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RFE/RL Iran Report
A Weekly Review of Developments in and Pertaining to Iran
A CABINET POSITION IS NOT ENOUGH FOR SOME. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was expected officially to confirm Mahmud Ahmadinejad as president on 3 August, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on 17 July, and Ahmadinejad will be sworn in on 6 August. The new president will have 15 days to introduce his proposed cabinet members to the parliament for approval, according to parliamentarian Hamid Reza Haji-Babai.
Ahmadinejad's future cabinet continues to be a topic of discussion in the Tehran press (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 13 July 2005). Now, the discussion is not so much about the actual choices as it is about the selection process. One aspect of this process focuses on the permissibility of a cabinet member continuing to serve on a municipal council. Another aspect of the process focuses on intra-factional differences among the hard-liners who backed Ahmadinejad's presidential bid.
Splits Among The Victors
"Mardom Salari" reported on 21 July that the majority faction in the legislature objects to the team selecting the cabinet, and although it did not provide any details on this "team," it put this argument in the context of disagreements between members of the Islamic Iran Developers Coalition in the legislature and in the Tehran municipal council. Developers in the legislature mostly backed the candidacies of Ali Larijani and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf in the first round of the presidential election. The Developers in the municipal council, however, backed Ahmadinejad consistently.
A reference to these splits appeared in the 7 July "Farhang-i Ashti," which reported that the 15 members of the municipal council plan to form an independent group. The same day, "Mardom Salari" reported that the Developers do not want to lose control of the municipal council. At the same time, they believe they should have a role in Ahmadinejad's administration.
The 15 hard-line Developers also fear that if they leave the council, they will be replaced by reformists. This is because, according to the regulations, they would be replaced by the council-election runners-up. No. 16 in the council race was a leading reformist, Mustafa Tajzadeh. Tajzadeh, as well as national-religious activist Gholam Abbas Tavasoli, are anticipating the hard-liners' resignations, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 3 July.
Council member and Developer Mehdi Chamran, therefore, is putting off the possibility of a position as cabinet member or government spokesman, while the council is claiming that the law does not prevent individuals from serving in the government and the council.
On the possibility of serving in two positions, Chamran said, "The only problem is in practice, in terms of time, and members are concerned by that," "Etemad" reported on 6 July. "The workload has taken up so much time that members have little time left for other matters." Another council member, Amir-Reza Vaezi-Ashtiani, said the legislature and the Guardians Council are to weigh in on the issue.
Government officials' comments did not clarify the situation. Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani said Article 141 of the constitution and Article 28 of the law on municipal councils forbid vice presidents, cabinet ministers, or presidential advisers from being members of municipal councils, "Etemad" reported on 6 July. Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad cited a law ratified in 1994-96, "indicating that city council members are not considered government employees, and stating that someone in the city council can also be in the cabinet."
Old School v. New School
"Farhang-i Ashti" on 21 July put the dispute in terms of the rivalry between the young right wing and the traditionalist right wing. An editorial in the 19 July issue of the same newspaper said the traditional right, which has its roots in the Qom seminary and in the country's "economic centers" (presumably, the bazaar), fears that it is being slowly eliminated.
Reflecting the old right is Islamic Coalition Party central council member Habibullah Asgaroladi-Mosalman, who is deputy leader of the Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution Forces that backed Ali Larijani's presidential bid. He advised the president-elect to "draw a line of moderation between opting for the youth and valuing those with experience," "Shoma" reported on 16 July. "The next government's ministers, while they should be young, specialists, and competent, they must at the same time have had some on the job experience, even if it is brief."
Everybody Has An Opinion
These are not the only aspects of the cabinet-selection process that interest Iranian commentators.
Mohammad Reza Khatami, secretary-general of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party, called for a politically united cabinet that would take full responsibility for its actions, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 23 July.
Legislator Fatemeh Ajarlu said the president-elect wants to use new faces, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 21 July. "Aftab-i Yazd" advised Ahmadinejad on 21 July to ignore calls for a bipartisan cabinet and to instead choose officials who can work together. This would eliminate ministers attributing their shortcomings to politics or rivalries.
"Kayhan" on 19 July cited interviews with various legislators and commentators who in the midst of advising Ahmadinejad on selecting his cabinet, called for reforms in the Foreign Ministry, Interior Ministry, Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, and Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
Perhaps the final word should go to Basij commander Mohammad Hejazi, whose institution allegedly played such an important role in Ahmadinejad's victory. Hejazi said at a conference of the Basij units at state organizations and trade guilds, "The person who has been elected by the people as the next president is a Basiji personality, and it is expected that he is going to appoint aides and managers who espouse the Basiji mode of thought as well," "Iran" reported on 7 July. Hejazi predicted that Basij members in government organizations will have an important role in the future. (Bill Samii)
VIOLENCE CONTINUES IN KURDISH REGIONS. Five Iranian security officers were killed and four were wounded in a clash with PKK affiliates (PJAK, Kurdistan Independent Life Party) from midnight to early morning on 27 July in Siahkuh, a mountainous area between Oshnovieh and Piranshahr, Baztab reported. The Kurds were armed with mortars, heavy machine guns, and light machine guns.
The "Milliyet" newspaper from Turkey reported one day earlier that Iran has launched a major operation along its border with Iraq and Turkey. According to the Turkish daily, 16 Iranian soldiers and four Kurds were killed in battles "in the Kelaresh and Milgever areas along the Turkish border and in the Gaddare areas near the town of Shino, near the border with Iraq." Iranian personnel reportedly are operating in the areas near Marivan and Baneh, Piranshahr and Mahabad, and Sardasht.
The Sanandaj Revolutionary Court has summoned two Kurdistan University student activists, Asu Saleh and Chia Hejazi, the university's Students Islamic Association head, Nusratullah Shariati, said on 25 July, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA). Shariati said the two are charged with disturbing public opinion through their election-related activities. These activities included inviting reformist speakers.
In another predominantly Kurdish town, Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province, Governor Said Maruf-Samadi said on 24 July that shops have reopened after officials met with the local shopkeepers guild, the municipal council, and community leaders, ISNA reported. The closures took place amid disturbances that followed authorities' shooting and killing a local activist known as Shavaneh (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July 2005). Maruf-Samadi said most of the 64 people who were arrested have been released, but 11 remain in detention. (Bill Samii)
PORTION OF EASTERN IRAN QUARANTINED. The authorities have closed the Nishabur-Mashhad highway until further notice, Iranian state radio reported on 28 July. "Police forces closed the main road between Mashhad and Nishabur in order to maintain calm, following the protest by a number of citizens in Kharveyn, Razavi Khorasan Province." State radio reported that the unrest follows the arrest of two people involved with an earlier protest against the failure to make Kharveyn a "local administrative center." (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN DEFENDS ITS HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD. Reacting to a recent British report on human rights in Iran, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Tehran on 24 July that such reports are "irrelevant," IRNA reported. "Islam-bashing is on the rise in European states and attacks on mosques are a token of human right violations in Europe which should be paid attention to." Kharrazi said Iran plans to report on human rights in other countries. He did not speculate on the reaction such a report would receive.
The "Annual Report on Human Rights 2005" from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1119526503628) was released on 21 July. "There has been no significant progress in Iran since our last Annual Report; human rights have deteriorated further in many areas." The report notes increased censorship, particularly of the Internet. It also refers to arrests of human rights defenders, restrictions on workers, abuses in prisons, and discrimination against women. The report notes the lack of progress in the EU-Iran human rights dialogue. (Bill Samii)
SKEPTICISM ABOUT SIGNIFICANCE OF REPORT ON IRANIAN PRISONS. Iranian prisons hold 132,564 inmates, Iranian Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said on 26 July, IRNA reported. Saying that this is the figure for the period ending 21 June, Karimirad said this shows a 2.64 percent decrease compared to one year earlier. Six years ago, Iranian prisons held 185,000 people, Karimirad said. Most of the incoming convicts are imprisoned for drug offenses. There are 4,707 females inmates, he added, and 5,330 foreign ones.
In an unprecedented development, the Iranian judiciary released a report on 24 July that details abusive human rights practices in the country's prisons. Tehran Justice Department chief Abbas Alizadeh noted that Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi has issued a directive on civil rights, but that many of the practices run counter to this directive, "Aftab-i Yazd" and other news sources reported. In one case, for example, a 13-year-old was jailed for stealing a chicken, and in another case a women in her 80s was jailed for financial difficulties.
The report also notes the detention facilities where the most serious problems occur. These include the Tehran criminal department detention center (Agahi-yi Tehran); the army intelligence organization detention center; the Public Establishments Office (Edareh-yi Amaken-i Omumi) detention center; and the defense ministry intelligence department center known as "64." It also lists the police intelligence department center; the jail in Rajaishahr; the facility belonging to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps security and intelligence department; the IRGC intelligence department facility; and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security's Section 209 at Evin prison. Still more are the criminal investigations detention center in Shahr-i Rey; the Rey drug control headquarters; police station 160 in Khazaneh; Unit 3 of the Qezel-Hesar prison in Karaj, the Kharvin correctional facility at Veramin; the Veramin and Shahriar criminal department detention centers; the Shahriar drug control headquarters detention center; the Tehran revolutionary court; and the District 7 revolutionary prosecutor's office.
Some 1,400 people are held in Rajaishahr although they have not been convicted. The Ministry of Intelligence and Security facilities are supposed to be overseen by the Prisons Organization, but in fact they operate according to the regulations of their home organization. Torture and solitary confinement are rampant.
Some observers remain skeptical. Hassan Zarezadeh is in charge of the Student Committee In Defense of Political Prisoners In Iran. He says the hard-line judiciary is trying to portray itself in a better light. "[The report] shows that the regime wants to demonstrate that there have been real reforms in the judiciary and that they are committed to human rights. But their comments about torture being eradicated can be challenged because why are [prisoners] still being held in solitary confinement for long periods while facing complicated interrogations? Isn't it torture? Last week, Behruz Javid Tehrani, a member of the Democratic Party of Iran who has been held in solitary confinement for the last three months, managed to tell his relatives during a visit that he was severely beaten in prison."
Zarezadeh, who has been arrested several times in recent years, says he has witnessed the ill treatment of prisoners. "It includes long solitary confinements, hanging suspects [from the ceiling], handcuffing behind the back, beating, hitting the head of suspects to the wall and also psychological torture."
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is the spokesman of the Center of Human Rights Defendants, founded by Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi. He says he, too, believes prisoners' rights are still being violated. "The bitter reality is that these incidents have existed in our prisons. For example, when I was detained in Evin prison, I was once stripped naked in the snow. I think illegal actions are still widespread in the prisons. As I speak to you, Akbar Ganji [Iran's most prominent political prisoner] has not the right to meet his lawyer."
Iranian authorities have in the past denied the mistreatment of prisoners and the use of torture. But human rights organizations have repeatedly said that torture is prevalent in prisons.
Several political prisoners including student activists and journalists have said that they were forced into false confessions under duress. Many say they have been denied access to relatives and lawyers.
The Iranian government has welcomed the judiciary report, but Zarezadeh expresses doubt the report will have real consequences. "If the Islamic republic has been forced into a retreat under protests from inside the country and international pressure, it does not mean that torture does not exist, that solitary confinement [will] be eradicated, that all the political prisoners [will] be freed and that other prisoners [will] be treated humanely." (Bill Samii, Golnaz Esfandiari)
CLERICS CALL FOR JOURNALIST'S RELEASE. A number of Iran's leading clerics are calling for the release of hunger-striking and hospitalized journalist Akbar Ganji, or at least some sort of solution to the case. Ganji, meanwhile, is continuing his criticism of the ruling system from his hospital bed.
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani on 28 July expressed concern about Ganji, Radio Farda, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA), and IRNA reported. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said he is sorry about the situation and has discussed it with Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said he made several proposals on resolving the issue.
Farhang Naderi, a political associate of Hashemi-Rafsanjani, told Radio Farda that the Expediency Council chairman has the ability to secure Ganji's freedom, and he claimed Hashemi-Rafsanjani was behind Ganji's prison leave in June. Prague-based Radio Farda correspondent Siavash Ardalan questioned these claims, noting that even the judiciary chief has said he cannot reverse Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi's actions. Ganji was, Ardalan added, very critical of Hashemi-Rafsanjani in a book he wrote about the serial murders of dissident intellectuals.
Ayatollah Hashem Hashemzadeh-Harisi, a member of the committee supervising implementation of the constitution, has demanded some sort of solution to the problems presented by the Ganji situation, "Etemad" reported on 26 July. The Qom Seminary Lecturers Association has requested the release of Ganji, ISNA reported on 25 July. The association's letter to Judiciary chief Hashemi-Shahrudi noted the adverse impact this issue is having at home and abroad, and it called for better treatment of people with divergent political views.
Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi spoke out against Ganji's imprisonment and called for an end to his hunger strike, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 July.
Ganji's wife, Masumeh Shafii, said in a 25 July interview with Radio Farda that she has sent a letter to the head of the judiciary asking that her husband's case be transferred away from prosecutor Said Mortazavi. Shafii said she asked Hashemi-Shahrudi to handle the case himself. She claimed that Mortazavi told her husband his death would benefit the system 100 percent, and he added that death in the hospital is a normal thing. The official reason for Ganji's hospitalization is not his hunger strike, but because he allegedly needs knee surgery. Given Mortazavi's alleged statements, Shafii said, Ganji does not want to have the knee operation.
Having seen her husband on 24 July, Shafii says Ganji's physical condition is worsening, Radio Farda reported. After Tehran Justice Department deputy chief Mohammad Salarkia's denial that Ganji is on hunger strike, Shafii challenged him to give access to independent journalists who can photograph Ganji. She also expressed amazement that Salarkia and Mortazavi, who are not physicians, determined that Ganji's knee needs surgery. (Bill Samii)
IRANIANS ARRESTED FOR INTERNATIONAL DRUG ACTIVITIES. Prosecutors in South Korea have detained a 28-year-old Iranian male and his 40-year-old Korean girlfriend for smuggling 2.5 kilograms of opium from Southwest Asia's Golden Crescent (Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan), "Chosun Ilbo" reported on 22 July. In connection with this case, a 22-year-old Iranian male was booked but not detained and five other Iranians are wanted.
In what appears to be a separate case, police in the German city of Cologne have broken up a gang of international traffickers responsible for smuggling 225 kilograms of opium worth 900,000 euros ($1.1 million), ddp news agency reported on 20 July. The Iranian head of the gang imported the narcotics from Iran via Istanbul, Italy, and Austria. The profits were transferred back to Iran. (Bill Samii)
IRAN THREATENED BY DRUGS AND AIDS. An international expert participating in the 3rd International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has warned that the AIDS epidemic is worsening due to the trafficking of opium and heroin from Afghanistan, Radio Farda reported on 26 July. The rise is particularly noticeable in countries along traditional smuggling routes, such as Iran. Dr. Christopher Beyrer, an associate professor of epidemiology and international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said approximately 10 percent of addicts in these countries have access to clean needles or drug substitution programs. The four-day conference is scheduled to end on 27 July. Participants have called for a dynamic response to the AIDS epidemic, and participants in the recent G8 summit in Scotland called for universal access to anti-viral treatments by the end of the decade. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN AND BERLIN BEGIN WAR OF WORDS. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 23 July in Tehran, "I need to repeat my previous comments once again and suggest that the German Foreign Ministry and the German Foreign Ministry spokesman respect the democratic rules," state television reported.
This was the latest in an exchange of accusations that began when German Interior Minister Otto Schilly referred to Iran's involvement with international terrorism in an interview with "Der Spiegel" magazine.
Assefi initially reacted on 19 July, saying, "I advise this German official not to be influenced by Zionist circles" and "The German Interior Minister should respect the principles of democracy and think more before expressing his views," ISNA reported.
Schilly's unnamed spokesman described Assefi's admonishment as "incredible impudence," "Frankfurter Allgemeine" reported on 21 July. "The impudence of such a voice from a country that continually violates human rights, where women are whipped on the basis of dubious verdicts, where dissidents are kept in solitary confinement for months without any possibility for legal support and an objective review by the court, can hardly be surpassed."
Iranian parliamentary representative Hamid Reza Haji-Babai said on 25 July that Schilly should apologize publicly for insulting Iran and its president-elect, Mehr News Agency reported. Haji-Babai accused Schilly of interfering with Iranian internal affairs. (Bill Samii)
IRAN ALLEGEDLY PURCHASING NUCLEAR-WEAPON PARTS. According to "secret documents" -- the source of which is not disclosed -- Iran continues to purchase nuclear weapons parts, "Der Spiegel" magazine alleged on 25 July. One such deal is between Iran's Partoris company and South Korea's Kung-Do Enterprises and was concluded on 24 December 2004. $98,720 was paid for 300 units of nickel-63 (Ni-63), which is reportedly used in the ignition of nuclear bombs and which also can be used in smoke detectors. Partoris reportedly used the cover name Parto Namje Tolua. In the second deal, the South Korean firm ordered tritium targets from France's EADS Sodern firm. Tritium targets reportedly are used in neutron emitters, which can trigger the chain reaction in a nuclear bomb, and $33,000 was paid for them.
An unnamed spokesman from the South Korean Ministry of Science and Technology said on 27 July that provision of radioactive isotopes -- nickel-63 and tritium -- to Iran in 2004 was legal, Yonhap news agency reported. "The company, engaging in intermediary trade, adhered to the law and rules when it sold 300 Ni-63 isotopes," the spokesman said. "The company conducted the transfer after receiving a pledge from the Iranian buyer that the substance would only be used for nondestructive testing, such as checking pipes at refineries for oil leaks." The company in question also served as the middleman in a deal between Iranian and Russian firms.
An unnamed official from Kung-Do Enterprises said, according to "JoongAng Ilbo" (http://www.joins.com) on 27 July, "We sold Ni-63 to an Iranian firm after it said it would use it in detecting gas. We obtained a memorandum from the firm to this effect." He denied the sale of tritium and doing any deals with the French firm. Ministry of Science and Technology official Yi Sun-chong said there could be a problem if the Korean company has sold Ni-63 without a permit. Another Ministry of Science and Technology official, An Sung-chun, said a January investigation of the Korean firm found that tritium exports did not occur.
An Iranian nuclear official said in Tehran on 26 July that the original "Der Spiegel" report is the result of a "fantasy fabricated by the Zionist circles," Mehr News Agency reported. (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI SAYS URANIUM CONVERSION TO BEGIN. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said during a 27 July news conference in Tehran that activities at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility could resume in days, state television and state radio reported. He said this depends on the European proposal at an upcoming Iran-EU meeting. If the Europeans do not agree on when Iranian nuclear activities resume, he said, "the system has already made its decision to resume Isfahan's activities." Khatami continued, "The deadline will depend on the Europeans and their proposal. That is the deadline." Raw uranium is processed into uranium hexafluoride at the Isfahan facility. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN NUCLEAR PLANS WORRY FRANCE. France's President Jacques Chirac told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Iran should be referred to the UN Security Council if it does not provide "objective guarantees" that it has stopped sensitive nuclear activities, AFP reported. Chirac's spokesman, Jerome Bonnafont, added that France seeks "objective guarantees on Iran renouncing all activities in the area of fissile matter production, under the control of the IAEA." French Foreign Ministry deputy spokeswoman Cecile Pozzo di Borgo said in Paris earlier in the day, "Iran knows the consequences of any resumption of activities currently suspended, which can only be negative for Iran," AFP reported. (Bill Samii)
WASHINGTON SHARES IRANIAN MISSILE DATA WITH IAEA. Iranian Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani said on 28 July that Iran has achieved self-sufficiency in producing solid fuel for missiles, Radio Farda reported. This enables ballistic missiles, such as the Shihab-3, to operate with greater accuracy. The missile can go as far as 1,930 kilometers and it can be fitted with a nuclear warhead, according to Radio Farda, and this brings Israel and American military bases in the Middle East within range. Such technological accomplishments, Shamkhani said, contribute to Iran's power of deterrence.
U.S. officials have shared intelligence with the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran's effort to develop a missile that can deliver a nuclear warhead, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 27 June. The briefing took place in Vienna in mid-July. The intelligence was secured the previous year, and it appears to reveal Iranian efforts from 2001 to 2003 to adapt the Shihab-3 missile to deliver a "black box." U.S. experts are fairly certain that this box is a nuclear warhead. "The Wall Street Journal" first described this "compelling" but "circumstantial" data in March (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 30 March 2005). At that time, Washington had shared the information with Berlin, London, and Paris, but it did not know how to make it public and had rejected an IAEA request for a briefing. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN SATELLITE LAUNCH ANNOUNCED. Iran's Mesbah and Sina-1 satellites will be launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in Russia in October, an unnamed Russian defense industry spokesman announced on 25 July, Interfax-AVN reported. The launch of the Molniya-M rocket was scheduled for August but all launches were postponed after a June launch ended in failure. Accompanying the Iranian satellite will be the China-DMC, TopSat from the United Kingdom., Norway's Ncube-2, Germany's UWE-1, Japan's XI-V, and the European Space Agency's SSET Express. The Mesbah satellite will carry out meteorological and geological tasks. (Bill Samii)
IRAN AND UKRAINE SIGN GAS-PIPELINE MEMORANDUM. Iran and Ukraine have signed a memorandum of understanding to study the possibility of transporting Iranian natural gas via a pipeline to Europe, "The Moscow Times" reported on 26 July. According to a statement from the Ukrainian state-owned natural gas company, Naftogaz Ukrainy, the agreement followed a 24 July meeting between Naftogaz CEO Oleksiy Ivchenko and Iranian Deputy Petroleum Minister Hadi Nejad-Husseinian. Naftogaz is reportedly seeking the participation of Gaz de France, and the project would require a minimum $8 billion investment. Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported on 25 July that Ivchenko proposed two possible pipeline routes: Iran-Armenia-Georgia-Ukraine-Europe or Iran-Armenia-Georgia-Black Sea-Ukraine-Europe. Specific details of the project will be considered at a meeting scheduled to take place by the end of September. Ivchenko met with Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh as well, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported. (Bill Samii)
IRAN STRUGGLES TO PUSH AHEAD WITH INDIA PIPELINE. Initial discussions among the participating countries concerning a proposed 2,600 kilometer overland natural-gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India began in the early 1990s, and Iran, which sits on the world's second-largest natural-gas reserves (an estimated 26.6 trillion cubic meters, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration), is eager for the project to get under way. Work on the project has yet to commence, however, and mid-July statements from Indian officials cast doubt on the deal, particularly after Washington agreed to cooperate with the Indian nuclear program.
New Delhi Expresses Doubts
India is a huge and growing natural-gas market. Natural-gas consumption in India was nearly 25 billion cubic meters in 2002 and is projected to reach 34 billion cubic meters in 2010 and 45.3 billion cubic meters in 2015. With these increasing energy requirements, India has entered discussions about pipeline construction with Bangladesh, Iran, Myanmar (Burma), and Qatar. Recent meetings of officials from India, Iran, and Pakistan suggested that the pipeline connecting the three countries would get under way in the near future despite pricing disagreements (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 March and 23 March 2005).
Indian officials stressed their eagerness to go ahead with the Iranian pipeline project earlier in the summer. Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said in Lahore on 4 June that India would not give in to U.S. pressure to abandon the project because of concerns Iran might use the revenues to develop weapons of mass destruction, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported. The next day, Aiyar was in Pakistan for talks with his counterpart, Amanullah Khan Jadoon.
The two sides created a Joint Working Group to accelerate work on the pipeline. Diplomats in the Indian capital noted that Iran is absent from the Joint Working Group, the Hindi "Navbharat Times" (http://navbharattimes.indiatimes.com/) reported on 8 June, and they suggested that this was a conscious decision in order to allay U.S. concerns.
In mid-June, India agreed to purchase $22 billion worth of natural gas from Iran. Starting in 2009-10, an Indian consortium will purchase 5 million tons of LNG annually over a 25-year period. This was less than the initial agreement, reached in January, for the purchase of 7.5 million tons.
The next month, Pakistani officials were in New Delhi to discuss the pipeline. Indian Petroleum Minister Aiyar told reporters that the discussions would address commercial, financial, legal, and technical issues. According to AFP on 12 July, when asked about Washington's opposition to the project, Pakistani Oil Secretary Ahmad Waqar said, "Our president and prime minister have stated on a number of occasions that we will proceed with this project based on our national interests."
Given these developments, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's announcement on 21 July in Washington that he is not sure the pipeline will get funding may have come as an unpleasant surprise to observers in Tehran and Islamabad. "I am realistic enough to realize that there are many risks, because considering all the uncertainties of the situation there in Iran, I don't know if any international consortium of bankers would underwrite this," he said according to the PTI news agency.
Islamabad Is Eager
Talks between Pakistan and Iran in early July also suggested that all was well.
Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh visited Islamabad and met with Pakistani Petroleum Minister Jadoon in the first week of July. The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding that called for continued discussions, and Namdar-Zanganeh hoped that a final agreement would be signed by April 2006. He noted that after 10 years of talks, this is the first "written document." Namdar-Zanganeh also met with Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, according to media reports.
Jadoon emphasized that his country will need natural gas for consumer and industrial consumption by 2010. The country's demand for natural gas is expected to rise approximately 50 percent by 2006, according to the EIA. Moreover, gas is expected to become the "fuel of choice" for electricity-generation projects in the future.
In light of this requirement, and possibly because of the approximately $600 million in transit fees Pakistan stands to earn, Islamabad tried to allay concerns prompted by Singh's late July comments. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammad Naim Khan announced on 25 July that even if India gives in to U.S. pressure, Islamabad will build a natural gas pipeline from Iran, AFP reported. "We would welcome Indian association with this project but if it is not feasible with India, we are going to go ahead with the project in any case," Khan said in the Pakistani capital. He said Pakistan needs the gas.
Pakistani Petroleum Minister Jadoon said in Islamabad on 23 July that his country can handle all the pipeline security requirements, IRNA reported. "We, like India, are in need of gas and we know how to take care of the interstate projects and we are committed to its security," he said.
"Business Recorder" (http://www.brecorder.com/), a Pakistani financial daily, reported on 28 July that Islamabad has begun a search for investment banks that could serve as "financial adviser/consultant" for the pipeline. Pakistan wants to hasten completion of the paperwork for the project, and it is aiming for a December 2005 deadline. Despite recent cautionary statements from Indian officials, the Pakistanis believe India's energy requirements will force the issue. Pakistan is also willing to pursue the issue bilaterally.
The Nuclear Alternative
The pipeline project directly involves Iran, Pakistan, and India, and it has the potential to improve troubled Islamabad-New Delhi relations. Washington would welcome such a development, but it is reluctant to see the project go ahead. U.S. State Department official Stephen Rademaker warned that Iran could fund terrorism and weapons of mass destruction with the money it makes from natural-gas sales, the international edition of "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 24 June. U.S. officials have warned the Indians and Pakistanis that their companies could be sanctioned if they go ahead with the project.
If India forsakes natural gas from Iran, then it may have to turn to nuclear power as an alternative. U.S. President George W. Bush announced on 18 July that India is "a responsible state" that "should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states," ft.com reported. Bush went on to say that he would encourage Congress to make the legal adjustments necessary for such cooperation with the Indian nuclear program to take place. In exchange for such cooperation, India agreed to allow international agencies to oversee its nuclear program.
The collapse of the Indian natural-gas deal would be a sharp blow to Iran. Such a development could have an impact in three areas. One possibility is that Iran will try to salvage the deal by offering India a lower price for its gas. Pricing disagreements were one of the main hang-ups in March.
Another possibility is that Iran's efforts to diversify beyond oil will collapse. That being said, Armenia and Turkey are already customers for Iranian gas; Tehran has signed agreements with Oman and Kuwait; and it has signed gas-related memorandums -- or at least discussed the topic -- with Austria, Bulgaria, China, Greece, Italy, South Korea, and Taiwan.
The third possibility, which is probably much more remote, is that Iran will renounce activities that concern the international community, including support for terrorism, interference in neighboring states' affairs, and the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
Failing that, Iran will find it very difficult to compete with the United States in terms of bargaining power. If the Indian model -- even without nuclear concessions -- is applied successfully in more cases where Iran is trying to do business with other countries, then Iran will find its isolation is increasing. (Bill Samii)
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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