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October 99, Week 2
|U.S. Renews Appeal for Dialogue with Iran||October 14|
|U.S. Extends Restrictions on Iranian Opposition||October 13|
|Iran to Try Suspects in "Blasphemous" Campus Play||October 13|
|Ally of Iran's President Indicted||October 12|
|Iran Court Indicts Reformist Standard-Bearer||October 11|
|Iran Denies Visa to CNN Reporter||October 10|
|Iran Rejects U.S. Charges of Religious Persecution||October 9|
|U.S. Cites Five Nations For Religious Persecution||October 8|
U.S. Renews Appeal for Dialogue with Iran
WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The United States renewed its offer of unconditional dialogue with the Iranian government on Thursday but said it could not approve U.S. investments or international loans until Iran makes some policy changes. |
In what looked like a goodwill gesture, Washington also announced a crackdown on the activities in the United States of the main Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq. Martin Indyk, the State Department official responsible for the Near East, made the appeal for dialogue at the Asia Society, the same forum at which Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made a landmark speech on Iran in June of last year.
"It is time for the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran to engage each other as two great nations -- face to face and on the basis of equality and mutual respect. When the government of Iran is ready to engage, we will be too," said Indyk, an assistant secretary of state. Albright offered to explore new confidence-building steps with Iran, ultimately aiming for normal relations.
Indyk repeated that offer, but with evident frustration that the attempts of the past 18 months appear to have fallen on deaf ears in Tehran, at least among Iranian hardliners. "Unfortunately the Iranian government's response to this overture has been, for the most past, hide-bound and unimaginative, insisting that the U.S. must first take a number of unilateral steps" as a precondition for dialogue, he said. Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic relations since the crisis over the U.S. diplomats held hostage in Tehran after the Islamic revolution of 1979.
The U.S. position is that U.S. and Iranian officials should sit down and bring up whatever concerns them. The U.S. side would want to talk about Iran's opposition to Arab-Israeli peace talks, its support for violent organisations in the Middle East, its ballistic missile programme and U.S. suspicions that it seeks nuclear weapons.
Iran is demanding the United States end economic sanctions, stop preventing Caspian oil and gas export pipelines from crossing Iran and lift a freeze on Iranian assets. "It would be much more beneficial to both countries if we had a chance to actually sit down and work out arrangements that could meet each other's concerns," Indyk said.
He added: "We will continue to oppose investment in the development of Iran's energy sector, bilateral debt rescheduling, Paris Club debt treatment for Iran and the extension of favourable credit terms by Iran's principal foreign creditors. We will also continue to oppose loans to Iran by the international financial institutions.
"But we stand ready to change all of these policies as soon as Iran changes its practices in our areas of concern." The one practical concession Indyk made to Iran was to announce new restrictions on the Iranian opposition in exile, one of Tehran's longstanding grievances against Washington. He said the State Department had added the National Council of Resistance (NCR) as an alias for the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a group which has assassinated Iranian officials.
The NCR, which has offices in downtown Washington, has acted as the civilian front for the MEK and was not previously subject to restrictions imposed on the Mujahedin. Indyk said this meant the United States will no longer issue visas to NRC officials, that it cannot raise funds in the United States and U.S. banks will block its assets.
He also praised internal changes in Iran, which has seen gradual political liberalisation since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989, which accelerated after the election of President Mohammad Khatami in 1997. Indyk said recent municipal elections were "remarkable for their openness and the level of participation," that the country had a vigorous and assertive press and that Iranian leaders had made worthy statements on human rights.
U.S. Extends Restrictions on Iranian Opposition
WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The United States, in response to Iranian government inquiries, has imposed new restrictions on the activities of the main Iranian opposition group in exile, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday. |
Martin Indyk, assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said the State Department had added the National Council of Resistance (NCR) as an alias for the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a group which has assassinated Iranian officials. The NCR, which has offices in downtown Washington, has acted as the civilian front for the Mujahedin and was not previously subject to restrictions imposed on the Mujahedin. "Just last week we redesignated the MEK as a foreign terrorist organisation and for the first time listed the National Council of Resistance, the NCR, as an alias of the MEK," Indyk told a lunch hosted by the Asia Society.
"Such designations have the effect of making it illegal to provide financial support to these organisations. This will further reduce the Mujahedin-e Khalq's ability to generate support in this country," he added.
He told Reuters later that the NCR would also be subject to the other restrictions imposed on "terrorist" groups, such as a ban on U.S. visas for NCR officials and a requirement that U.S. financial institutions block the organisation's assets. Asked why the State Department has chosen now to act, he said: "The Iranian government had brought this to our attention. We looked into it and saw that there were good reasons for designating the NCR as an alias for the MEK."
"When the original list was drawn up (two years ago), we were focused on the MEK. I don't think adequate homework had been done on the NCR," he added. According to the designations released last week, the State Department listed several other organisations as aliases for the MEK, though Indyk did not mention these. They include the National Liberation Army of Iran, the Iraqi-based military wing of the movement, and the Moslem Iranian Students' Society, which the State Department described as a front organisation used to gather financial support.
A crackdown on the Mujahedin will antagonize many members of Congress, who have criticised the designation and favour overt U.S. support for the Iranian opposition. The Administration, on the other hand, has been trying to persuade the Iranian government to take part in an official dialogue on the differences between them.
On Thursday two senators, New Jersey Democrat Robert Torricelli and Missouri Republican Christopher Bond, said they and 26 other senators had asked the State Department to take a fresh look at "the possibilities that exist within Iran's democratic opposition, including the People's Mujahedin." But Indyk said the Mujahedin was clearly a "terrorist" organisation, even if it attacked members of a government which Washington calls a state sponsor of "terrorism."
"In 1998 several high-ranking members of the Iranian government were attacked and at least two were killed in attacks claimed by the terrorist group the Mujahedin-e Khalq. More recently that same group claimed responsibility for the assassination of Iran's deputy chief of staff. We condemn these acts as we condemn all acts of terrorism," he said. A spokesman for the National Council of Resistance noted that in August 1998, after NCR-led demonstrations at a soccer match between Iran and the United States in France, the State Department distinguished between the NCR and the MEK.
"A careful review of the evidence concerning the National Council of Resistance, which is associated with the MEK, has shown that it does not meet the criteria in the law for the designation of the NCR as a foreign terrorist organisation," State Department spokesman James Rubin said at the time. The NCR spokesman had no immediate comment on the extension of the U.S. restrictions.
Iran to Try Suspects in "Blasphemous" Campus Play
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - Suspects held in Iran in connection with the publishing of a satirical play deemed insulting to a Shi'ite Moslem holy figure will go on trial next week, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported on Wednesday.
It carried a judiciary statement saying that a press court would next Wednesday begin hearing the case against the newsletter Mowj (Wave), which published the play. At least four people are being held in the case. |
The statement also said that Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent liberal newspaper editor, had been charged with insulting Islamic principles in a separate case. The publication of the play last month caused an uproar among hardliners, who consider it blasphemous. Conservative groups and senior clerics openly attacked President Mohammad Khatami, blaming his liberal cultural policies for creating an atmosphere in which Islamic principles were being jeopardised. Attacks on Khatami subsided after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei backed the embattled president.
Shamsolvaezin earlier headed the outspoken liberal daily Neshat, which was banned last month after the press court ruled that articles it published against capital punishment questioned Islamic principles. The newspaper's publisher was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail. Using more liberal licensing rules under Khatami, Shamsolvaezin has since launched a new reformist newspaper.
Another leading reformist, Abdollah Nouri, also faces charges of political and religious dissent which may lead to his jailing and the closure of his newspaper by a clerical court. Hardline-led courts have closed several pro-reform newspapers and banned some of their publishers from press activities. At least two editors remain in jail awaiting trial.
Ally of Iran's President Indicted
The Associated Press|
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -A close ally of Iran's moderate president was indicted on charges of religious and political dissent Monday in the latest effort by hard-liners to derail presidential reforms.
Abdollah Nouri, a former interior minister and the top vote-getter in February's local council elections, was indicted in a 45-page document released by a special court for the clergy, said editors at Khordad, a newspaper run by Nouri.
The editors said the charges against Nouri include publishing lies that divide public opinion and insulting individuals in the Islamic system and religious figures in his speeches and publications. Nouri has to appear in court Wednesday, the editors said.
The attack against Nouri is the latest salvo in a power struggle between hard-liners and reformists ahead of February's elections for the Majlis, or parliament.
The hard-liners have a marginal majority in the 270-seat Majlis, but they face stiff competition from the popular reformist faction led by President Mohammad Khatami, which wants to ease social and religious restrictions imposed by the powerful clergy.
Hard-liners have been maneuvering for months in an effort to disqualify top reformists, like Nouri, from running.
Nouri, who was ousted from the Cabinet last year by hard-liners for his reformist views, recently announced his intention to run for the Majlis. It was widely believed he intended to make a bid for the position of parliament speaker, now held by a hard-liner, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri.
Iran Court Indicts Reformist Standard-Bearer
TEHRAN (Reuters) - A hard-line clerical court in Iran indicted a leading reformist on Monday on dissent charges, threatening to derail his campaign as a moderate standard-bearer in parliamentary elections, sources at his newspaper said. |
The court ordered Abdollah Nouri, the top vote-getter in this year's race for Tehran's city council and a close adviser to President Mohammad Khatami, to appear next week to answer the political and religious charges, the sources said.
Nouri faces charges of insulting leaders of the Islamic system and backing ties with the United States, Iran's arch-foe. "We smell conspiracy and animosity from the general content of (his) newspaper and there is no other choice but to believe that these are done with malice and forethought," the sources quoted the Special Court for Clergy's indictment as saying.
"Our warnings and recommendations were to no avail."
Other charges included backing Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a top dissident theologian living under house arrest, and questioning Islamic principles, the sources told Reuters. If convicted, Nouri could face a long jail term and lashes. A conviction, or even a pending charge, could also be grounds for his disqualification from the February 18 parliamentary elections by a powerful conservative-led body which oversees the polls.
The court's move against Nouri, a mid-ranking Shi'ite Moslem cleric, could also lead to the banning of his newspaper, Khordad, founded last year after the conservative-led parliament ousted him from the post of interior minister. NOURI TO DEFEND HIMSELF AGAINST CHARGES
Nouri declined comment but a colleague at the outspoken reformist newspaper said he would fight the charges. "Abdollah Nouri will defend himself against the charges by the prosecutor of the Clerical Court a week from Wednesday (October 20)," the colleague told Reuters.
Nouri recently resigned from the city council, which he had chaired after topping the polls, to clear the way for a run at parliament. He was widely tipped as the reformists' candidate for parliament speaker if they won the elections. The long run-up to the polls has touched off a flurry of political and legal attacks by the conservative establishment on reformers backing Khatami.
Hardliners, who dominate the courts and many other levers of power, have closed several pro-reform newspapers and banned some of their influential publishers from press activities. The closure of the leading pro-reform newspaper Salam by the clerical court in July touched off student protests that led to some of the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Last month the daily Neshat, also outspoken in support of social, religious and political reform, was closed for insulting Islamic values. Its publisher was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
Iran Denies Visa to CNN Reporter
TEHRAN -XINHUA - The American Cable News Network's famous correspondent Christina Amanpour has been denied a visa because of remarks by her husband, the U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin, against Iran. |
"Ms. Amanpour applied for a visa at the Iranian Embassy in London, but her application was turned down," an official from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance said. The English-language daily Tehran Times quoted the official as saying that Amanpour was supposed to be in Tehran on October 13, but she was recommended by Iranian officials not to go on with the visit.
This was after her husband made threatening statements against Iran, said the official in charge of press affairs, whose name was not revealed. Rubin said on Tuesday that the U.S. had information, but no proof, on Iran's role in the bomb attack on the U.S. military base in Khobar, Saudi Arabia in 1996.
The Khobar explosion was the second deadly terrorist attack in seven month in Saudi Arabia, killing 23 U.S. servicemen and wounding 345 others. Robin urged Iran to help in the probe of the Khobar case, but warning that a conclusion of Iran's involvement in the bombing case would leave Iran open to a U.S. response, including possible U.S. military action.
Tehran Times on Sunday slammed the U.S. and Israel for their anti-Iran propaganda, saying that the U.S. raised the Khobar case because Washington could not find fresh charges to bring up against Iran. Iran has denied any role in the Khobar case and refused to cooperate with the U.S. in the investigation, saying that the case was an internal affair of Saudi Arabia.
Iran Rejects U.S. Charges of Religious Persecution
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - Iran on Thursday rejected U.S. allegations that it violated religious freedom, and charged that America itself was blighted by injustice and inequality.
"Unfortunately such baseless...statements, which are in line with Washington's self-serving policy of double-standards, are made at a time when American society is itself suffering from injustice and inequality," Iran's news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi as saying. |
"Followers of divine religions practice their religion in complete freedom in the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said. The U.S. State Department on Wednesday designated Iran and four other countries as violators of religious freedom. Iran was faulted for persecution of members of the Baha'i faith. Under Iran's Islamic system, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians receive special minority rights, including direct representation in parliament.
But the state does not recognise the Baha'i faith, an offshoot of Islam which originated in Iran some 150 years ago, as a bona fide religion. The minority are regarded as heretics by Iran's Islamic leaders.
U.S. Cites Five Nations For Religious Persecution
By Jonathan Wright |
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The State Department has designated China, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar and Sudan as countries of particular concern for violations of religious freedom, making them liable for U.S. diplomatic and economic sanctions, spokesman James Rubin said Wednesday. The designations are the first under a procedure mandated by Congress in last year's Religious Freedom Act.
The test is whether a government has ``engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom during the preceding 12 months.'' But Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has not yet decided what sanctions should apply to each of the five cases, and the United States already has limited contacts with several of the countries, Rubin said.
The State Department is also naming Serbia and the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, which are not sovereign states, as ''particularly severe violators of religious freedom,'' he said. Last year's act offers the administration 15 policy responses -- eight diplomatic and seven prohibitions on U.S. aid or economic sanctions. The options range from diplomatic protest and cutting diplomatic exchanges to limits on export licenses and votes against loans by international institutions.
Robert Seiple, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, also announced the designations at a congressional hearing Wednesday and formal congressional notification would follow within a few days. Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who fought hard for the Religious Freedom Act, criticized the State Department for sparing other countries which practice persecution.
He said the list of designated countries should have included Vietnam, North Korea, Laos, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. ``Were the President and his advisers more worried about 'injuring the relationship'...than with giving the honest assessment required by the plain language of the statutes?'' he asked Seiple in the international operations subcommittee. The Religious Freedom Act also requires the State Department to prepare an annual report on the extent of religious persecution around the world.
The report, released in September, criticizes many other governments, including those of U.S. allies Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Asked why such countries escaped designation, Rubin said, ''One makes judgements as to where the worst offenses are and that's what we've judged.'' The United States has no relations with Iran, Iraq or Serbia and has poor relations with Myanmar and Sudan. Therefore it might not be possible to find a new category of sanctions that would have any effect on those governments.
``That doesn't mean we shouldn't identify them as countries that are violating religious freedom...Those we do have ties with, we will make our own judgements as to what the right sanction should be,'' Rubin said.
Where the United States already takes punitive measures against one of those countries, sanctions under the Religious Freedom Act might stay in reserve in case sanctions imposed for other reasons are lifted, he added. The annual report cited China for persecuting Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uighurs and Protestant and Roman Catholics who do not belong to ``official'' churches. It said the Chinese constitution provides for freedom of religious belief but in practice the government ``seeks to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and to control the growth and scope of religious groups.''
Iran was faulted for trying to ``eradicate'' the Bahai faith, while Iraq was criticized for conducting a campaign of murder, execution and arrests against the Shi'ite Muslim population.
The Sudanese government has been repeatedly accused of trying to impose Islam on the animists and Christians of the south. Buddhists say the military government of Myanmar has executed some Buddhist monks and destroyed monasteries, charges the authorities have denied.