RFE/RL Iran Report – 06/19/2006

RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
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RFE/RL Iran Report
Vol. 9, No. 22, 19 June 2006

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

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HEADLINES:
* IRANIAN OPIUM CULTIVATION MAKES A RETURN
* FEMALE DEMONSTRATORS IN TEHRAN BEATEN AND DETAINED
* REFORMERS URGED TO UNITE FOR POLLS
* CENTRAL BANK ANNOUNCES UNEMPLOYMENT FIGURES FOR PREVIOUS YEAR
* ACADEMICS WARN OF NEGATIVE ECONOMIC TRENDS
* EXILED OPPOSITIONIST SAYS IRGC TURNING TO BIG BUSINESS
* TEHRAN NOTES ‘POSITIVE’ ASPECTS OF INTERNATIONAL NUCLEAR PROPOSAL
* SCHOLAR SUGGESTS IRANIAN WEAPONS PROGRESS UNDERESTIMATED
* SUPREME LEADER PRAISES NUCLEAR ACHIEVEMENTS
* NEW SIGNALS COULD HINT AT NUCLEAR PRESSURE FROM MOSCOW, BEIJING
* TURKEY DEPORTS IRANIAN AZERI LEADER
* SAUDI, IRAQI OFFICIALS VISIT TEHRAN
* SYRIAN MILITARY DELEGATION SIGNS AGREEMENT IN IRAN
* AHMADINEJAD ENCOURAGES PALESTINIAN ‘RESISTANCE’
* PUTIN SAYS GAZPROM COULD FINANCE PLANNED IRANIAN PIPELINE
* TAJIK BORDER-GUARD CHIEF MEETS WITH IRANIAN OFFICIALS
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IRANIAN OPIUM CULTIVATION MAKES A RETURN. Iranian authorities capture
more opiates than any other country in the world, but officials there
say they have yet to develop a counternarcotics strategy. That
approach has arguably contributed to the fact that opium cultivation,
once thought to have been wiped out in Iran, has resumed. Moreover,
drug-related security problems are increasing. It is more than merely
a policy problem, as Iranian officials say unemployment is a major
reason why people turn to poppy cultivation and drug smuggling.
Without a counternarcotics strategy — and until the country reins in
double-digit unemployment and rampant underemployment — Iran will be
unable to win its war on drugs.
The head of Iran’s Drug Control Headquarters,
Fada-Hussein Maliki, told visiting Afghan Interior Minister Moqbal
Zarar on June 13 that profits in the narcotics trade surpass those in
the oil business. Maliki warned of the connection between narcotics
and terrorism, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
Maliki also told his Afghan guest that Iran has controlled the drug
problem through "prudent policies."
Yet in a meeting earlier the same day with a delegation from
the British House of Commons, Maliki pledged that Iran would develop
policies to combat drug smuggling and abuse, IRNA reported. Maliki
said the counternarcotics campaign must be reformed.
Such policy-oriented efforts have been an issue in Iran for
some time, but Maliki’s statement suggests that they remain
unresolved. Indeed, in late May he promised that a policy would be
forthcoming and the campaign would be reformed, according to IRNA on
May 20. Maliki added that relevant laws would be amended.

Interdiction Efforts

Protecting Iran’s eastern borders and preventing the
entry of drug smugglers has been a government priority for many
years, but it is a difficult task. The frontier with Afghanistan and
Pakistan is more than 1,800 kilometers long, and the terrain is
extremely rugged. There is a perception that security efforts have
diminished recently, and Iranians were outraged by grisly attacks on
motorcades traveling through the southeast in March and again in May.
Iranian national police chief General Ismail Ahmadi-Moqaddam
said in early April that Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot secure their
borders. He also accused "the narcotic drugs mafia in those
countries" of being "officially guided and supported by the
Americans," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on April 10. A few days later,
Iranian and Pakistani officials met in the city of Quetta in
southwestern Pakistan to discuss tightening border security, IRNA
reported on April 12.
Around the same time, the Rasul-i Akram base at which police,
military, and other security agencies in southeastern Iran’s
Sistan va Baluchistan Province will coordinate their activities was
established in the city of Zahedan, state television reported on
April 13. During the inauguration ceremony, police chief
Ahmadi-Moqaddam said drugs are at the root of problems in the east
and that opium cultivation in Afghanistan has worsened since 2002,
according to "Aftab-i Yazd" of April 15. Ahmadi-Moqaddam warned that
the establishment of the new base would not solve all the problems.
After the second highway attack, in early May, Iranians’
anger over eastern insecurity picked up. Zahedan parliamentary
representative Hussein-Ali Shahriari warned that if the central
government could not provide security, locals would establish
vigilante groups, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on May 14. Shahriari noted
that violence in the province was not a recent development — 35
people were killed in a 2004 incident, and 11 were killed in 2005.
Shahriari accused the United States of encouraging ethnic differences
in an effort to worsen the situation.
There was also talk in Iran’s legislature of
interpellating the interior minister, Hojatoleslam Mustafa
Pur-Mohammadi, and of questioning provincial security, law
enforcement, and intelligence officials, "Etemad" reported on May 15.
Deputy speaker Mohammad Bahonar said that if the police could not
establish security, then the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps would be
asked to do so.
Qasem Rezai, deputy commander of the Rasul-i Akram base, said
later in May that the prevalence of drug trafficking and other forms
of crime is due to the absence of jobs, "Aftab-i Yazd" and "Iran"
reported. Rezai warned that "one cannot create security with guns."
He added that security forces were in control during the day but the
bandits owned the night.

Opium Cultivation

The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International
Narcotics and Law Enforcement determined in 1998 and 1999 surveys
that a "negligible" amount of opium was being cultivated in Iran. The
report did not rule out the possibility of cultivation in more remote
areas, and reports suggested opium was being cultivated along the
border with Turkey.
Opium-poppy cultivation appears to be making a comeback. In
Iran’s southwestern province of Kohkiluyeh va Boirahmad, there
were late-April reports of opium cultivation. One local complained
that "in many parts of the province, poppy is openly cultivated and
authorities show almost no reaction," "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on
April 24. Another local said poor people resort to opium cultivation
because their needs and demands are ignored.
Mohammad Movahed, who represents the province in the national
legislature, suggested that people from other parts of Iran are
behind the phenomenon, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on April 27. Movahed
cited the large number of educated but unemployed young people, and
argued that "unemployment in the province should be taken seriously."
He claimed that young people have told him "explicitly that this
matter has made them resort to drug dealing."
Movahed said President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s
administration would be more effective creating four realistic
provincial job-creation projects than creating 70 different ones.
Nor is Kohkiluyeh va Boirahmad, in the southwest, the only
place where opium-poppy cultivation occurs. National police chief
Ahmadi-Moqaddam said poppy planting has been going on in various
regions "for several years," according to "Siyasat-i Ruz" of April
27.
The deputy secretary-general of Iran’s Drug Control
Headquarters, on the other hand, said on April 26 that the "mass
cultivation" of opium has been eradicated, according to IRNA. He
called claims of opium cultivation fabrications, except in some cases
where it takes place in remote regions.
Regardless of the government’s efforts or talk of
"isolated" opium cultivation, the situation appears to be worsening.
A Health-Care Organization official noted in Aftab-i Yazd" on April
19 that drug abuse is increasing twice as fast as the population
growth rate. Subsequent statements and incidents appearing in the
Iranian media hint at the same conclusion.
The secretary of the national pharmacologists association,
Seyyed Jamal Vaqefi, said in late April that up to $200 million worth
of pharmaceuticals is smuggled into Iran every year, IRNA reported on
April 24. He said those drugs are available in many unregulated
locations, and he claimed that Iranians consume an excessive amount
of drugs.
During a May 16 legislative session, lawmakers from Tabriz
and from Taft, Mohammad Reza Mirtajedini and Jalal Yahyazadeh,
respectively, said that fake tablets of the drug ecstasy were
responsible for the recent deaths of four schoolgirls, "Resalat"
reported. They said the tablets were made from rice pesticide.
Between June 3 and June 9, Iranian police seized more than 5
tons of drugs across the country, IRNA reported on June 13. Moreover,
295 smugglers and 465 addicts were turned over to the judiciary.
(Bill Samii)

FEMALE DEMONSTRATORS IN TEHRAN BEATEN AND DETAINED. Police and
security forces, including baton-wielding female agents, beat mostly
female demonstrators gathered in central Tehran on June 12 to call
for equal civil and legal rights for women in Iran, RFE/RL’s
Radio Farda reported the same day. One unnamed participant told Radio
Farda that "a very large crowd" of demonstrators included older
women, girls, and boys. Another witness told Radio Farda that police
surrounded the crowd, then began to break up the gathering,
apparently before the protest event had formally begun, beating
participants and arresting some people, many of whom were driven away
in minivans to unspecified locations. "There has been a lot of
fighting, [and] people were chanting slogans," the witness told Radio
Farda. The source said police commanders and plainclothes agents were
directing the forceful response from a nearby mosque.
A security official said on June 12 that the organizers of
the event did not have a permit and it was therefore illegal, IRNA
reported. Ali Jahanbakhsh, director-general for political and police
affairs of the Tehran Governor-General’s Office, said that any
group that wants to hold a rally or other demonstration must first
obtain a permit from the Tehran Governor-General’s Office.
Noted Iranian human rights activist and lawyer Mehrangiz Kar
said at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on June 12 that the authorities
were aware of plans for the demonstration before it took place, and
the organizers received court summonses.
The Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat,
DTV), a politically active student organization, has denounced
suppression of the women’s rights event, Radio Farda reported on
June 13. The DTV called for the immediate release of the arrested
participants, particularly its own members. They include: Bahareh
Hedayat, Shahla Entessari, Masumeh Loghmani, and Atefeh Yusefi. DTV
spokesman Reza Delbari told Radio Farda that all the detainees were
sent to Evin prison.
Justice Minister Jamal Karimi-Rad said in Tehran on June 14
that "most" of the people arrested at the Tehran rally "are presently
free, and a limited number remain under arrest" while an
"interrogator is pursuing investigations with them," the Iranian
Students News Agency (ISNA) reported the same day. Karimi-Rad said
student detainees have been released so they could study for coming
university exams.
A journalist arrested that day, Taraneh Bani-Yaqub, has also
been released, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda reported on June 14. She was
one of four reporters arrested on June 12 while covering the protest;
another, Lila Farhadpur, was released hours later, Reporters Without
Borders stated on its website on June 13. It was unclear whether the
two others the group reported as detained — Bahman Ahmadi-Amui and
Jila Bani-Yaqub — have been released. (Bill Samii, Vahid Sepehri)

REFORMERS URGED TO UNITE FOR POLLS. Hadi Qabel, a member of the
reformist Participation Front, told the Iranian Labor News Agency
(ILNA) on June 11 that he was certain reformers will agree on a
limited number of candidates for elections to the Assembly of Experts
— a senior body of clerics — due on November 17. He expressed hope
that a consensus would end existing divisions among reformist
parties, and allow for a reformist alliance in local council
elections after the Experts polls.
A former deputy interior minister, Mahmud Mirluhi, told ISNA
the same day that divisions have been the principal cause of
reformist defeats in the country’s last three elections. A
consensus, he said, is "the only…suitable strategy" for reformers
if they wish to compete in coming elections, while continued discord
is a "gift to…rivals." He said that Expediency Council chief Akbar
Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a key regime official usually considered a
conservative, is now a reformer. "Given the conduct of conservatives,
Hashemi’s sidelining and recent Qom incidents, he must be placed
in the reformist camp," he said. Rafsanjani was heckled — apparently
by right-wing radicals — as he spoke in Qom on June 5. (Vahid
Sepehri)

CENTRAL BANK ANNOUNCES UNEMPLOYMENT FIGURES FOR PREVIOUS YEAR. A new
report from the Central Bank of Iran states that the national
unemployment rate was 12.1 percent as of March 20, 2006, Fars News
Agency reported on June 5. The overall population was 68.6 million
and the working population was 22.3 million. (Bill Samii)

ACADEMICS WARN OF NEGATIVE ECONOMIC TRENDS. Fifty academics have
written to President Ahmadinejad warning him about the state of
Iran’s economy and criticizing economic policies as inflationary
and against set economic plans, RFE/RL’s Radio Farda reported on
June 15. New York-based academic Siamak Shojai told Radio Farda that
a group of people who have been neutral or technocratic since
Iran’s 1979 revolution have for the first time engaged themselves
in the public sphere. Shojai described the move as an important step
toward identifying some of Iran’s problems. "For the first
time…a number of academics and specialists that have worked as
technocrats in these years have come forward," he said. In their
letter, Shojai told Radio Farda, the economists highlighted
grievances like excessive state intervention in business and
employment regulations as well as noting increased imports and
government spending, but also pointed to broader issues that have led
to economic problems.
A deputy head of Iran’s state customs authority told Fars
News Agency on June 11 that Iran will raise tariffs on a number of
imported goods in a move that it quotes a prominent businessman as
describing as contradictory with Iran’s stated bid to join the
World Trade Organization (WTO). Mahmud Beheshtian suggested import
duties will be raised on mobile telephones, household durables,
clothes, textiles, meat, fruit products such as juice concentrate,
and sugar, Fars reported. In the case of silk, he said, the increase
is tenfold. But Masud Daneshmand, a businessman and member of the
Iran Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told IRNA that such moves
threaten to sidetrack Iran’s accession to the WTO and contradict
its public welcome of WTO observer status. Higher duties are an
injustice to Iranian consumers, Daneshmand said, and the government
can back domestic producers through other means, such as long-term,
interest-free loans.
Separately, the agriculture jihad minister — who oversees
Iran’s rural-development programs — informed legislators on June
11 that Iran intends to be self-sufficient in rice production "in the
next three years," ISNA reported. Mohammad Reza Eskandari said every
Iranian currently consumes an average 36-37 kilograms of rice per
year.
Iranian officials, traders, and businessmen met in Tehran on
June 13 to discuss Iran’s decision to hike tariffs on some 1,000
imported goods in the Persian year to March 20, 2007, Radio Farda
reported on June 14. The tariffs are intended to protect Iranian jobs
when many Iranian manufactures cannot compete with equivalent
imports, Radio Farda reported. It quoted the head of the Tehran
Chamber of Commerce, Alinaqi Khamushi, as telling Industries Minister
Alireza Tahmasbi that "we should not be afraid of the facts…90
percent of our products are no longer competitive."
Tahmasbi said in Tehran on June 13 that Iran does not
consider high tariffs a long-term means of boosting or improving
domestic production, ILNA reported the same day. But he said tariffs
in Iran were lowered in recent years without proper study beforehand.
It may take Iran up to a decade to join the World Trade Organization,
he said, and meanwhile, many countries impose tariffs on imported
manufactures or have protective or "antidumping" regulations, "but
Iran does not have this mechanism," ILNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

EXILED OPPOSITIONIST SAYS IRGC TURNING TO BIG BUSINESS. Prominent
Iranian oppositionist Mohsen Sazegara told Radio Farda on June 11
that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has become
increasingly involved in large-scale economic and construction
projects in the past 15 years and is moving away from its initial
mission as a popular army to defend Iran and its post-1979
revolutionary regime. He said the most recent example is a $1.3
billion project — signed last week between the IRGC and the National
Iranian Gas Company, which is affiliated with the Oil Ministry —
whereby the IRGC will build a pipeline to transport gas from Asaluyeh
in southern Iran to the eastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province.
The IRGC is reportedly implementing 247 other "economic
projects," Radio Farda added, quoting IRGC commander Abdolreza
Abedzadeh. Sazegara, who was imprisoned in Iran in 2003 for his open
advocacy of a secular, democratic system, said the IRGC’s power
and close ties to the state effectively nullify domestic competition
for projects. The IRGC has become a "full-blown party" involved in
various private and public activities, he told Radio Farda. (Vahid
Sepehri)

TEHRAN NOTES ‘POSITIVE’ ASPECTS OF INTERNATIONAL NUCLEAR
PROPOSAL. Iran’s ranking nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said
in Cairo on June 11 that the offer by six major powers on its nuclear
program, which may include technology transfers and other incentives
in exchange for a freeze by Iran on sensitive fuel-making activities,
is "positive" but sections on uranium enrichment need clarification,
Reuters reported the same day. Iran has repeated that it has a right
to make nuclear fuel. Critics want Iran to drop the fuel-making
process because of its potential bomb-making applications.
In Tehran on June 11, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza
Assefi said Iran will examine Western proposals "and prepare our
proposals," for which no deadline has been set, "Aftab-i Yazd"
reported on June 12. He said Iran accepts some of the proposals it
has read and considers others "ambiguous" and others "unnecessary,"
the daily added. Iran will not drag out this process, Assefi said,
but it needs time to examine the proposals. The contents of the
Western package of proposals have not been officially disclosed.
A member of the Iranian parliament’s national security
and foreign policy committee, Rashid Jalali-Jafari, said in Tehran on
June 11 that Iran will not "cross its red line" — that is, the
cessation of uranium enrichment — unless any suspension is temporary
and limited "and does not endanger Iran’s national interests,"
ISNA reported the same day. Many Iranian officials have rejected a
suspension of enrichment outright. Jalali-Ja’fari said that Iran
has "absolutely no intention of setting aside this technology," but
he added that if Western proposals "are such that the suspension of
enrichment helps national interests," there would be "no problem"
accepting suspension "for a short time."
Parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said separately
that Europe’s "return to negotiations is a victory for Iran,
Europe, and international bodies," ILNA reported on June 11. He said
the return to talks shows Europe’s "independence," while the
resolution of international crises through diplomacy boosts the
credibility of international bodies. Iranian officials, he said, will
certainly respond to recent EU proposals on Iran’s nuclear
program, ILNA reported.
Government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said in Tehran on
June 12 that Iran’s positions on the nuclear fuel cycle and
"peaceful nuclear technology" are "clear," and that "we have said our
country has attained this technology, and this is a recognized right"
of Iran, ISNA reported the same day. He said Iran will not discuss
its "evident right" with the five permanent members of the Security
Council plus Germany, the states most actively involved in the effort
to curb Iran’s nuclear program. "That is because it is not
acceptable in international norms for a country to negotiate over its
evident, legal, and recognized rights, and this is not negotiable,"
he said, adding that Iran could discuss "shared concerns" about its
program.
Iran, Elham added, is examining its own nuclear dossier
proposals to the great powers and will make statements at an
unspecified date. He separately dismissed safety concerns over the
Bushehr nuclear plant being built on the Persian Gulf. Gulf neighbors
have in the past expressed concern over its environmental impact.
Elham said Western and Eastern specialists have participated in the
project and "the highest standards" have been respected, ISNA
reported.
An unnamed U.S. State Department official told Reuters in
Vienna on June 12 that Iran must not be allowed to examine
"indefinitely" a recent proposal concerning its nuclear program while
at the same time continuing to pursue sensitive fuel-making and
related activities. He was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board, which
met the same day to discuss Iran’s program. He added that
ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries will
likely discuss "where we stand on Iran" at a scheduled meeting on
June 29-30, Reuters reported.
Also on June 12, IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei
said Iran needs to improve its cooperation with the UN nuclear
inspectorate, and he urged Iran to help clarify remaining questions
on its nuclear program, Reuters reported. Reuters also quoted the EU
High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier
Solana as saying in Luxembourg on June 12 that he hopes to contact
Iran by June 17-18 to learn its views on the nuclear proposal.
In a related matter, the European Union is to present the
IAEA with a document noting that "concerns" persist over Iran’s
contested atomic program and urging Iran to "respond positively" to a
recent package of proposals designed to encourage Tehran to curb
sensitive nuclear activities, AP reported, citing a draft of the
document. The document threatens possible "further steps…in the UN
Security Council" if Iran "remains defiant," but mentions no possible
use of force, AP added.
The U.S. envoy at the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, speaking in
Vienna on June 14, also threatened "further steps" if Iran "chooses
not to negotiate" over its program. AP noted that the language by
both parties was intended to avoid provoking Iranian intransigence as
it mulls over the proposal.
Manuchehr Mottaki said in a telephone conversation with
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema on June 14 that the EU
proposals are a step forward in the dispute and that Iran is
carefully considering them, IRNA and ANSA reported. D’Alema told
ANSA that he thinks direct talks with Iran could help persuade it to
accept the proposals. Mottaki was in Madrid, where he met with
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, AFX News reported.
He said at Madrid airport that the resolution of Iran’s
disagreement with the international community will require efforts to
assure "a country’s right to develop a certain type of energy"
but also to resolve other states’ possible concerns, ANSA
reported.
In Tehran the same day, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman
Hamid Reza Assefi said he is hopeful about the prospects of talks
with the EU if "reason predominates," Fars News Agency reported.
Assefi claimed that "most of the international community now supports
Iran’s nuclear activities." Not only has the United States failed
to create a consensus against Iran, Assefi argued, but "a consensus
has taken shape against America’s positions toward Iran,"
farsnews.com reported.
Meanwhile, Nonaligned Movement (NAM) states are to reissue a
previous statement supporting Iran’s program, Reuters reported on
June 14. A May 30 statement by NAM members backed Iran’s
fuel-making activities, Reuters reported. It quoted Iran’s envoy
at the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, as saying in Vienna on June 14
that "we really appreciate it" and that "NAM support for us" in the
past three years has been "very valuable." (Vahid Sepehri)

SCHOLAR SUGGESTS IRANIAN WEAPONS PROGRESS UNDERESTIMATED. Graham
Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International
Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, writes
in the June 13 issue of "Yale Global Online" that "the American
intelligence community may be seriously underestimating Iran’s
progress toward a nuclear bomb." Allison claims inaccurate
assessments of Iraq’s alleged weapons capabilities have led to
excessive caution regarding Iran, and he describes as worrisome the
unanimity of the intelligence community that Iran is unlikely to have
a nuclear weapon until the next decade. Before the Iraq war, he says,
the community was fairly united in its belief about Iraqi weapons
efforts.
Allison says he questions the assumption that an Iranian
freeze of overt nuclear activities would solve the problems, and he
asks whether success in the open activities is necessarily connected
with success in the clandestine ones. Allison also asks if Iranian
scientists have passed an intellectual "point of no return." Allison
raises the possibilities that Iran has purchased highly enriched
uranium internationally and is already building bombs or that it has
purchased nuclear warheads internationally and is placing them on its
Shihab-3 missiles. (Bill Samii)

SUPREME LEADER PRAISES NUCLEAR ACHIEVEMENTS. Supreme Leader Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei praised Iran’s scientific achievements in a speech
to nuclear-industry officials in Tehran on 15 June and said
development of the country’s nuclear technology is far more
important than oil discovery and extraction, ISNA reported the same
day. Iran earns the bulk of its revenues through the sale of crude
oil. Khamenei said Iran will not "give in to…pressures" exerted by
Western powers who fear Iran will develop nuclear weapons and will
continue its nuclear program.
Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh
addressed the same gathering, saying his organization has formed
several research and specialist training centers for new personnel,
ISNA reported. (Vahid Sepehri)

NEW SIGNALS COULD HINT AT NUCLEAR PRESSURE FROM MOSCOW, BEIJING.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on June 16 called a package of
international incentives aimed at persuading Tehran to abandon
sensitive nuclear activities "a step forward." The comments come one
day after Ahmadinejad met with the Russian and Chinese presidents on
the sidelines of a Eurasian summit in Shanghai. Moscow and Beijing
have resisted Western efforts to seek UN Security Council sanctions
against Iran, but recent events suggest they are also pressing Tehran
to make some concessions to international concerns.
President Ahmadinejad’s encouraging assessment of the
incentives package was accompanied by less clear language about when
Iran will formally respond to the offer.
"We see this [package] overall as a step forward, and I’ve
asked my colleagues to carefully consider it," Ahmadinejad said. "God
willing, we will express our views within the framework of the
national interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Ready For Dialog?

The comments are Ahmadinejad’s first public response to
the package, and come less than 24 hours after talks with Russian
President Vladimir Putin. Putin had emerged from that June 15 meeting
claiming that Iran was "positively" assessing the offer.
Putin also said Ahmadinejad had assured him that Iran was
ready to resume dialog on its controversial nuclear program.
The package of proposals is backed by the five permanent
members of the UN Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia,
and the United States) plus Germany.
It reportedly contains a number of industrial and economic
incentives, including the possible lifting of some U.S. trade
sanctions against Tehran. It is also believed to include the supply
of at least one light-water nuclear reactor to Iran.
U.S. officials have warned that if Iran turns down the
incentives, it could face "the weight of the Security Council," which
could push for sanctions.
Today in Shanghai, President Ahmadinejad rejected the threat
of sanctions to pressure his country on the nuclear issue.
"I think the word ‘sanction’ should be removed from
the political [lexicon]," Ahmadinejad said. "Sanctions should not be
used as a threat or as a tool for exerting pressure."
Ahmadinejad — who has repeatedly invoked national pride in
defending Iranian nuclear activities — said his country supports
"constructive talks on equal footing."

Some Skepticism

Ahmadinejad also said that Iran is not seeking to develop
nuclear weapons.
Despite similar comments by Iranian officials, Western
countries are concerned that Iran could use enriched uranium, for
producing nuclear bombs. The United States have accused Tehran of a
covert nuclear weapons program. The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says Iran has failed to
convince it that its nuclear efforts are purely peaceful in nature.
Today, Chinese media quoted President Hu Jintao as telling
Ahmadinejad that while China understands Iran’s concern over its
right to a peaceful nuclear program, "the critical point" is "to
build mutual trust between Iran and the international community."
President Putin said after the meeting with Ahmadinejad on
June 15 that any country, including Iran, has a right to use nuclear
technology. But he added that countries must do it in a way that
"does not arouse the concerns of the international community on the
nonproliferation issue."

Mounting Pressure

Ahmadinejad did not disclose the details of his talks with
Putin or Hu. But he said "our views and positions on many issue are
close, or even identical."
Russia and China, which each have significant economic
interests in Iran, have pressed for negotiations to defuse the
standoff with the United States and Europe over Iran’s nuclear
program.
Both countries have called on Iran to seriously consider the
current offer.
Chinese President Hu reportedly said the package of
incentives provides a "new opportunity for the settlement of the
issue."
The U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory L. Schulte, has
called on Iran to respond positively to the offer and suspend its
uranium enrichment.
The United States and the other five countries that agreed on
the package have not set a concrete deadline for Iran to respond.
EU foreign policy chief Solana said on June 14 that he has
held "constructive" telephone conversations with Iran’s top nuclear
negotiator, Ali Larijani.
Solana had officially conveyed the package of incentives to
Iran during a visit to Tehran on June 6.
Agencies report that EU leaders gathered at an EU summit in
Brussels are expected later today to call on Iran to take the
"positive path" and give an "early response" to the package.
On June 15, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jintao
said that Iranian officials might need "some extra time" before they
can formally react to the proposals.
Iranian officials have said they will respond in "due course"
while stressing that talks should be "unconditional." (Golnaz
Esfandiari)

TURKEY DEPORTS IRANIAN AZERI LEADER. Mahmudali Chehraganli, one of
the leaders of the Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement
that claims to represent Iran’s large Azeri minority, was
apprehended on June 9 by Turkish police on the grounds that his life
was allegedly in danger and deported to Azerbaijan, his country of
choice, day.az reported on June 10. Chehraganli reportedly arrived in
Turkey on June 5 from the United States, and told journalists there
he planned to travel to Baku on June 16, whereupon Iran’s
ambassador in Baku, Afshar Suleimani, commented that he does "not
think that the Azerbaijani authorities will issue him a visa and
permit him to carry on his work here."
According to an unconfirmed report by the opposition
newspaper "Yeni Musavat" on June 11, Azerbaijani National Security
Ministry officials arrested Chehraganli in Baku late on June 10,
together with his daughter who was accompanying him, and put them
both on a plane to Dubai.
Chehraganli told day.az in a June 13 interview that he
arrived legally in Baku, having obtained a visa, but was subsequently
detained by security officials who demanded that he leave the country
immediately, and after being taken with his family directly to Baku
airport, he decided to fly to New York, where the Movement has an
office. Chehraganli said that his arrival in Baku "disturbed someone,
and the Azerbaijani government acted in accordance with the wishes"
of the Iranian authorities.
However, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov
denied on June 12 that Chehraganli was constrained to leave Baku on
June 10, day.az reported. Mammadyarov said Chehraganli left
Azerbaijan of his own volition after consultations with persons
Mammadyarov did not name. The Azerbaijani National Security Ministry
similarly denied on June 12 that Chehraganli was deported. (Liz
Fuller)

SAUDI, IRAQI OFFICIALS VISIT TEHRAN. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud
al-Faisal was in Tehran on June 12 to meet with President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki to discuss
regional politics, the nuclear dossier, and Iraq, ISNA reported.
Al-Faisal said after his meeting with Mottaki that "Saudi Arabia
supports the peaceful resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue" and is
grateful that Iran has declared it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad later told him the two states should cooperate in "energy
management" and activate a joint committee to oversee various areas
of bilateral cooperation. He said Iran and Saudi Arabia should work
with Iraq’s government to promote security and progress in Iraq,
ISNA reported.
Separately the same day, Ahmadinejad met with Iraqi Vice
President Adil Abd al-Mahdi in Tehran, ISNA reported. Ahmadinejad
said "intelligence and sympathy" have helped form a new Iraqi
government and are the key to future successes. With such qualities,
he said, Iraqis will prevent "the occupiers" from achieving their
goals of "pillaging Iraq’s resources and the continuation of
insecurity." Al-Mahdi said he hopes for an expansion of Iraq-Iran
ties and Iran’s participation in unspecified water, electricity,
and oil projects, ISNA reported.
Mottaki said in remarks in Madrid published in "El Pais" on
June 15 that there is a "dirty plan" afoot to "create, back, and
continue ethnic and religious confrontations in Iraq and other parts
of the Islamic world." He said Iran supports "all Iraqis," whatever
their ethnic or religious affiliation, and their participation in
Iraq’s government. Unfortunately, he said, "terrorist groups"
have been created "with the financial and military backing
of…specific countries now making propaganda of fighting them under
the banner of the war against terrorism," elpais.es reported. He did
not specify what country he was referring to. "There are no good or
bad terrorists," Mottaki said. He urged the Iraqi government to take
measures to end terrorism on its territory, and said he hopes a date
is set for the departure of foreign coalition forces from Iraq.
(Vahid Sepehri)

SYRIAN MILITARY DELEGATION SIGNS AGREEMENT IN IRAN. Major General
Hussein Firuzabadi, chief of the joint staff of Iran’s armed
forces, met on June 13 in Tehran with the visiting Syrian Defense
Minister General Hassan Turkmani, IRNA reported. Firuzabadi said Iran
is ready to cooperate with Syria, particularly in the area of defense
industries. He also praised Syrian resistance to Israel. The Syrian
delegation arrived in Iran the previous day.
Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics
Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar met with Turkmani on June 12, Syrian Arab
Television and IRNA reported. According to Syrian television, the two
sides discussed bilateral cooperation, and they described their
defense and military links as a model for the region and a
contributor to peace and stability. Regional topics of discussion
included Iraq, its government, and its territorial integrity, as well
as Palestine. Turkmani said the Syrian and Iranian armed forces must
be prepared to confront the unnamed "joint enemy," and he expressed
support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Mohammad-Najjar, according
to IRNA, emphasized Iranian support for Syria and said: "Syria’s
security is considered as part of the security and national interests
of Iran. We find ourselves bound to defend it."
The Iranian and Syrian defense ministers on June 15 signed an
agreement to strengthen their "strategic" relationship, provide a
vigorous response to "disorder and insecurity" in the region, and
form an ongoing joint-defense committee, ISNA reported the same day.
At a subsequent news conference, Mohammad-Najjar said the Syrian
delegation’s visit conveys a message of solidarity between
Islamic states. He said he and Turkmani discussed Iran’s support
for "the Lebanese resistance," presumably the Hizballah, ISNA
reported. "We shall continue to support the resistance, and the
people of Palestine," he said. Mohammad-Najjar suggested that Iran is
not unduly concerned by "America’s threats," and said regional
peoples have come to realize these are "merely psychological
operations…[but] these threats will not get anywhere, and we shall
maintain our course." Iran, he said, will continue missile
"development and research" as part of a defensive policy of
deterrence.
Both ministers stressed that their states consider their
respective security a mutual concern. Turkmani said Iran and Syria
are forming a common front against Israeli threats. "We work to
mobilize movements and forces against America and Israel," Turkmani
said. "We have always consulted, and keep consulting, with Iran in
this regard."
General Karim Qavami, head of Iran’s regular air force,
met with Turkmani in Damascus on June 7, SANA reported. (Bill Samii,
Vahid Sepehri)

AHMADINEJAD ENCOURAGES PALESTINIAN ‘RESISTANCE.’ President
Mahmud Ahmadinejad met on June 11 in Tehran with visiting Palestinian
Foreign Minister Mahmud al-Zahhar, Tehran television and IRNA
reported. Al-Zahhar, who is a senior member of Hamas, was advised by
his host, "You [Palestinians] should intensify your resistance as it
is the key to winning the battle against bullying and spurious
powers," IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad went on to say that the Hamas-led
government should also concentrate on developing Palestine and
exposing the misdeeds of the "Zionist regime," both agencies
reported.
Ahmadinejad said the Islamic community should support the
Palestinian government, and he emphasized Iran’s support for that
government as it tries to "liberate the holy Qods [Jerusalem]."
Ahmadinejad criticized Western support for Israel, IRNA reported.
Al-Zahhar expressed gratitude for continuing Iranian support.
Tehran pledged to assist the Hamas-led government financially after
the United States, EU, and Israel said they would withhold support
pending Hamas’ renunciation of violence and its recognition of
Israel’s right to exist. (Bill Samii)

PUTIN SAYS GAZPROM COULD FINANCE PLANNED IRANIAN PIPELINE. Iranian
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told his Russian counterpart Vladimir
Putin at the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
in that Chinese city on June 15 that the two countries should work
together to set gas prices, RIA Novosti reported. "We can closely
cooperate from the standpoint of setting natural-gas prices…in the
interests of global stability," Ahmadinejad argued.
Addressing reporters in Shanghai on June 15, President Putin
said that Gazprom is prepared to help build a proposed natural-gas
pipeline linking Iran to India through Pakistan, international news
agencies reported. He specifically mentioned the possibility of
financial help and called the project, which the United States
opposes, "perfectly feasible" and "perfectly profitable." Iran,
India, and Pakistan have been negotiating for months about the
proposed $7 billion pipeline project. (Patrick Moore)

TAJIK BORDER-GUARD CHIEF MEETS WITH IRANIAN OFFICIALS. The head of
the Tajik border guards, Colonel General Saydamir Zuhurov, returned
to Dushanbe on June 14 after concluding a three-day official visit to
Iran, Asia-Plus reported. Zuhurov met with Islamic Revolution Guards
Corps commander Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, in Tehran to
discuss the expansion of bilateral cooperation in border security and
the counterterrorism and counternarcotics efforts. (Richard
Giragosian)

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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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