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March 1998, Week 1

FarsiNet FarsiNews

The Statement Will Be Welcomed by the United States Mar 7
Iranian Cleric Calls for Closer Iran-Saudi Ties Mar 6
Iran's Khatami seen still facing tough obstacles Mar 6
Seized in Scheme to Smuggle Jet Parts to Iran Mar 4
Iran by-election campaign to start on Thursday Mar 4
Pro-Khatami Backers Clash in Iran Mar 3
Iran Says It Won't Execute Rushdie Mar 3
1980 Iran Rescue Details Revealed Mar 2

 

The Statement Will Be Welcomed by the United States
Reuters-The Statement Will Be Welcomed by the United States which Is anxious to isolate Iran, accusing the state of trying to obtain nuclear weapons and sponsoring so-called terrorist groups in the Middle East.

But a nuclear official in neighbouring Russia said on Friday that Moscow had agreed to build two more reactors for the planned 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant in Bushehr, a port in southern Iran.

U.S. officials, who last month threatened to block exports of U.S. nuclear technology to Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, initialled an agreement on cooperation with Ukraine's nuclear energy industry during Albright's visit on Friday.

``This was not an easy decision because we are losing a lot,'' Udovenko said. ``We have been hurt financially but we have taken such a decision,'' he said.

Iranian Cleric Calls for Closer Iran-Saudi Ties
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - A senior Iranian cleric on Friday praised a trip to Saudi Arabia by Iran's former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and called for improved ties between the region's two economic and political heavyweights.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a Shi'ite Moslem cleric, said in a Friday prayer sermon that while some people opposed rapprochement between the neighbours across the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Iran should work to overcome their differences.

``Rafsanjani had a good trip to Saudi Arabia except for that one incident at Friday prayers,'' Jannati said in the sermon at Tehran University which was broadcast on Tehran radio.

He was referring to Iranian media reports that a Saudi cleric had allegedly made derogatory remarks about Shi'ite Islam and Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution at Friday prayers in the Islamic holy city of Medina last week which were attended by Rafsanjani. Saudi Arabia is predominantly Sunni Moslem.

``We have had differences with Saudi Arabia in the past but these cannot remain,'' Jannati said.

``Of course, there are those within Saudi Arabia who don't want us to improve relations but we should work together and join as Moslem brothers,'' he said. ``We Moslems must wake from our slumber and join together.''

There has been no official Saudi report of the Medina incident, but Iranian newspapers have said Saudi authorities apologised. They also said Rafsanjani, who they said walked out from the prayers together with his entourage after the remarks were made, decided not to press the issue.

The incident appeared to be the only event marring the former president's ground-breaking trip to Saudi Arabia, during which he called for closer cooperation between OPEC's two largest oil producers.

There has been no official Iranian reaction to the matter, but an Iranian parliament deputy has officially questioned Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi over the reported incident.

Rafsanjani, who was president for eight years until he handed over to moderate Shi'ite cleric Mohammad Khatami in August, now heads a powerful state body that advises the Islamic republic's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The former president left Saudi Arabia for Iran on Friday after spending two weeks in the kingdom.

Iran's Khatami seen still facing tough obstacles
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - Iran's new moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, is hoping that parliamentary by-elections on March 13 will strengthen his popular mandate, diplomats and analysts say.

Campaigning began on Thursday and although voting is for just five seats in the 270-member Majlis, or parliament, it will be a litmus test of Khatami's political strength since his landslide election victory in May.

Khatami, a moderate Shi'ite Moslem cleric, has largely held on to the mass support that rallied to his platform of greater social freedoms.

This is despite an increasingly serious economic downturn and frequent clashes with powerful conservative rivals throughout the Islamic republic's faction-ridden government.

In his first year, Khatami has made headway in smoothing foreign relations -- particularly with the European Union and Gulf Arab neighbours -- but diplomats and analysts say he is far from having his own way at home.

"Khatami has no direct control over the police, the military, the judiciary and in major domestic and foreign policy has to acknowledge the power of (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei," said one Western diplomat.

"His best weapon remains his popularity...He can easily say 'I got 20 million votes...who elected you?"' the diplomat added.

One seasoned Iran-watcher even compared Khatami to Argentine soccer hero Diego Maradona -- a great, skilful player but always surrounded and blocked by his opponents when he wanted to do anything.

Conservative factions who saw their main contender, parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, buried by Khatami in the election last May, continue to wield great power over the judiciary and other important levers of state control.

Their loyalty to Khamenei, the successor to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who ousted the U.S.-backed shah in 1979, and to revolutionary principles remains undiluted 19 years on.

Powerful bazaar merchants and the landowners who bank-rolled the revolutionaries of 1979 show little willingness to cede privileges and monopolies which economists see as vital to shake up a staggering, state-dominated economy.

With oil prices at four-year lows and the Iranian rial looking dangerously weak on Tehran's illegal but active currency market, this is not the time when these business interests want the economy opened to free enterprise or efficiency drives.

The force of the conservatives has been seen in the judicial investigation into Tehran mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi and his aides, which has provoked at least one Khatami cabinet member, Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri, to lash out at the head of the judiciary, Mohammad Yazdi.

Karbaschi is a key Khatami loyalist who as mayor over the last eight years has transformed Tehran, partly by getting those merchants and landowners to pay serious taxes for a rejuvenation of the capital's housing stock and infrastructure.

Conservatives have already succeeded in getting some of the mayor's aides sentenced to jail and flogging. They have targeted Karbaschi by accusing him of abusing his office to back the election of Khatami and soliciting donations from contractors seeking city business.

Khatami's moves in foreign relations have offered ammunition to conservative opponents who oppose any relations with arch-foe America and are wary of a European Union which only last month decided to renew high-level contacts with Iranian officials.

"Khatami has stated clearly that a dialogue with Americans is a good thing...This is just the thing to set the conservatives ablaze again," said one diplomat.

Khatami, in an interview with CNN, in January called for increased dialogue between the people of the two countries to break down what he called a wall of mistrust.

The visit of a team of U.S. amateur wrestlers to Tehran just weeks after this broadcast was compared with Washington's "ping-pong diplomacy" with Beijing in the 1970s.

Iranian sports fans gave the American wrestlers a hero's reception while hardline parliament deputies and newspapers said the trip -- the first by U.S. athletes since the revolution -- was tantamount to a degrading sellout of the republic's revolutionary credentials.

"What Khatami has done is break a few taboos. The American flag can be raised in Tehran, different books can be printed, women can go around without being pestered...The radicals (conservatives) know they have a fight on," said one diplomat.

Seized in Scheme to Smuggle Jet Parts to Iran
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - Campaigning starts on Thursday for by-elections to fill five seats in Iran's 270-member parliament, pitting conservatives against supporters of moderate President Mohammad Khatami.

Voting for the vacant seats next week will be the first elections since May when Khatami swept to a landslide victory against conservative rivals including parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri.

Since taking over Khatami has taken Iranian diplomacy onto a new track by reaching out for a dialogue with the American people to bring about a "crack in the wall of mistrust" between the two countries.

He has also brought about more cultural freedoms such as granting permission for a greater range of books and films.

Campaigning will end on March 12 ahead of voting on March 13, Tehran Times newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Two of the parliamentary seats up for grabs are in Tehran. The others are in Isfahan, Salmas and Khomein.

Iranian analysts said the election was expected to be a litmus test of how moderate and conservative factions were faring since Khatami and his reformist cabinet took office in August.

The run-up to the election has already provoked fierce debate between moderate forces loyal to Khatami and conservatives allied to the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who oppose any softening in the Islamic republic's revolutionary principles.

Rival student groups clashed outside the main gates of Tehran university on Monday, prompting security forces to make arrests and disperse the crowd.

Simmering behind the election is a clash over an investigation into Tehran mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi and his aides who are key supporters of Khatami.

Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri on Wednesday warned the head of Iran's judicial system that he was not acting correctly in the case of Karbaschi and his aides accused of graft.

Conservatives have denounced the visit last month of a team of American wrestlers to Iran -- the first U.S. athletes to compete in Tehran since the 1979 revolution.

Potential candidates for the by-election have been screened for their revolutionary credentials by the Guardian Council, a body of a dozen lawyers and Shi'ite Moslem clerics.

The council has confirmed the eligibility of 118 candidates to run for the five seats but rejected 111 others, Iranian newspapers reported.

Some 66 people have been approved to run for the two seats in Tehran.

Iranian papers have carried complaints from candidates who were rejected by the council.

Parliament has long been a centre of power of conservative forces headed by Nateq-Nouri but a large number of independents and leftists swung to Khatami in August when parliament approved all of the Shi'ite Moslem cleric's nominations for his cabinet.

Iran by-election campaign to start on Thursday
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - Campaigning starts on Thursday for by-elections to fill five seats in Iran's 270-member parliament, pitting conservatives against supporters of moderate President Mohammad Khatami.

Voting for the vacant seats next week will be the first elections since May when Khatami swept to a landslide victory against conservative rivals including parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri.

Since taking over Khatami has taken Iranian diplomacy onto a new track by reaching out for a dialogue with the American people to bring about a "crack in the wall of mistrust" between the two countries.

He has also brought about more cultural freedoms such as granting permission for a greater range of books and films.

Campaigning will end on March 12 ahead of voting on March 13, Tehran Times newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Two of the parliamentary seats up for grabs are in Tehran. The others are in Isfahan, Salmas and Khomein.

Iranian analysts said the election was expected to be a litmus test of how moderate and conservative factions were faring since Khatami and his reformist cabinet took office in August.

The run-up to the election has already provoked fierce debate between moderate forces loyal to Khatami and conservatives allied to the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who oppose any softening in the Islamic republic's revolutionary principles.

Rival student groups clashed outside the main gates of Tehran university on Monday, prompting security forces to make arrests and disperse the crowd.

Simmering behind the election is a clash over an investigation into Tehran mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi and his aides who are key supporters of Khatami.

Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri on Wednesday warned the head of Iran's judicial system that he was not acting correctly in the case of Karbaschi and his aides accused of graft.

Conservatives have denounced the visit last month of a team of American wrestlers to Iran -- the first U.S. athletes to compete in Tehran since the 1979 revolution.

Potential candidates for the by-election have been screened for their revolutionary credentials by the Guardian Council, a body of a dozen lawyers and Shi'ite Moslem clerics.

The council has confirmed the eligibility of 118 candidates to run for the five seats but rejected 111 others, Iranian newspapers reported.

Some 66 people have been approved to run for the two seats in Tehran.

Iranian papers have carried complaints from candidates who were rejected by the council.

Parliament has long been a centre of power of conservative forces headed by Nateq-Nouri but a large number of independents and leftists swung to Khatami in August when parliament approved all of the Shi'ite Moslem cleric's nominations for his cabinet.

Pro-Khatami Backers Clash in Iran
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Hard-line Iranian militants attacked a demonstration by 1,000 supporters of President Mohammad Khatami in Tehran today. Dozens of people were hurt before police broke up the melee.

Most of the injured walked away with only cuts and bruises, but some had head wounds and broken noses from kicks and punches.

Student supporters of the president had gathered outside Tehran University to protest the rejection of several pro-Khatami candidates for parliamentary elections this month. About 100 opposition militants moved in to try to disperse the crowd.

``Hail Freedom! Hail Freedom!'' the protesters shouted.

``We will die or we will kill!'' the militants shouted back.

Fighting broke out. Police in riot gear eventually moved in to stop it.

Backed by the clerics who oppose Khatami, the militants have become a law unto themselves in Iran, attacking whomever they please.

Khatami, a moderate cleric elected in a landslide last May, has stunned the conservative clerical establishment that has ruled since the 1979 revolution with his popularity and efforts to temper the country's revolutionary zeal.

Iran Says It Won't Execute Rushdie
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran has no plans to carry out the death sentence its former leader imposed on British author Salman Rushdie, the top U.N. human rights official says.

Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Sunday that Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told her that although the Iranian government cannot revoke the decree, it has no intention of actively seeking Rushdie's death.

The religious death sentence was issued Feb. 14, 1989, by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who said Rushdie blasphemed Islam in his novel ``The Satanic Verses.''

Khomeini called on Muslims around the world to kill Rushdie, who has been under the protection of the British government since then.

Iranian officials have said privately that they will not order the killing. But Zarif's reported assurance would amount to an official softening of Iran's stand.

The Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment.

Just two weeks ago, before the anniversary of the decree, Iran's chief prosecutor said shedding Rushdie's blood ``is obligatory,'' and a state-run religious foundation said it might increase the $2.5 million bounty on his head.

1980 Iran Rescue Details Revealed
TORONTO (AP) -- When six U.S. diplomats escaped from Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis, the Canadian ambassador who sheltered them received the bulk of the praise. Now, a Canadian documentary reveals little-known details of the CIA's role in engineering the brash rescue operation.

Antonio Mendez, who since has retired from the CIA, tells the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. of leading a bogus film crew to Tehran then flying out with the six diplomats disguised as crew members.

The documentary was to air Monday night.

The revelations shed new light on what for many Canadians was a remarkably proud moment -- when Ambassador Ken Taylor was hailed as a hero for purportedly masterminding the escape. Taylor told the CBC that Canada still deserves credit, even though its role was smaller than many knew.

``It would have been nice if, after the Americans came back, the U.S. could have said `thank you Canada and by the way, thank you State Department and CIA,''' he said. ``But that's not the way the real world works.''

At the time, the United States wanted to keep the CIA role a secret out of fear that the Iranians might retaliate by harming the 51 American hostages held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

``It's one thing for them to be mad at the Canadians, but the true Satan is the CIA,'' Mendez told the CBC. ``So it comes down to how mad do you want to make them, and we didn't want to make them that mad.''

The six U.S. diplomats had managed to slip away when their embassy was overrun in 1979. They spent five days on the move, then took refuge at the Canadian Embassy for the next three months.

Mendez said he began consulting with Canadian officials on how to organize a rescue, and Canada gave permission for the six diplomats to be issued fake Canadian passports. Then Mendez got creative.

``I came up with the idea of using a Hollywood cover ... a group of people from Hollywood looking for a location site in Tehran, in the bazaar,'' he told the CBC.

He telephoned a contact in Hollywood, make-up artist John Chambers, and picked his brain about what was involved in scouting out film locations.

The next task was finding a movie script that would justify filming in Iran. Chambers found a science fiction thriller that appeared to fit the bill.

``If anybody sat down to read this, they'd have to believe if we were crazy enough to write this script, we'd be crazy enough to be looking for locations in a place like Iran,'' Mendez said.

The movie was named ``Argo,'' and fictitious ads about the production were placed in Hollywood trade magazines to give it credibility.

Operatives also began creating Canadian identities for the six diplomats, who would masquerade as members of the film crew.

Three days before the planned rescue, Mendez, posing as an Irish film director, arrived in Tehran with another CIA agent.

They met the six diplomats for dinner at a Canadian diplomatic residence.

``I answered the door when they came in and there were two guys standing in trench coats,'' one of the Americans, Lee Schatz, told the CBC. ``All I could think of was trench coats -- that is the way CIA guys would show up.''

The escape itself was almost anti-climatic. The impostor film crew breezed through customs and security checks at Tehran airport and flew back to North America.

Once back, Mendez disappeared. His role remained a secret to the public until a CIA awards ceremony last year at which he was honored for his career with the agency, including his role in the Tehran operation.

Taylor, meanwhile, was in the position of having to accept accolades as the prime mastermind of the rescue.

``He was doing his job.'' said Schatz. ``He knew his role was to make more credit than he knew he was due.''

 

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