RFE/RL Iran Report – 06/26/2006

RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
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RFE/RL Iran Report
Vol. 9, No. 23, 26 June 2006

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

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HEADLINES:
* IRAN FEATURES IN U.S. PRESIDENT’S SPEECH
* TEHRAN WANTS TO START NUCLEAR TALKS BEFORE MAKING A DECISION
* TEHRAN WILL NOT DISCUSS IRAQ WITH WASHINGTON
* IRAQIS ATTACK IRANIAN CONSULATES IN AL-BASRAH, KARBALA
* PALESTINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER NOTES IRANIAN FUNDING
* LEBANESE ‘RESISTANCE’ FIGURE VISITS IRAN
* ISRAELI MILITARY CLAIMS IRANIANS NEAR NORTHERN BORDER
* IRAN’S ONGOING DIPLOMATIC SHUFFLE LEAVES VEXING QUESTIONS
* UNITED KINGDOM GETS NEW IRANIAN AMBASSADOR
* IRANIAN OFFICIALS HAIL SCO MEETING IN SHANGHAI
* DOES THE ROAD TO SHANGHAI GO THROUGH TEHRAN?
* UN REFUGEE AGENCY DESCRIBES ACTIVITIES IN IRAN
* IRANIAN MINISTERS ADDRESS NEW HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
* RUSSIAN LEGISLATOR HAILS POSSIBLE ‘GAS ALLIANCE’ WITH IRAN
* SUSPECTED IRANIAN DRUG SMUGGLERS DETAINED IN MUMBAI
* AHMADINEJAD’S POPULARITY VARIOUSLY DESCRIBED
* AFTER ONE YEAR, IS THE AHMADINEJAD HONEYMOON OVER?
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IRAN FEATURES IN U.S. PRESIDENT’S SPEECH. President George W.
Bush focused on Iran during a June 19 commencement address at the
United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, Radio
Farda reported. Bush charged that the Iranian leadership sponsors
terrorism, represses its own people, threatens Israel, and defies
international treaty obligations by "pursuing nuclear activities that
mask its effort to acquire nuclear weapons." Bush expressed his hope
that Iran will suspend uranium enrichment and commence negotiations
with the United States and other countries, and he described the
international proposal submitted to Tehran in early June as a
"historic opportunity."
Bush also reached out to the Iranian public, praising the
country’s history and culture and acknowledging its scientific
accomplishments. "We believe the Iranian people should enjoy the
benefits of a truly peaceful program to use nuclear reactors to
generate electric power," he said. "So America supports the Iranian
people’s rights to develop nuclear energy peacefully, with proper
international safeguards."
Bush referred to $75 million in the U.S. budget that he said
will contribute to "openness and freedom," fund radio and television
broadcasts to Iran, support human rights activists and civil-society
groups, and promote academic exchanges (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 22
February 2006). Bush said he anticipates a day when Iranians can
enjoy "the full fruits of liberty."
In an address that preceded Bush’s, Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a June 19 meeting in Tehran with
government officials that "the most vital challenge which originates
from abroad is anti-Iranian sentiments and moves of the U.S.," Fars
News Agency reported. Khamenei attributed perceived U.S. hostility to
Iran’s anti-imperialism and to its anti-U.S. policies. More
American plots are on the way, Khamenei warned, because economic
sanctions, the 1980-88 war with Iraq, and the cultural offensive have
not yielded results.
Khamenei also condemned Al-Qaeda and its activities in Iraq.
BS

TEHRAN WANTS TO START NUCLEAR TALKS BEFORE MAKING A DECISION. EU High
Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana
visited Tehran in early June to submit an international proposal that
purportedly calls on Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment
activities in exchange for various incentives until international
inspectors confirm that the country’s nuclear program has no
military applications. Since then, there has been speculation on the
nature of the proposal formulated by China, France, Germany, Russia,
the United Kingdom, and the United States, although official
confirmation has not appeared yet.
Furthermore, there are questions about when Iran will respond
— the international community is encouraging Tehran to act soon.
Tehran does not seem to be in a hurry, however, saying it wants to
examine the proposal closely. Furthermore, Iranians will not want to
be perceived as submitting to pressure. Nevertheless, the Iranian
side says it is willing to begin talks immediately, if there are no
preconditions. Engaging in such seemingly unstructured discussions,
however, is unlikely to be productive and could be an Iranian
delaying tactic.
The pressure on Tehran kicked off with President George W.
Bush’s June 19 commencement address at the United States Merchant
Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, Radio Farda reported. Bush
expressed his hope that Iran will suspend uranium enrichment and
commence negotiations with the United States and other countries, and
he described the international proposal submitted to Tehran in early
June as a "historic opportunity."
The next day, Radio Farda quoted anonymous European diplomats
as saying that Iran faces a June 29 deadline for responding to the
proposal. The alleged deadline was conveyed to the Iranian government
by Solana when he visited Tehran in early June, according to Radio
Farda. June 29 is significant because it is when G8 foreign ministers
meet in Moscow.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki denied in Baku on
June 20 that Iran is facing a deadline and suggested that
international negotiations get under way. "Some kind of negotiation
can start even before [Iran gives] the final answer," Mottaki said,
according to Radio Farda. "I mean, there can be some questions and
some doubts which need clarification, and that is why starting
negotiations between Iran and the other parties, of course without
any preconditions, can help all the parties come together more
closely."
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad announced a seemingly
self-imposed deadline during a speech in the western Iranian city of
Hamedan on June 21, Radio Farda and Iranian state television
reported. "We have said many times that we are in favor of dialogue
and negotiations," Ahmadinejad said. "We will announce our views on
the proposals towards the end of Mordad [month ending 22 August]. We
support talks but they must be on equal and just terms."
Speaking at a press conference in Vienna on June 21,
President Bush sounded impatient with the Iranians and said Iran
should hurry up and accept the international community’s proposal
on its nuclear program, "The Washington Post" reported. "It
shouldn’t take the Iranians that long to analyze what is a
reasonable deal," Bush said. "Our position is we’ll come to the
table when they verifiably suspend. Period."
Yet it is not just the U.S. that is eager for an Iranian
response. Other country’s leaders voiced similar views. Austrian
Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said on June 21 that Iran "should not
play with time," "The Washington Post" reported.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said
on June 22 that Iran should make a decision soon on the nuclear
proposal, AFP reported. "In our minds, it’s a question of weeks,
not months," Mattei said. "The offer from the six [China, France,
Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States] to Iran
is a good proposal. We urge Iran to give a positive reply."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu expressed a
similar view on June 22, Xinhua reported. "We hope Iran would be
highly attentive to the concerns of the international community, take
a positive attitude, and make a formal response to the package
proposal at an early date," she said. Jiang also called for the other
parties to be patient.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Iranian Foreign
Minister Mottaki in Geneva on June 22 and said at a joint news
conference afterward that he hopes Iran decides on the international
proposal soon, Radio Farda reported. "I believe [Iran] is considering
this offer very seriously, as I have urged it to do, and I hope it
will give its official answer before too long," Annan said. He noted
Iran’s insistence that its nuclear program is peaceful, and he
stressed the importance of convincing other countries of this by
cooperating fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted
Mottaki as saying at the same news conference that Tehran is studying
the proposal closely and would welcome talks about it "without
preconditions."
Western diplomats who have negotiated with the Iranian
government warn that such talks can be a painful and ultimately
unproductive process. Some of the tactics the Iranians employ include
playing up factional differences in their own governing apparatus, as
well as trying to play up differences among their interlocutors and
creating splits between them. The Iranians, furthermore, will
negotiate on the terms of an agreement, and afterwards, they will
either negotiate on the implementation of the agreement or ignore the
agreement completely. Finally, the Iranian side may just choose to
string out the negotiations. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN WILL NOT DISCUSS IRAQ WITH WASHINGTON. Washington called on
Tehran to begin bilateral talks on Iraqi affairs in autumn 2005, and
Tehran agreed to this in March 2006. The Iranian pretext for this
decision was a request by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme
Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Not only have the
talks failed to materialize, despite al-Hakim’s continuing
interest in them, but the Iranian government has made clear that it
is no longer interested. The reason for Tehran’s decision is far
from clear, but American officials’ recent allegations of Iranian
interference in Iraqi affairs are not likely to make Iran change its
mind.
Tehran’s Hard Line
Al-Hakim is visiting the Iranian capital in connection with a
July 8-9 meeting in Tehran of foreign ministers from Iraq’s
neighboring states and from Organization of the Islamic Conference
member states. During a June 17 news briefing in Tehran, Al-Hakim
told reporters that Iranian-U.S. talks would benefit Iraq, the
official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. He expressed
the hope that obstacles to such talks will be removed.
The next day, however, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza
Assefi said Tehran is unwilling to discuss Iraqi affairs with
Washington, despite previous indications to the contrary, Radio Farda
reported. "Because we respected the opinion of Mr. [Abd al-Aziz]
al-Hakim, we accepted his request to talk to the United States,"
Assefi said. "But the Americans showed unreasonable and inappropriate
behavior that made the talks impossible."
The Iranian official did not describe the supposed
"unreasonable and inappropriate behavior." Tehran’s refusal to
hold the talks probably has more to do with its perceived
self-interest than with anything done by the U.S. Tehran may believe
that holding the talks now will appear to legitimize the U.S.
occupation of Iraq. Tehran may also fear that participating in the
talks at the same time that it is considering the international
proposal on its nuclear program would at worst seem weak and at best
would divert attention from a bigger issue.
Al-Hakim continued to meet with Iranian officials, and state
media did not describe his sentiments on the collapse of Iran-U.S.
talks on Iraqi affairs. Al-Hakim met on June 18 with President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar
Hashemi-Rafsanjani, IRNA reported. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said the
continuing presence of foreign forces in Iraq is causing regional
instability, and that political activism by religious leaders will
contribute to national unity. Al-Hakim concurred on the importance of
religion and said ethnic and religious divisions will lead nowhere.
Al-Hakim met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on
June 20, IRNA reported. Khamenei said the withdrawal of occupation
forces and the management of national affairs by Iraqis would
strengthen national security.
Allegations Of Iranian Interference
Washington’s feelings about the Iranian refusal to
discuss Iraqi affairs are unknown. In recent days, however, there
have been renewed complaints from U.S. officials about alleged
Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.
Ambassador David Satterfield, currently the senior advisor
for Iraq to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, noted
continuing Iranian interference in the affairs of its western
neighbor, "Al-Quds al-Arabi" and "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on June
21. Satterfield just completed a tour as deputy chief of mission in
Baghdad, and he also has served as deputy assistant secretary of
state for Near Eastern affairs and U.S. ambassador to Lebanon.
"Everyone is worried by Iran’s interference in Iraqi affairs,
especially the interference that has led to acts of violence and dead
Iraqi and coalition forces," Satterfield said. He encouraged
Iraq’s other neighbors to pressure Iran to cease and desist.
One day later in Washington, the top commander of U.S. forces
in Iraq, General George Casey, told a news briefing at the Pentagon,
"We are quite confident that the Iranians, through their covert
special operations forces, are providing weapons, IED [improvised
explosive device] technology and training to Shi’a extremist
groups in Iraq." This training, Casey said, is taking place in Iran
and in Lebanon. Casey accused Iran of using its surrogates to conduct
terrorist operations against U.S. forces and against Iraqis. Casey
conceded that Iran is not directing these attacks, but asserted
nevertheless, "They are providing the material to Shi’a extremist
groups that operate as their surrogates." (Bill Samii)

IRAQIS ATTACK IRANIAN CONSULATES IN AL-BASRAH, KARBALA. Followers of
cleric Mahmud al-Hassani claimed on June 19 that guards at the tomb
of Imam Hussein in Karbala blocked their access to that Shi’ite
holy site, Baghdad’s Al-Sharqiyah television reported.
Al-Hassani’s faithful then staged a demonstration in front of the
Iranian Consulate in Karbala after a cleric identified only as
al-Kurani claimed on Iran’s Al-Kawthar satellite television
station that al-Hassani’s followers conspired in the unsuccessful
attempt on the life of Islamic scholar Seyyed Murtada al-Qazwini.
Al-Sharqiyah identified al-Kurani as an Iranian, but scholar Asad
Abu-Khalil claimed on his blog that Ali al-Kurani is a Lebanese
Shi’ite cleric who was affiliated with Iraq’s Al-Da’wah
al-Islamiyah party. After the demonstration, the Iranian consul
received a letter demanding an apology, and then an Iraqi flag was
hoisted on the consulate. Similar events transpired at the Iranian
Consulate in Al-Basrah. BS

PALESTINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER NOTES IRANIAN FUNDING. Just back from a
trip to Tehran and other Asian cities, Palestinian Foreign Minister
Mahmud al-Zahhar said at a June 17 news conference in Gaza that that
Iran has donated $50 million to the Hamas-led government,
Bethlehem’s Ma’an News Agency reported. He said other sources
of funding include $50 million from Libya, $30 million from the Arab
League Fund and other sources, and $60 million in taxes that Israel
owes the Palestinian Authority. BS

LEBANESE ‘RESISTANCE’ FIGURE VISITS IRAN. Mustafa Dirani, a
leading figure in Lebanese Hizballah who until late 2003 was
imprisoned in Israel, met in Tehran on June 19 with Foreign Minister
Manuchehr Mottaki, IRNA and Mehr News Agency reported. Mottaki hailed
Dirani’s "resistance" during imprisonment and said this
symbolizes the struggle against Israel. Dirani thanked Iran for the
spiritual support it has given the Lebanese and Palestinian people.
Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Lebanese
Hizballah, praised Iranian support for Arabs during a June 6 speech
in Beirut, Al-Manar television reported. "Iran is a power for the
Arabs," he said. "It is a power for the Muslims. It is a power for
all of us. It is a power for Lebanon, Palestine, and for all our Arab
and Muslim peoples." He claimed Shi’ite-Sunni conflict is being
fostered and Iran is being portrayed as a Shi’ite threat.
Nasrallah went on to say that the United States is encouraging "this
confrontation," and that "the killers in Iraq, no matter what sect
they belong to, are Americans and Zionists and CIA and Mossad
agents."
Writing in Beirut’s "Al-Mustaqbal" daily on June 5,
journalist Qasim Qasir reported that Tehran-Beirut relations have
deteriorated. The ceremony marking the most recent departure of an
Iranian ambassador, Masud Edrisi, was attended solely by Shi’ite
organizations, including Hizballah, Amal, and the Higher Islamic
Shi’ite Council. Qasir reported that Edrisi’s predecessor,
Mohammad Ali Sobhani, established "strong relations" with all
Lebanese parties, "especially Christian ones," and a greater variety
of people attended his going-away party.
Iranian diplomats have improved ties with Druze legislator
Walid Jumblatt’s enemies in reaction to his open opposition to
alleged Iranian interference in Lebanese affairs, journalist Qasim
Qasir claims in his June 5 article in "Al-Mustaqbal." Jumblatt said
in a May 25 interview with Al-Arabiyah television that Iran should
stop sending supplies to Hizballah, and that he has received
information that Islamic Revolution Guards Corps personnel from Iran
have come to Lebanon recently. "They are being prepared for special
operations," he added, possibly hinting at assassinations. Jumblatt
did not identify the prospective targets of such operations. BS

ISRAELI MILITARY CLAIMS IRANIANS NEAR NORTHERN BORDER. Israeli
Defense Forces (IDF) personnel located along that country’s
northern border claim they have detected Iranian personnel on the
Lebanese side of the frontier, Jerusalem’s Channel 2 television
reported on January 19. Brigadier General Alon Friedman, head of IDF
Northern Command Headquarters, said the Iranians are visible to the
naked eye. "They are not soldiers, but we know definitely that they
are associated with Iran," Friedman said. "We can see them easily."
Friedman did not explain how the Iranians’ nationality was
determined. BS

IRAN’S ONGOING DIPLOMATIC SHUFFLE LEAVES VEXING QUESTIONS. Tehran
is expected to dispatch new ambassadors to London and Paris as part
of an ongoing diplomatic shuffle that began shortly after President
Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s inauguration in August. Hints of the
diplomatic housecleaning emerged last fall, with reports that the
envoys to the UN mission in Geneva, Germany, Malaysia, and France and
the U.K. had been recalled or would soon be replaced. Could the
appointment of experienced envoys to two European capitals
consolidate hard-line gains in the diplomatic corps — or keep more
radical elements at bay?
Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Mostafavi announced in early
June that Iran’s new ambassadors to the United Kingdom and France
would take their posts soon. Ali Ahani — whose most recent
assignment is ambassador to Belgium and the European Union and who
has previously served as ambassador to East Germany, France, and
Italy — is headed to Paris. Rasul Movahedian-Attar, who has served
as ambassador to Portugal, will serve as Tehran’s ambassador in
London.
Their posts have been in limbo since observers warned of a
looming purge of Iran’s diplomatic corps by the new president,
Mahmud Ahmadinejad, months after he took office in August.
Ahmadinejad had embarked on a confrontational foreign policy
path, and it appeared that he would select foreign representatives
more in tune with his tougher approach — particularly on the nuclear
issue.
Cleaning House
The rapporteur of Iranian legislature’s national security
and foreign policy committee, Kazem Jalali, said at the time that the
Foreign Ministry had submitted a list of 30-40 envoys who would be
"removed, replaced, or whose tenure will come to an end" by March 21,
2006, according to the Iranian Students news Agency (ISNA).
Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki confirmed that statement,
adding that "some ambassadors have reached the retirement age or
asked for early retirement," Fars News Agency reported on November 2,
2005. At the same time, Mottaki denied that Iran’s permanent
representative at the United Nations in New York, Mohammad Javad
Zarif, would be replaced.
The substitution of foreign envoys is not unusual for an
incoming executive like President Ahmadinejad. But complaints soon
emerged over perceived delays in naming replacements.
In late January, a reformist daily, "Etemad-i Melli," on
January 28 quoted anonymous sources who said the ambassadors to
France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom had been selected, as
well as a new representative to the UN mission in Geneva. But the
newspaper also argued that the new ambassadors selected by
Ahmadinejad’s fundamentalist government had neither the
"experience, expertise, [nor] command enjoyed by their counterparts
in the reform government [of Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami]." The
paper conceded that they were not complete novices. It named
Movahedian-Attar and Ahani among the planned appointments.
The paper added that Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh, who most
recently represented Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) in Vienna and who previously served as ambassador to the U.K.
and to Pakistan, would be sent to Paris. It predicted that Alireza
Moayeri, who previously served as deputy foreign minister for
research, would serve in Berlin.
Abolfazl Zohrevand, who served as the consul in Herat, would
serve as ambassador in Rome, the reformist daily continued. While
Zohrevand is a relatively junior figure, he reportedly is close to
Mujtaba Hashemi-Samarei, one of the president’s top advisers. The
daily added that Zarif, the representative at the United Nations, is
"facing enormous pressure to resign."
The selection of Ahani, Movahedian, and Zohrevand was
confirmed in early February by another reformist daily, "Mardom
Salari" reported on February 6.
Writing On The Wall
An official report in mid-April then announced that 60 of
Iran’s ambassadors would be replaced. The appointment of two
specific diplomatic representatives was announced at that time.
Ambassador to the IAEA Ali-Asghar Soltanieh would take over as the
new Iranian representative at the UN office in Vienna, while
Soltanieh would replace Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh, who would serve
as ambassador in Berlin, Mehr News Agency reported on April 16.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi has said that
the replacement of 60-70 ambassadors has been planned since
Ahmadinejad took office, IRNA reported on April 18. He added that 120
ambassadors are replaced every three years — or 40 ambassadors in an
average year.
Some Iranians have been critical of the diplomatic
housecleaning, arguing that mass personnel changes might weaken the
country’s diplomatic apparatus. Others have recommended waiting
to see whether the replacements are truly qualified or mere political
appointees, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on April 18.
But legislator Suleiman Jafarzadeh hailed the changes as long
overdue. He praised President Ahmadinejad’s policies, and said
that only ambassadors who believe in them wholeheartedly can act
convincingly and effectively. Jafarzadeh suggested that "one of the
reasons the Ahmadinejad government has not had a suitable image
abroad is the failure by the ambassadors to adequately defend
[Ahmadinejad’s] image around the world." He called such a failure
"a betrayal of Ahmadinejad."
The country’s powerful hard-line Islamic Revolution
Guards Corps (IRGC) has remained in the background during all this
diplomatic bloodletting. But should the new ambassadors and the
Foreign Ministry stumble, the IRGC is ready to fill the vacuum. The
IRGC’s public-relations chief, Seyyed Ahmad Mohieddin Morshedi,
said in mid-May that the IRGC is well known internationally and is
ready to participate in international relations, "Farhang-i Ashti"
reported on May 17. The spokesman explained that "the IRGC has
military relations with many countries, and those who want to stand
against tyranny in the world follow our model." He cited Hizballah as
an example of a "purely Lebanese system," adding ominously that while
the IRGC has "no direct part in it…our models significantly
influence the revolutionary movements of Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq,
and Afghanistan." The spokesman also said that while "the IRGC is not
a meddler, it has a part to play in international diplomacy." (Bill
Samii)

UNITED KINGDOM GETS NEW IRANIAN AMBASSADOR. The Iranian Foreign
Ministry announced on June 19 that Rasul Movahedian-Attar has been
selected as Iran’s ambassador to London, IRNA reported on June
20. Movahedian-Attar previously served as ambassador in Prague and in
Lisbon. The appointment could prove significant in connection with
the United Kingdom’s role in nuclear diplomacy. BS

IRANIAN OFFICIALS HAIL SCO MEETING IN SHANGHAI. Iranian Foreign
Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on June 18 described as
"positive" the recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization (SCO), IRNA reported. By attending the event, Assefi
continued, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad had the opportunity to inform
his counterparts of the Iranian stance on a number of issues. Iran
currently has observer status in the SCO but has expressed an
interest in full membership, and Assefi said Iran would like to
increase its cooperation with member states on a variety of issues.
One day earlier, Ahmadinejad said his trip to Shanghai was
useful, state radio reported. Ahmadinejad spoke with Russian
President Putin, saying, "We share same views in many areas including
regional security, world peace, and development of economic ties. We
made good decisions regarding the energy issue." Ahmadinejad also met
with Chinese President Hu Jintao, saying, "We have a high rate of
official and unofficial trade exchange with China, including mutual
investment, commerce, and industry. We discussed current issues
facing Asia and the international community. Fortunately, we share
the same views on these issues." BS

DOES THE ROAD TO SHANGHAI GO THROUGH TEHRAN? New variables are
entering the geopolitical calculus of Central Asia. An ongoing
Russian-Uzbek rapprochement is only the most visible sign of
resurgent Russian influence in the region, which is an important
source of natural gas to feed Moscow’s ambitions of becoming a
21st-century energy superpower. Chinese interest in Central Asian
energy resources is also growing. And the United States continues to
maintain close, energy-inflected ties with Kazakhstan and a military
base in Kyrgyzstan. But the newest variable is the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO), which brings together China,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in an ambiguous
alliance that many in the West are beginning to view with
trepidation.
The SCO will soon celebrate its fifth anniversary with a
summit of member states’ leaders in Shanghai on June 15. Last
year’s summit, in Kazakhstan, was notable for a declaration
asking members of the "antiterrorist coalition" to provide a time
frame for the withdrawal of military forces from SCO territory. It
was a pointed reference to U.S. military bases in Uzbekistan and
Kyrgyzstan. Only two weeks later, Uzbekistan evicted the United
States from its Karshi-Khanabad air base.
This year, the summit will open against a backdrop of reports
that Iran, which currently holds observer status in the SCO (along
with India, Mongolia, and Pakistan), is looking to become a
full-fledged member.
‘OPEC With Bombs’?
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mohammadi set the
speculation rippling in April, when he said that Iran hopes to join
the SCO in the summer. The foreign ministers of Kazakhstan and
Tajikistan subsequently downplayed the possibility, citing a lack of
formal mechanisms to accommodate new members. But the gambit, coming
in the context of Iran’s strained relations with the West over
Tehran’s nuclear program, drew notice. "The Washington Times"
quoted David Wall, professor at the University of Cambridge’s
East Asia Institute, as saying that "an expanded SCO would control a
large part of the world’s oil and gas reserves and nuclear
arsenal. It would essentially be an OPEC with bombs."
As it emerged that Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad would
attend the SCO summit in Shanghai, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld also addressed the issue of Iran’s potential membership
of the organization, "The New York Times" reported on June 4.
Singling out Iran, Rumsfeld remarked that it was "passing strange
that one would want to bring into an organization that says it is
against terrorism one of the leading terrorist nations in the world."
SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang quickly retorted, AP
reported on June 7, firing back: "We cannot abide by other countries
calling our observer nations sponsors of terror. We would not have
invited them if we believed they sponsored terror."
Mutual Support
Three points follow from the reactions to the SCO’s
Iranian gambit. First, the SCO represents an approach to multilateral
relations and an understanding of terrorism that do not, in fact,
define Iran as a sponsor of terror and would permit Iran’s
accession. Second, it is unlikely that Iran will join the SCO in the
near future. And third, even if Iran joined, the SCO would have a
long way to go before becoming a genuine "OPEC with bombs."
The SCO’s charter helps to explain why SCO states —
primarily China and Russia — do not consider Iran a sponsor of
terrorism. While the charter’s "aims and objections" list "joint
opposition to terrorism, separatism, and extremism in all their
manifestations," its first principle is "mutual respect for
states’ sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity and
the sanctity of borders, nonaggression, noninterference in internal
affairs, the non-use of force or the threat of force in international
relations, and renunciation of unilateral military superiority in
contiguous areas."
The crux of the matter is that, for SCO member states,
"terrorism, separatism, and extremism" are viewed not as distinct
abstract phenomena with global relevance to be dealt with globally,
but rather as a single phenomenon that is locally defined by the
ruling elite and left to sovereign states to combat by any means they
see fit. For Russia, it is Chechen separatism; for China, Uighur
"splittism"; for Uzbekistan, religious extremism. The task of SCO
member-states is to support each other as they combat perceived
threats to existing power relations, as Russia and China did when
Uzbekistan labeled May 2005 unrest in Andijon "terrorism" and crushed
it with maximum force.
It is the locally bounded definition of terrorism that leads
SCO member states to reject the labeling of Iran as a sponsor of
terror, and the globally defined emphasis on sovereignty and
non-interference that makes them amenable to granting Iran
membership. Iran does not support Chechen separatists, Uighur
"splittists," or Uzbek "religious extremists." The SCO’s
understanding of terrorism is not based on globally applied
principles — hence the inclusion of the fight against "terrorism,
extremism, and separatism" in the charter’s aims and objectives.
So if Iran chooses to support individuals and groups it defines as
"legitimate resistance" in a theater outside the SCO region, that is
Iran’s business. But absolute sovereignty and non-interference
are global principles to the SCO (hence their inclusion in the
charter’s principles), which is thus sympathetic to Tehran’s
plight as, in their view, a sovereign state that is the target of
outside interference.
Tehran Overreaching
That said, Iran remains an unlikely candidate for full
membership of the SCO. The possibility of Iranian membership has
raised the organization’s profile on the international arena. But
actual Iranian membership could significantly reduce the leeway that
leading members China and Russia have until now enjoyed in the
diplomatic jockeying over Iran’s nuclear program. As Yevgeny
Morozov put it in a June 8 commentary on TCSDaily, Moscow and Beijing
don’t want to be responsible for "Iran’s loony statements
about Israel or its nuclear program." RIA-Novosti political
commentator Dmitry Kosyrev made a similar point in an Outside View
op-ed for UPI on June 8. Kosyrev argued that Iran "will not join in
the foreseeable future" because the SCO is having trouble coping with
a flood of new initiatives and needs to put its current house in
order before expanding.
Yet even if Iran were to join the SCO, would it strengthen or
weaken the organization? Today, the solid common ground in the SCO is
its emphasis on non-interference — a not-so-subtle expression of
unhappiness with Western cajoling on rights and reforms. Beyond that,
individual members have their own concerns. For Central Asian
governments, any forum that allows them to balance Chinese and
Russian interests holds obvious attraction. For Beijing, the primary
significance of the SCO appears to be as a vehicle for managing
China’s growing commercial and energy interests in Central Asia.
For Moscow, it is an eastward-looking body that goes beyond the
borders of formerly Soviet space.
Furthermore, the SCO’s four Central Asian members share
numerous unsettled scores of their own. And specific Russian and
Chinese interests in the region have the potential to diverge
significantly, especially if China starts pushing for expanded access
to Central Asian energy resources currently exported through Russia.
On the military front, while Russia and China held war games in
August under the SCO aegis and the organization plans
counterterrorism exercises in Russia in 2007, Russia still handles
the bulk of its military involvement in Central Asia through the
Collective Security Treaty Organization.
Iran surely shares the SCO’s particular understanding of
non-interference. But beyond this common ground, it has a host of its
own concerns — most of them bound up with the politics of the Middle
East, not Central Asia. It is difficult to see how the addition of
those concerns to the SCO’s already disparate mix of Chinese,
Russian, and Central Asian interests would lend the organization
greater cohesion or clout.
Nevertheless, the SCO represents two tendencies that are
likely to become increasingly pronounced in international affairs.
The first is the natural resistance of entrenched domestic elites to
outside pressures that they perceive as a threat to their hold on
power. The second is a desire to turn that common ground into a
platform for greater global influence in the face of what the
secondary and tertiary powers see as the primary power in the current
world order. As an expression of these rising tendencies, the SCO is
noteworthy whether it expands or contracts. (Daniel Kimmage)

UN REFUGEE AGENCY DESCRIBES ACTIVITIES IN IRAN. The United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) described the nature of its
efforts in Iran in its "Global Report 2005," which was released on
June 19, one day before World Refugee Day. Some 289,600 Afghan
refugees repatriated in 2005, and 5,200 Iraqis returned to their
homeland in 2005, according to the report. The UNHCR regards it as
important to ensure that repatriations are voluntary and to alleviate
residency restrictions in Iran. The UNHCR reported that access for
its screening teams was "restricted," although they could have helped
prevent the wrongful arrest of documented Afghan refugees during a
clampdown on undocumented workers. Overall, UNHCR reported, the
number of "arbitrary arrests and deportations" fell in Iran in 2005.
The UNHCR report did not specify the number of refugees currently in
Iran. "For the millions of displaced persons around the world, please
help to keep their hope alive and remember World Refugee Day," UNHCR
goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie urged in a webcast on the UNHCR
website. BS

IRANIAN MINISTERS ADDRESS NEW HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL. Iranian Justice
Minister Jamal Karimirad and Foreign Minister Mottaki addressed the
newly established UN Human Rights Council at its June 22 meeting in
Geneva, IRNA reported. Karimirad complained that UN human rights
rapporteurs gave factually incorrect and politically motivated
reports on the countries they visited. He said he hopes that major
powers do not interfere in the activities of the new council.
Karimirad said he discussed cooperation with his counterparts from
other countries including Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.
Mottaki told the audience that cultural and religious
diversity threaten human rights, IRNA reported. He added that the
dominance of great powers undermines the legitimacy of UN human
rights organs. Mottaki complained of alleged "mass killings" that the
"Great Powers" either support or commit directly, citing the U.S.
detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison as
examples.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on June 21 condemned the presence of
Tehran Prosecutor-General Said Mortazavi in the Iranian delegation to
the UN Human Rights Council. A former press-court judge, Mortazavi
has ordered the closure of upward of 100 publications and is
implicated in numerous cases of torture, illegal detention, and
coercion of false confessions, according to the media watchdog.
Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi died in Evin prison in June 2003
while in the custody of personnel led by Mortazavi; her body
allegedly showed signs of torture. The deputy director of HRW’s
Middle East and North Africa division, Joe Stork, described Mortazavi
as "the poster child for rampant impunity in Iran." BS

RUSSIAN LEGISLATOR HAILS POSSIBLE ‘GAS ALLIANCE’ WITH IRAN.
Mikhail Margelov, who chairs the Federation Council’s
International Relations Committee, was quoted on June 17 by the
state-run daily "Rossiiskaya Gazeta" as saying that Putin’s
recent meeting in Shanghai with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad
could mark the beginning of a "gas alliance" between the two
countries that would benefit them both (see "RFE/RL Iran Report,"
June 19, 2006). At their meeting, Ahmadinejad suggested that the two
countries work together to determine the price of natural gas.
Margelov noted that "considering that Iran ranks second in the world
after Russia in terms of gas reserves, a coordinated gas policy for
our countries could make the blue-fuel market more stable and
predictable."
In related news, the daily "Gazeta" on June 19 discussed the
possible implications of an Iranian offer for Gazprom to participate
in a gas pipeline linking Iran, Pakistan, and India, which could be
extended to China. The paper noted that Russia could exert pressure
on its European customers by participating in a pipeline project that
would link it to potential Asian buyers. The daily added, however,
that "the only problem is that Europe might decide to deal with
Russia’s gas blackmail seriously and find alternative energy
sources. In that case, Russia would have to sell its gas to Asia, but
[Asians] won’t pay the high prices that Russia charges Europe.
Moreover, Gazprom is preparing to help Iran, which is a potential
competitor" on the European market. (Patrick Moore)

SUSPECTED IRANIAN DRUG SMUGGLERS DETAINED IN MUMBAI. Three Iranians
allegedly carrying $545,000 worth of cocaine were arrested at the
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai late on June 20,
the PTI news agency from New Delhi reported the next day. Senior
Police Inspector C.K. Chavan alleged that Iraj Seifullah Davudnadi,
Mohammad Raja Rajabali Ghanbali, and Azizullah Habibullah Kheri were
about to board an aircraft headed for Tehran. In Tehran on June 20,
Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai complained that Iran has
not received much international assistance in its counternarcotics
campaign, Mehr News Agency reported. Speaking at a meeting of NGOs
that deal with drug abuse, Rezai said the central government must
develop a plan that will encourage international cooperation with
Iran. BS

AHMADINEJAD’S POPULARITY VARIOUSLY DESCRIBED. Unnamed "Iranian
officials and Western diplomats" say President Ahmadinejad’s
popularity is "surging" among his compatriots, "The Guardian"
newspaper reported on June 21. A Tehran University political science
professor, Nasser Hadian-Jazy, told the newspaper, "He’s more
popular now than a year ago." The trend is being attributed to the
president’s populism, his communication skills, and his
provincial tours. An article in the June 19 issue of "Mardom Salari"
newspaper, on the other hand, reports that the president’s
popularity has fallen sharply because of his inability to make good
on his campaign promises. "Mardom Salari" reports that while people
respect his modest lifestyle and apparent dedication to resolving
their problems, he has failed to bring the country’s oil revenues
to the voters’ tables, as he said he would. "Gradually,
Ahmadinejad and his advisers came to the conclusion that they would
not be able to implement their numerous economic promises," the paper
writes. Unemployment and inflation have climbed, and the
administration has alienated its fundamentalist supporters, according
to "Mardom Salari." BS

AFTER ONE YEAR, IS THE AHMADINEJAD HONEYMOON OVER? One year ago this
week, on June 24, 2005, the little-known, hard-line mayor of Tehran
was elected as Iran’s president. Once in office, Mahmud
Ahmadinejad quickly grabbed international headlines with his fiery
rhetoric about Israel, the Holocaust, and Iran’s disputed nuclear
program. At home in Iran, Ahmadinejad has portrayed himself as a man
of the people, with an accompanying modest lifestyle. He has vowed to
improve people’s economic situations and narrow the gap between
rich and poor. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari spoke with
analysts and other observers about Ahmadinejad’s performance and
Iran’s political fortunes one year into his administration.
President Ahmadinejad came to power on a populist platform
that promised to serve Iranians and improve their lives. He talked of
putting the country’s oil wealth "on their tables," and vowed to
fight corruption and pursue a path of moderation.
Ahmadinejad also promised the electorate a "government of 70
million." He said, "Without a doubt, the government emerging from the
will of the people will be a government of affection and moderation
— a government of friendship, a government of tolerance. The
government will serve all the Iranian people."
The energetic Ahmadinejad has spent much of his time inside
the country touring Iran’s provinces, frequently with talk of
economic sweeteners.
Unlike his reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, who spoke
of "rule of law" and "civil society," Ahmadinejad speaks in terms
that can be grasped quickly.
Here he was in April, promising money for local projects in
Khorasan Province: "God willing, in addition to expanding the
university, a scientific department will also be created here (crowd
cheers). Let me also add something else about the youth: In the
government meeting, [we will decide] about two new sports saloons for
your city — first for girls, then for boys (crowd cheers). I also
love all of you."
While it is tricky to reliably track public opinion in Iran,
some observers think Ahmadinejad’s popularity is increasing among
the broader public — particularly those who regard him as one of
their own.
His defiance toward the West and his appeals to nationalism
are probably contributing to his popularity, as well.
But Dr. Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at
Tehran University, tells RFE/RL that many voters are still waiting
for Ahmadinejad to fulfill his promises.
Zibakalam cites growing concern over the perceived absence of
a long-term economic plan to tackle problems like inflation and
unemployment. "So far, unfortunately, not only has there not been any
concrete or serious results, but in the first three months of the
Iranian year we’ve faced an unprecedented rate of inflation.
What’s really causing concern is that apart from nice talk and
beautiful slogans, it seems that in practice Ahmadinejad’s
government does not have a concrete and well-designed plan."
Last week, a group of 50 prominent Iranian economists
publicly criticized Ahmadinejad policies for "lacking a scientific
and expert basis." They argued that current policies will lead to
more poverty, economic slowdown, and brain drain.
They also warned that more of the same could reduce trust in
the government.
Professor Zibakalam claims that Ahmadinejad’s government
is reversing a trend toward economic liberalization and free markets:
"We are witnessing tighter government control over the economy. This
will lead to a faster capital flight and also to a deterrence of the
very little foreign investment that has existed."
Ahmadinejad has also been criticized for increasing the
influence of the hard-line Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
on the political scene — and replacing senior managers with
relatively inexperienced ideological allies.
"A new group of conservatives that we call the
neo-conservatives have come to power," according to Hussein Bastani,
editor of the online "Rooz" daily. Bastani continued: "They are
usually second-generation conservative managers who in the past 27
years have been in middle management or lower posts. They have been
involved in military bodies. Because of their lack of experience in
top management, many slogans and ideals that have proven impractical
[in the minds of] conservatives still seem attainable for them —
like a state-controlled economy."
Some in Iran’s existing power structure have criticized
Ahmadinejad for official purges and a confrontational approach to
politics.
The influential former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani
and the former head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council
are among those critics.
Bastani says there is a growing rift among conservatives who,
since Ahmadinejad’s election, have gained control of all of
Iran’s levers of power. "In a very short time, [Ahmadinejad] has
created an unprecedented rift among the conservatives. And, in fact,
although he came to power promising to bring unity to the
establishment, he has in fact been unable to fulfill that [promise]
like his other promises. It seems that the international crisis over
Iran’s nuclear program is now holding the establishment together,
so all the disputes have been postponed until after the [nuclear]
crisis is resolved."
There are other developments that are causing serious concern
among intellectuals and human rights activists.
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a cofounder of the Tehran based Center
of Human Rights Defenders, tells RFE/RL that Iran’s political
atmosphere is becoming increasingly "tight-knit." He also says the
human rights situation is deteriorating: "We have gone backward, and
we have lost the progress that was achieved under [President] Khatami
and the new hope. We see that NGOs do not enjoy the freedom they had
— gatherings are facing new judiciary action, and journalists are
facing new [pressures]. Another disastrous implication is that
political views have cast a shadow on cultural matters."
There are also reports of growing pressure on universities —
including the summoning and expulsion of student activists.
Last month’s arrest of a leading philosopher and scholar,
Ramin Jahanbegloo, has added to concerns over academic freedoms.
But for most low-income Iranians, the number-one priority
remains how to deal with problems like poverty and unemployment.
Many observers suggest that Ahmadinejad has given them hope,
and increased their expectations of a better future.
But if those expectations go unfulfilled, the honeymoon might
soon be over.

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