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April 99, Week 2
|U.S. Disowns Iranian Group on Assassination||April 13|
|Case of Obscure Cleric Exposes Iran Divisions||April 12|
|U.S. Firm Arco(arc.n) in Talks on Iranian Oilfields||April 10|
|Khatami Accepts Invitation to Visit Germany||April 8|
U.S. Disowns Iranian Group on Assassination
WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday condemned the assassination of
an Iranian general in Tehran and denied it was sheltering the Mujahideen Khalq organisation, which
claimed responsibility for the attack.
"We condemn what we consider to be an act of terrorism and we hope that the perpetrators are brought to justice," State Department James Foley told a daily briefing.
Gunmen disguised as street cleaners shot and killed Lieutenant-General Ali Sayyad Shirazi in Tehran on Saturday as he left home for work. Shirazi was deputy chief of staff of the armed forces and a hero of the eight-year war with Iraq.
The Mujahideen said they killed the general as a war criminal who had repressed the people of Iranian Kurdistan and massacred hundreds of Mujahideen members in western Iran.
Foley noted that the Mujahideen has been on a U.S. list of "terrorist" organisations since 1997 -- a designation which freezes the group's assets and deprives members of visas.
"We reject any suggestion that the U.S. government supports these terrorists ... The U.S. does not provide any safe haven to any terrorist groups," he added.
In practice the Mujahideen has a press office in Washington and supporters of the group operate openly in the United States through the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella opposition group dominated by the Mujahideen.
The Mujahideen, which has widespread support in the U.S. Congress, says it preparing a legal challenge to its designation as a "terrorist" organisation.
It says the designation is a covert attempt to please the Iranian government, which continues to resist U.S. attempts to open government-to-government contacts with Washington.
Case of Obscure Cleric Exposes Iran Divisions
TEHRAN (Reuters) - A little-known Shiite Muslim theologian is due to go on trial
Wednesday in a case that has exposed deep divisions among Iran's powerful clerics, and in
the broader society beyond.
Mohsen Kadivar, an outspoken mid-ranking theologian and university lecturer, stands accused by Iran's Special Court for Clergy of using his writings to defame the Islamic republic, confuse public opinion and insult the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
His supporters, including a number of the most senior clerics, reformist newspaper editors and political figures extending into the office of President Mohammad Khatami, say he is merely exercising the time-honored right of a trained Shiite theologian to reinterpret religion.
Kadivar's detention in February, they say, represented an open attack on freedom of thought and speech. "My arrest is the price we pay for freedom," the 40-year-old cleric told family members from his prison cell.
The case has plucked Kadivar from the pages of obscure learned journals and the rarefied halls of the elite seminaries and plunged him into the center of Iran's national struggle. One commentator compared him to Galileo before the Inquisition.
At its heart is the running debate over the appropriate role of Shiite clerics in an Islamic republic. Is their power absolute, or should it be tempered by the popular will as expressed through elections and other democratic institutions? And who has the right to examine such issues?
"We are ready to give a very concrete and convincing defense. This is only a misunderstanding," Kadivar's lawyer, Ayatollah Hossein Mousavi-Tabrizi, told a news conference on Tuesday.
He said he had negotiated with the judge to allow Iranian media and Kadivar's family to attend, meeting his client's demands for an open hearing. Foreign media would not be allowed.
Analysts say the resolution of the trial, and the larger issues that surround it, will go a long way toward shaping President Khatami's effort to instill a civil society and the rule of law under Iran's Islamic system.
The pro-reform daily Sobh-e Emrouz denounced the trial in an editorial as a dead-end street for hard-liners hoping to suppress Iran's movement toward increased political and social freedoms.
Iran's biggest student movement, which says it has 50,000 backers on campuses nationwide, has demanded the trial before the secretive Clergy Court be broadcast by state television. Supporters have held rallies to try to win Kadivar's release.
For his part, Khatami looks likely to be dragged into the process, complicating his own delicate relationship with the powerful conservative establishment that controls the court.
Newspapers recently published an open letter from Kadivar to the president, calling on him to enforce the constitution he swore to uphold with the oath of office.
"I have been held for the past 40 days on trumped-up charges which constitute an inquisition, a move to shut the gates of criticism ... enchain liberties and suppress free thought.
"I ask you one thing: to ensure that I shall be tried in accordance with the...constitution. That means, I must be tried in a court of law, with a jury and in a public trial," he said.
Cases before the Clergy Court, created by Ayatollah Khomeini but not sanctioned directly by the constitution, are generally heard in secret with limited rights for the defendant.
U.S. Firm Arco(arc.n) in Talks on Iranian Oilfields
MANAMA,(Reuters) - U.S. oil major Atlantic Richfield Co (ARCO) said on
Monday it was holding talks with Iran on developing unnamed onshore oilfields in the country.
"Our ongoing talks with Tehran are now focused on certain onshore fields," ARCO Executive Vice-President Don Voelte told an oil conference in Bahrain.
Like other U.S. firms eager to participate in Iran's biggest energy opening in 20 years, ARCO is frustrated by U.S. sanctions and has called for them to be lifted.
"We're rapidly moving forward to the limit placed upon us by our government. We've purchased data packages for several development and exploration projects. In November, we expressed interest in several development opportunities," Voelte said.
ARCO, an outspoken critic of U.S. policy on Iran, has already bid on two Iranian oilfield developments, subject to the lifting of the sanctions.
The United States imposed a unilateral economic embargo on Iran in 1995, sidelining U.S. firms from the competition to secure lucrative oil and gas deals in the country.
Washington has come under pressure from U.S. firms, mainly in the oil industry, to revise its policy on Iran, which is seeking Western funds and technology to help exploration and rejuvenate ageing fields.
Iran last year tempted foreign firms with its biggest oil and gas auction since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
U.S. oil executives closely monitor Iran's vast energy industry by attending conferences in the country. Iran has repeatedly said it would welcome participation by U.S. firms.
Washington said earlier this month it was disappointed with a $300 million oil deal which Iran signed with French and Canadian companies, and indicated it may punish them for violating a U.S. law limiting energy investments in Iran.
Khatami Accepts Invitation to Visit Germany
TEHRAN - XINHUA - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on
Sunday accepted an invitation from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
to visit Germany.
After receiving the invitation from visiting German special envoy Bodo Hombach, Khatami said that he would visit Germany at "an appropriate time."
"I am confident that a new stage has started in relations between Iran and Germany," he told Hombach, also Head of the Federal Chancellery who arrived here Saturday, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Khatami assured the German official that Iran is determined to expand its relations with other countries based on mutual respect.
Calling for promotion of political, economic and cultural ties between Iran and Germany, he said that "when logic rules over relations, every problem would be resolved."
Relations between Tehran and Bonn have been cooled down since April 1997, after a Berlin court accused Iranian leaders of sponsoring terrorist activities against Iranian dissidents in Germany.
A possible rapprochement between the two sides was then blocked by an Iranian death sentence on German businessman Helmut Hofer for having "illegal" sexual relations with an Iranian Muslim woman.
Hofer was sentenced to death in January 1998 under Iranian law, which bans non-Muslim men from having any sexual relations with Muslim women. Hofer rejected the charges and claimed that he had converted to Islam before meeting the woman.
The Iranian Judiciary released Hofer on bail Saturday night. Some reports said that Tehran and Bonn have reached a compromise over Hofer's case and Hofer would be deported from Iran.
However, an Iranian judicial official said on Sunday that the 57-year-old German businessman would not be allowed to leave Iran and he would be brought back for retrial.
Local observers said that relations between the two countries would be warmed up following the settlement of Hofer's case, since Germany is Iran's biggest trading partner.