXECUTIVE BRANCH DEFENDS BUDGET. Although the legislature approved
the general outlines of the government budget on March 2, questions
over many aspects of the budget have not disappeared. President
Mahmud Ahmadinejad said on March 5 in Tehran that the new budget is
anti-inflationary and will create jobs, IRNA reported. He added that
the budget complies with the requirements of the fourth five-year
development plan and the supreme leader’s 20-year outlook.
Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Ahmad
Musavi said on March 4 that legislators’ changes to the budget
should be minimal because the entire thing was formulated
systematically, IRNA reported. He said the amount of credit allocated
for development projects is “unprecedented,” and he praised the
budget’s focus on less developed regions, decentralization, and
the granting of more power to the provinces. (Bill Samii)

IRAN REPORTEDLY AGREES TO HIGHER PRICE FOR TURKMEN GAS. In a
telephone conversation with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on
March 6, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad gave Iran’s consent to pay
a higher price for Turkmen gas, Turkmen official news agency TDH
reported. The two sides agreed that Iran will pay $65 per 1,000 cubic
meters of gas it purchases from Turkmenistan effective February 1,
2006. Previously, Iran had paid $44 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas.
The two sides also agreed that Iran will increase its annual gas
purchases to 14 billion cubic meters in 2007. Iran is set to import 8
billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan in 2006. DK

IRANIAN, PAKISTANI, INDIAN OFFICIALS TO MEET OVER GAS PIPELINE
PROJECT. Officials from Iran, Pakistan, and India are scheduled to
discuss construction of a natural-gas pipeline connecting those three
countries in Tehran on March 13-15, IRNA reported, citing “The News”
from Islamabad. In light of the recent U.S.-India nuclear agreement,
some Pakistani observers have expressed skepticism that the project
will come to fruition.
U.S. President George W. Bush said on March 4 that Washington
does not object to construction of the pipeline but rather to
Iran’s nuclear ambitions, India’s “Financial Express”
reported. “Our beef with Iran is the fact that they want to develop
nuclear weapons,” Bush reportedly said. “I believe a nuclear weapon
in the hands of the Iranians would be very dangerous for all of us.
It would endanger world peace.” Bush stressed that he understands
Pakistani natural-gas requirements.
The pipeline project was initiated in the mid-1990s but
construction has not gotten under way, initially due to mistrust
between Islamabad and New Delhi and later due to disputes over
eventual gas prices and transfer fees. (Bill Samii)

****************************************** ***************
Copyright (c) 2006. 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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