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September 1998, Week 3

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Albright, Iran Minister Meet Sept 21
Khatami Speaks to Iranian-Americans Sept 21
Iran's Khatami to address U.N. Assembly on Monday Sept 21
No Response From Iran on U.S. Offer Sept 19
Iran Editor Heads Home to Jail Sept 19
Britain says ties with Iran improving Sept 18
Iran Arrests Top Editors Sept 18
Lawmakers Oppose Overtures to Iran Sept 17
Albright to Meet with Iran Sept 17
Liberal Iranian newspaper closed Sept 17
US Detached From Iran-Afghan Clash Sept 16
Iranians stand as American flag is raised Sept 15
Iran leader tells officials stop abusive papers Sept 14

 

Albright, Iran Minister Meet
By Laura Myers
Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Iran's foreign minister, in the highest-level contact between the nations in two decades, were meeting Monday with six other co untries concerned about civil war in Afghanistan and the potential for regional conflict.

Convened by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, the meeting is the first by the group of eight na tions since the Taliban overran the opposition stronghold Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan on Aug. 8 and killed several Iranian diplomats. The Taliban religious militia controls about 90 percent of Afghanistan.

The Clinton administration has condemned the slayings, but has urged Iran not to respond with fo rce. Tehran has amassed 200,000 troops at the Afghan border and has conducted intimidating milit ary exercises.

Albright hoped to use Monday's forum with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi and other minis ters to call again for restraint and to press Iran to become a ``responsible member of the inter national community.''

The so-called ``six plus two'' group of nations, which has met before at sub-minister levels, in cludes representatives from the United States and Russia and six Afghan neighbors -- Iran, Pakis tan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and China.

Not included in the U.N. talks were diplomats from the Taliban or the nearly overrun government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, which is still recognized as the official representative of Afghanistan at the United Nations.

Although the focus of the U.N. meeting was tensions along the Afghan border, the first face-to-f ace meeting between Albright and Kharazi also signifies increasing U.S.-Iran contacts that could lead to restoration of diplomatic ties.

Since moderate Mohammad Khatami became Iran's president in August 1997, the United States and Ir an have been making tentative moves through cultural and academic exchanges toward repairing the dramatic rift that began in 1979 when Iranian students took 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. em bassy for 444 days.

Iran is still controlled by hard-line religious fundamentalists who see the United States as the ``great Satan.'' But Khatami has called for a ``dialogue of civilizations'' and, like President Clinton, he was addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Monday. The last time an Iraninan presi dent spoke to the General Assembly was in 1986.

Albright extended an olive branch in June, suggesting that the United States is ready to resume a bilateral dialogue with Iran -- something Tehran's leaders have so far rejected.

``We are ready to explore further ways to build mutual confidence and avoid misunderstanding,'' Albright told the Asia Society in New York then. ``The Islamic Republic should consider parallel steps.''

She called for Iran to halt its support of terrorism and instead join ``multilateral efforts to protect international security.''

Last week, Albright said it is ``interesting'' that Kharazi has decided to address the Asia Soci ety this Friday in what U.S. officials suggest could be a response to her speech.

``We have made clear that the United States is prepared to have a direct dialogue with Iran,'' s aid State Department spokesman James Rubin said. ``They have not chosen to take us up on that of fer. ... We are going to be watching very closely to see what Foreign Minister Kharazi says in h is speech to the Asia Society.''

Khatami Speaks to Iranian-Americans
By Anwar Faruqi
Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Iranians who fled to the United States when the Islamic revolution took h old in Iran still have a stake in their native land, Iran's president said Sunday.

President Mohammad Khatami invited back hundreds of Iranians who left their country after the 19 79 Islamic revolution brought a hard-line religious government to power.

``Iran belongs to you as much as to any other Iranian,'' the moderate cleric told 800 Iranian-Am ericans who were invited to hear him speak at a U.N. conference hall amid tight security.

Khatami is in New York to address this year's opening session of the U.N. General Assembly on Mo nday. Many other world leaders, including President Clinton, are also due to address the assembl y.

Khatami, who has been trying to introduce political and social reforms, has given new hope to Ir anians who would like to return or visit their homeland.

``Your country is your identity. You cannot escape from that unless you escape from yourself,'' Khatami told the crowd. ``Nationhood is not a piece of land. It's in your blood.''

He called on Iranian experts and scientists living abroad, whatever their political beliefs, to return home and help in the reconstruction of the country.

``This man is a man of the hearts, not a man of war,'' said Nasser Saebi, an inventor who came f rom Arizona to hear Khatami.

Khatami's emphasis on freedom of speech and the rule of law has earned him great popularity in h is country, but it has also riled powerful hard-line political opponents.

Over the past week, they have closed down three liberal newspapers, jailing several senior edito rs and publishers for their outspoken political views and opposition to a possible war with Afgh anistan's ruling Taliban.

Tension between the Taliban and Iran has risen since the Taliban overran the city of Mazar-e-Sha rif in northern Afghanistan on Aug. 8 and killed eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist.

Iran's Khatami to address U.N. Assembly on Monday
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iranian President Mohammad Khatami left Tehran on Saturday for the U.N. General Assembly in New York, the first time an Iranian president has attended the world forum in more than a decade.

State-run Tehran radio said Khatami was accompanied by several ministers, parliament members and senior officials. Earlier reports said he would head a delegation of 12.

The visit comes amid a confrontation between Iran and the Afghan Taleban over Iranian diplomats killed by the ruling militia's forces in Afghanistan.

The radio said Khatami, who heads the 55-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference, was expected to discuss Afghanistan, the crisis in Kosovo and the Palestinian issue in his address to the General Assembly on Monday.

Iran has mounted pressure on the Taleban by massing 70,000 troops on its border with Afghanistan and is sending 200,000 more for military exercises.

Predominently Shi'ite Moslem Iran has been seeking international condemnation and measures against the radical Sunni Moslem Taleban.

Iran accuses the Taleban of killing Shi'ites after the recent capture of the opposition stronghold Bamiyan.

Khatami's powerful conservative opponents have urged the moderate Shi'ite cleric, who has called for people-to-people exchanges to ease Iran-U.S. tensions, to denounce the United States during the visit.

Then President Ali Khamenei, who is now Iran's supreme leader, blasted the United States as the "Great Satan" in his address to the General Assembly in 1987.

Diplomats have said the United States would like to use the visit to accelerate the slow thaw which began in January when Khatami called for cultural, scientific and sports exchanges to break the "wall of mistrust" between the two nations.

But President Bill Clinton's domestic troubles and Iran's threats of revenge against the Taleban make any rapprochement unlikely.

Iranian analysts said any direct contact between Khatami or members of his delegation and U.S. officials was highly unlikely because Khamenei had imposed a ban on such contact. Khamenei has the final word on the Islamic republic's foreign policy.

No Response From Iran on U.S. Offer
By Barry Schweid
AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Iran's Muslim fundamentalist government has failed to respond to overtures from the Clinton administration for improving relations, but U.S. interest in a dialogue was reaffirmed Friday by the State Department. And while the United States is looking for changes in Iran's policies, ``we have never made a change in their behavior a prerequisite for a meeting, and we're not changing that view,'' spokesman James P. Rubin said.

One of those hoped-for changes would be a halt in sponsorship of terrorism, which is annually attributed to Iran in State Department reports to Congress on terrorism. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will sit down next Monday in New York with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi as part of an eight-nation conference sponsored by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on tensions between Iran and Afghanistan.

Six neighbors of Afghanistan -- Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and China -- have been attempting for some time to end the civil war in Afghanistan. They have been joined in that effort by the United States and Russia. Tensions between Iran and Afghanistan have escalated following the deaths of nine Iranians during the Taliban attack on the Afghani town of Mazar-e-Sharif in August.

Registering sympathy with Tehran over the deaths, Rubin said, ``We would certainly expect the Iranian government to make clear its concerns about what's transpired there. And we share their outrage over the killing of diplomats.'' He stressed the meeting Monday was not strictly a conversation between Albright and Kharazi, but that a speech the foreign minister is due to make on Friday to the Asia Society in New York will get careful attention.

``We'll be quite interested to see what his comments and speech indicate,'' Rubin said. U.S. relations with Iran were cut off after Muslim fundamentalists took control in Tehran and overran the U.S. Embassy in 1979. In recent months, however, some Clinton administration officials are convinced they have detected a new tone of moderation in some quarters in the Iranian government and hope to build on it.

Despite indirect contacts with Tehran, the Clinton administration still finds no evidence that Iran is interested. ``As far as the bilateral situation is concerned, nothing has changed,'' Rubin said. ``We've made very clear our view that a bilateral dialogue in which we have an opportunity to discuss the issues of concern to both countries that is authorized and that is openly acknowledged is in the interests of the United States and we would pursue it.'' But the U.S. spokesman said: ``They have not taken us up on that offer.''

Iran Editor Heads Home to Jail
By Laurinda Keys
Associated Press Writer
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- The managing director of Iran's only independent daily newspaper is flying home Saturday to be arrested.

Mohammad Mohsen Sazgara is not sure what the charge is. He doesn't know what punishment he faces, where he will be jailed, or when he'll be able to speak publicly again.

Tous, the second-most popular newspaper in Iran, was shut down and banned on Wednesday, several senior edi tors and publishing directors either arrested or sought on warrants. Sazgara's name was on a warrant, too.

Under the circumstances, why would anyone take their family and go home?

``I'm a citizen of Iran, first of all. Second, my friends are in jail,'' Sazgara, 43, said Friday in an in terview with The Associated Press.

``Although I don't agree with this ban on our newspaper -- this ban is against the press law -- I think th at I have to go back because I respect the law,'' he said, sipping water and rubbing sleepy eyes.

Sazgara had just begun what was supposed to be a one-week vacation. He was on a stopover in Malaysia, wait ing for a flight to join his wife and two teen-age sons in New Zealand.

On Wednesday, Sazgara's brother, the Iranian ambassador to New Zealand, called to tell him that the two-mo nth-old Tous had been banned and Sazgara was wanted for arrest.

The journalist plans to head home, with his wife and sons, on an Iranian Airlines flight that will land in Tehran on Sunday.

The official Islamic Republic News Agency said Tous was ordered shut for publishing articles detrimental ` `to the country's national interests and security.''

The order came a day after Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on the judiciar y to deal with newspapers abusing the country's press freedoms.

``We tried to be independent. We tried to provide different views, multiple sources for the news. That was the main problem ... in Iran. But that is the duty of any journalist,'' Sazgara said.

There has been an atmosphere of more freedom and openness since the election of moderate President Mohamma d Khatami last year.

Sazgara has no idea whether that sentiment will help him, or whether the closing of Tous is part of a new period of restrictions on speech and press as tensions build between Iran and its neighbor, Afghanistan. < P> Tous had been calling for diplomacy instead of military strikes and has angered some hard-liners with its anti-war stance.

Recalling reader support for his newspaper, he added, ``They were waiting for us on the streets for our ne w newspaper. I can imagine that they are waiting for us now.''

Britain says ties with Iran improving
LONDON (Reuters) -- Britain on Thursday hailed a ground-breaking visit by a senior Iranian diplomat but said that while its relations with Tehran were slowly improving, a great deal still needed to be done.

"A series of steps have been taken which indicate a gradually improving relationship. There could be a lot more to bilateral relations," said a foreign office spokesman.

He was speaking at the end of a two-day visit by Ali Ahani, the Iranian foreign ministry's director-general for Western Europe and the most senior diplomat from Tehran to visit London for a decade.

"This was part of a trend of improving relations but there are still some established difficulties. The Rushdie case remains a considerable impediment," said the spokesman.

Britain says it is encouraged by last year's election of reformist president Mohammad Khatami but insists there can be no immediate prospect of ministerial visits while a death order against author Salman Rushdie remains in place.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is due to meet Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharazi in New York during the United Nations general assembly. The last such meeting was in 1994.

"The foreign ministers are meeting in New York for the first time in four years but that's nothing like the dialogue we've had in the past," the spokesman said.

The late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned Rushdie to death for blasphemy nine years ago and an Iranian foundation has offered a $2.5 million bounty on the author's head.

Britain wants written assurances about the writer's safety and demands that Tehran also dissociate itself from the bounty before ministerial visits can be resumed.

Iran's government has repeatedly said it would not seek to kill Rushdie but says the edict is a purely religious matter independent of the state.

Iran Arrests Top Editors
New York Times
By DOUGLAS JEHL
TEHRAN, Iran-In a new setback for political moderates, Iran has closed a leading daily newspaper and arrested its top editors for publishing articles deemed detrimental "to the country's national interests and security."

The action, announced on Wednesday by the Islamic Revolution Court, came hours after the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued an ultimatum against the "creeping excesses" of an increasingly free-wheeling Iranian press.

With its wholehearted embrace of President Mohammad Khatami's calls for greater openness in Iranian society, the newspaper, Tous, has regularly infuriated Iranian conservatives by challenging accepted policy. It had questioned the wisdom of Iran's hard-line stand against the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, and the authorities apparently cited that as the reason for halting its presses on Tuesday night.

Founded early this year, the highly popular newspaper has escaped two previous court-ordered closings, once by changing its name. But several Iranian political analysts said the handling of the current case suggested that the shutdown could well be permanent and -- at a time of high tensions over Afghanistan -- could presage wider restrictions on public expression in the name of public security.

The arm of Khatami's government that is supposed to regulate the press responded with a thinly veiled complaint against the action, carried out by public prosecutors more closely aligned with Ayatollah Khamenei.

"Any press crime should be tried in a public and open court and with the presence of a jury," the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance said in a statement Thursday. The Islamic Revolution Court operates behind closed doors.

Among those arrested were the newspaper's editor, Mahmoud Shamsvolazein, and the director of its publishing company, Hamid Reza Jalaipur, according to the official Iranian news agency.

There has been no obvious sign of a schism between Khatami and Ayatollah Khamenei over Afghanistan, the target of a mounting Iranian military buildup and vociferous threats over the killing there of a number of Iranian diplomats.

But many of Khatami's supporters have expressed private concern that the crisis with Afghanistan might draw attention from his declared quest to ease the restrictive atmosphere of Iranian society. And some have seen in Ayatollah's Khamenei's recent harsh words toward Afghanistan and his direct call for a crackdown on "enemies of the revolution in the press" a possible sign that conservatives hope to use the crisis to regain the spotlight.

In the last six months the rivalry between supporters of Khatami, a relative moderate, and conservatives aligned with Ayatollah Khamenei has claimed several victims.

One was the mayor of Tehran, Gholamhossen Karabaschi, a close ally of the president who was sentenced in July to five years in prison after being convicted of corruption charges that his supporters say were politically motivated. Another, the former Interior Minister, Abdollah Nouri, was forced from office by the conservative-dominated Parliament in June, in part because of his outspoken support for Karabaschi. Two weeks ago Nouri and another Khatami lieutenant, Ataollah Mohajerani, the minister of culture and Islamic Guidance, were beaten by thugs after attending a Friday prayer service.

In general, in the crisis between Iran and the Taliban over the killing of Iranian diplomats, newspapers here have reflected a broad spectrum of views about possible military retaliation.

But Tous, already more daring than most in publishing criticism of Iran's religious rulers, had also suggested that Iran might be wiser to talk to the Taliban than to confront them with military force. In a week in which Ayatollah Khamenei has warned that a war could be near and has called for nationwide demonstrations against the Taliban, that was apparently more than the authorities could bear.

"They are capitalizing on the war psychosis, I think, to try to strengthen their position," Dovoud Bavand, a professor of international law at Tehran University, said of Iranian conservatives.

Even though Khatami won 70 percent of the vote in presidential elections 16 months ago, Ayatollah Khamenei, the unelected supreme leader, remains commander in chief, and he and other conservatives maintain a tight grip on most important levers of power.

Lawmakers Oppose Overtures to Iran
By Tom Raum
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congressional opponents of diplomatic openings to Iran appealed to the Clinton administration Wednesday to refrain from any goodwill g estures during next week's visit to the United Nations by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

``For all the talk that Mr. Khatami is a `moderate,' we have seen no actions to back that up,'' Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., told a news conference.

Ackerman said a bipartisan statement he has been circulating urging continued toughness toward Iran has been signed by 220 House members, a majority of t he 435-member chamber.

``Experience has shown us time and time again that the most effective policy to contain this rogue regime is to continue to deny Iran any concessions,'' the statement says. ``Tehran's cunning rulers must be held accountable for their outlaw behavior, and we believe it would seem foolish at this time for t he United States to be seen as rewarding it.''

Khatami will be in New York next week to address the U.N. General Assembly.

Elected in May 1997 in a landslide victory against a hard-liner, Khatami has suggested dialogue with Americans, appointed women to senior positions and e ncouraged more freedom of expression in his country.

His American critics contend human rights abuses have continued unabated, and Iran has accelerated its quest for weapons of mass destruction and continue s to support terrorism.

``While the administration views Khatami as a more moderate force, actions speak louder than words. Since Khatami took office, no fundamental change has taken place in Iran,'' said Rep. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

``It would be very inappropriate for the Clinton administration to entertain any contacts with ... Khatami while he is in the United States,'' said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. ``We must begin building bridges with the Iranian people, not their ruthless rulers.''

The lawmakers also criticize the State Department for adding the Mujahedeen Khalq, the main Iranian opposition group inside Iran, to its list of terroris t organizations. The organization ``is legitimate, and it has been the victim of Iranian terrorism as well as one of the major sources of information exp osing Tehran's terror network,'' said Ackerman.

Soona Samsami, U.S. representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, told reporters, ``Khatami whetted the appetite of the advocates of appe asement, ... but let's be realistic: Contrary to the expectations of the United States, the Tehran regime has not modified its terrorist and fundamentali st policies at all.''

Albright to Meet with Iran
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright plans to meet next week in New York with Iran's foreign minister as part of an eight-nation effo rt designed to head off conflict between Iran and the fundamentalist Muslim movement, Taliban, that controls most of Afghanistan.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is setting up the conference with informal invitations. Albright is accepting, U.S. officials said. It would be the hig hest level contact between the United States and Iran since rabid fundamentalists took control in Tehran in 1979 and seized the U.S. Embassy.

Albright's meeting with Kamal Kharrazi has ``some symbolic significance,'' a senior U.S. official said today. But the focus will be the dispute between I ran and Afghanistan, not bilateral issues between the United States and Iran, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Albright will be at the United Nations next week to attend the annual session of the U.N. General Assembly and for meetings with foreign leaders who will be on hand.

Six neighbors of Afghanistan -- Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and China -- have been attempting for some time to end the civil war in Afghanistan. They have been joined in that effort by the United States and Russia.

The conflict took a troubling turn with the deaths of nine Iranian diplomats at Taliban's hands in Afghanistan last month and the mobilization of thousan ds of Iranian troops along Iran's border with Afghanistan.

The administration has said it understands Iran's anger with Afghanistan but believes military action would be a mistake, partly because it could trigger a regional war.

Iran strongly opposes the Taliban movement, which controls much of Afghanistan. The main backer of the Taliban is Pakistan. As a result, the United State s is in the odd position of agreeing in the dispute more with Iran, an old antagonist, than with Pakistan, a sometimes U.S. ally.

Even though the Albright-Kharrazi meeting is being cast entirely in terms of Afghanistan, its significance stems in part from an oft-stated U.S. interest in pursuing a better relationship with Iran if moderates, indeed, are in charge of policy in Tehran and support for terrorism is curbed.

Liberal Iranian newspaper closed
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran closed a liberal Iranian newspaper Wednesday for publishing articles detrimental "to the country's national interests and security," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Tous' editor, Mahmoud Shams, and Hamid Reza Jalaipur, director of its publishing company, were taken to the Islamic Revolution Court to hear the accusations against the paper, the official state radio said.

The case will be decided at a later date in court, the radio reported. It also said the newspaper was ordered to remain closed until further notice pending an investigation.

The closure came a day after Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei called on the judiciary to deal with newspapers abusing the country's press freedoms.

Tous angered hard-liners with its anti-war stance. The newspaper has called for a diplomatic solution to the conflict with the Taliban in Afghanistan, suggesting dialogue with the Islamic militia instead of military strikes.

Anti-Taliban feelings have run high in Iran since the militia admitted killing eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist. Demonstrators, newspapers and officials have called for revenge against the Taliban, whose forces killed the Iranians after capturing the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Aug. 8.

Iran, alleged to be backing the alliance fighting the Taliban, has urged a government be formed of all Afghan factions.

The Taliban has instituted a strict form of Islam in the areas it controls, banning women from jobs, prohibiting girls from attending schools and forcing men to grow beards and pray at mosques. The newspaper also angered hard-liners because it questioned the authority of Khamenei, Iran's spiritual guide, and asked how an unelected person could wield more power than the president. Moderate Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who won more than 20 million votes in elections last year, has limited powers.

The paper began as the daily Jameah but was closed in July by hard-liners. When it changed its name to Tous and continued publishing, authorities again ordered it to close, then later rescinded the order.

US Detached From Iran-Afghan Clash
By John Diamond
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. intelligence is closely following the menacing troop movements along the Iran-Afghanistan border, but beyond ca lls for calm the key Clinton administration goal is to avoid being drawn into any hostilities.

Officials compared their outlook to the mood in Washington during the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, when two states hostile to the Un ited States fought each other.

Iran and Afghanistan have massed troops on their common border since the fundamentalist Taliban, in control of Afghanistan, admitted Th ursday to killing eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist last month.

Iran on Tuesday called for nationwide demonstrations and put its military and top civilian officials on full alert. Iran's supreme lead er, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said those officials must be ready ``for speedy, timely and decisive implementation of whatever decisions t he senior political and security authorities deem necessary.''

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the United States understands the Iranian government's anger over the killing of its dip lomats.

``The inviolability of diplomats and diplomatic residences and embassies is one of the oldest rules of a civilized society,'' Rubin sai d.

This, of course, is the same rule the United States said Iran violated by the taking of American hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehr an in 1979.

``We urge all the parties in the region to respect international borders and to refrain from taking actions which would inflame or enla rge the conflict,'' Rubin said. Asked if the outbreak of war would raise the possibility of U.S. involvement, he said, ``I've never hea rd anybody suggest that.''

The State Department appeared more pessimistic than the Pentagon about the possibility of hostilities.

``The capabilities are clearly in place for this kind of military action that we have been urging not to take place,'' Rubin said. ``We don't want to see actions that inflame or make the situation worse nor actions by neighbors to interfere.''

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said, ``I do not have any indication of imminent military action along that border. Some top Iranian o fficials have said they don't plan military action. But I think they should speak about their own intentions.''

Similarly, the CIA did not change its assessment of the situation along the Iranian-Afghan border following the statements Tuesday by I ran's leadership. If hostilities erupt, they are not expected to be on a large scale, said a U.S. intelligence official who spoke on co ndition of anonymity.

``They're still making noises, but no action,'' the official said.

Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said U.S. intelligence officials have briefed him regularl y on the situation.

``You have to take Khamenei's statement at face value,'' Kerrey said. ``He has the power to send forces across the border. It increases the instability of an already unstable region.''

Congressional aides also privy to U.S. intelligence briefings said the United States has no favorite in this conflict. An aide who spok e on condition of anonymity said the weapons Iran has at hand appear to be small arms, a limited number of artillery pieces and a few a ircraft.

The Taliban will rely on Afghanistan's size and mountainous terrain as the key elements of its defense, the aide said.

Iranians stand as American flag is raised
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iranians stood today as the American national anthem was played here for the first time in 19 years when a U.S. wrestler took first place in the World Wrestling Championships.

The audience at the Azadi arena in Tehran erupted into applause after Sam Henson defeated Namik Abdullavev of Azerbaijan 3-1 to claim the gold medal.

The crowd chanted "U.S.A." as the referee announced Henson's victory.

The more than 12,000 spectators, among them Iranian Vice President Mustapha Hashemi Taba, stood as a recording of the Star-Spangled Banner blared from the arena's sound system and the U.S. flag was raised above the Azeri and Iranian flags.

A U.S. wrestling team was here in February competing in a locally organized competition in the first official visit by Americans to Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Before Henson left the winners' podium, he raised the arm of Iran's Gholamreza Mohammadie, who won the bronze.

After Henson received his medal, fans threw flowers at him. He bowed in appreciation and threw some of the flowers back.

"I never imagined Iranians were like this. You are the best fans in the world. I really respect you," Henson told the crowd. His comments were also broadcast live on Iranian television.

The return of the U.S. athletes is important to many Iranians, who see it as further proof of the potential for improving relations with the United States, long dubbed by Iranians as "The Great Satan."

Iran leader tells officials stop abusive papers
TEHRAN(Reuters) - Iran's supreme leader told government officials on Tuesday to deal with moderate newspapers which he accused of abusing freedom of speech to weaken people's Islamic beliefs.

"I am giving final notice to officials to act and see which newspapers violate the limits of freedom," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in remarks carried by Tehran radio. "I am just waiting to see what the officials will do, otherwise it is not so difficult to stop such moves."

"There are limits to freedom...which are set by Islam. If these limits did not exist some people would try to push the nation towards not believing in religion," he said.

Khamenei asked cultural, security and judicial authorities to deal with "some newspapers which abuse freedom to target the nation's beliefs," without naming any publications.

Khamenei's remarks echoed concerns expressed by powerful conservative groups opposed to an unprecedented press freedom granted under moderate President Mohammad Khatami.

Khatami's government, which took office just over a year ago, has also licenced dozens of new publications and relaxed censorship on books and films.

Khamenei, who is widely believed to be closer to the conservatives, said the critical moderate newspapers should be stopped regardless of international reactions.

"We have never taken into consideration what the world would say, nor what international newspapers and organisations would Hsay. And we should not start now either," Khamenei said in a speech to senior commanders of the Revolutionary Guards.

"But we should all be careful not to resort to illegal acts under the pretense of defending religion...Respect for government officials should not be questioned," added Khamenei.

He was apparently referring to a recent incident in which suspected hardline Islamic militants assaulted Iran's liberal culture minister and a vice-president during a public ceremony.

Despite the prosecution of several moderate journalists and newspapers in recent months, some publications have continued to test the limits of Iran's press freedom.

Conservatives, who still control parliament and other key levers of power, have reacted by passing a law curbing the publication of pictures of women and articles on women's rights.

 

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