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August 1997

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    Iran Defense head wants foreign troops out of Gulf
    DUBAI, United Emirates (Reuter)
    Iran's new defense minister Saturday called for regional security arrangements in the Gulf without the presence of foreign forces, the official Iranian news agency IRNA said.

    In an interview with IRNA, Rear-Admiral Ali Shamkhani ``highlighted the need to step up sincere and honest consultations with the neighboring states, the Persian Gulf sheikdoms in particular, to establish new security arrangements without the presence of foreign forces in the region,'' the agency said.

    Relations between Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council states -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates -- are often tense. The six have voiced concern over Iran's armament program and accused it of interfering in their internal affairs.

    ``Determining the real sources of threat in the strategic Persian Gulf region, and whether or not the presence of foreign forces, particularly the U.S., is itself a threat, will be among major topics to be raised with the Persian Gulf littoral states,'' IRNA quoted Shamkhani as saying.

    The United States accuses Iran of sponsoring international ``terrorism,'' a charge Iran denies, and has expressed concern since the 1991 Gulf War about what it describes as Iran's growing military capability and its aims in the region.

    Iran opposes the U.S. military presence in the Gulf and says Washington falsely accuses it of threatening regional security to scare its Gulf Arab allies into buying more weapons.

    Shamkhani said Iran's defense industry focused on achieving self-sufficiency in conventional weapons for defensive purposes.

    ``Shamkhani further called for an end to the unwarranted presence of foreign military forces in the region, American forces in particular,'' IRNA said.

    ``Measures of this sort will certainly reduce regional tension,'' it quoted him as saying.

    The minister accused U.S. naval forces of using the Gulf as a testing ground for their weaponry.

    ``This, besides being a threat to the whole region, is also a source of pollution in the Persian Gulf waters, posing a serious threat to the health, environment and economy of the entire region,'' IRNA quoted Shamkhani as saying.

    Iran has recently moved toward improving ties with its neighbors. Hopes for better relations between non-Arab Iran and the GCC have risen since the election in May of President Mohammad Khatami, seen as a moderate.

    Saudi Arabia, Iran to Start Direct Flight
    KUWAIT CITY-XINHUA
    The first scheduled flight between Saudi Arabia and Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Tehran is to start operation Saturday, Kuwait News Agency reported today.

    Iranian officials in Saudi western coast city of Jeddah were quoted as saying today that a Boeing 747-400 passenger plane owned by the Iranian national airline Iran Air would land in Jeddah Airport Saturday, starting regular weekly flights.

    The new flight service was stipulated in a Saudi-Iranian agreement signed last March.

    The officials, whose names were not given, said the achievement reflected the keenness of both sides to improve bilateral relations after an 18-year-long period of stagnation.

    Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a whole started improving since the start of this year when the Iranian former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was finishing his last days in power and developed further with the election of Mohammad Khatami as the new President.

    The sources expressed belief that the resumption of flights between Tehran and Jeddah would help promote bilateral relations, especially on the economic and commercial levels.

    Iran Film Depicts Hostage Mission
    By Afshin Valinejad
    Associated Press Writer
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- The movie ``Sandstorm,'' an Iranian account of the failed 1980 U.S. mission to rescue 52 American hostages in Iran, opened in Tehran on Wednesday to a relatively small crowd.

    Although newspapers and magazines printed full-page advertisements, the 400-seat Quds theater was only half full.

    The two-hour movie featured Ahmad Najavi, one of Iran's top movie stars, as mission leader Col. Charles Beckwith.

    ``I came because I like Najavi,'' said Ali Ahmadian a 28-year-old civil servant. ``I knew the real story, but I was curious to see it on film.''

    The mission was dispatched by President Jimmy Carter to rescue Americans taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in the wake of Iran's Islamic Revolution. It ended in failure when a helicopter and a transport plane collided in the Iranian desert during a sandstorm killing eight Americans.

    The movie opens with documentary footage showing angry Iranian students shouting ``Death to America,'' in front of the embassy, followed by a scene at an air base used by the Americans.

    American helicopters, weapons, uniforms and vehicles were used in the movie.

    In one of the scenes, U.S. soldiers are shown stopping a bus traveling along the Iranian desert and mistreating the passengers, mostly old women and children.

    The movie also features four spies for the United States who provide the military with logistics and photos of the besieged embassy.

    One of the spies in the film, which was directed by Javad Shahamaghdari and shot entirely in Iran, is portrayed as an Iranian Jew.

    ``Sandstorm'' cost nearly $2 million to make, 10 times the usual budget for an Iranian action movie.

    ``I love to see war action and the equipment they (Americans) used,'' said Ahmad Mohammad Nejad, a commando in the Iranian army. ``That's why I came on the very first day.''

    Iran's Khatami plays down presidency pomp
    TEHRAN, Iran (Reuter) - Iran's President Mohammad Khatami has taken a striking approach to the country's top elected office playing down the hero worship and keeping in touch with voters.

    In contrast to predecessors, the 54-year-old Shi'ite Muslim cleric has ditched many of the ceremonial trappings and pomp associated with top officials.

    Since he took the oath of office Aug. 4, Khatami has sparingly used the state-run media and has encouraged government offices not to hang his portrait.

    The latest example on Khatami's low-key approach came Monday when his aides quickly took down his portrait at a welcoming ceremony for one of his vice-presidents.

    "Officials from the president's office insisted on the removal of his portrait," the Persian-language Iran newspaper reported Tuesday.

    The ceremony itself was for 37-year-old Masoumeh Ebtekar who was appointed by Khatami as Iran's first woman cabinet-level official since the country's Islamic revolution in 1979.

    State media lapped the event up. "We smelt the perfume of the president's magnanimity and were proud that we lived in the Islamic Republic of Iran and not in the Third World," is how a journalist from the Akbar daily reported the portrait episode.

    It is really only in shops where supporters, who gave Khatami his landslide election victory in May, display his portrait and then it is mostly old election leaflets glued to walls facing the street.

    "He enjoys great support among the people...We don't need his picture to remind us he is in charge of the government," said one Tehran shopowner.

    Though Khatami does not employ image consultants so pervasive in politics around the world, there are signs that the moderate cleric is bringing fresh change to the office and projecting himself as one of the people.

    Given that his reformist mandate mainly relies on the nearly 70 percent vote he won in May, the move to "humanize" his office is politically astute, analysts said.

    On the first day after his oath of office, the well groomed, bearded cleric wandered into the staff canteen at the president's office for a simple meal of chicken and rice.

    This week he has been photographed walking hand in hand with smiling children while opening parks in Tehran's teeming poor southern districts and a traffic control center.

    It's all very different from previous president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who spent his last months in office inaugurating giant industrial and infrastructure projects.

    Khatami has also instructed government officials to "avoid flowery and exaggerated expressions" when addressing the president and senior officials.

    A statement said "respected" would be sufficient. Officials had regularly delighted in using such phrases as "dear president, beloved by the Iranian nation" or "the most elevated and exalted president."

    At the revered shrine of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in southern Tehran, Khatami this week paid his silent respect and offered a prayer for the blessing of the leader of the country's revolution.

    Then like populist politicians around the world, he went smiling into a crowd who pressed to shake his hand.

    Iran New FM says ready to meet EU ministers
    TEHRAN, Iran (Reuter) - Iran's new Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was quoted Tuesday as saying he was ready to meet European counterparts to discuss strained relations.

    Kharrazi told the English-language Iran News daily that he was willing to meet EU ministers during the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next month.

    "I'll meet with them if they so wish," he said. "I have no problem with meeting any European foreign minister and I'm ready to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the General Assembly and meet with all my counterparts...if they so wish.

    "During my meeting with EU officials I would be able to present the realities in Iran and at the same time get informed about their views," he told the paper.

    The official Iranian news agency IRNA Monday night quoted Kharrazi as making similar comments on Europe. It said he was talking to reporters following a farewell ceremony for former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati in Tehran.

    Kharrazi, Iran's former ambassador to the United Nations, said in the newspaper interview Iran had "historical ties with EU member countries and we have had our shares of ups and downs in our relations with them."

    "A fact borne out by history is that as long as both sides follow a policy of mutual respect, their mutual interests will be served," he said.

    All EU states except Greece recalled their ambassadors from Tehran after a German court ruled in April that Iran's top leaders had ordered the 1992 assassination of four Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant.

    Iran, which strongly rejected the court's verdict, has said the EU envoys could return to Tehran but has indicated the German ambassador must be the last.

    Iran's new President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate Shi'ite Muslim cleric, has said he wanted to bring about "an active and fresh presence" in Iran's foreign policy to "defuse tensions."

    One of the first challenges will be to reach an agreement with the EU ambassadors to return to Tehran, analysts say.

    European diplomats in Tehran say efforts were still under way to find a face-saving formula for the speedy return of the German envoy at the same time as other EU heads of mission.

    Kharrazi told Iran News that Tehran was willing to cooperate with other countries to combat "terrorism."

    Germany Ready to Patch up Relations with Iran
    BONN,(Reuter) - Germany said on Tuesday it wanted to re-establish closer ties with Iran after relations were hurt in April by a German court's findings that Tehran had ordered the murder of Iranian Kurdish dissidents in Berlin.

    ``After the long pause for thought...we want to slowly re-establish contacts with Iran,'' German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said in the text of a newspaper interview released by his ministry.

    Kinkel also welcomed remarks by his new Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi, who has said he is ready to meet European Union ministers.

    Kinkel said the minister's remarks showed Tehran wanted to re-establish dialogue. ``We will not ignore this wish after a long pause in contact,'' he said.

    All EU countries except Greece withdrew their ambassadors from Tehran in the wake of the Berlin court ruling that Iran's top leaders had ordered the 1992 assassination of four Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant.

    Iran, which strongly rejected the court's verdict, has said the EU envoys can return to Tehran but has indicated the German ambassador must be the last, a formula which Bonn has denounced as an attempt to undermine the solidarity of EU partners.

    Kinkel said it was too early to say if he would meet Kharrazi at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next month, as the Iranian minister had suggested.

    He said he thought the assembly offered the chance for a new beginning but added that Iran still had to clarify ``a couple of things'' such as whether it would observe international law.

    Iran's new president, 54-year-old moderate cleric Mohammad Khatami, was sworn into office on August 4 after a landslide election victory. Last week he called for an ``active and fresh presence'' in Tehran's foreign relations.

    In Iran, America'' Still a Dreaded Word
    By Steven Swindells
    TEHRAN,(Reuter) - Just saying the word ``America'' can cause problems in Iran, even for local non-governmental groups seeking to promote understanding between people of the two countries.

    The latest episode to highlight the sensitivity to the dreaded A-word has emerged from an invitation issued by an Iranian women's group for American women to come to the Islamic republic.

    Iran's Women's Solidarity Association has invited five American women academics to the country -- the first time since ties between the two countries were severed in 1980 -- a source affiliated to the association said.

    The association itself, although it is headed by a daughter of Iran's former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, was reluctant in public to go as far as confirming that the visitors would indeed come from America.

    ``Following the willingness of five foreign women...to familiarise themselves with the real status of women in Iran, the Women's Solidarity Association has invited them to come to Iran,'' a statement issued by the group said.

    ``The Association regards this visit as an answer to the negative propaganda of the Western news media about Iranian women,'' the statement sent to Reuters said.

    When asked to confirm that the invitation was for American women, a spokeswoman said: ``All our information is in the statement.''

    Newspapers have reported that the visit would take place later this month.

    The reluctance to go public on any form of ties with the United States is understandable in a political arena where conservatives and revolutionaries will denounce anyone wanting to edge towards the United States.

    Iran's new culture minister, Ataollah Mohajerani, was blasted by conservative deputies in parliament last week for advocating back in 1990 a resumption of talks with Washington.

    The criticism for his earlier views nearly cost Mohajerani his new job in Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's cabinet as deputies threatened not to pass its necessary vote of confidence on the 43-year-old trained historian.

    ``America is the dreaded word here. When you use it, use it carefully,'' said one analyst.

    Iran's media have also derided comments in the past days from the U.S. State Department that it would be willing to have conditional talks with Iranian officials on Tehran's opposition to the Middle East peace process and its alleged support of international terrorism and its desire for nuclear weapons.

    Iran has repeatedly denied U.S. charges of terrorism and its media say Khatami's new administration does not mean a change in Tehran's stance towards Washington.

    Iran accuses Washington of deliberately misrepresenting the Islamic republic to isolate Tehran.

    For the time being it appears the only safe way to use the U.S. word is in the context of ``Death to America,'' a regular chant at popular gatherings across Iran.

    Iran Says Women Need Permit to Marry Foreigners
    TEHRAN,(Reuter) - Iran's government has warned Iranian women not to marry foreign men without an official permit, newspapers reported on Monday.

    ``In many cases the husbands of Iranian women have abandoned them without notice and gone back to their country,'' Abbas Najipour, head of the Foreign Ministry's registration office, was reported as saying.

    Without getting a permit to marry a foreign man, the government would not defend women in divorce courts or grant Iranian nationality to any children, he said.

    The main problem concerned Iranian women marrying Afghani men. ``Iranian women travelling to Afghanistan with their husbands have either been abandoned or forced to do dishonourable acts,'' Najipour said.

    Cases of Iranian women marrying Afghani men are common in Iran's eastern agricultural provinces neighbouring Afghanistan.

    But marriages to other nationalities also occur in Iran's main cities including the capital Tehran.

    Iran's Khatami Appoints Woman as VP
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP)
    In a widely-expected move, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami appointed a woman as a vice president Saturday, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

    She is Massoumeh Ebtekar, 37, a U.S.-educated lecturer at Tehran University who represented Iran at the Beijing conference on women in 1995.

    Ebtekar, who was appointed vice president and head of the Organization for the Protection of the Environment, is the first woman to serve in a top government position since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

    A former editor of the English-language newspaper Kayhan International, Ebtekar has a PhD in chemistry and has written several articles on environment and immunology, the news agency said.

    Khatami, who took office Aug. 3, appointed five other vice presidents Saturday.

    Mohammad Hashemi -- the brother of the previous president, Hashemi Rafsanjani -- retained his post as vice president for executive affairs.

    Seyyed Abdollvahed Musavi-Lari was appointed vice president in charge of legal and parliamentary affairs.

    Mohammad Ali Najafi, a former minister of education in Rafsanjani's government, was appointed vice president and head of the Planning and Budget Organization.

    Mostafa Hashemi-Taba was appointed vice president and head of the Physical Training Organization.

    Mohammad Baqerian was appointed vice president and head of the Organization for Administrative and Employment Affairs.

    Shortly after his inauguration, Khatami appointed Hassan Habibi as a vice president. Habibi had served in the same role in Rafsanjani's administration.

    Iran Spiritual leader appoints former foreign minister as adviser
    TEHRAN,(Reuter) - Iran's supreme spiritual leader on Thursday appointed former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati as an adviser, Iranian state television said.

    It said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has supreme power over all state institutions, issued a decree appointing Velayati as his adviser in international affairs.

    New Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, sworn in on August 4, has named former United Nations ambassador Kamal Kharrazi to replace Velayati. Khatami's entire cabinet won a parliamentary vote of confidence on Wednesday.

    Velayati, trained as a paediatrician, had been the international voice of the Islamic republic since 1981.

    He supported the conservative presidential candidate, Parliament Speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, in elections in May which the moderate Khatami won by a landslide.

    Iran says U.S. should drop charges of terrorism
    TEHRAN, Iran (Reuter) - Iran said Thursday the United States should drop its terrorism charges against Tehran to prove it wanted to end its hostility toward the Islamic republic, the Iranian news agency IRNA said.

    Foreign Ministry spokesman Mahmoud Mohammadi said the United States "should show in practice the change in its behavior and political will toward the Islamic Republic if it really does not intend to continue its hostility toward Iran," IRNA said.

    "Mohammadi said repetition of the charges that the U.S. always raises for propaganda purposes against Iran could not indicate a change in the U.S. attitude toward the Islamic Republic of Iran," IRNA added.

    It said Mohammadi was reacting to a statement by U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin on the possibility of Iran-U.S. talks.

    Rubin said Thursday U.S. terms for starting a political dialogue with Tehran remained unchanged.

    He said Iran must be willing to discuss areas of concern to the United States, "namely its opposition to the Middle East peace process, its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and its support for international terrorism."

    IRNA reported that Mohammadi said, "We are keeping a close eye on the U.S. behavior toward Iran and at the same time we have separated the account of the American people from that of the U.S. administration that holds hostile attitude toward Iran and Muslims."

    Iran denies U.S. charges that it seeks to acquire nuclear weapons and supports terrorism, but makes no secret of its opposition to the Middle East peace process, which it condemns as a sellout of Palestinian and Arab rights.

    The election of moderate President Mohammad Khatami has led to speculation of a possible thaw in relations between Tehran and Washington which have had no diplomatic ties since 1980.

    Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has supreme power over all state affairs including foreign policy, has rejected the possibility of improved relations with the United States, which Iran sees as its archfoe.

    Iraqi Holy Sites to Admit Iranians
    BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Iraq has formally told Iran it will start allowing Iranians to visit its holy Shiite shrines, ending a 17-year ban on visitors from the rival nation.

    President Saddam Hussein on Monday ordered the ban lifted as of Sept. 4. It has been in force since the start of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

    On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf summoned Iran's charge d'affaires after an Iranian official said he had heard about the decision only through the media.

    Sahhaf told the Iranian diplomat that the decision was prompted by Iraq's desire to ``decisively'' end seven years of inconclusive talks between the two countries over the issue of religious visits.

    Iraq, where the followers of Islam's Shiite sect are in a slight majority, have a number of Shiite shrines. Iran is overwhelmingly Shiite.

    Parliment Approves Iran Cabinet
    By Afshin Valinejad
    Associated Press Writer
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's parliament today approved all 22 Cabinet ministers proposed by President Mohammad Khatami, including two controversial nominees for key ministries.

    The surprise approval, which came after heated debates and scathing attacks on one minister-designate, is expected to strengthen Khatami's mandate for easing social restrictions in Iran.

    Ataollah Mohajerani, who was accused of being too liberal and criticized for advocating direct talks with Washington three years ago, was approved as culture minister, receiving 144 votes in the 270-seat Majlis, or parliament.

    The Culture Ministry, which controls the media, music and film industries, is seen by hard-liners as a bulwark against allowing Western culture into the country.

    However, many Iranians see a more moderate ministry as a possible gateway to the foreign films, books and music that are now banned.

    During a 45-minute speech, Mohajerani promised more personal freedom, saying that was in keeping with Islamic teachings.

    ``We have to create an atmosphere where all citizens can express their ideas. Islam is not a narrow dark alley. Everybody can walk freely in the path of Islam,'' Mohajerani said as Majlis members listened in hushed silence.

    He pledged to turn the Culture Ministry from the ``laughing matter it is now, into a jewel in the crown of Iran.''

    Some hard-line deputies have accused Mohajerani of being unfaithful to the ideals of the 1979 Islamic revolution that installed a clergy-based government.

    One hard-liner asked Mohajerani today whether he would carry out the death sentence Iran has imposed on British author Salman Rushdie for his allegedly blasphemous book ``The Satanic Verses.''

    ``Please answer frankly. If you met Salman Rushdie would you kill him?'' legislator Ali Zardar asked.

    Mohajerani did not say what he would do if he met Rushdie, but said he had spent ``40 sleepless nights'' writing a critique of the controversial book.

    It took two hours to approve all 22 nominees. Today's vote followed two days of debate.

    The approval of Mohajerani was considered a personal victory for Khatami and other moderates and a sign of the weakening of the hard-liners' power in parliament.

    Khatami's surprise landslide victory in May's presidential elections against a hard-line opponent was the first indication that Iranians wanted a more moderate regime.

    Abdollah Nouri, another controversial nominee for interior minister, won approval today with 153 votes. He will be responsible for Khatami's expected drive to ease other social restrictions.

    The Interior Ministry is responsible for enforcing Iran's strict Islamic code.

    On the question of direct talks with the United States, Mohajerani said today he considered the issue closed when Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei opposed it.

    Iran police seize 430 kg of drugs in traffic check
    TEHRAN (Reuter) - Police in southern Iran have seized 430 kg (950 lb) of narcotics during a routine traffic check, Iran's official news agency IRNA said on Tuesday.

    The agency said police found the drugs in Yazd province this week but did not specify what kind of drugs they were.

    Iran is a key transit route for drugs, mostly opium from which heroin is made, being smuggled to Europe via Turkey from Afghanistan and Pakistan -- the so-called ``Golden Crescent.''

    More than 1,000 people have been executed since a 1989 law took effect imposing the death penalty for possession of five kg (11 lb) of opium or 30 grams (just over one ounce) of heroin.

    Iran President Backs Cabinet Picks
    By Afshin Valinejad
    Associated Press Writer
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's new moderate president appealed to hard-line members of Parliament on Tuesday to accept his choices for Cabinet, saying his nominees were the ``most suitable.''

    President Mohamad Khatami spoke to the Majlis, Iran's parliament, at the start of a two-day, nationally televised debate on his 22 Cabinet nominees. The 270-member legislature will vote on his choices Wednesday.

    The nomination battle is expected to be an early test of strength between Iran's hardliners and Khatami, whose May 23 election was widely seen as a mandate to ease social restrictions in place since the nation's 1979 Islamic revolution.

    Khatami faces challenges from Parliament's hard-line majority on two key choices: the culture and interior ministers, whose agencies could be on the front lines of any fight to make Iran a more moderate society.

    In his speech to Parliament, Khatami invoked the memory of the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, saying that Khomeini had often stressed the Iranian constitution's focus on people -- and that individual freedoms were a big part of that.

    Khatami also pointed out his nominees included relatives of those who died in the Islamic revolution and that most had been imprisoned by the late Shah of Iran. He called his choices the ``most suitable of the suitables.''

    Most nominees were expected to win approval, but one has drawn particularly strong opposition: Ataollah Mohajerani, a former vice president named to head the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. He was criticized three years ago for advocating direct talks with Washington.

    In Tuesday's debate, Mohajerani came under scathing attack by several hard-line deputies. A few who supported him said his call for talks with Washington was only one mistake that should not disqualify him.

    Iran considers the United States an enemy, and Washington accuses Tehran of sponsoring international terrorism.

    After the Majlis session, Mohajerani declined to comment on the hardliners' attack, except to say Khatami considers the culture ministry ``critical'' for Iran.

    ``I believe that cultural policies can affect Iran's foreign policy,'' Mohajerani said before leaving parliament.

    The Culture Ministry, which controls the media, film and music, is a battlefield in the struggle for Iran's future. Hard-liners see the ministry as a bastion against a Western cultural invasion, while many Iranians see a more moderate ministry as a possible gateway to foreign films, books and music.

    Khatami, himself a former culture minister, said Tuesday that Iran should protect itself from foreign influences by preserving and developing its own culture.

    Another controversial nominee is moderate Abdollah Nouri, who as interior minister would be responsible for Khatami's expected drive to ease other social restrictions.

    The president has three months to replace nominees who are vetoed. He is widely expected to appoint any rejected nominees as vice presidents, who are part of the Cabinet but do not require approval of the Majlis.

    Newspapers say he will name at least one woman, U.S.-educated Massoumeh Ebtekar, as a vice president.

    Westerners Tour Iran by Car
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Sixty-four Westerners are touring Iran in a 36-car convoy, the first such organized road tour since the 1979 Islamic revolution, an Iranian official said Sunday.

    The tourists, who drove to Iran from France, were invited by the Iran Touring and Automobile Club, according to the club's director, Saeed Ohadi. The club organized the tour and provided the visas for the tourists from France, Finland and Brazil, Ohadi told The Associated Press.

    The group, which includes children, will leave Tuesday after visiting the cities of Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran, Ohadi said.

    Another group of 100 Canadian tourists are planning a similar road tour later this year, he said.

    Iran has been trying to promote tourism as a way of boosting its faltering economy, but the government says tourism last year brought in only $270 million.

    Iran Moderate Promises Cooperation
    By Afshin Valinejad
    Associated Press Writer
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's new president, a moderate who is expected to run into opposition from hardliners on several of his Cabinet nominees, said he would respect the wishes of the conservative-dominated Parliament.

    Mohammad Khatami, who won a May 23 landslide election over a right-wing rival, said he believed his nominees to be competent and hoped they would receive a vote of confidence from the Majilis, or Parliament. But he said he would bow to the Majilis' decision if they reject some of his choices.

    ``If God forbid, such a thing happens, I am resigned and obedient to the law and the views of the Majlis and will try to propose others,'' he said late Wednesday.

    Khatami's election victory was largely seen as a demand for relaxation of strict Muslim laws imposed when the 1979 Islamic revolution installed a government run by clerics. He is believed to want to ease those laws.

    But the hardliners want even stricter enforcement and have threatened to veto some of Khatami's most controversial Cabinet nominees in an effort to water down his expected reforms.

    Ataollah Mohajerani, a former vice president, was nominated to head the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which controls the media and film industries. He was criticized three years ago for advocating direct talks with Washington, which accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism.

    Another controversial nominee is moderate Abdollah Nouri, who as interior minister would be responsible for Khatami's expected drive to ease social restrictions.

    While Khatami had been widely expected to be the first president since the revolution to appoint a woman minister, he told Tehran television late Wednesday he had no plans to do so. But he said women will be involved in the Cabinet as deputy ministers.

    Newspapers say he will name at least one woman, U.S.-educated Massoumeh Ebtekar, as one of his vice presidents. Khatami does not require approval from the Majlis for his vice presidents, who also are part of the Cabinet.

    1 Hunger Striker Dying, 1 Eating
    By William J. Kole
    Associated Press Writer
    AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) -- Exhausted and emaciated, one Iranian called off his hunger strike for residency papers Thursday, but a comrade continued for a 62nd day and was reported near death.

    Majid Masseri ended his fast at 31 days after a court ruled earlier in the day that he had no grounds to stay in the Netherlands, where he fled two years ago after being accused by the Tehran government of spying.

    Thursday's ruling did not deal with Amir Amiry, semiconscious and wasting away in a coastal hospital after more than two months without food. RTL television, quoting his doctor, reported that he had only a few days to live and would be moved to another hospital in The Hague until ``a place for him to die is found.''

    Judges rejected a last-ditch injunction Thursday aimed at blocking Masseri's deportation, saying he did not make a compelling case that he faced imprisonment, torture or death if returned to Iran.

    The court sided with the Dutch government, which in June ordered both Masseri, 41, and Amiry, 27, expelled as illegal immigrants. Thursday's ruling did not deal with Amiry.

    The Dutch Foreign Ministry maintains that the pair could be safely sent home, based on its belief that Iran's political and human rights climate is improving under new, more moderate leadership.

    Their plight has kindled debate in the Netherlands about whether the country is abandoning its tradition of taking in the desperate and downcast.

    ``They're to be deported like sheep,'' said Ahmed Pouri, leader of a refugee activist group. ``This is justice?''

    Another 25 Iranians have launched hunger strikes in solidarity with Masseri and Amiry, who had vowed to starve to death rather than face deportation. It was not immediately clear whether they would continue their fasts now that Masseri has ended his.

    Throughout Europe, illegal immigrants are using fasts to test the generosity of countries that welcomed them just a few decades ago, but now are expelling them. Last summer, 10 Africans went on an eight-week fast in Paris to demand they be allowed to stay in France.

    For centuries, the Netherlands has opened its doors to those in need, most notably the religious pilgrims who settled America and the thousands of Jews allowed in before World War II. Today, 300 people seek asylum every day in Holland, according to a report released this week.

    Like many industrialized countries, the Netherlands has seen immigration rise steadily in recent decades, and sharply over the last five years.

    The debate over whether to tighten immigration policies pits those who argue the system is already overtaxed and cannot support more newcomers against those who maintain openness to outsiders is part of the Netherlands' identity.

    The rift is compounded by the fact that the Netherlands is Europe's most densely populated country, and many Dutch have been on waiting lists for housing for years.

    Fasting Iranians Issue Ultimatum
    By William J. Kole
    Associated Press Writer
    AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) -- ``Death or a green card.''

    Delivering that grim ultimatum to the Dutch government, two emaciated Iranians stuck to their hunger strikes Thursday despite a court ruling that one, at least, has no right to stay.

    Amir Amiry and Majid Masseri, who say they fled persecution in their native Iran, have refused food since the government ordered them expelled as illegal immigrants.

    Semiconscious and near death, Amiry has been without food for 62 days; Masseri has been fasting for 31 days, including a 10-day stretch without water.

    Judges rejected a last-ditch injunction Thursday aimed at blocking Masseri's deportation, saying he did not make a compelling case that he faced imprisonment, torture or death in Iran, where he is accused of spying.

    The court sided with the Dutch government, which maintains Iran's political and human rights climate is improving under new, more moderate leadership. Thursday's ruling did not deal with Amiry.

    The men's plight has kindled debate in the Netherlands about whether the country is abandoning its tradition of taking in the desperate and downcast.

    ``They're to be deported like sheep,'' said Ahmed Pouri, leader of a refugee activist group. ``This is justice?''

    Another 25 Iranians have launched hunger strikes in solidarity with Masseri, 41, and Amiry, 27, who have vowed to starve to death if they're not allowed to stay.

    Dutch television reported that immediately after Thursday's ruling, Masseri -- hospitalized since Tuesday after going 10 days without water -- had left the hospital and was again refusing liquids.

    ``He always said: `Death or a green card,''' said Dr. Cees van Ojen, who had been caring for Masseri at a hospital in the eastern Dutch city of Nijmegen.

    Van Ojen used the widespread term for residency status -- taken from the old color of U.S. immigrants' cards -- although it is not the term for immigrant cards in the Netherlands.

    Amiry's doctors said he could die any day.

    Throughout Europe, illegal immigrants are using fasts to test the generosity of countries that welcomed them just a few decades ago, but now are expelling them. Last summer, 10 Africans went on an eight-week fast in Paris to demand they be allowed to stay in France.

    For centuries, the Netherlands has opened its doors to those in need, most notably the religious pilgrims who settled America and the thousands of Jews allowed in before World War II. Today, 300 people seek asylum every day in Holland, according to a report released this week.

    Like many industrialized countries, the Netherlands has seen immigration rise steadily in recent decades, and sharply over the last five years.

    The debate over whether to tighten immigration policies pits those who argue the system is already overtaxed and cannot support more newcomers against those who maintain openness to outsiders is part of the Netherlands' identity.

    The rift is compounded by the fact that the Netherlands is Europe's most densely populated country, and many Dutch have been on waiting lists for housing for years.

    Iranians Go on Hunger Strike
    By William J. Kole
    Associated Press Writer
    AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) -- Wasting away, they share a crusade and a grim ultimatum: ``death or a green card.''

    Amir Amiry and Majid Masseri, who fled persecution in their native Iran, began hunger strikes after the Dutch government ordered their deportation as illegal immigrants two months ago.

    Today was Amiry's 62nd day without food; Masseri has been fasting for 31 days, including a 10-day stretch earlier this month without water.

    The plight of the two, who are semiconscious and nearing death, has kindled debate in the Netherlands about whether the country is abandoning its tradition of taking in the desperate and the downcast.

    ``We feel really torn,'' said Ruud Francissen, a recently retired engineer. ``Responsible people want to do something. But thousands of people are trying to come to the Netherlands. We can't absorb them all.''

    Another 25 Iranians have launched hunger strikes recently in solidarity with the two men, each of whom has vowed to continue to the death if they're not allowed to stay. But this afternoon, a court in The Hague rejected a last-ditch injunction aimed at stopping Masseri's deportation, saying he had no right to refugee status.

    Immediately after the ruling, Masseri left the hospital and again was refusing to take liquids. It was unclear where he would go.

    ``He always said: `Death or a green card,''' said Masseri's doctor, Cees van Ojen, who has been caring for him at a hospital in the eastern Dutch city of Nijmegen.

    The hunger strikes are reminiscent of last summer's emotional eight-week fast in Paris by 10 Africans determined to stay in France. Around Europe, illegal immigrants are using fasts to test the generosity of countries that welcomed them just a few decades ago.

    Over the centuries, the Netherlands has become known for opening its doors to those in need, most notably the thousands of Jews it took in during World War II. Today, 300 people seek asylum every day in Holland, according to a report released this week.

    Last winter, 173 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka flew to Amsterdam seeking asylum. Officials have yet to decide which -- if any -- will be allowed to stay.

    Like many industrialized countries, the Netherlands has seen immigration rise steadily over the last few decades, and sharply over the last five years. Those seeking refuge come from countries in Africa, Asia and other regions.

    The debate here over whether to tighten immigration policies is a familiar one. On one side are those who say the system is already overtaxed and cannot support the surge of newcomers every year. On the other are those who argue that openness to outsiders is fundamental to the Netherlands' identity.

    The rift is compounded by the fact that the Netherlands is Europe's most densely populated country. Many Dutch have been on waiting lists for housing for years.

    Both Masseri and Amiry, 27, say they face imprisonment, torture or death if they return to Iran because its Islamic government has accused them of spying while working as low-level government bureaucrats. They deny it.

    Masseri, 41, began his hunger strike only 30 days ago, and doctors say well-nourished people can last 50 to 70 days without food. But they can survive only six or seven days without water, and until midweek, Masseri had gone an astounding 10 days without any liquids.

    Their families are lashing out at the Dutch government, accusing officials of unjustly rejecting the requests for political asylum.

    ``I'm very angry at the government,'' said Masseri's daughter, Simin, 13, who this week joined her sister and mother in their own hunger strikes.

    The Dutch Foreign Ministry said it based its deportation order on its belief that the political and human rights situation in Iran is improving under a new, more moderate government. Amnesty International and others question that.

    ``They're to be deported like sheep,'' said Ahmed Pouri, leader of a refugee activist group. ``This is justice?''

    Iran Hangs 'Tehran Vampire
    By Afshin Valinejad
    Associated Press Writer
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- By night, he stalked, kidnapped, raped, stabbed and burned. The taxi driver dubbed ``The Vampire'' took Tehran on a three-month terror ride that ended at dawn Wednesday when he was flogged by relatives of his victims, then hanged from a yellow crane.

    Public hangings and floggings are rare in Tehran -- but then, so were the brutal crimes of Ali Reza Khoshruy Kuran Kordiyeh.

    In an unusual breach of policy, Iranian authorities, apparently seeking to assure a terrified public that the spate of murders had ended, leaked the time and venue of Kordiyeh's execution to the press.

    The crowds began to swell at midnight, and by dawn the life and crimes of the serial killer came to an end to the cheers and wails of some 10,000 onlookers.

    But for some, the final, brutal hours of Ali Reza Khoshruy Kuran Kordiyeh weren't punishment enough.

    ``I'm still not satisfied with the punishment this killer is getting for killing my daughter,'' sobbed Nasser Parchami, father of 25-year-old Parvand.

    The killer had been brought, handcuffed, in an unmarked police car -- an old Volkswagen -- to a construction storage site in the western Tehran neighborhood where he had cruised for the fares who became his victims.

    ``Do you see finally that God is greater, you son of a dog?'' a man shouted.

    ``He is not a human,'' said Marzieh Davani, a 38-year-old woman.

    ``I really cannot understand a human can do what he did. He deserves to die surrounded by the hatred of people,'' said Amir Ezati, who had taken his place in the crowd at 3 a.m.

    About 1,000 riot policemen kept guard. Hundreds of people had shinnied up and electricity poles and clung on to get a better view.

    Kordiyeh was tied to a metal bed set up on the roof of a small brick shed, and whipped by one male relative of each of his victims wielding a thick leather belt, in full view of the spectators.

    He had also been whipped by prison officials on Monday and Tuesday as part of his 214-lash sentence.

    ``Damn you, you killer,'' somebody shouted. The chant was taken up by the others as Kordiyeh, wearing a dark green prison uniform and staring ahead impassively, was led underneath the crane where a noose was tightened around his neck.

    As the crane smoothly lifted Kordiyeh high up in the air, his legs kicked. Then he became still.

    ``I borrowed money from no one, and I owe none to anyone. I ask God for forgiveness for what I did,'' were Kordiyeh's last words before he was hanged, a judicial official said.

    Kordiyeh, 28, called the ``Tehran Vampire'' because he operated at night and stalked his victims, was sentenced to death -- nine times over -- earlier this month after he was convicted of killing nine women, including a mother and her 10-year-old daughter.

    To hide his crimes during the spree, which began in March, Kordiyeh burned the bodies. Some were not destroyed completely and police found up to 30 stab wounds on them.

    His trial was broadcast live to fascinated Iranians by state-run television, but cameras were barred from the hanging.

    He was caught by chance.

    Picked up for suspicious behavior at a mall, he was identified through a police sketch provided by two women who had escaped him. Faced with evidence, including blood stains on his car, Kordiyeh confessed but provided no motive for his acts.

    ``He received what he deserved,'' Tehran's ``Resalat'' evening newspaper concluded.

    New Iranian President Names Cabinet
    By Afshin Valinejad
    Associated Press Writer
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's new president set up a showdown with hard-line opponents in Parliament on Tuesday, naming two moderates to his Cabinet -- including one who has advocated talks with the United States.

    President Mohammad Khatami submitted the list of 22 nominees to the Majlis, or parliament, for approval.

    The 270-seat Parliament, dominated by hard-liners, will debate the credentials of each nominee in three five-hour sessions beginning next Tuesday. The hard-liners have threatened to veto some of Khatami's most controversial choices.

    They include Ataollah Mohajerani, a former vice president who was criticized three years ago for advocating direct talks with Washington, which accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism.

    Mohajerani was nominated to head the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which controls the media and film industries.

    Despite expectations, there were no women Cabinet ministers. A newspaper in the capital, Tehran, had reported over the weekend that a U.S.-educated woman, Massoumeh Ebtekar, would be appointed vice president for environmental affairs.

    Another controversial nominee is moderate Abdollah Nouri, who as interior minister would be responsible for Khatami's expected drive to ease social restrictions that have been in force since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

    The nominees also include five ministers from the outgoing Cabinet.

    Every nomination requires the approval of a majority of lawmakers. Hard-liners can also force the president to name another candidate, but Khatami can unilaterally appoint a caretaker minister of his choice for six months.

    Khatami, a moderate cleric, won a landslide victory May 23 against a hard-line rival. In keeping with the constitution, outgoing President Hashemi Rafsanjani stepped down after two four-year terms.

    Anti-Westerners in parliament are also likely to try and block Kamal Kharrazi, Khatami's choice for foreign minister, on grounds he has lived in the United States.

    ``It is not fitting that a person who has lived in the United States, whether as a student or as U.N. ambassador, should set the foreign policy of a nation that considers the United States is greatest enemy,'' the Jomhuri Islami daily wrote today.

    Kharrazi, Iran's U.N. ambassador, received his doctoral degree in management in the United States.

    Iran's foreign policy is largely controlled by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, limiting the role of either the president or the foreign minister.

    U.S. Seems Willing to Talk to Iran
    WASHINGTON (AP) -- As the Iranian government nominated a new foreign minister, the State Department reaffirmed on Tuesday its willingness to open a dialogue with Iran so long as three issues are on the table.

    Iran's newly inaugurated president, Mohammad Khatami, nominated Kamal Kharrazi, a former U.N. ambassador who was educated in the United States, to be foreign minister. Kharrazi's name was submitted to Iran's parliament for approval.

    State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright knew Kharrazi during her days at the United Nations but did not engage in a political dialogue with him.

    He said the United States is prepared to have a dialogue with Iran on condition that Iran is willing to discuss its opposition to the Middle East peace process, its support for international terrorism and its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

    Iranian Spree Killer Hanged
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A taxi driver nicknamed the ``Tehran Vampire'' for stalking, raping and murdering nine female passengers was whipped today as a preliminary punishment before his hanging, state-run radio said.

    Under a court's ruling last week, Ali Reza Khoshruy Kuran Kordiyeh, 28, must be lashed 214 times before his public hanging tomorrow for a three-month rape and killing spree earlier this year.

    Kordiyeh's lashing started yesterday, using a leather whip with braided thongs.

    The court did not say where the execution would take place. According to one newspaper report, the man is to be hanged from a mobile crane in a public square in western Tehran where he picked up most of his victims, who ranged in age from 10 to 47.

    Iran Shows Modernized Mood
    By Anwar Faruqi Associated Press Writer TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- With its live music and relaxed views about women's dress, the Ali Qapu restaurant in north Tehran bends a few of Iran's rigid Islamic rules -- but not too many.

    ``I would like to ask ladies to adjust their headscarves and request diners not to clap with the music so that authorities will allow our good ambience to continue,'' a singer pleads before breaking into an old Iranian song.

    But his words go unnoticed. Once the music starts so does the clapping, some by women whose makeup and clothes clearly overstep the Islamic Republic's rules requiring that women are modest and fully covered in public.

    It's just one sign of the battle lines being drawn between Iranians who expect a more relaxed life under the presidency of the moderate Mohammad Khatami and hard-line foes who want to impose even stricter rules.

    With Khatami expected to name his Cabinet this week, the moderates whose names have been raised as possible key ministers already have drawn fire from hard-liners. Still, reports keep appearing that Khatami will choose progressive aides and ministers.

    On Sunday, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said he named Mohammad Ali Abtahi to head his presidential office. Abtahi was a deputy to Khatami when he was culture minister in the 1980s -- before being forced out of the post by staunch conservatives.

    A day earlier, the newspaper Iran Daily reported that Khatami had challenged Islamic tradition by appointing a woman, U.S.-educated Massoumeh Ebtekar, as vice president for environmental affairs.

    Women in particular have been taking advantage of a more relaxed mood since Khatami's election -- by flouting the Islamic Republic's dress code.

    At the Golestan shopping arcade in western Tehran, where chic Iranians go to see and be seen, women sport bright lipstick and overcoats with long slits up the sides. Some women have abandoned the ``manteau,'' the loose smock they must wear over their regular clothes, and have taken to wearing long jackets and skirts.

    ``I want to enjoy it while I can,'' said Farahnaz Shahgholi, a 20-year-old student strolling the mall with blue jeans and T-shirt visible under her open manteau. ``All we want is a little freedom, and I hope Mr. Khatami will give it to us.''

    But her hopes -- and the hopes of the 20 million people who voted for Khatami, out of Iran's electorate of 33 million -- may be dashed since the hard-liners dominate the Parliament, or Majlis.

    Many conservative lawmakers are upset by an easing of bans on music, Hollywood films and socializing between the sexes adopted after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

    Starting under Khatami's predecessor, Hashemi Rafsanjani, a handful of restaurants like Ali Qapu have been featuring soft traditional music for about two years.

    But even more objectionable to the hard-liners are the private parties in Tehran's wealthy northern suburbs, where women peel off their Islamic robes to reveal tight, short skirts. And alcohol -- strictly forbidden under Islam -- flows freely.

    These days, the vice police rarely raid such parties. Nor are they paying much attention to live music -- as long as still-banned Western tunes are not played -- or to the jeans peaking out from open manteaus at shopping malls.

    Whether these changes are institutionalized, or reversed, will depend on the tug-of-war between Khatami and the conservatives.

    Legislator Marzieh Sedighi has hinted at challenges to Khatami's Cabinet choices, which he must finalize by next Monday. ``A no-confidence vote for some ministers ... should not be considered confrontation with the president,'' he said.

    The reported choice of Ata'ollah Mohajerani, an advocate of talks with the United States, as a possible culture minister drew a blast from the conservative newspaper Jomhuri Islami.

    It said the ministry ``is the headquarters against the enemy's cultural invasion and should not be taken over by cowards or those who in their hearts are not against the United States.''

    Shohreh Rastegar, a 25-year-old architect who supports Khatami, sees his election as the only way to avoid an even more dangerous confrontation between hard-liners and supporters of change.

    ``Iran is like a pressure cooker and Mr. Khatami is like a safety valve,'' she said. ``Something has got to give, otherwise we'll all explode.''

    Iran Lashes Out Latest U.S. Sanctions
    TEHRAN-XINHUA - Iran's ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani today lashed out at the latest U.S. sanction, terming it as "the declaration of psychological war against Iran."

    Addressing a large crowd of Friday prayers on the campus of Tehran University, Rafsanjani said "the measure shows what kind of people and what kind of power Iran is confronting."

    The United States announced Thursday that it had dropped the punishment ceiling from 40 million U.S. dollars of investment to 20 million dollars for foreign firms to invest in Iranian oil and gas sectors.

    Last August, the United States passed a law to punish no- American companies which invest 40 million dollars or more in Iranian oil and gas sector.

    Iran, the second largest oil exporter in the world, pumps 3.6 million barrels of oil per day and exports 2.5 million barrels of crude per day.

    The oil industry is the pillar of Iran's economy. Iran earns about 14-16 billion dollars by exporting crude oil and the oil export revenue accounts for about 70 percent of the total export.

    However, Rafsanjani, who is now chief of the State Expediency Council, said that nothing has happened to the Iranian industry despite the U.S. sanction in the past year. "No development projects has been affected," he said.

    "It was as if mosquito was making noise near to our ear," he added.

    Panel Accuses CIA of Stonewalling
    By John Diamond
    Associated Press Writer
    WASHINGTON (AP) -- A government-appointed panel of historians is accusing the CIA of stonewalling in the declassification of decades-old documents, a problem that makes an official U.S. diplomatic history ``the target of ridicule and scorn.''

    In a report to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the panel said several volumes of its comprehensive diplomatic history remain on hold because the CIA has failed to release information no longer deemed secret.

    The Advisory Committee on Historical and Diplomatic Documentation, a group appointed by the State Department, said the problem ``must be laid at the doorstep of the intelligence community, primarily the Central Intelligence Agency.''

    The report noted that the panel was established in the late 1980s after an ``embarrassment'' that resulted from the publishing of an official history on U.S.-Iranian relations that made no mention of well-known CIA covert activity in Iran during the 1950s.

    In unusually blunt language, the panel said the CIA has released partial information on only two of the 11 covert activities it acknowledges from the Cold War, those concerning Guatemala and British Guiana.

    ``For the editors of the (diplomatic history) series to pretend such actions and/or policies did not happen makes the volumes and the Department of State the target of ridicule and scorn,'' the panel reported.

    The panel's report, written by its chairman, Professor Warren F. Kimball, was dated June 26 and is to be made public next week on a State Department Internet web site.

    Mark Mansfield, spokesman for the CIA, suggested Friday that the panel's criticisms may be outdated because, ``over the last few years there has been a revolution in the way intelligence records are researched for declassification.''

    New procedures are resulting in the increasing release of previously classified material, Mansfield said. But he noted that even documents relating to CIA operations from the 1950s may contain sensitive information that must remain classified.

    ``The reason why information would be withheld concerns protection of sources and methods,'' Mansfield said.

    The panel's report to Albright rejected any notion that it is seeking to release sensitive information.

    ``But we are firmly convinced that the basic outlines of our 30-year-old foreign policy and how we chose to implement it can be told to the American public without fear of hurting living people or damaging current policy,'' the panel reported.

    The panel concluded that it has no confidence the agency will provide proactive assistance. As a result, several of the official volumes of the Foreign Relations of the United States series ``now stand in never-never land'' and the panel ``is forced to contemplate recommending against publication.''

    Specifically, the panel said the CIA has failed to start declassifying State Department files that involve the agency. There is also a ``serious backlog'' in CIA responses to requests for declassification review of documents.

    Albright has not yet responded to the report, according to the State Department's history office.

    The report comes weeks after the CIA acknowledged it had destroyed some records of covert activities undertaken in the 1950s and 1960s -- for the purpose of clearing out shelf space, not to conceal its activities. The agency recently touted its release of documents relating to Guatemala in the late 1950s, but the panel said the material represented only ``a small portion'' of the total record.

    The report covers the period from Oct. 1, 1995, to Sept. 30, 1996. An appendix to the report said that since then, CIA and State Department researchers have compiled a partial record of some covert actions.

    Gulf-Iran: Khatami's Overtures Go down Well in Gulf
    Inter Press Service

    ABU DHABI, (Aug. 6) IPS - New Iranian President Mohammed Khatami's call for "dialogue between civilizations and detente in our relations with the outside world" has gone down well with his Gulf Arab neighbors.

    Gulf governments congratulated the 54-year-old moderate cleric upon his taking over as head of state on Aug. 4. His promise to introduce social reforms and maintain good relations with countries who respect Iran has received wide press coverage in the region.

    In his first speech as president, Khatami said his government was in "in favor" of being friends with "every government which respects our independence and does not interfere in our internal matters."

    In fact the process of mending fences began with his landslide win in the May polls. Last month, Saudi Minister of State Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al Khoweiter visited Tehran with a message from King Fahd and the Crown Prince.

    The two countries have been estranged since Iran's 1980 Islamic Revolution. But with the breakdown of the Middle East peace process, pressure on Iran and Saudi Arabia to set aside their differences and join hands to protect the Palestinians has grown.

    Already the two sides are planning to restore direct air links this year and build up business ties; the Saudis signed a $15 million industrial cooperation deal with Iran's largest business house.

    Press reports from Tehran say Iranian government-backed foundations for veterans and the disabled and the privately-held international Saudi company Faezine signed deals in the areas of transport, industry, agriculture and joint foreign investment.

    And both countries have stepped up coordination in organizations like the Organization of Islamic Conference and OPEC.

    According to Gulf analysts here, the rapprochement will not please Israel, which has accused Tehran of building up a nuclear arsenal and arming Hezbollah fighters in their fight against Israeli troops in south Lebanon.

    This week President Khatami reiterated that his Islamic country would continue to defend "the oppressed of the world," particularly "the people of Palestine and their legitimate rights."

    Gulf newspapers have also responded hopefully to Khatami's overtures. The Saudi daily Al-Riyadh said Khatami's landslide victory in May elections and other changes in Iran "augur well for more clear-cut relations with neighboring states."

    "Despite the mixed experiences of the past few years, during which not too encouraging developments took place, the Arabs and Iranians are in the same boat even if certain differences divide them," it commented.

    Bahrain's Gulf News, a daily, said, "The departure of President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani represents an end to a revolutionary era during which political turmoil and regional clashes were the realities of life.

    "Under President Khatami, Iran should now be allowed to develop a healthy and sound future, with a clear set policy of non-interference in the affairs of its neighbors," the paper said.

    Bahrain believes Tehran is behind violent anti-government protests that have swept the island in the last two years. A restless Shi'ite population has been demanding the restoration of Parliament, blaming the Sunni rulers for rising unemployment.

    Iran is also locked in a dispute with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over three strategic islands in the southern Gulf. The UAE says Iran has forcibly taken control of the territory.

    The state-owned Al Ittihad newspaper said yesterday, "The continuation of Iran's occupation of these islands is in contradiction with the declared intention of Tehran to turn a new page in its relations with Arab neighbors."

    In Qatar, whose relations with the Islamic republic have been good, newspapers welcomed Khatami's promise to draw Iran out of its self-enforced diplomatic isolation.

    "Everyone hopes that the new Iranian leadership will work alongside their Arab and Muslim brothers to serve Islamic causes," said the daily Al Sharq.

    Khatami has a difficult job on his hands. He will have to satisfy the aspirations of his supporters and neighbors without offending the hard-liners. Also his plans for reviving the economy and creating more jobs could fall short if the United States continues to try and choke growth with economic sanctions.

    The U.S, which severed diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980, has sought to isolate Iran with economic sanctions, charging that it sponsors international terrorism and is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. The sanctions are generally acknowledged to have put a damper on foreign investment in Iran and aggravated its economic problems.

    But in a slight easing, the U.S. administration announced last week that it would not oppose the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Turkey passing through Iran.

    Iran Warns against Unilateral Action in Caspian Sea

    TEHRAN (Aug. 5) XINHUA - Iran today warned against any unilateral action by the littoral states and foreign firms in developing natural resources in the Caspian Sea.

    Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmoud Vaezi declared that any oil contract between the Caspian Sea littoral states and foreign companies without taking into consideration the interests of other countries concerned lacks legal base and will be problematic.

    "Inviting third party companies for partnership in oil exploration in the Caspian Sea should be on the basis of the legal status of the sea approved by the littoral states and any unilateral action in this respect should be avoided," he was quoted by the official news agency IRNA in an interview.

    However, the Iranian official did not point his figure to any specific nations. It is obvious that Iran refers to oil contracts concluded between Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and U.S. and European firms.

    Vaezi said, according to the 1921 Amity and Friendship Accord between Iran and the former Soviet Union and the Navigation and Trade Treaty Of 1940, any unilateral action by the states bordering the Caspian Sea will be unacceptable unless the legal regime of the Caspian Sea is approved by all littoral states.

    He said any reference made by the officials of the littoral state to the divisions of the former Soviet Union is not acceptable because the international conventions are legally more valid than individual rights.

    "Certain states have caused unrest in the sensitive region by signing unilateral contracts with foreign companies," he noted.

    He said "Iran believes that all rights concerning the Caspian Sea should be honored equally on the basis of the principle of respecting the independence of the states, good neighborly relations, and useful cooperation and that the Caspian Sea should be exploited for peaceful goals."

    The Caspian Sea, the largest landlocked sea in the world, has proven oil reserves of 28 billion barrels and large amount of natural gas resources. The five littoral states are Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran.

    Iran Swears in Khatami as President
    By Anwar Faruqi
    Associated Press Writer
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A moderate cleric took office today as Iran's new president, promising relations with all countries except those that ``want to lord it over us,'' an apparent reference to the United States.

    Mohammad Khatami was sworn in at the Majlis, or parliament, where he faces tough opposition from lawmakers who oppose his campaign pledges to soften some aspects of Iran's hard-line Islamic rule.

    ``An Islamic government is one which considers itself to be the servant of the nation, not its ruler,'' said Khatami, who won a landslide victory in the May 23 election. He is to serve a four-year term.

    The ceremony was attended by senior officials and clerics dressed in the traditional turbans and flowing robes of the Shiite Muslim clergy that rules Iran.

    The 54-year-old Khatami, his salt-and-pepper beard neatly trimmed, wore a black cape over his clerical robe and a black turban, which marks his descent from Islam's seventh century prophet, Mohammed.

    The new president, who succeeded Hashemi Rafsanjani, inherits a country at odds with the international community and with simmering domestic problems.

    Khatami focused on international relations in a speech following the swearing-in.

    ``We will have relations with every government which respects our independence and does not interfere in our internal affairs,'' he said. ``But we will stand up against those powers that want to lord it over us.''

    Because of its oil wealth, Iran has trade ties with many countries. But politically, it has few friends. It cites good relations with Russia and China, but these are limited to arms purchases or cooperation in large Iranian projects.

    The United States severed ties with Iran shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the European Union recalled its ambassadors after a German court in April implicated top Iranian leaders in 1992 assassinations of Kurdish-Iranian dissidents in Berlin.

    The Clinton administration has adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward Iran's new leader. State Department spokesman Jim Foley told reporters: ``What we are looking to see is a change of policy.''

    With inflation and unemployment both running at more than 20 percent, reviving the economy may be Khatami's biggest challenge.

    He is expected to continue the economic policies of Rafsanjani, who launched a major development program and stabilized the currency. Rafsanjani stepped down after eight years in office.

    The English-language Iran Daily said in an editorial today that the election victory ``imposes heavy responsibilities on Khatami, who has to try to satisfy the wishes of the millions of people who voted for him.''

    This, the editorial said, means that Khatami ``must now tackle problems such as employment, expanding civil liberties, filling young people's spare time and a whole range of other important issues.''

    A former minister of culture, Khatami is credited with reviving Iranian music and cinema after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

    Although revolutionary clerics banned live concerts, Khatami allowed them. He also helped lift the ban on women singing in public -- albeit for an all female audience.

    Hard-liners removed him from power in 1992 for his liberal views.

    Khatami, married with two daughters and a son, was born in Ardakan, in central Yazd province and has degrees in theology and philosophy. He has lived in the West and speaks German, English and Arabic in addition to his native Farsi.

    Moderate Iran President Installed
    By Anwar Faruqi
    Associated Press Writer
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Taking over as Iran's president Sunday, Mohammad Khatami said his government sends a message of peace to the world but opposes the ``high-handedness of certain big countries,'' a reference to the United States.

    A moderate Muslim cleric, Khatami faces formidable challenges from hard-liners who oppose his ideas for easing Iran's strict Islamic social code and from an anemic economy in which inflation and unemployment both are over 20 percent.

    Khatami, who won by a landslide in May 23 elections, was certified as the Islamic Republic's fifth president as hundreds of ministers and senior officials watched, sitting cross-legged on a carpeted floor. Foreign ambassadors also attended.

    After the confirmation by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khamenei, Khatami will be officially sworn in Monday at the Parliament for a four-year term.

    In his short speech, the 54-year-old Khatami said Iran wanted peaceful coexistence with the world, but he also referred to the country's hostility to the United States.

    ``Internationally, we seek peace and security, and the message of our revolution is the message of spirituality, peace, and security,'' he said. ``But because we want this for all of humanity, we oppose the high-handedness of certain big countries.''

    He said Iran would ``shake the hand of any nation that does not threaten our independence.''

    While Khatami was elected for his moderate views, Sunday's ceremony also was a reminder that he is part of Iran's clerical tradition.

    It took place at a religious center named for the late revolutionary patriarch, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. And Khatami, outgoing President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khamenei all wore the turbans and flowing robes of Shiite Muslim clerics.

    Rafsanjani read the confirmation of Khatami on Khamenei's behalf. The outgoing president also made clear that the moderate policies that he has pushed for two presidential terms will be pursued by Khatami.

    ``What is seen as the transfer of power in other countries is little more than the transfer of responsibility in the Islamic Republic,'' he said.

    Khatami inherits a country struggling for acceptance in the international community.

    The United States severed ties with Iran shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the European Union called home its ambassadors after a German court in April implicated top Iranian leaders in 1992 assassinations of Kurdish-Iranian dissidents in Berlin.

    Because of its oil wealth, Iran has trade ties with many countries. But politically, it has few friends. It points to good ties with Russia and China, but relations with them are limited to arms purchases or cooperation in large projects in Iran.

    Perhaps Khatami's biggest challenge will be to revive the economy. But he is certain to receive strong support from Rafsanjani, the first president since the revolution to make a big impact on the economy, launching a rapid development program and stabilizing the currency.

    Most of the 20 million who voted for Khatami are young Iranians fed up with the strict code that governs daily life. But their hopes for change may be dashed by ultra-conservatives who dominate Parliament.

    Still reeling from their election defeat, the hard-liners are readying to challenge Khatami's policies and choice of ministers. They want even stricter enforcement of the social code, which bans dating and requires that women must be almost entirely covered in public.

    Khatami recently told Zanan, a monthly women's magazine, that he sees ``no obstacle to women becoming ministers in the government.'' It is widely believed that Khatami will be the first president to appoint women in his Cabinet.

    The new president is married with two daughters and a son. He was born in Ardakan, in central Yazd province and has degrees in theology and philosophy.

    A hojatoleslam, or middle-ranking cleric, Khatami has worked in Germany and speaks English, German and Arabic in addition to his native Farsi.

    Irans New President Takes Office
    By Anwar Faruqi
    Associated Press Writer
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's new president took office Sunday with a message of peace to the world but said his country opposes the ``high-handedness of certain big countries,'' a reference to the United States.

    Mohammad Khatami, a moderate Muslim cleric who won by a landslide in May 23 elections, was certified as the Islamic Republic's fifth president. Hundreds of ministers and senior officials watched, sitting cross-legged on a carpeted floor at a religious center named for the late revolutionary patriarch, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Foreign ambassadors also attended.

    In his short speech, the 54-year-old Khatami said Iran wanted peaceful coexistence with the world.

    ``Internationally, we seek peace and security, and the message of our revolution is the message of spirituality, peace, and security,'' he said. ``But because we want this for all of humanity, we oppose the high-handedness of certain big countries.''

    Iran would ``shake the hand of any nation that does not threaten our independence,'' he said.

    Khatami faces formidable challenges both from hard-liners who oppose his ideas for easing Iran's strict Islamic social code, and from an anemic economy in which inflation and unemployment both top 20 percent.

    While Khatami was elected for his moderate views, Sunday's ceremony also was a reminder that he is part of Iran's clerical tradition. Khatami, outgoing President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khamenei, all wore the turbans and flowing robes of Shiite Muslim clerics.

    Rafsanjani read the confirmation of Khatami on behalf of Khamenei. The outgoing president also made clear that the moderate policies that he has pushed for two four-year terms will be pursued by Khatami.

    ``What is seen as the transfer of power in other countries is little more than the transfer of responsibility in the Islamic Republic,'' he said.

    Khatami officially will be sworn in Monday in Parliament, inheriting a country struggling for acceptance in the international community.

    The United States severed ties with Iran shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the European Union recalled its ambassadors after a German court in April implicated top Iranian leaders in assassinations in Berlin.

    Because of its oil, Iran trades with many countries, but politically, it has few friends. It has good ties with Russia and China, although relations with them are limited to arms purchases or cooperation on large projects in Iran, such as the recent construction of a nuclear power plant in the southern part of the country.

    But Khatami's biggest challenge is to revive the economy. He is certain to receive strong support from Rafsanjani, the first president since the revolution to make a big impact on the economy.

    Most of the 20 million voters who supported Khatami are young Iranians fed up with the strict code that governs daily life. But their hopes may be dashed by ultra-conservatives who dominate Parliament.

    Still reeling from their election defeat, the hard-liners are readying to challenge Khatami's policies and choice of ministers. They want even stricter enforcement of the social code, which bans dating and requires women to be almost entirely covered in public.

    But Khatami recently told Zanan, a monthly women's magazine, that he sees ``no obstacle to women becoming ministers in the government.'' He is widely expected to be the first president to appoint women to his Cabinet.

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