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FarsiNet's Iran News
December 1997, Week 3

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Iranian Railway signed a contract with GEC Alsthom
TEHRAN(AFP) - The Iranian state railway company announced Monday it had concluded a contract here with Franco-British group GEC Alsthom to buy 215 million dollars of locomotives in the first such deal since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The contract, for 100 locomotives, was the largest won by a Western company in Iran after an agreement in September with a consortium led by Total of France on exploitation of a vast gas deposit. GEC Alsthom Locomotives Group manager Jean Claude Brimont and Mohssen Aghai, head of the Iranian company Wagon-Pars, signed the contract Monday in front of the French ambassador to Iran, Jean Pierre Masset. "This contract is undoubtedly the most important signed by Alsthom abroad," Brimont said.

Under the contract, GEC Alsthom is to provide Iran with 100 AD43C diesel-electric locomotives, beginning with the delivery of 20 locomotives for immediate use on the nation's railroads. Five other locomotives will be supplied in parts to be assembled in Wagon-Pars factories and delivered to Iran's national railway company. The contract calls for the Iranian transport ministry to finance the remaining 75 locomotives which are to be put together on site with a "transfer of technology."

Rahman Dadman, manager of the Iranian railroad company, said the contract would enable Iran to boost its locomotive stock by 120 percent. "Before the revolution our network was entirely American, with General Motors and General Electric locomotives. This contract will open the Iranian market to French technology," he added. Akbar Torkan, a senior industry ministry official, welcomed the contract, recalling that Iran and France "have already cooperated in the air transportation field."

The contract puts France in a good position to develop the Iranian rail network, much of which dates back to World War II and is in urgent need of upgrading, according to experts. The United States, which strongly criticized the Total consortium's two-billion-dollar agreement with Iran, shrugged off the railway contract, noting that a US sanctions law did not apply in this case. The 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act penalizes foreign firms that invest more than 40 million dollars in the energy sectors of Iran or Libya.

Iran's Hard-Line Press Speaks on Dialogue with Washington
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Iran's hard-line newspapers broke two days of silence Wednesday over their president's call for a dialogue with the American people, pouring scorn on the United States.

One newspaper said the United States was Iran's No. 1 enemy. Another said President Mohammad Khatami's remark did not signal a change in Iran's anti-Western policy.

"There are no grounds for the improvement of relations with the United States," said the Jomhuri Islami newspaper, the mouthpiece of hard-liners opposed to the moderate Khatami.

Khatami told a news conference here Sunday that he wanted to start a dialogue with the "great American people." It was the first time a member of Iran's leadership had said something positive about the United States since the Islamic revolution in 1979. The usual term for America is "The Great Satan."

The hard-line press did not respond immediately to Khatami's remark. Previously it had branded anyone calling for better relations with the United States a traitor.

On Wednesday, Jomhuri Islami reaffirmed the conventional line with a headline that said: "The United States remains the No. 1 enemy of the Iranian nation." The English-language Kayhan International, meanwhile, said Khatami's proposal was neither new nor did it indicate a policy shift.

Referring to President Clinton's praise for Khatami's comments, Kayhan International said it was up to Clinton to make the first move. "If Clinton is stating the truth that he likes nothing better than to have a dialogue with Iran ... he should prove Washington's sincerity and seriousness by accepting Tehran's repeated demand that the United States must release billions of dollars in assets which remain frozen in U.S. banks," the paper said.

The assets were frozen after the 1979 revolution. The most senior woman in Iran's government, Vice President Massoumeh Ebtekar, also maintained that Khatami was only reiterating Iran's standing policy toward the United States. "The global media have helped to project a negative picture of Iran and the Islamic revolution," she told a news conference Wednesday."Having a cultural dialogue with the people of the world, with the American people, is important in clearing up these misunderstandings and misconceptions."

Sources close to the president have said Khatami will speak to Americans in a Christmas address.

Iran Film about Quest for U.S. Visa Draws Fire
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) - A war of words is being waged in Iran over a film about an Iranian who would go to any length, including cross-dressing, to emigrate to his beloved America.

The public debate follows attacks by Islamic militants on M theaters showing the film, in which a man disguises himself as a woman in the hope of marrying an American and emigrating to the country of his dreams.

The militants have torn down posters and assaulted patrons leaving theaters showing the movie. The hardline daily Jomhuri Eslami Wednesday criticized the state-affiliated Islamic Propagation Organization (IPO) for financing the film, a black comedy with a politically correct ending in which the man falls in love with an Iranian woman and they return to their homeland.

``The main content of the film ``Adam Barfi (Snowman)'' is that the people of Iran would do anything to get a visa to travel to America. This is an insult to the Iranian nation,'' it said.

The IPO, usually in the hardliners' camp, has found itself in the awkward position of having to defend the film by Davoud Mirbaqeri, who had appeared to have perfect Islamic credentials after directing a big budget television serial about a Shi'ite Muslim saint. IPO head Mahmoud Mohammadi Araqi, a Shi'ite cleric, said the overall message of ``Snowman'' was positive even though his group did not claim the film was faultless.

``People should do a critique of the film instead of resorting to physical attacks,'' Araqi told newspapers.

Attacks by the militants have reportedly forced at least one theater in the central city of Isfahan to drop the film. The publicity has helped ``Snowman'' become Iran's top box office hit of the year. The film is showing in 22 cities and at 18 theaters in Tehran alone.

Mubarea Hopes for Better Ties with Iran, Sudan
CAIRO,(Reuters) - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was quoted on Wednesday as saying he hoped for better relations with Iran and Sudan, two countries Cairo has in the past accused of supporting Moslem militants fighting the government.

The government newspaper al-Ahram quoted Mubarak as saying he hoped for the removal of existing differences with Iran and that Egypt wanted good relations with all countries. Mubarak, speaking on Tuesday after touring a housing project in al-Abour city just east of Cairo, said he had heard that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was planning to visit Egypt, adding that he hoped ties with Sudan would return to normal.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa visited Tehran last week and met several Iranian leaders, including President Mohammad Khatami, on the sidelines of an Islamic summit there. Iran, reaching out to moderate Arab states that previously felt threatened by Iranian attempts to export its Islamic revolution, had hoped Mubarak would attend the summit.

In the end he stayed away, but diplomats said Moussa's visit had narrowed differences between Iran and Egypt, a key U.S. ally once denounced by Tehran for its peace treaty with Israel. Egypt's relations with Sudan have shown some signs of improvement in recent months, with the two countries dropping hostile statements against each other.

In October, Mubarak held talks with Sudanese First Vice President Lieutenant-General al-Zubeir Mohammad Saleh in Cairo, though last month he also met John Garang, leader of the rebel movement fighting Khartoum's Islamist government in the south. Egypt's ties with Sudan took a beating when Cairo accused Khartoum of helping Islamists who tried to kill Mubarak in Ethiopia in 1995. Mubarak has said Sudan must stop supporting militants fighting to set up a purist Islamic state in Egypt.

Khartoum denies the charges and has criticised Egypt for letting Sudan's opposition in exile operate from Cairo. The neighbours are also at odds over a border dispute.

Iran Starts Overseas Satellite Television Channel
TEHRAN,(Reuters) - Iran on Tuesday launched a satellite television channel which covers Europe and parts of Asia and the Middle East.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami officially inaugurated the channel, which started broadcasting last month, saying the station would play an important role in preserving the national identity of millions of Iranians living abroad.

``I have said repeatedly that we must have dialogue with other civilisations and cultures. But before this can take place, we have to clarify what our own identity is,'' Khatami said in a live speech on the television. The 24-hour channel mostly carries programmes in Persian, some with English subtitles, but also broadcasts in English and Arabic for three hours a day, Tehran radio said.

It can be received in Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Gulf states, the radio said. An official said last month there were plans to make the programme also available in North America, where large groups of Iranians live.

Officials said the channel also targeted millions of Afghans and Tajiks who speak languages closely linked to Persian.

The channel has been named ``Jam-e Jam,'' after a goblet in which a legendary pre-Islamic Iranian king could see the whole universe. The programme is run by Iran's state television which is headed by a director named by Iran's hardline supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khatami's supporters have often accused the state radio and television of being politically biased against him, particularly during presidential elections in May which the relatively moderate Shi'ite Moslem cleric won by a landslide. Iranians living in Europe said the channel has followed more liberal policies than domestic television, for example showing a programme with a group of women musicians.

Iran's television usually does not show pictures of women playing instruments -- apparently deemed immodest under Iran's Islamic regulations -- although it does carry their music. The rules prohibit women solo singers from performing, except for all-female audiences, but allow women to sing in Choruses.

Clinton Appreciates IRAN'S Readiness to Negotiate with USA
Clinton Appreciates IRAN'S Readiness to Negotiate with Usa WASHINGTON, December 16 (Itar-Tass) - President Bill Clinton stated on Monday that he was rather enthused by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's expressed readiness to begin a comprehensive dialogue with America. I could hardly expect anything more than a dialogue with Iran, Clinton stated in the course of a brief talk with journalists at the White House.

Khatami held a press conference in Tehran on Sunday, during which he expressed his "respect for the great people of the United States" and said he hoped that a "dialogue and talks" would shortly be started with America. The Iranian president's pronouncements caught Washington's attention and were assessed as a step towards normalising the bilateral relations. The United States has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979 when the anti-Shah revolution broke out in that country and power was seized by the Islamic spiritual leaders. Fifty-two Americans were then kept hostages within the premises of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. In reply, the United States clamped down political and economic sanctions on Iran and froze the Iranian deposits in American banks, adding up to eleven billion U.S. dollars. Washington is still blaming Tehran for its alleged backing of international terrorism, for undermining the peace process in the Middle East, and for its desire to possess nuclear weapons. Some officials of the U.S. Administration, including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, have repeatedly stated that the relations with Iran could be normalised only if it changed its behaviour on the international arena. President Clinton also reminded about this. He stated that these problems were still seriously disturbing the United States. At the same time, he expressed hope that a frank discussion with Iran of all the most pressing problems would become possible.

It is presumed in Washington that Khatami's statement was a sort of reply to the words of a State Department spokesman, who said last week that the United State was open for a dialogue with Iran. The Administration's only precondition is that such a dialogue should be carried on with a plenipotentiary representative of the government, and that it should be publicly announced.

In the meantime, President Khatami, who headed the Iranian government last May, is addressing reconciliatory statements to the United States, while the nation's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is still making hostile statements against the West. Khamenei officially holds the top state post as Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

U.S., Iran, Edge Closer
WASHINGTON (AP) The prospects for closer U.S.-Iranian ties appeared to edge forward Monday as President Clinton responded to agreeable remarks by Iran's president by saying he "would like nothing better" than to open talks with Tehran. Clinton said a dialogue was possible so long as the Iranians consented to an "honest discussion" of U.S. concerns about Iranian terrorism, its "violent attacks" on the Middle East peace process and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Clinton was responding to remarks Sunday by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who said he hopes "to have a dialogue with the American people and about the United States in the not too distant future." It was the second time in less than a week that Khatami signaled a desire to reach out to the country Iran has long regarded as "the Great Satan."

In remarks last Tuesday to a summit conference of Muslim leaders in Tehran, Khatami called for the "establishment of dialogues" to achieve "deep-rooted understanding of the cultural and moral dimensions of other societies."

The United States has been calling for a dialogue with Iran for several years. Khatami did not agree to such a discussion, indicating instead that he is more interested in a dialogue at the people-to-people level as opposed to government-to-government. Still, Khatami's remarks contrasted sharply with the across-the-board anti-American vitriol customary in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Clinton said he was "quite encouraged the president's statement, and I think the American people should be." But Khatami's freedom of movement on foreign policy issues is constrained by a powerful clergy that favors a continuation of the status quo. Some analysts see a power struggle taking shape in Iran, with Khatami and his moderate allies arrayed against hard-line clerics.

The head of an opposition group that favors closer relations with foreign governments was arrested Sunday. The arrest of Ebrahim Yazdi was reported by his Freedom Movement, which said no charges have been filed. Iran's judiciary is controlled by hard-liners who oppose Khatami. While welcoming the "new tone" in Iran, State Department spokesman James Foley said the administration has not seen any "measurable change" in Iran's actions.

Two months before Khatami's election in May, the State Department called Iran "the premier state sponsor of terrorism" in the world. Officials said then that Iran, through the export of terrorism and subversion, has sought to sow instability in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere. Foley agreed with Khatami that closer ties between the Iranian and American peoples are desirable, given the friendship they have had historically.

The high point occurred during the 1953-1979 period when the two countries were political, military and economic partners. During that period, the United States viewed Iran, then a monarchy, as a bastion of pro-Western stability in the region.

Israel Cautiously Welcomes KHATAMI'S Remarks
JERUSALEM - XINHUA - Israeli leaders cautiously welcomed today the moderate remarks made by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami calling for dialogue with the American people.

Speaking at a news briefing in the Knesset (Parliament), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel welcomes any substantive changes coming out from Iran, adding that it is still too early to see whether there will be such changes. Netanyahu noted that Iran's ballistic and non-conventional missile threats on Israel still exist, so Israel would continue making every effort to eliminate such threats.

Khatami, a moderate who came to power in the May presidential elections, told a news conference in Teheran Sunday that he had "respects to the great people of the United States" and hoped to begin a dialogue soon with American people in order to get closer to peace, security and tranquility. Talking to reporters after attending a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said he welcomed the moderate remarks made by Khatami, noting that he expected real changes in Iran's policy toward Israel.

"While we don't find any changes (in Iran's policy), we're glad to see there will be any changes in Iran, especially we have to follow on to see if there are any real changes in the directions. We'll be glad if that will happen, I'm not sure," Mordechai said.

While avoiding publicly naming Iran as Israel's enemy, Mordechai pointed out that Iran still has a strategy to threat and destroy Israel. He said he hoped one day this will be changed. Foreign Minister Levy is reported to convene a meeting within his ministry to deliberate Khatami's intended rapprochement with the United States.

However, the Foreign Ministry noted that Khatami still had made some strong anti-Israeli statements during the recent summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference held on December 9-11 in the Iranian capital Tehran.

If Iran changes its hostile policy toward the U.S., it is expected to have dramatic implications on Iran's relations with Israel, which has been listing Iran as the No. 1 threat to its existence. Israel has been making strenuous efforts to try to prevent Iran from developing long-range ballistic and nuclear missiles that can reach Israel in case of an attack.

Iranian President Calls for Dialogue with Americans
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) The Iranian president's call for closer ties with the United States may face strong opposition from the ruling clerical establishment. Washington said it was reviewing the overture. In the strongest gesture of reconciliation with the United States since the 1979 Islamic revolution overturned the U.S.-backed regime, President Mohammad Khatami praised Americans on Sunday.

"I take this opportunity to pay my respects to the great American people, and hope to have a dialogue with the American people and about the United States in the not too distant future," he said. The offer could prove to be the moderate president's biggest gamble in his effort to steer Iran away from the influence of the hard-line clergy, which has been in power since the revolution.

In today's edition, the Washington Post quoted a senior Clinton administration official involved in U.S. policy toward Iran as saying the United States is ready for a dialogue. "We're ready to sit down with them face to face, government to government, if it's authoritative. . . . If that's what he's talking about, it's a potentially positive statement," the official said.

A good word for the United States has been unheard of among Iranian leaders since the revolution toppled the U.S.-backed shah and installed a clerical government led by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The revolution-era slogan, "Death to America," still is taught in schools.

Khatami, whose comment came at a news conference in response to a question about whether he favored ending ties with the United States, did not say what form the dialogue should take. Asked whether he would go beyond the American people and talk with their government, Khatami said: "The U.S. government is, after all, the U.S. government. It has been elected by the American people, and we respect that."

Sources close to Khatami said the president would deliver a similarly forward-looking speech intended for the American people for Christmas. Further details were not available. The United States severed ties with Iran in 1979 after Islamic militants loyal to the revolutionary government stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

A resumption of U.S.-Iran ties is likely to be popular among Iranians who are tired of being cast as a pariah state by the United States and much of the West.

Although Khatami won by a landslide in May elections, his powers are limited. The final word rests with Iran's ultra-conservative spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini. He had opposed Khatami's election. Khatami, who has lived in Germany and speaks German and some English, has not referred to the United States as "the Great Satan" since taking office in August. Despite opposition from many Parliament members, he chose as his culture minister a man who had been condemned for advocating direct talks with the United States three years ago.

During his news conference, Khatami chided American politicians for falling behind the times, saying the world had changed but not Washington's policies. Over the past few months, Khatami has loosened the strict social rules imposed by the Islamic government that regulate everything from how women can dress in public to whether Iranians can watch foreign TV programs.

Khatami also has begun mending Iran's relations with other countries. Last month, its strained ties with the European Union were normalized. On Sunday, Iran's ambassador to Germany invited the German government to better relations that have been troubled by terrorism accusations. At an Islamic summit in Tehran last week, Khatami bolstered ties with Arab countries, which had soured after the revolution. He also opened a new chapter in links to Saudi Arabia, Washington's closest ally in the strategic Persian Gulf region.

"I think Mr. Khatami is the first Iranian president who can speak to the world. With him around, it won't be business as usual," Fereidoun Barkeshli, a political analyst at the state-run Institute for International Energy Studies, said in an interview.

Meanwhile, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported today that the United States and Iran have held a clandestine dialogue in Europe.

The newspaper cited an unnamed former senior official in the Clinton administration who was involved in setting up the talks as saying the meetings began shortly after Khatami was elected.

 

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