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March 99, Week 4
|Iran Delays France Trip Over Wine||March 29|
|Iran's Top Judge Threatens Crackdown on Liberals||March 27|
|US Firm Confident Clinton Will OK Iran Farm Sale||March 26|
|The Little Flower That Could||March 25|
|Feature Iran's Problem-Solving Nuts Face Own Woes||March 23|
|Iranian Hard-Liners Shut down New Year's Festival||March 22|
Iran Delays France Trip Over Wine
By Jocelyn Noveck|
Associated Press Writer
PARIS (AP) -- Wine has always been serious business in France, and now it appears to be at the center of a serious diplomatic flap.
Iran's President Mohammad Khatami has put off an expected visit to France next month because the French refuse to cede to Iranian demands that wine be banned from the table, a source familiar with the discussions said Monday.
Iranian radio reported earlier Monday that Iran had asked France to observe ``national and Islamic standards and principles, but no agreement has been reached on this issue.''
Therefore, the visit ``will not be taking place on the scheduled date,'' Tehran radio said, quoting a statement by Khatami's office.
No date for the visit had ever been formally announced, although it was widely expected to begin April 12.
The Iranian government insists that women of host countries be dressed modestly during visits by Iranian officials and that no alcohol be served.
Earlier this month, Khatami made a ground-breaking trip to Italy, the first state visit to a Western country by an Iranian leader since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The upcoming French trip was seen as another step in Iran's overall effort to improve ties with the European Union.
No alcohol was served during the Italian visit.
But in France, Foreign Ministry sources said the protocol is clear when it comes to visiting leaders from the Islamic world: pork is not served, but wine is, to those who desire it.
``If they do not want to drink it, we of course do not oblige them, but if we want to drink, we do,'' a ministry source said on condition of anonymity. ``That is our custom.''
Officials point out there may be other reasons for Iran to consider postponing the trip, chief among them the fear of protests. Iranian opposition groups already had announced plans for demonstrations against Khatami, despite the lack of an official date for the visit.
France and Iran have had rocky ties since the Iranian revolution 20 years ago, which installed the rule of Shiite Muslim clergy.
Relations between the two nations chilled in 1991 when a former Iranian prime minister turned opposition leader was assassinated in Paris. Shapour Bakhtiar was one of eight dissidents in France believed killed by Iranian hit squads.
But lately, France and other European countries have showed an eager to capitalize, both economically and politically, on signs of a new openness in Iran.
Last August, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine traveled to Tehran in what was the highest-level French visit in seven years.
Khatami, a moderate cleric, has led a drive since his election in May 1997 to temper the image of the Islamic Republic of Iran and bring a measure of moderation to hard-line policies.
Iran's Top Judge Threatens Crackdown on Liberals
TEHRAN,(Reuters) - The conservative head of Iran's judiciary on Friday threatened
a crackdown on liberal critics and the moderate press, accusing them of seeking to undermine
Islam and the 1979 Islamic revolution.
"There is no freedom for you to write and say anything you like. Our people do not want such freedom if it is against the tenets of Islam," Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi said in a sermon at Tehran University.
"The ruling institutions are overseen and they will take action when necessary and will not listen to what others say," he said.
"Don't come out tomorrow and ask why you were not warned in advance. Don't cry out when we arrest someone."
Yazdi was referring to last month's arrest of moderate cleric Mohsen Kadivar on charges of undermining Islam and the revolution in his writings and speeches. The arrest drew strong protest from reformers backing President Mohammad Khatami.
Yazdi is one of the staunchest opponents of the greater press freedom which resulted from Khatami's election in 1997.
He often accuses the culture ministry, headed by liberal thinker Ataollah Mohajerani, of giving a free rein to secular intellectuals.
Yazdi sharply criticised Mohajerani for honouring a group of secular writers early this month for their works after the revolution.
"The culture ministry is not qualified to rule on tenets of Islam," he said.
US Firm Confident Clinton Will OK Iran Farm Sale
US Firm Confident Clinton Will OK Iran Farm Sale
WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The head of a small company seeking permission to sell $500
million of U.S. farm goods to Iran said on Thursday that he was "very confident"
of getting approval from the Clinton administration.
Niki Trading Co's request for a waiver from U.S. economic sanctions on Iran has become a major rallying cry for farm state lawmakers who say growers can't afford to lose any more business in a depressed market.
"There has been steady progress and we think things are moving in the right direction," Richard Bliss, president of Niki, told Reuters.
"I'm very confident that this will be approved, but don't want to speculate on the date," he added.
Rumors at the Chicago Board of Trade that the White House could soon approve the Iran sale helped push wheat futures prices five to 12-3/4 cents per bushel higher on Thursday.
Clinton administration officials have repeatedly said that no lifting of the sanctions would be approved until Tehran made significant changes in its policies on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and the Mideast peace process.
U.S. relations with Iran have improved since moderate President Mohammad Khatami took power in 1997, and the Clinton administration is eager to improve them further.
Farmers and lawmakers from agricultural states say that the United States only hurts itself when it imposes unilateral sanctions because other countries step in to make the sales.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, told Reuters that a proposal to allow the sale to Iran was at the White House awaiting a decision.
Dorgan said he talked recently with National Security Advisor Sandy Berger who told him the administration was in the process of reaching a decision.
Also, Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, recently learned from Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering that the administration plans to propose in the next few weeks the generic lifting of all trade sanctions on food and medicine exports, an spokeswoman for the senator said.
Such an approach would probably require congressional approval, the aide said.
Last week, representatives from about 20 farm groups met with Undersecretary of State Stuart Eisenstat on the issue. They received no commitment, but said later that they were optimistic about prospects for the sale.
Niki, which applied for the sanctions waiver in December, still has not received official word on its request.
"We do speak to officials from time to time," Bliss said. "We are advised this is under active consideration and there will be an announcement. We just don't know the date." Currently, the Clinton administration is focusing most of its attention on the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia.
That could delay a final decision on Iran, Bliss said.
Bliss said he would not speculate further on the timing of a decision because traders who invest in commodity markets could lose money if he was wrong.
The Little Flower That Could
By Nora Boustany|
Washington Post- If flowers can sprout through scorched soil in tough climates, then Zahra Shojaie, a female member of the Iranian cabinet who braved one of those brazen breakfast crowds at a Washington hotel yesterday, did just that.
Speaking in English at the Mayflower Hotel, Shojaie, Iranian President Mohammed Khatemi's adviser on women's affairs and one of his two female ministers, boasted of achievements by Iranian women since the 1979 revolution, such as their "decisive turnout" in the 1997 elections that swept Khatemi into power.
She departed from her prepared text, however, to say: "We are aware of some limitations. Some are cultural, some are economic, and some are social. We need to work harder. A lot remains to be done in changing the prevailing gender attitudes regarding permissions and the protection of women's rights."
She did not stop there. "We should also increase the number of women involved in decision-making," she declared. Human society should not be "gender-specific, divisive or discriminative."
When a male listener challenged her, noting that Iranian women are subjected to virginity tests, that their testimony in court carries half the weight of a man's and that the marriage age of girls has been reduced to 9, Shojaie smiled.
"Do Iranian women like the idea of being flogged?" asked the questioner, a guest at a forum organized by Middle East Insight. "And how do they feel about the primitive instead of the enlightened traditions which clearly exist in Islam?"
"While belief should stay intact, some Islamic laws are subject to change because of circumstances," said Shojaie, who is head of the Center for Women's Participation. "Of course women are for reform and change, and my organization . . . is responsible for reforms and change.
"Not just women, all humanity is trying to have a good life. Of course women -- because of double oppression they have had in history -- have to work very hard," she said, emphasizing that the participation of men and women would lead to a more balanced society. "But this attitude is not shared by all. Some prefer that ladies stay at home; I think it is a universal attitude, but its intensity varies."
Having taken time away from a U.N.-sponsored women's conference and gotten special State Department authorization to travel here from New York, Shojaie will head home carrying a suggestion by Robert H. Pelletreau, chairman of the American-Iranian Council and former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, that Tehran invite some congressmen over to schmooze. Would she ask her leadership to include them in the growing American-Iranian dialogue, since they are "representatives of the people, not the American government"?
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) echoed the request: "Many of my colleagues would be interested in going to Iran. What could be done to facilitate visits including members of the U.S. Congress?" Shojaie offered measured hope. "We have to improve contacts," she said. "I think the dialogue between people could be solved; we have issues of our own."
Coincidentally, Zahra means flower in Persian, and Shojaie means brave. "I'm afraid of women," muttered an Iranian diplomat translating for her, when asked to speak up.
Feature Iran's Problem-Solving Nuts Face Own Woes
Feature Iran's Problem-Solving Nuts Face Own Woes
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - With the arrival of the vernal equinox marking the
Iranian new year, Iranians rush to buy a special blend of nuts which, legend has
it, can solve one's problems.
But the famous Iranian pistachio, Iran's biggest hard currency earner after oil and Persian carpets, is at the centre of export problems caused by a debate over contamination.
Along the bustling Azadi avenue in central Tehran, dozens of peddlers offer pistachios at half the price of a year ago, while in luxury nut shops up town, customers are surprised by stable prices at a time when double-digit inflation caused by slumping oil prices has plagued the country.
Newspapers have warned of the dubious quality of the under-priced nuts, saying they could be contaminated by the highly toxic aflatoxin B1, a carcinogen produced by moulds, a charge rejected by officials and exporters.
PISTACHIOS AND POLITICS
A scare over the fungus temporarily stopped Iran's exports of pistachios to the European Union, its largest market, in 1997. An EU ban was lifted after three months, but exports have been hampered by the EU's requirement that future Iranian pistachio shipments be tested on entry into the bloc as well as in Iran.
Iran said the EU ban was politically motivated and part of a row over a German court verdict accusing Iranian leaders of ordering political killings abroad, a charge Tehran denied.
"We emphasise that our pistachios are not contaminated, said Mohammad Hassan Shams, a top official at Iran's Union of Dried Nuts and Fruits Exporters.
"The largest consumers in Iran are planters in Kerman province. They eat pistachios several times a day, since the nuts are on the trees till they are roasted and salted, and there has been no indication suggesting they suffer from cancer more than people in other regions," Shams said.
The southern province has the highest concentration of pistachio gardens in the world. Its sunny, dry weather and special blend of soil has been home to the highly-sensitive trees for 400 years. Half a million Iranians are active in pistachio planting.
HEALTHY OR HAZARDOUS?
"Pistachios returned because of high aflatoxin level are re-exported to other countries and not sold in domestic markets," said Assadollah Asgaroladi, vice-president of Iran's chamber of commerce.
Other experts say that pistachios rejected by European countries find their way into the market. But this does not mean that they are not edible.
"Pistachios sold by peddlers have failed to obtain export certificate because of aflatoxin levels above 15 ppb," said Mohammad Hossein Karimipour, who trades nuts and dried fruits.
The acceptable level of aflatoxin, measured by parts per billion (ppb), is four in the EU and 10 in Japan, he said.
"The point is that standards vary in different countries," he added.
Iranian experts say the contamination occurs mostly in ports abroad. The fungi grow in temperatures of eight to 28 degrees Celsius (47-82 Fahrenheit) and humidity above 70 percent, conditions that are rare in Iran's pistachio growing desert areas, they say.
Toxins apart, Iran's exports may have also been hit by politics.
"The EU discriminates in applying its standards. While their standard for the imported American peanuts -- consumed in much higher doses -- is 20 ppb, their requirement for Iranian pistachios is four ppb," Karimipour said.
In shops or on the streets, new year shoppers seem to pay little attention to anything but the size, taste and price of the nuts they buy.
"It's 50 years that my family has been having pistachios and other nuts, and we are all as fit as a fiddle," said Forough, a middle-aged woman buying pistachio kernels in a Tehran shop. The kernels are used to garnish cakes and make cookies and ice cream, or eaten mixed with other nuts.
EXPORTS FALL, QUALITY IMPROVES
Pistachio exports suffered heavily from the EU ban, dropping to 58,000 tonnes worth $197 million in the year ending in March 1998, from 130,000 tonnes worth $600 million the previous year.
But the trade is gradually recovering and trying to cope with strict hygienic standards.
In the nine months to December 21, 1998, exports rose by 83 percent year on year, Iran's Export Promotion Centre reported. Pistachios exported to Europe and Japan are thoroughly controlled to meet their standards, it said.
"The problem of Iranian pistachios is not contamination, rather the lack of proper planning and management in exports, packaging, and marketing," said pistachio expert Azim Mousavi.
"Sales of cheap pistachio are due to over supply this year. Production has risen to a record 180,000 tonnes from 75,000 tonnes last year, so the fall in prices is quite natural," Mousavi added.
Lower production costs in Iran are working to the benefit of Iranian exports and against the United States, another major exporter.
American pistachios are sold at around $3,600 a tonne, compared to $2,000 for the tastier Iranian nuts, experts say.
"In the final analysis, the aflatoxin affair may have a positive impact on Iran's pistachio industry. Perhaps we should thank the EU for triggering a major change in our quality control on pistachios," Karimipour said.
And local customers are happy to pay a reasonable price for ajil-e moshkel-gosha, literally the "problem-solving mixed nuts and dry fruits," to be nibbled on during the new year holidays, wishing they would help unravel their problems.
Iranian Hard-Liners Shut down New Year's Festival
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Revelers heading to a Persian New Year's festival said they
were turned away Monday, apparently because Iranian hard-liners believe the celebration evokes the country's pre-Islamic
The controversy over the festival was yet another sign of a power struggle between moderates allied with President Mohammad Khatami and hard-liners clustered around Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Nowruz -- or new year -- festivities at Takht-e-Jamshid attracted 3,000 people when they opened Sunday, the start of the new year. Takht-e-Jamshid, 400 miles south of the capital Tehran, is the site of ruins from the 6th century capital of Persepolis.
But people who showed up Monday for traditional songs and dances were told that the shows had been canceled. They spoke on condition of anonymity. The festival had been scheduled to run for three days.
Earlier, Tehran radio quoted Khamenei as saying: "It is not an honor to attract the people to ruins that have no spiritual significance and contain vestiges of the deposed monarchy."
In 1971, the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was deposed by the 1979 Islamic revolution, invited kings and presidents from around the world to celebrate 2,500 years of the Iranian monarchy at Takht-e-Jamshid.
Since the Islamic revolution, hard-liners have tried to discourage Iranians from celebrating Nowruz, which dates back to Iran's pagan past, with displays considered un-Islamic.