RFE/RL Iran Report – 04/18/2006

RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
_________________________________________ ____________________
RFE/RL Iran Report
Vol. 9, No. 14, 18 April 2006

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

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HEADLINES:
* INTIFADA CONFERENCE IN TEHRAN HAS MULTIPLE OBJECTIVES
* LEGISLATORS CITE SUPPORT FOR PALESTINIANS
* TEHRAN CLAIMS TO MAKE LOW-ENRICHED URANIUM
* RUSSIA SAYS IRAN HEADED ‘IN WRONG DIRECTION’
* LEGISLATORS CRITICIZE EARTHQUAKE RELIEF
* PARLIAMENTARIAN GIVEN JAIL SENTENCE
* RIGHTS GROUP ALLEGES OFFICIAL ABUSE OF ETHNIC ARABS
* BALUCHI GROUP CLAIMS TO KILL HOSTAGE
* AHMADINEJAD ADDRESSES UNEMPLOYMENT PROBLEM
* TURKMENISTAN, IRAN SIGN GAS AGREEMENT
* IRAN SAYS NO DATE SET FOR PURPORTED IRANIAN-U.S. TALKS
* INTERVIEW: PROMOTING DEMOCRACY IN IRAN SUCCESSFULLY
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INTIFADA CONFERENCE IN TEHRAN HAS MULTIPLE OBJECTIVES. Tehran hosted,
on April 14-16, a Support for the Palestinian Intifada conference.
This is the third time Iran has organized the conference — and with
talk that it may face a military strike against its nuclear
facilities, Iran’s association with the new Hamas government in
Palestine and other Palestinian rejectionist groups is even more
relevant to global affairs than it was when it held the conference in
2001 and 2002. There are strategic, ideological, and political
reasons for Tehran’s decision to host such gatherings.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice referred to Iran,
during a March 9 roundtable in Washington, as “a kind of central
banker for terrorism in important regions, like Lebanon, through
Hizballah in the Middle East, in the Palestinian territories, and we
have deep concern about what Iran is doing in the south of Iraq.” The
U.S. State Department has classified Iran as a “state sponsor” of
terrorism since 1984, and it lists a number of the groups that
participated in previous conferences — such as Hamas, Hizballah, and
the Palestinian Islamic Jihad — as “terrorist organizations” backed
by Iran.
Iran’s frame of reference is a requirement in the
country’s constitution that calls on the government to support
“the just struggles of the oppressed against the oppressors in every
corner of the globe.” The secretary-general of the conference series,
Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, referred to this requirement
in an interview that appeared in the April 6 issue of “Iran”
newspaper. He went on to speak of the ways in which Palestinians will
benefit from the weekend’s event. The more than 500 participants,
he said, “will discuss the dangers of the anti-human activities and
policies of Israel, which have the backing of America, and they will
think of some ways of countering those policies.”
It is not just ideology or charity that motivates Iran.
Mohtashami-Pur suggested that the creation of a Palestinian state
would contribute to Iranian security. “Naturally, if the Palestinian
nation restores its legitimate right, even the threats [against] the
Islamic Republic of Iran, which come from abroad, will be reduced
substantially,” he said.
Security interests, furthermore, explain meetings held in
Damascus on April 13 between one of Iran’s top officials and
leaders of Hizballah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Ayatollah
Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the head of the Expediency Council,
which oversees the workings of government, met with the
secretary-general of Hizballah, Hassan Nasrallah, and told him that
unity is a key factor in ensuring survival, the Islamic Republic News
Agency (IRNA) reported. He repeated that message in a meeting with
Ramadan Abdallah al-Shallah, the head of Islamic Jihad.
Given this perspective, one would expect success for the
Hamas delegation that came to Tehran on April 11 to secure funding.
Hamas needs to compensate for the refusal of Israel, the European
Union, and the United States to sponsor the Palestinians until Hamas
renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
Indeed, Tehran welcomed the Hamas victory in Palestinian legislative
elections earlier this year. At that time, Iran’s Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei encouraged the Muslim community to come
forward with funding, and the head of the Hamas political bureau,
Khalid Mish’al, reportedly secured a pledge of financial
assistance when he visited Tehran in February. More recently, on
April 12, Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister who now
serves as a foreign affairs adviser to Supreme Leader Khamenei, urged
Muslim countries to fulfill their promises to fund a Hamas-led
government, IRNA reported.
Superficially, then, it would appear that Iranian support for
Hamas will be overwhelming. But there are indications that Hamas
would not be similarly supportive of Iran. When Khalid Mish’al
spoke at Tehran University on February 21, he was asked how Hamas
would react if Israel attacked Iran, “Etemad-i Melli” reported. “Have
no fear,” he responded, “we will pray for you.” When one of the
students retorted that Israel would be destroyed if it attacked Iran,
Mish’al laughed and said, “if you destroy Israel, you will be
doing so over our heads.” He went on to criticize U.S. polices, but
added that this disapproval does not mean Hamas should go to war with
the United States. This level of commitment is likely to give
decision-makers in Tehran pause when it comes to aiding Hamas.
There may be another reason to wonder about the level of
Iranian support for Hamas. U.S. Secretary of State Rice questioned
Iran’s willingness to fund the $1.9 billion that the Palestinian
Authority needs annually, “Al-Hayah” reported on February 18. “We
will wait and see whether Iran will provide aid of this magnitude,”
she said.
When it comes to return on investment, Iran’s
relationship with Hizballah may be more likely to pay off. Iran was
once Hizballah’s main sponsor, and Mohtashami-Pur, the
secretary-general of the Intifada conference, was instrumental in
Hizballah’s creation when he served as ambassador to Syria in the
1980s. Iran’s Martyrs Foundation (Bonyad-i Shahid), a
semi-governmental charity, continues to openly fund Hizballah
activities, such as schools and hospitals. Hizballah, furthermore,
seeks to recreate the Iranian model of a theocratic state and
continues to regard Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei as a leader. The
importance of the relationship was made clear when Hamas’s Hassan
Nasrallah visited Tehran in August 2005 to meet with the newly
inaugurated President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and the two met again in
Damascus on January 20.
In Lebanon, a number of political actors are expressing
concern about an Iran-Syria-Hizballah axis. The Supreme Leader’s
representative in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Mujtaba
Zolnur, referred to potential Hizballah support when discussing the
possibility a U.S. attack. He said, “Iran has a lot of supporters in
other countries and once our interests are endangered, the
enemy’s in other countries will also be endangered,” “Aftab-i
Yazd” reported on January 23.
Aside from strategic interests and constitutional
requirements, Iran probably has another reason for hosting Support
for the Palestinian Intifada conferences. It is a Shi’ite state,
whereas Sunnism is the predominant school of Islam in the world.
Moreover, the Persians are a distinct minority in the predominantly
Arab Middle East. Through its activism on this issue, Iran is
portraying itself as a committed leader — more Palestinian than the
Arabs, and more Muslim than the Sunnis. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATORS CITE SUPPORT FOR PALESTINIANS. A leading Hamas figure,
Khalil Abu-Layla, said on April 7 that Iranian President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad should announce his readiness to fund the Palestinians,
Al-Alam television reported. “We call on President Ahmadinejad to
announce clearly and unambiguously that he is totally ready to cover
all the financial needs of the Palestinian Authority and that he will
do his utmost to get this aid [to the Palestinians], and if he does
so, the situation will change a great deal,” Abu-Layla said.
Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh, a member of the Iranian
legislature’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee,
said on April 8 that the Hamas-led Palestinian government does not
need Western funding, IRNA reported. Falahat-Pisheh said the Hamas
victory in Palestinian legislative elections has resulted in the
imposition of sanctions by the United States and EU. He urged the
governments of Islamic states to act so Hamas and the Palestinian
Authority do not have to depend on foreign aid. Falahat-Pisheh said
the upcoming Intifada conference in Tehran (see item above) will
provide an opportunity for the Islamic community to put an end to its
inaction and support the Palestinians. Falahat-Pisheh also denounced
perceived inaction on the part of the Organization of the Islamic
Conference.
Qazvin Province parliamentary representative Rajab Rahmani
said on April 8 that Israeli activities against Palestinians violate
international law, IRNA reported. Rahmani said the Islamic community
is concerned about this issue. Rahmani described Israeli activities
against the Palestinians as “genocide,” and added that countries that
purport to promote democracy and human rights support Israel
unconditionally.
Just two days before the Support for the Palestinian Intifada
conference gets under way in Tehran, 195 members of the Iranian
legislature issued a statement of support on April 12 for the
“Palestinian Resistance Movement,” IRNA reported. The statement
called on all Palestinians to participate in a general referendum and
added, “The courageous Islamic resistance of the noble Palestinian
people is a clear legal response to the occupation and tyrannical,
racist and expansionist policies of the Zionist regime.” The
legislators also congratulated Hamas on its success in January
elections in Palestine.
The same day, Ali Akbar Velayati, the former foreign minister
who now serves as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s
foreign-affairs adviser, urged Islamic countries to fulfill their
promises to fund a Hamas-led Palestinian authority, IRNA reported.
“The dignitaries taking part in the conference are expected to
encourage their own governments to extend more assistance to the
Palestinian government,” he said. Velayati criticized the
Organization of the Islamic Conference for its inaction on this
issue. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN CLAIMS TO MAKE LOW-ENRICHED URANIUM. Speaking in the
northeastern city of Mashhad on April 10, President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad promised his audience a big surprise in the near future,
state television reported. “God willing, while I am in Mashhad, I
will announce good news about the nuclear issue which will be a cause
for pride,” Ahmadinejad said. He also predicted that officials from
other countries would be pleased with the development, according to
IRNA.
Parliamentarians, government officials, and nuclear experts
have recently made similar predictions of forthcoming “good news” in
the nuclear field, iranews.org reported on April 10. Gholamreza
Aqazadeh-Khoi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran,
visited the legislature on April 9 and announced the upcoming news,
according to irannews.org. Two anonymous legislators told
irannews.org the news is that Iran has managed to enrich uranium to
3.5 percent. One of those sources reportedly went on to say that Iran
therefore is not dependent on other countries and will be a member of
the so-called nuclear club.
Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, head of the Atomic Energy
Organization of Iran, announced on April 11 in Mashhad that Iran has
enriched uranium, state television reported. He said, “Praise be to
God, the start of the operation and achieving results from the pilot
and testing process of this complex and the establishment of its
technical and operational knowledge, which is considered as the
frontier of passing this progressive knowledge…were successfully
passed by enriching uranium at 3.5 percent on 20/01/85 [April 9,
2006].” Aqazadeh predicted bigger things in the future, saying, “This
has paved the way for starting [the process] at industrial-scale in
the Islamic Republic of Iran. And in order to enter this phase, we
are trying to operate a complete 3,000 [-centrifuge] complex by the
end of this year.” The level mentioned by Aqazadeh, 3.5 percent, is
considered low-enriched uranium and is appropriate for a light-water
reactor.
Speaking afterward, President Ahmadinejad said, “we have
completed the nuclear fuel cycle at the laboratory level and our
young people enriched uranium to the enrichment level required by
nuclear power plants on 20 Farvardin [9 April] of the current year,
1385,” state television reported.
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar
Hashemi-Rafsanjani pre-empted Ahmadinejad’s nuclear announcement.
Rafsanjani told the Kuwait News Agency on April 11 that the 164
centrifuges at Natanz were put into operation and produced enriched
uranium. He noted that many more units must be made operational in
order to attain an industrial level of production.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s suggestion that Iran is far from industrial
production of enriched uranium may be intended as a reassurance to
the international community. It also could represent an effort to
undermine Ahmadinejad politically.
Mohammad Javad Saidi, deputy chief of the Atomic Energy
Organization of Iran, said on April 12 that Iran does not intend to
enrich uranium beyond the level announced by state officials the
previous day, state television reported. “We are currently able to
carry out 3.5 to 5.0 percent enrichment, and because our main purpose
in producing nuclear fuel is to provide fuel for our power plants we
have no intention to go beyond this level of enrichment because we
are committed to the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and the
Additional Protocol,” Saidi said.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani said during an April 12 visit to Damascus
that Iran has used 164 centrifuges to enrich uranium, Iranian state
radio reported. He went on to say that many more centrifuges are
necessary if production is to be on an industrial scale and to make
enough fuel for a nuclear power station. “We are moving in this
direction,” Hashemi-Rafsanjani said. “Our steps are very firm,
calculated, scientific, and independent. And in no point of this
technology [do] we depend on foreign assistance — be it the supply
of raw material or in the field of technical requirement.” (Bill
Samii)

RUSSIA SAYS IRAN HEADED ‘IN WRONG DIRECTION.’ A spokesman for
the Russian Foreign Ministry said on April 12 that the statement the
previous day by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that his country
has successfully enriched uranium shows that Iran has taken a “step
in the wrong direction,” Russian news agencies reported. The
spokesman added that the Iranian move “goes counter to the decisions
of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] and the [position]
of the UN Security Council. [Iran should] stop all work to enrich
uranium, including research.” The diplomat noted that his government
backs the mission of IAEA head Mohammad el-Baradei to Tehran, which
is slated to begin on April 12. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said
later on April 12 that one should not make “conclusions in haste”
regarding Ahmadinejad’s statement, adding that “emotions too
often run high over the Iranian nuclear program.”
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on April 12
that the media should not “exaggerate” the importance of claims by
Ahmadinejad, news agencies reported. Lavrov argued that “Iran has
never declared it seeks to possess nuclear weapons. On the contrary,
Iran has declared repeatedly at the highest level that it has no such
plans and that it intends to develop nuclear energy exclusively for
peaceful purposes.” Referring to recent media reports that Washington
is considering a military strike on Iranian nuclear sites, Lavrov
said that “if such plans do exist…they cannot resolve the problem
but may, on the contrary, create another extremely dangerous
explosive hotbed in the Middle East, a region which has enough such
hotbeds already.” The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly stressed that
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is “the one and only
authoritative international body with sufficient expertise and power
to verify state compliance with commitments under the Nuclear Weapons
Non-Proliferation Treaty,” the Moscow daily “Vremya novostei”
reported on April 12. Lavrov has urged Tehran to cooperate fully with
that body. The paper commented that his “call does not seem to have
been heeded.”
Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political
Studies, which is closely linked to the Kremlin, said that the latest
Iranian statements about having joined the group of countries with
nuclear technology show that Tehran is ready to scrap the results of
all previous talks with the international community and indicate
Iran’s readiness to provoke a dispute regardless of the
consequences, Interfax reported. Markov added that Tehran’s moves
are the result of “a total inconsistency in U.S. policies…. The
crisis suggests that the United States’ power has failed to
evolve into a leadership capable of uniting the largest countries in
an effort to solve global problems.” He added that Washington’s
foreign-policy mistakes include unspecified differences with Russia
over the “post-Soviet space.” He stressed that “since the world
community will not be able to shape any pertinent policy [on Iran
because of the United States]…the crisis, by all accounts, will
linger on, culminating in the emergence of one more nuclear power,
then another one, and then more in a chain reaction.”
Academician and nuclear expert Yevgeny Velikhov, who heads
the Kurchatov Institute, said in Moscow on April 12 that the Iranian
media have exaggerated the level of sophistication of their
country’s nuclear technology, which he called low-level, the
website mosnews.com reported. Velikhov described some of the Iranian
claims as “fairy tales” that reveal the “full incompetence” of the
authors. Moscow-based researcher Vladimir Yevseyev said on April 12
that President Ahmadinejad’s statement is “largely a bluff…to
apply pressure on the West and ensure a better negotiating position,”
RIA Novosti reported. For his part, Federation Council International
Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that same day that
“Tehran has made us understand the firmness of its position and its
readiness to continue nuclear [research], which will complicate
further talks.” (Patrick Moore)

LEGISLATORS CRITICIZE EARTHQUAKE RELIEF. Mohsen Yahyavi, a legislator
from Luristan Province, which was hit by several earthquakes in late
March, said on April 8 that most of the survivors must spend their
time outdoors despite rain and cold because they fear their homes
will disintegrate, Mehr News Agency reported. Yahyavi added that
relief operations were slow in the first few days and survivors had
to buy their own tents at inflated prices. Uncoordinated efforts by
government agencies are further delaying relief efforts, he claimed.
Hussein Papi, another legislator from the same province, said the
tents were not distributed properly and Luristan is not adequately
equipped to deal with such emergencies. (Bill Samii)

PARLIAMENTARIAN GIVEN JAIL SENTENCE. The Tehran Province Penal Court
has sentenced a member of parliament to jail, the Iranian Labor News
Agency (ILNA) reported on April 9. Ali Dirbaz, who represents Bandar
Abbas and is also managing director of the banned “Tamadon-i
Hormozgan” weekly, must serve 20 months behind bars and is banned
from press activities for insulting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini,
founder of Iran’s Islamic revolution. The weekly reportedly
published what it thought was a foreign report about AIDS without
realizing that it criticized Khomeini. If a higher court confirms the
sentence, Dirbaz will finish his term in office before serving jail
time. (Bill Samii)

RIGHTS GROUP ALLEGES OFFICIAL ABUSE OF ETHNIC ARABS. Amnesty
International issued an “urgent action” report 4 April documenting
alleged torture and ill treatment of prisoners of conscience —
including a pregnant woman and the wife and children of an Arab
activist — in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Radio Farda reported
on April 6. The report claims that Hoda Hawashemi and her 2- and
4-year-old sons were arrested and their whereabouts are unknown; they
are the wife and children of fugitive Arab rights activist Habib
Farajallah Chaab. Amnesty International expressed concern about
Masumeh Kabi and her 4-year-old son and Soghra Khudayrawi and her
4-year-old son. In another case cited by Amnesty International, an
abortion was reportedly performed in early April on Sakina Naisi
after blood loss “possibly caused by torture and ill treatment.”
Naisi’s husband, Ahmad Naisi, also is a wanted Arab activist.
(Bill Samii)

BALUCHI GROUP CLAIMS TO KILL HOSTAGE. Al-Arabiyah television
broadcast on April 12 a videotape in which the ethnic Baluchi group
known as Jundullah claimed to have killed Ahmad Zahed Sheikhi, an
officer in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. Sheikhi’s
identity card was shown, and Jundullah leader Abdulmalik Rigi spoke
on the tape. Jundullah has claimed responsibility for the March 16
attack on a motorcade traveling between the cities of Zahedan and
Zabol in which more than 20 people were killed and another seven were
injured (see “RFE/RL Iran Report,” 29 March 2006). The group released
a videotape in which it said it is holding several hostages.
In a 13 April press conference in Mashhad, Interior Minister
Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi refused to confirm the alleged
death of the military officer, IRNA reported. He said operations
against insurgents in Sistan va Baluchistan, as well as efforts to
free the hostages, are continuing.
In an April 14 speech to Shiite and Sunnite clerics in the
southeastern city of Zahedan, Pur-Mohammadi said the government would
deal with efforts to cause insecurity in Iran, IRNA reported. (Bill
Samii)

AHMADINEJAD ADDRESSES UNEMPLOYMENT PROBLEM. President Ahmadinejad has
discussed the issue of unemployment — estimated to be at least 11
percent and closer to 20 percent — in several recent speeches,
hinting at his recognition that he must satisfy voters’ most
immediate concerns. He announced in the northeastern town of Quchan
on April 11 that 180 trillion rials (approximately $200 million) will
be distributed in the provinces for job creation, IRNA reported. In a
speech in Mashhad on April 10, he said, “Employment is one of the
most important issues to be tackled by the nation and the
government,” state television reported. “There are so many young
people who have a specialization. They have learned and studied but
there is no employment opportunity for them.” (Bill Samii)

TURKMENISTAN, IRAN SIGN GAS AGREEMENT. Iran and Turkmenistan have
signed a natural-gas agreement on Iran’s purchases of gas from
Turkmenistan in 2006 and 2007, turkmenistan.ru reported on April 12.
Iran will pay $65 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, effective February
1, 2006, for 2006 shipments, which are set to total 8 billion cubic
meters, Reuters reported. Iran will purchase 14 billion cubic meters
of gas from Turkmenistan in 2007. DK

IRAN SAYS NO DATE SET FOR PURPORTED IRANIAN-U.S. TALKS. Foreign
Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi told reporters in Tehran on
April 9 that no date has been established for purported Iranian-U.S.
talks concerning Iraq, adding that there is no hurry to do so, Radio
Farda reported. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali
Larijani announced on March 16 that Tehran will discuss Iraqi affairs
with Washington. Assefi emphasized that Tehran has agreed to the
talks in order to encourage a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
The “Financial Times” on April 7 quoted an anonymous “top
Iranian adviser outside the U.S.” who said that Supreme National
Security Council official Mohammad Nahavandian is in Washington to
plead that the talks also cover regional security and the nuclear
issue. The Iranian-interests section in Washington, however, said
Nahavandian is in the country on private business, and anonymous
“White House and State Department officials” claimed ignorance about
the alleged visit. It is unlikely that an Iranian official could
enter the United States without the State Department’s knowledge.
A demonstration by the Justice-Seeking Student Movement
(Junbish-i Idalatkhah-i Daneshjui) took place outside the Supreme
National Security Council building in Tehran on April 8, ISNA
reported. The demonstrators called for the cancellation of purported
Iranian-U.S. talks, but the reason for their stand is unclear.
Legislator Imad Afruq said on April 8 that holding such talks
would legitimize the U.S. occupation of Iraq and confirm accusations
of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs, Mehr News Agency reported.
Hussein Shariatmadari, managing editor of the “Kayhan” newspaper,
said his precondition for the talks is a complete U.S. withdrawal
from Iraq. Iran’s participation in the talks, Shariatmadari
continued, would fulfill Washington’s desire to show that Iran
has yielded after 27 years of resistance. (Bill Samii)

INTERVIEW: PROMOTING DEMOCRACY IN IRAN SUCCESSFULLY. U.S. media and
opinion makers have devoted much comment to Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice’s proposal to provide $85 million in assistance
to help promote democracy in Iran. One of these opinion makers is Dr.
Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford
University and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the
Hoover Institution, who has spoken out about the U.S.
government’s proposal in articles published in “The Wall Street
Journal” and elsewhere. In an exclusive interview with Radio
Farda’s Fatemeh Aman, Milani discusses his views concerning the
promotion of democracy in the Middle East and Iran.

Radio Farda: In your recent article with the interesting
title of “Checking Account for Democracy,” you welcomed the Bush
administration’s allocation of $85 million for the promotion of
democracy in Iran. But in the article you don’t sound very
optimistic that this move will have a significant impact on the
democracy movement in Iran. Why?

Abbas Milani: I think that if it’s well spent — in other
words, if it is not squandered on things that cannot be done and it
is not given to groups that cannot manage it wisely — then it can be
very effective, particularly if it is used primarily to create
something like a surrogate radio and a surrogate television.
Something that would be the equivalent of what an Iranian television
and radio would have been, had Iran been a democratic society. I
think, if Iran had such a media outlet a few years ago, for example,
I think things would have been very different in Iran today. And I
think they will be very different in a few years once such an
institution is created with the help of this money.

Long Democratic Tradition

Radio Farda: Do you think the United States and the West have
been successful at promoting democracy in the Middle East and in
Iran? And if you think they have not been successful, what do you
think is the reason?

Milani: The chance of promoting democracy, successfully, in
Iran is greater than anywhere else in the Middle East for two very,
very prominent reasons. One is, the Iranian society has an
indigenous, powerful, now 100-year-old democratic movement. This is
not something that has to be created ex nihilo, from nothing. This is
something that is there; the United States doesn’t have to create
it.
Secondly, the United States faces in Iran a reality that is
the opposite of every other Middle Eastern country with the exception
of Israel, and that is that the government talks anti-American
rhetoric, but the people, the street, is predominantly pro-American.
What you have in the rest of the Middle East is that the government
is trying to be, at least ostensibly are, pro-American, but the
people, often influenced by advertisements in the media of those very
countries, are anti-American. So in the case of Iran, you have a
democratic movement that exists, that has made great strides in the
past (it is now in a period of relative retreat because of the
[former President Mohammad] Khatami defeat, the disappointment that
came as a result of Khatami, but those forces there, they haven’t
gone away), and the population is predominantly pro-American. In
other words, they will listen. It is not like they will not listen to
something that is openly, transparently American.

Radio Farda: You said it is easy to promote democracy in
Iran, but I also asked whether you think the United States has been
successful in promoting democracy. If not, what has been at fault?

Milani: The problem in Iraq, the reason that democracy
promotion in Iraq has not been successful is because in the case of
Iraq there was not [an] indigenous democratic movement. The United
States decided to invade Iraq, and that created a Pandora’s Box
that some scholars had anticipated but many planners did not
anticipate, in other words, the emergence of this kind of insurgency
and all of the other things that have happened.
But at the same time, if you look at the Middle East today
and compare it with 15 years ago, you, I think, have to admit that
there are more democracies in the Middle East than there were. The
Palestinians just had the freest elections in the history of probably
any Arab country. In Lebanon, the people succeeded in pushing out
Syria. There is a very viable democracy in Kurdistan, in the British
part of Iraq. There is at least the possibility of democracy coming
to Egypt; at least flickers of it are on the horizon, at least
[Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak knows the old trick of saying, “If
you push me, you will get Islamic radicalism” is no longer enough to
dissuade the U.S. from pushing for democracy. There have been
failures in the other places, or small successes as in the case of
Iraqi Kurdistan.
What has happened in Kurdistan is truly incredible. It’s
a very viable, democratic part of Iraq that thrives. But there, the
U.S. had to face the problem that it was working in a milieu, in an
atmosphere, which was very, very anti-American. And it had to face
the reality that there wasn’t much of a democratic movement in
these countries to begin with.
The U.S. had to sort of force democracy on these societies,
and that can’t be done. You can’t force societies to become
democratic. Democracy needs a lot of things. It needs civil society,
it needs a middle class, it needs a technocratic class, it needs a
culture of tolerance. And these things are beginning to exist on a
very extensive basis in Iran. In the case of Iran, I think if there
was a television and radio station that was doing this kind of a
promotion of democracy, I think it would be a very different story.

Helping Iranians Help Themselves

Radio Farda: You wrote that this help can be used by those
who are denouncing violence in their fight for democracy in Iran. As
you have indicated, U.S. financial support for Iran-based democrats
is a sensitive issue. So how can these forces be helped by the U.S.
without being hurt?

Milani: Fist of all, several things have to be very clear.
One is that the U.S. is not looking for a [exiled Iraqi opposition
leader Ahmad] Chalabi in Iran. Second, that the U.S. is not trying to
decide who the next ruler of Iran will be. Third, that the U.S. will
not support any group that has a history of terrorism, a history of
violence, a history of oppression. Fourth, that the U.S. will not
help movements that want to dismember Iran, that are trying to break
Iran apart.
The U.S. could be tempted to do that, and it would be easy
because there is a lot of national resentment among Kurds, among
Turks. The U.S., I think, has to say clearly, categorically,
unmistakably: “We won’t do this. We won’t support terrorists.
We won’t support anyone who is advocating the violent overthrow
of the government. And we don’t plan to force a solution on
Iran.”
The only thing that the U.S. should say it wants to do is to
help the Iranians themselves in this process. That’s a very
crucial thing. That’s a big difference between Iran and Iraq. In
Iraq, the U.S. essentially went in, occupied the country, ran the
country for a while, and then said, “OK, let’s see if you can
have a democratic government here.” That’s hard to get. But my
suggestion is that that should be avoided in Iran, and a different
path can be tried. And I think that if it is tried and if it is made
clear that the U.S. respects the rights of Iranians to determine
their own future, then you will get a different result, and you will
get a good result.

Radio Farda: Regarding your suggestion of the creation of an
American visa office in Tehran, how should we imagine this? How
realistic is this idea?

Milani: Well, as I said there, I don’t think the Islamic
regime will allow it, but the U.S. should make the offer. It should
be clear to the Iranians, who now are forced to go to Turkey and
Dubai and Germany and to spend a lot of money and wait in a lot of
lines and be humiliated to get a passport, that this is essentially
the fault of the regime. It’s the fault of Mr. [President Mahmud]
Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric.
It is crucial, I think, for the U.S. to separate the Iranian
people from this regime, to speak to the Iranian people and say:
“Look, we don’t have any problem with you. We respect your right
to develop a nuclear program within the existing laws. But the
problem is with this regime, and if we don’t give you visas,
it’s because the regime doesn’t allow us to have a visa
office there.”
It must be made clear who is responsible for the problems
that the people of Iran face. Because it has a monopoly on the media,
the regime has very successfully told people a lot of stories. They
have sold the nuclear issue as a David and Goliath story. America,
they have tried to sell — tried, they haven’t been successful —
as being a bully, singling Iran out and denying Iran its rights. It
must be made clear that it is the regime’s irresponsible rhetoric
and its action, its lying and betraying the trust of the Iranian
people and of the global community, that has gotten Iran into the
current impasse. It has to be made clear to the Iranian people that
the U.S. is willing to work with them. A truly, editorially
independent media would go a long way toward doing that.

******************************************* **************
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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