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RFE/RL Iran Report
A Weekly Review of Developments in and Pertaining to Iran
TEHRAN GIVES EUROPE ANOTHER CHANCE. Gholam Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said at the 26 September meeting of the general assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna that Iran has lost confidence in the European Union, Mehr News Agency and the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Aqazadeh added that the IAEA governing board's 24 September resolution on Iran (see below) was politically motivated and therefore invalid.
Aqazadeh warned against referring Iran to the UN Security Council, saying, "There is no doubt that a report to the Security Council initiates a chain of events, of actions and reactions, that breed tension and add volatility to an already vulnerable political situation in the region," Mehr reported. He said Iran no longer believes in the goodwill of its interlocutors, before adding that "we need to be convinced of Europe's intention to reverse the dangerous path of confrontation," IRNA reported.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 27 September, "We are definitely withdrawing from the Additional Protocol [of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)]," the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. But he then appeared to scale back the note of finality by explaining that Tehran's next step depends on Europe's reaction to developments. He explained further, "The issue of withdrawing from the Additional Protocol is definite because it was purely meant to build trust and should the Majlis [parliament] vote in favor of the withdrawal, it will give us an added incentive." Assefi said Tehran is preparing protest notes for the countries that voted in favor of the 24 September resolution.
The legislature approved on 28 September a motion for the government to suspend its implementation of the Additional Protocol, IRNA reported. A reported 155 legislators signed the motion, and 162 voted in favor of it. Forty-two voted against it and 15 abstained. Members of parliament began collecting signatures for this motion on 25 September in reaction to the previous day's IAEA governing board resolution. Parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said the same day that approval of this motion does not mean that Iran will withdraw from the NPT, IRNA reported. Nor does it mean, he told reporters, that Iran will not accept the Additional Protocol. Haddad-Adel explained: "If the [motion] is approved, it will urge the government to stop the voluntary implementation of the additional protocol until our right to access nuclear technology for a fuel cycle is officially recognized." (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN GOVERNMENT REACTS TO IAEA NUCLEAR RESOLUTION. As the Iranian government tries to come to grips with what could be the most harshly worded international statement on its nuclear program to date, the country's legislature is preparing a bill that would suspend implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
The governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) adopted on 24 September a tough resolution that says the nuclear watchdog, "after two and a half years of intensive inspections," remains unclear on "some important outstanding issues." "Iran's full transparency is indispensable and overdue," it continues, adding that the agency questions Iran's motives for not declaring certain factors and "pursuing a policy of containment." The resolution does not refer Iran to the UN Security Council, but it does hint at this possibility by noting that some of the outstanding questions are "within the competence of the Security Council."
The resolution was approved by a vote of 22 in favor, one against (Venezuela), and 12 abstentions.
Iranian officials initially tried to put a positive spin on this development. Javad Vaidi, spokesman for the Iranian delegation in Vienna, said on 24 September, "America and Britain have failed in their plan to refer Iran's nuclear case to the Security Council," Fars News Agency reported. Vaidi rejected the idea that the resolution expressed the concerns of the international community as a whole. "Today's decision at the Board of Governors against Iran's nuclear file was adopted under pressures exerted by America and Britain," he said.
The reaction in Tehran was slightly different. "In our view, this resolution is illegal and unacceptable," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on 24 September. The fact that the resolution went to a vote, Assefi said approvingly, is a sign of the lack of consensus in the board.
Speaking at Mehrabad airport after his trip to New York, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki was more reserved. "The Islamic republic will announce its stance on the resolution adopted by the governing board Saturday night within a few days," he said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. This stance will undoubtedly reflect the foreign minister's consultations with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Supreme National Security Council. "We insist on our sovereign rights and will use all diplomatic channels to defend these rights," Mottaki said. "But the resolution has no legal basis and is completely unacceptable."
The loudest expression of outrage came from the legislature. Parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel thanked Venezuela for its vote against the resolution and the other 12 countries for their abstentions, Iranian state radio reported. But he questioned how the resolution could ask Iran to ratify the Additional Protocol of the NPT, saying the legislature would never ratify an agreement that is contrary to Iran's rights. "[Iran] will not submit to bullying and irrational demands which are nothing but hostile excuses," Haddad-Adel said.
A statement from the legislature denounced the IAEA resolution as "unfair and dictatorial," state television reported, and said that Iran's "positive and transparent measures" had been ignored. The statement said the inspection privileges given to the IAEA went beyond what is legally required. The statement called on Ahmadinejad to hasten his implementation of the legislature's demand for the generation of 20,000 megawatts of nuclear power. The legislature also summoned Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani to discuss the issue.
Earlier in the day, the hard-line parliamentary representative from Tabriz, Hojatoleslam Seyyed Mohammad Reza Mir-Tajedini, said a bill to suspend implementation of the Additional Protocol has been prepared, Fars News Agency reported. One hundred parliamentarians have signed the bill already, he said, and more signatures are being collected.
The bill says the government must suspend its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol within a week of the country's nuclear file being referred to "any other organization of international center" -- the UN Security Council, in other words. Subsequently, Iran would only comply with the NPT and related safeguards agreements.
The legislature's action is not, in practical terms, of overwhelming significance. The government adopted the Additional Protocol unilaterally in October 2003. When asked if parliamentary ratification was not required, government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said at the time that the Supreme Leader had approved all the negotiations related to the Additional Protocol. "Given the fact that what has been accomplished so far has been approved by the highest authority in the land, it is not likely to face any difficulty," Ramezanzadeh said, IRNA reported on 22 October 2003.
The greater relevance of the legislature's action is that, as the "house of the nation," it is supposed to represent Iranians. Just as the legislators are portraying the IAEA governing board resolution as an insult and a violation of the country's sovereignty and rights, this is the impression that will be conveyed to the Iranian people. They are not likely to realize that international concern over the Iranian nuclear program relates to their government's two decades of deception and obfuscation, as well as to doubts about why a country that is so rich in oil and gas resources would need nuclear power. (Bill Samii)
VIOLENT DEMONSTRATION AT BRITISH EMBASSY IN TEHRAN. A 28 September demonstration in front of the British Embassy in Iran turned violent, international news agencies reported. The event was organized as a protest against the United Kingdom voting in favor of the IAEA governing board's resolution on 24 September that criticized Iran for its lack of cooperation and candor. Radio Farda reported that approximately 300 people participated in the demonstration, and some tried to enter the embassy grounds. The demonstrators threw rocks, tomatoes, and smoke bombs over the embassy wall. A small number of people were injured. Demonstrators also burned U.S. and U.K flags. Five student organizations were represented, state radio reported, including the Office for Strengthening Unity and the student Basij. (Bill Samii)
GOVERNMENT REVERSES COURSE IN WAR ON DRUGS. The Iranian approach to drug control is particularly relevant to the rest of the world because Iran's neighbor, Afghanistan, is the world's leading producer of opium. Iran leads the international community in global opium-seizure rates and it is second to Pakistan in opiate seizures, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Iran also leads the world in the prevalence of drug abuse (2.8 percent of the population aged 15 or older), according to the UNODC.
For many years, Iran attacked these problems by emphasizing supply-interdiction, but in recent years an increasing proportion of the government's counternarcotics budget has gone to demand-reduction. Information from Iran now indicates that the country's counternarcotics strategy is undergoing changes, and corruption and bureaucratic rivalries might affect drug control efforts. Meanwhile, Iran is continuing its cooperation with the international community.
Return To Supply-Interdiction
The emphasis on demand-reduction appears to be undergoing a reversal under the administration of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Fada-Hussein Maleki succeeded Ali Hashemi as secretary of the Drug Control Headquarters in mid-September. Approximately one week later, Maleki met with Roberto Arbitrio, Tehran representative of the UNODC, to discuss the government's counternarcotics policies.
Maleki described a three-pronged approach, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on 22 September. The most important aspect of this approach is supply-interdiction, he said. The second part is cooperation with other governments and with international organizations to put pressure on drug-producing states. The final part is demand-reduction, by educating young people and their families on the dangers of drug abuse.
An earlier indication of this approach was the statement by Tehran prosecutor Said Mortazavi, who said that once the government's new security measures are implemented, a relentless campaign against drug dealers and traffickers will get under way, "Iran" reported on 13 September. Mortazavi said the campaign will begin in the capital and will be implemented in other cities later.
While these developments are under way, there have been allegations that corruption is hindering drug control efforts. Maku's parliamentary representative, Mohammad Abbaspur, said that narcotics would not have as wide a reach in Iran as they do without the involvement of government officials in smuggling, Radio Farda reported on 29 August. The security forces, prisons organization, customs posts, and the Drug Control Headquarters are all institutions that are liable to be infiltrated by organized criminals, and every day more and more of them are exposed, Abbaspur said. For example, he said, the amount of drugs in the prisons cannot be attributed solely to the prisoners and their families. And without the cooperation of Iranian airlines personnel, he continued, how can ecstasy pills be smuggled in from the Netherlands and Denmark?
Ali Hashemi, who was head of the Drug Control Headquarters at the time, confirmed that a few Iranian officials have been involved in trafficking, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 27 August. Hashemi, however, accused the United States of exaggerating this issue in an effort to discredit Iran. However, the most recent International Narcotics Control Strategy Report from the U.S. State Department remarks positively on Iranian drug-control efforts. "There is overwhelming evidence of Iran's strong commitment to keep drugs leaving Afghanistan from reaching its citizens," the report says. "As Iran strives to achieve this goal, it also prevents drugs from reaching markets in the West." Regarding corruption, the report notes, "there is no indication that senior government officials aid or abet narcotics traffickers, [but] there are reports of corruption among lower/mid-level law enforcement, which is consistent with the transit of multiple-ton drug shipments across Iran."
Alleged corruption is not the only problem in the Iranian drug-control campaign. Thirty-two organizations and ministries are connected with the Drug Control Headquarters, and this has led to bureaucratic disputes.
Brigadier General Mehdi Aboui, who heads the national police counternarcotics unit, said on 15 August that allegations that his organization's activities are ineffective are untrue and baseless, IRNA reported. Such claims are meant to harm the image of the police force, he said, and they will be prosecuted by the judiciary.
Earlier, Aboui said the drug addiction rate in Iran has remained stable since 2001, "Etemad" reported on 21 July. He stressed his organization's efforts along the Afghan border and noted the casualties the police have suffered.
This could be a reaction to Hashemi's early-July rejection of police statistics of 3 million drug addicts. Hashemi noted that in 1943 there were 5,000 addicts out of a population of 16 million; in 1978 there were 2 million drug abusers (out of a population of approximately 35 million); and in 1987 there were 3 million drug abusers (out of a population of approximately 50 million), "Iran" reported on 4 July. Hashemi said there are actually up to 3.5 million addicts and a total of 4 million drug abusers. He went on to note the rise in Afghan opium-production figures and questioned how that could not cause a commensurate rise in Iranian drug abuse.
Iran continues to be engaged with the international community in the war on drugs. In addition to being a signatory to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Iran is active in the Drug Control Coordination Unit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). Iran has signed relevant memorandums of understanding with at least 21 countries, including Great Britain, Italy, Russia, and Turkey.
Iran also is active in the Paris Pact for countries affected by the Afghan opium economy, in which the main focus is border control and law enforcement along the main trafficking routes. A Paris Pact conference took place in Tehran in mid-September. The event was organized by the Drug Control Headquarters and the UNODC and it included participants from 40 countries. Drug Control Headquarters chief Hashemi noted that this meeting is necessary for the development of strategies and an exchange of views. He said sharing information will contribute to effectiveness and efficiency.
Iran is very active in cooperating with and assisting Afghanistan in its efforts to confront opium cultivation and trafficking. Seyyed Mohammad Azam, spokesman for the Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry, attended the Paris Pact conference in Tehran. In a 14 September interview with Mashhad radio's Dari service, he praised Iranian efforts saying, "The Afghan government believes that the Islamic Republic of Iran has played an effective role in tackling drugs. We value the activities of Iran's counternarcotics forces and are grateful for their cooperation. We now have bilateral cooperation and hope to strengthen these positive and effective relations in the future, too." (Bill Samii)
SUPREME LEADER MAKES MILITARY APPOINTMENTS. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has attended several military events recently -- probably because Iran was commemorating Holy Defense Week, the anniversary of the beginning of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. But he also reassigned a number of top military officials, and it is not clear if this was based on loyalty concerns or if it was a routine issue.
Khamenei spoke on 29 September at a meeting of Martyrs Foundations officials in Tehran and at a ceremony of regular armed forces cadets in the capital marking the beginning of the academic year, IRNA reported. At the former event he said the "Divine Reward" (heaven, presumably) is what all martyrs, devotees to Iran and Islam, and the families of martyrs will receive in the hereafter. Nevertheless, he continued, the Martyrs Foundation should deal with the problems they encounter in the present life. At the cadet ceremony, he described the military as "a symbol of power, national glory, and the potential to defend national identity."
Khamenei on 26 September appointed former Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani as the head of the Research Center for Strategic Defense, state television reported. Other appointments made by Khamenei are: Brigadier General Abdul Ali Purshasb as deputy inspector of the regular armed forces general staff, succeeding Major General Ataollah Salehi; Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Qarai-Ashtiani as deputy commander of the regular ground forces, succeeding Brigadier General Hussein Baqai; Brigadier General Seyyed Abdorrahim Musavi as chief of the army's general staff, succeeding Purshasb; and Brigadier General Mohammad Hussein Dadras as commander of the regular ground forces, succeeding Brigadier General Nasser Mohammadi-Far. Rear-Admiral Sajjad Kucheki -Badlani succeeds Rear-Admiral Abbas Mohtaj as commander of the regular navy.
Salehi was appointed commander of the regular army earlier in the month. After the welcoming ceremony at army headquarters, Chief of the Joint Staff General Hassan Firuzabadi discussed Iranian defensive strategy, "Iran" reported on 18 September. He said the country's strategy is based on a complete evaluation of the enemy's strengths and weaknesses, as is the formulation of new tactics, although he did not identify the enemy. Firuzabadi added, "At the present time, we have reached that level of preparedness to be able to quash and ward off any kind of aggression by the enemy, and in general make the enemies regret an attack against us." (Bill Samii)
PARAMILITARY FORCE PREPARES FOR URBAN UNREST. The Basij Resistance Force, a paramilitary organization connected with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, appears to be undergoing something of a revival under the administration of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. This could be connected with the organization's alleged role in securing votes for Ahmadinejad during the presidential campaign and on election day. Ahmadinejad, furthermore, appointed Hojatoleslam Heidar Moslehi, the supreme leader's representative to the Basij, as an adviser in mid-August. But the revival -- along with changes in the paramilitary organization's senior leadership -- could also be connected with preparations for possible civil unrest.
Confronting Urban Unrest
In late September, the Basij staged a series of urban defense exercises across the country. General Mirahmadi, the first deputy commander of the Basij, announced in Tehran that the creation of 2,000 Ashura battalions within the Basij will enhance Iran's defensive capabilities, "Iran" reported on 25 September. Ashura units have riot-control responsibilities.
The Basij began the Ya Ali Bin Talib phase of the eight-day Zolfaqar military exercises in the southwestern Khuzestan Province on 27 September, the provincial network of Iranian state television reported from Ahvaz. The exercises will take place in eight cities. "The objective of the current phase of the military exercise is to confront [urban] unrest," Ahvaz Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Musavi-Jazayeri said. A Guards Corps commander, identified only as Rastegar, added that there will be "operations to confront internal unrest and agitation as well as relief and rescue operations."
The television correspondent explained that participants in the exercise are approximately 70 Ashura and Al-Zahra battalions (which are made up of women) and 500 Basij combat groups, as well as Islamic Revolution Guards Corps personnel.
The three-day Expectants-of-Mahdi phase of the Zolfaqar exercises began in Delijan, south of Qom, on 22 September, Mehr News Agency reported. This exercise also focused on confronting urban unrest. Basij personnel reportedly underwent ideological, political, and combat training, and they participated in cultural competitions.
Ashura units staged the Devotees-of-Velayat phase near Tafresh, west of Qom, from on 21-23 September, Mehr News Agency reported.
The timing of these exercises links them with the ongoing commemoration of Holy Defense Week, which marks the beginning of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Their focus on urban unrest, however, suggests that the regime anticipates a negative reaction to its policies. Either it is preparing for such a reaction or it is sending a warning to the population.
Basij commander General Mohammad Hejazi said on 14 September that the Basij has more than 11 million members across the country, Fars News Agency reported. "Among the most important tasks of the Basij are boosting everlasting security, strengthening development infrastructures, equipping resistance bases, [and] increasing employment," Hejazi added. He described the prohibition of vice and the promotion of virtue in society as the "divine policy" of the Basij.
The precise size of the Basij is an open question. Iranian officials frequently cite a figure of 20 million, but this appears to be an exaggeration based on revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's November 1979 decree creating the Basij. Khomeini said at the time that "a country with 20 million youths must have 20 million riflemen or a military with 20 million soldiers; such a country will never be destroyed," according to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's website (http://www.irib.ir/Special/Azar/basij/html/en/basiq_culture.htm).
A 2005 study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., says there are about 90,000 active-duty Basij members who are full-time uniformed personnel; they are joined by up to 300,000 reservists. That study adds that the Basij can mobilize up to 1 million men. Basij membership comprises mainly boys, old men, and those who recently finished their military service.
The real figure for Basij personnel falls somewhere in the middle, if one includes members of the University Basij, Student Basij, and the former tribal levies incorporated into the Basij (aka Tribal Basij). Middle-school-aged members of the Student Basij are called Seekers (Puyandegan), and high-school members are called the Vanguard (Pishgaman).
While there are questions about the actual size of the Basij Resistance Force, there is greater certainty about the identity of its leaders. General Hejazi is the commander of the Basij. A ceremony for the appointment of General Mirahmadi as his first deputy commander took place on 4 September, ISNA reported. The Tehran commander is Seyyed Mohammad Haj Aqamir. A ceremony making General Ahmad Zolqadr the deputy Basij commander for Tehran took place on 5 September, ISNA reported. Brigadier General Mohammad Yusef Shakeri was introduced as the new Basij commander in Tabriz at a 29 September ceremony, Fars News Agency reported.
The significance of these personnel changes is not immediately obvious. Are they routine? Is it a matter of political patronage, as commanders are promoted in gratitude for their help during the presidential race? Perhaps individuals are being replaced because there are doubts about their dependability once the time comes to confront urban unrest. (Bill Samii)
CLERICAL COURT GETS NEW PROSECUTOR. On 25 September, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Hojatoleslam Mohammad Salimi to succeed Hojatoleslam Gholam Hussein Mohseni-Ejei as prosecutor of the Special Court for the Clergy, IRNA reported. Mohseni-Ejei now serves as minister of intelligence and security. (Bill Samii)
AHMADINEJAD APPOINTS NEW VICE PRESIDENT AND ADVISER. Mahmud Ahmadinejad on 25 September appointed Nasrin Soltankhah as his women's affairs adviser and head of the Center for Women's Participation, IRNA reported.
The same day, Ahmadinejad appointed Mohammad Aliabadi as vice president for physical training and chairman of the Physical Education Organization, Fars News Agency reported.
One day earlier, a statement from the Interior Ministry announced the appointment of Ali Jannati as the ministry's political deputy, Fars News Agency reported. He succeeds Morteza Moballeq, who headed the State Election Headquarters.
Moreover, Mahmud Saidi was selected to head the ministerial branch, and Shahab Gudarzi was selected to head the security headquarters (Hesarat). (Bill Samii)
INTERPOL CANCELS WARRANTS FOR IRANIANS. A ballot of delegates at the annual Interpol conference in Berlin on 21 September determined that arrest and extradition notices for 12 Iranian officials should be canceled, Reuters reported. Argentina sought the Iranian officials for their alleged roles in a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 86 people.
The individuals include former Intelligence and Security Minister Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani; former Ambassador Hadi Suleimanpur; former Deputy Chief of Mission Ahmad Reza Asghari; former cultural attache Mohsen Rabbani; former official Ali Akbar Parvaresh; and former diplomatic courier Ali Balesh-Abadi, as well as several other diplomatic couriers.
Interpol's president, Jackie Salebi of South Africa, explained that the Argentinean judge who issued the warrants was removed for misconduct relating to this case, so Interpol could not honor his warrants. The new judge in the case, Rodolfo Canicoba, said there is evidence implicating the Iranians and Tehran is not cooperating in the investigation, Reuters reported.
In February, Canicoba asked Italy, Lebanon, and Paraguay for information regarding the case, and he contacted Interpol to ask Brazil, Israel, Lebanon, Paraguay, Syria, and the United Kingdom to supply the same (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 February 2005). (Bill Samii)
ONE-TIME FRIEND OF IRAN COULD BE EXPELLED FROM NORWAY. Kurdish Islamist Mullah Krekar was deported from Iran to Norway in 2002, and now an Oslo court has ruled that he can be expelled from Norway, AFP reported on 29 September. An Iraqi, Krekar (aka Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad) founded Ansar al-Islam, which has also used the names Supporters of Islam in Kurdistan (Peshtiwanani Islam le Kurdistan) and Jund al-Islam. The U.S. State Department lists Ansar Al-Islam as a foreign terrorist organization. The most recent annual State Department report on terrorism notes: "Ansar Al-Islam also has operational and logistic support cells in Europe." Krekar occasionally traveled to Iran, and Tehran reportedly backed his organization, though it is not clear why Iran ended the relationship so dramatically (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 June and 23 September 2002). Norway would like to expel Krekar because he is a national security concern. (Bill Samii)
STUDENT LEADER JAILED SHORTLY AFTER STUDENTS ARE AMNESTIED. Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi issued a directive on 26 September giving a leave of absence to all imprisoned students, citing it as an example of "Islamic mercy," IRNA reported. Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said this applies to all students, regardless of their crimes, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 28 September.
Within hours of the directive being issued, Radio Farda reported on 29 September, student leader Ali Afshari was sentenced to six years in jail for acting against national security. In addition, Afshari is barred from public office for five years. Afshari has vowed to appeal the verdict.
Emadedin Baqi, who heads the Association for the Defense of the Rights of Prisoners, told Radio Farda that just a week earlier his organization sent a letter to Shahrudi requesting the release of 32 people, including journalists, website bloggers, lawyers, and political prisoners. Baqi noted that a number of these people were imprisoned in connection with the July 1999 student unrest. (Bill Samii)
CANADA WANTS SLAIN JOURNALIST'S CASE RESOLVED. Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew reportedly told Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki during a 20 September meeting in New York that Canada wants justice served in the case of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who was killed while in state custody in Tehran in June 2003, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on 25 September, citing "The Toronto Star" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 and 21 July 2003). Iran's judiciary is expected to present soon its most recent decision on an earlier verdict issued on the case, AFP reported on 21 September. Pettigrew was reportedly angry at the end of his meeting with Mottaki, and told journalists at the UN that Canada will consider submitting a new resolution to the UN to condemn rights violations by Iran, Radio Farda reported. Pettigrew said he told Mottaki that Canada is "determined" to get to the bottom of the case, and that Iranian officials should stop "dragging their feet" over the appeals process, AFP reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
HEALTH MINISTRY ESTIMATES THAT UP TO 60,000 IRANIANS MAY BE HIV-POSITIVE. A Health Ministry official said on 24 September that "about 12,000" Iranians have officially contracted HIV, and the total number of infected individuals could be as high as 60,000, the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 25 September. Minu Moharrez, a member of the State Committee to Fight AIDS, said the Health Ministry is providing free anti-retroviral drugs, although she did not say for how many people, and has taken preventive measures that she described as "very effective in many cases," including the provision of disposable needles for intravenous drug users. Officials believe most HIV-positive Iranians have contracted the virus through shared needles. Moharrez said that Blood Transfusion Organization centers, and specialized state clinics already carry out free AIDS tests, and provide infected people with free counseling. She urged Iranians, especially "people with high-risk behavior," to go there for tests. She noted a "novel" rise in the number of people infected by partners who engaged in "high-risk behavior" such as promiscuity, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. (Vahid Sepehri)
WORLD BANK ECONOMIST URGES DEEP REFORMS. The World Bank says rising oil prices have contributed to a third straight year of robust growth for many Mideast economies. But bank officials have repeated concerns that Mideast countries dependent on oil revenues are missing an opportunity to make long-term political and economic reforms.
The bank's chief economist for the region, Mustapha Nabli, told a news conference in Washington on 23 September that Iran was a prime example. It has likely improved employment levels and lessened poverty, Nabli said, but it needs a wide range of reforms.
"From trade policy to financial sector development, to water management to, you name it, there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed in Iran and I think, I hope that the new Iranian government will move forward and be more dynamic and more proactive in terms of what is needed for the long run," Nabli said.
His comments echo concerns raised by a World Bank report in April on lagging reforms in the region. That report ranked Iran near the bottom in key governance areas. It said Tehran had failed to address reforms to improve the business environment such as privatizing public enterprises.
Bank experts say such reforms are key to addressing areas such as unemployment.
Iran has seen its unemployment rate drop from nearly 15 percent in 2002 to about 11 percent last year. But, citing demographic trends, the bank estimates Iran must create at least 700,000 jobs per year to further reduce current unemployment and provide jobs for new entrants to the labor force.
Iran is part of what the bank calls the world's weakest region with regard to progress on reforming the business environment. Nabli said the bank has been engaged with most countries in the region to improve public-sector governance, transparency in budgets, and attacking corruption.
He added: "By the end of the day, the reforms are really the critical things to create the long-term jobs and here, as I said, the picture is mixed, so you see some countries pursuing actively, some countries pursuing less actively the reforms."
Nabli and the World Bank's country director for Iran, Joseph Saba, both singled out Iran's high energy subsidies as a concern.
Iran has energy subsidies amounting to about 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which the bank wants to channel into private-sector investment. Saba told RFE/RL the Iranian government also needs to be more efficient at directing any subsidies to the country's poor.
"For Iran [the subsidy is] a substantial amount, and we'd like to see that used as targeted to poor people because they are untargeted subsidies right now across the board, so all the population that's not poor also benefits," he said. "That's not necessary."
The bank says an estimated 9 million people in Iran are poor. The bank has committed about $1.3 billion to projects in Iran, including improvement of water and sanitation systems, earthquake reconstruction, as well as advice on governance.
Saba said the new government's views on reducing energy subsidies are expected to be clarified after meetings with top Iranian officials at the World Bank annual meetings this weekend in Washington. (Robert McMahon)
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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