The Presidential elections scheduled to take place on May 23 have beencalled the "first real competition since 1980" by many Iraniansinside Iran, as challenger Mohammad Khatami has become a serious rivalto front-runner Nateq-Nouri.
One Iranian who recently traveled to Europe from Iran expressed a commonly-heldview when asked who he thought would win the elections. "If they countthe votes, Khatami will win; if they don't, then Nateq-Nouri will."
Khatami, who was ousted as Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidancein 1992 because of his liberal views, has been campaigning on a platformof greater openness and civil liberties, while Nateq-Nouri has proclaimedhimself a friend of the bazaar and promised less government meddling inthe economy. However, U.S. government Iran experts do not expect that Khatamiwould be able to bring about significant changes in Iran's foreign policyor support for terrorism if elected, since he will remain subordinate tothe Supreme Leader and now to Rafsanjani as well, who will assume controlof the Supreme Expediency Council. [Iran Brief 5/5]
For all the apparent competitiveness of these elections, they are not"free and fair" by any standard. The Council of Guardians, abody appointed by the leadership, maintains strict control over who maybe a candidate and has in the past barred any real opposition figures fromtaking part. The state-controlled media is heavily tipping the balancein favor of the "approved" candidate, Nateq-Nouri, making itdifficult for others to get their message across. If that weren't enough,the security apparatus is using intimidation tactics to deter free speechand criticism of the regime. Whether Khatami or Nateq-Nouri win, both aremembers of the current leadership; the only real difference between themis one of style. While this is significant for Iranians hoping for greatercultural freedom in their every day life, real change will require thedismantling of the Islamic Republic's repressive apparatus and its foreignterrorist networks, true political openness, fair access to the media,and a return to the rule of law.
In short, FDI believes that the Islamic Republic has a long way to gobefore it can boast of holding anything other than sham elections.
The Interior Ministry announced on April 29 that it had received 238requests for candidature, including 9 women. The Council of Guardians mustapprove candidates as being "loyal" to the Islamic Republic,and will announce the final list of candidates on May 7.
Interior Minister Ali Besharati made it clear, however, that women wouldnot be allowed to run, on the pretext they were barred under the IslamicRepublic constitution.
This is sure to frustrate Ms. Azam Taleghani, daughter of the late AyatollahMohammad Taleghani and a well-known political activist, who on April 15became the first woman in Iran's history to announce her intention to runfor the highest elected office in the land.
Ms. Taleghani heads the Society of Islamic Women, and is editor in chiefof a magazine called Payam-e Hajar. The evening of her announcement, theBBC's Persian service asked Ms. Taleghani whether she felt her candidacywould be approved. "Article 110 of the Constitution of the IslamicRepublic of Iran does not say that only men can be candidates for President,"she said. "I am waiting to see what will be the reaction of the Councilof Guardians." [BBC Persian service 4/15]
Ms. Talegani's brave statement was no match for Besharati, who madeit clear that the Constitution exists solely to serve the leadership.
On April 28, three candidates who are members of the Freedom Movementor close to it - Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, a former Foreign Minister, Mr. AliAkbar Moeinfar, a former Oil Minister, and Ezatollah Sahabi - issued ajoint statement in Tehran complaining of harassment by the authorities.They also accused the government of denying them fair access to the media.In a campaign speech in Mashad that was disrupted by pro-Nateq-Nouri demonstrators,Sahabi told supporters: "It is clear the authorities want to stagetheir own version of the election." [Iran Brief 5/5]
Another presidential candidate, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, criticized currentsocial and economic policies during a speech in Mahabad. "There isno freedom of speech in Iran, because anyone who dares to criticize hasto face the consequences," he said. "Had we allowed the freeformation of all political parties, and if we had freedom of expressionin our society, perhaps we would not have had to cope with high inflationand economic losses. [Iran News, April 20]
A high-ranking Turkish general has accused the Islamic Republic of supportingIslamic fundamentalist groups in Turkey and providing logistical supportto Turkish Kurdish separatists.
"There are currently 500 to 600 PKK militants in Iranian territory,"said General Kenan Deniz, who is in charge of the army's internal securityoperations. He accused Tehran of "using terrorism for its politicalends." He made these statements during a briefing on security issues.Another top military official, speaking at the same briefing, said thatTurkey should be prepared to use force against countries backing the PKKrebels. [AFP, 4/29]
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati hailed the EU decision not imposeeconomic sanctions on Iran as a "great defeat" for the UnitedStates, but added that the Islamic Republic would reciprocate the freezeon ministerial contacts and visa restrictions imposed by the EU on April29. The foreign ministry also announced that it would "refrain fromengaging in any discussion over human rights, terrorism, and conventional,nuclear and chemical weapons" with the Europeans from now on.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i thought the critical Germansand Danes should be singled out for special treatment, and instructed Velayatiin a statement published the same day as the EU decision to bar the twocountries from returning their ambassadors to Tehran. [AFP, 4/30].
Meanwhile, the International Rushdie Defense Committee (IRDC) accusedthe European Union of taking the "weakest" possible measuresagainst Iran. "Their action is not so much a slap on the wrist, it'smore a nod and a wink to Iran. It sends the clear message that Iran canget away with murder in Europe." [AFP 4/29]
Austria has now launched an official investigation into the July 13,1989 murder of Iranian Kurdish leader Abdulrahman Qassemlou and two colleagues.
Following a statement by FDI Executive Director Kenneth Timmerman onAustrian radio on April 11, charging a cover-up by the Austrian government,the opposition Liberal Forum demanded that a special parliamentary committeeto investigate the 1989 killings [AP 4/13]. Now two former senior officials,Foreign Minister Alois Mock and Erich Maximilian Schmid, who was in chargeof the Foreign Ministry's political section at the time of the killings,have come forward and admitted that the authorities dropped their investigationof the case because of intimidation by the government of the Islamic Republic.
Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima announced that he was appointing specialprosecutor to investigate the government's handling of the case in 1989,"to determine whether there are new clues to the crime and its clarification."[Vienna Der Standard 4/22]
According to former Foreign Minister Alois Mock, both he and ThomasKlestil, who was his secretary general of the Foreign Ministry and is nowAustria's president, were briefed on threats by Iran's ambassador to Viennaof terrorist retaliation in the event the Austrian authorities prosecutedthe Iranian officials they had arrested shortly after Qassemlou's murder.[Kurier, 4/22]
Meanwhile, former Iranian President Abol-Hasan Banisadr was invitedby the Austrian Greens to give a news conference in Vienna on the topicof Austrian collusion with Iranian intelligence.
Banisadr said that it was no coincidence that the Iranian regime pickedAustria. He claimed that the Islamic Republic threatened the Austrian governmentthat it would make public documents on kickbacks involved in a huge weaponsdeal by state-owned Noricum to Iran. (The blackmail apparently worked,and the documents never surfaced). Banisadr emphasized that Iranian ForeignMinister Velayati was one of the officials responsible for pressuring theAustrian government. [Vienna Oesterreich Eins Radio Network, 4/18]]
A delegation from the Lebanese Hezbollah headed by its secretary generalHassan Nasrallah is on a visit to Iran, officials said. Nasrallah is holdingtalks with Iranian officials on the situation in his country. His delegationwill take part in a seminar organized by the foreign ministry on "themassacre in Qana camp," a reference to Israel's bombardment of a UNcamp in Lebanon in April 1996.
Nasrallah's visit comes after a trip to Lebanon by Iranian deputy foreignminister, Morteza Sarmadi, in late March, when he held talks with Lebanesegovernment officials as well as Shiite Moslem leaders. [AFP, 4/27]
The view that the Tariq al-Qods maneuvers by Iranian Armed Forces area threat to regional countries is pure American-Zionist propaganda, saysSupreme Leader Ali Khamene'i.
Speaking in Bandar Abbas, on Wednesday, he said the military exercisesbeing staged by Iran were neither a threat to Persian Gulf states nor toany other neighboring country whose intentions were not transgressionalin nature. [Iran News, April 27]
That's not what other leaders were saying, however.
State-run Kayhan International said the maneuvers were aimed squarelyat the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf and at deterring U.S. militaryreprisals against the Islamic Republic in the event the U.S. determinesthat Tehran had a hand in the Dhahran bombing. "The present circumstancesrequired Iran to send a message to Washington that any military adventurismagainst Iran may have unpredictable repercussions," the paper statedin an editorial. [4/27]
The day before, IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Mohsen Rezai, told Tehran televisionthe war games showed that Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz, where20 percent of the world’s oil supplies transit every day.
"We can keep the Strait of Hormuz open ... But if we want to, weshall close this strait to anyone who is an obstacle to security in theregion and keep it open for our friends and the Muslims," Rezai said.He also said that the broad scope of the maneuvers demonstrated that theIslamic Republic "can both fight America in the south and, at thesame time, if anyone wanted to take advantage of this American attack onour western borders, we are also able to be present there and foil thatmove as well." [IRIB 4/26]
Recent criticism of "dual containment" by two former US NationalSecurity Advisers, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, has been well-receivedby the Islamic Republic.
State-run media have given prominent play to an article written by thetwo in tandem with former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy thatappeared in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, the magazine of the Councilon Foreign Relations. In the article, they claimed that U.S. sanctionshave had little impact on Iran but have succeeded in making America's Europeanallies angry.
In a commentary by the Voice of the Islamic Republic the two formerpresidential aides were praised for their wisdom. "Today, therefore,American political experts speak of a reality which has been proved withthe passage of time. The interesting point is that this group of analystsinvite Washington to revise its policies concerning Iran, but at the sametime believe that the United States should provide the opportunity forIran to introduce a shift in its attitudes and policies... There is nodoubt that many political analysts and those who are well aware of Iran'seconomic and political reality might agree with the members of the Councilon Foreign Relations; that is to say, the United States has failed in itspolitical and economic moves against Iran." [Tehran Voice of the IslamicRepublic of Iran, 4/20]
The press supervisory board in its first meeting this Iranian year [21March 1997] approved the publication of one new newspaper, four weeklies,and one quarterly. According to IRNA, Board spokesman 'Ali Akbar Ash'risaid the newcomers were the daily Farda, which has Ahmad Tavakoli as itsproprietor and managing director; the Farhag-e Jihad quarterly, which hasSeyed Farid Payman as its proprietor and managing director; Misaq, whichhas Mohammad Hosayn Farhangi as its proprietor and managing director andwhich will be published in the northwestern regions of the country; Chavan,which has Mohammad Hosayn Torkman as its proprietor and managing directorand which will be published in the Kermanshah Province; and Nasim, whichhas Ebrahim Bahmani Jalali as its proprietor and managing director andwhich will be published in the Gilan Province.
As'ri said that at the meeting the election of Javad Qasemi as the newmanaging director of Homa, and a change of name from Abrar-e Banuvan toAbrar-e Haftegi was also approved. [Akhbar 4/15]
Majlis Speaker Akbar Nateq-Nouri has finally gotten the message: thereal target of the "cultural onslaught" by world arrogance (theUnited States) and the Zionist entity (Israel) is the Islamic Revolutionitself. He told a gathering at the Construction Jihad that Western propagandaaimed at "drying out the roots of the Islamic Revolution."
"So far, our focus of attention has been the manifestations ofcultural onslaught, such as improper dress code, while the true natureof this attack is much deeper and wider," he said.
Nateq-Nouri said the Islamic Republic's enemies had always exploited"courtiers and impostor clergymen" to attack religion and theclerical community. "Separation of politics from religion is amongthose issues which have been delicately misused by our enemies, althoughthe prompt presence of clerics has defeated these activities," hesaid.
Nateq-Nouri said the clerical community, the Majlis and the governmentwere the most important advocates of Velayat-e Faqih and they would standfirmly against the country's enemies. [Iran News, 4/20]
Governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) Mohsen Nurbakhsh said onMonday that the private sector will be allowed to set up banks at freetrade and industrial zones... as long as they team up with the public sector.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of a branch of the Export PromotionBank of Iran at the Qeshm free trade and industrial zone, Nurbakhsh saidthe government has decided to authorize banks to operate in free tradezones. According to a plan passed by the Expediency Council, foreign bankswill also be allowed to open branches at the free trade zones, and thatdomestic banks can perform foreign operations from the zones. [IRNA, 4/21]
Dutch anti-riot police attacked refugees at the Zwole holding centeron April 16, who had been on a hunger strike to protest conditions at thecamp.
Two Africans, one Kurd of unknown nationality, and an Iranian were arrested.[NAVID organization statement 4/17]
Meanwhile, five Iranian refugees apparently trying to flee to Greecefrom Turkey in a small boat were found washed up on the shore of the Greekisland of Samos on April 28. According to the Athens press, their boathad capsized and the five had drowned.
Seventy Iranian refugees have been living in tents outside the Pakistanicities of Qowete, Islamabad and Rawlapindi for the past three years, becausethey fear assassination by agents of the Islamic regime in Tehran if theymove into the Pakistani cities. 44 of the refugees are women and children.
So far, the United Nations has done little to help the refugees, Nimroozreported from London. The weekly added that one of the refugees was killedrecently by agents of the Islamic Republic in a Rawlapindi suburb and another,identified only as Molaei, was assassinated by a hit team sent by Tehran.Molaei had been in prison before leaving Iran. [Nimrooz 4/25]
Newspaper Salam ran a long editorial, questioning the wisdom of MajlisSpeaker Nateq-Nouri's recent interview with the BBC's Persian Service.(Salam has been openly supporting Khatami in the presidential elections).
"We have many reasons to believe that America, Israel, and majorEuropean countries, particularly old colonialist country of Britain, arebusy broadcasting programs against the interests of the sacred system ofthe Islamic Republic and are serving their own interests, and that is whythey spend huge sums each year on their Persian-language media. No doubtone of the main pillars of our enemies' cultural onslaught is the soundand pictures they transmit to our receivers in attempt to increase theirlisteners and pursue their goals against the Islamic Republic," Salamsaid in its commentary.
Islamic Republic officials had been barred from giving interviews toforeign Persian-language radios in the early 1980's. The newspaper goeson to say that during the past two or three years sensitivities towardsthis issue have somewhat reduced. According to Salam "a number ofnewspapers have also reported that a BBC correspondent was given permissionto work in Iran."
The newspaper wonders "what audience do they intend to addressby giving interviews to the BBC Persian section? Do they not think thatthe Iranian media can adequately convey their messages? Is that why theyagree to be interviewed by the BBC? Do the people whom they want to address-- that is, basically the revolutionary people and followers of the lineof the imam [Khomeini] and the leader [Khamene'i] -- accept their messagesthrough the radio of an old colonialist such as Britain? The more puzzlingissue is that, because of their post and responsibilities, those officialshave all of the country's media at their disposal, but still they seekto convey their message to Iranian citizens through the BBC!" No responsefrom Nateq-Nouri so far on the subject. [Salam, 4/8]
Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i has warned the government that its economicpolicies have helped create a small, wealthy class of Iranians at the expenseof the masses.
In relaying Khamene'i's remarks, the Tehran Times recalled that a similardivision between rich and poor led to the downfall of the Shah. "Duringthe last years of the Shah's rule, the petrodollars that poured into Iran'scoffers went mainly to the members of the ruling family and their closeassociates. As a result, a small well-to-do upper class was formed whichmonopolized the country's wealth and power while this policy alienatedthe masses from the ruling class."
The newspaper warned that "alienation of the masses from the governmentis more dangerous than any outside enemy, for once the masses are alienatedthe enemies can easily deal their blow. " [Tehran Times, 4/27]
Tehran authorities have banned renowned Iranian director Abbas Kiarostamifrom presenting his latest film, "The Delicious Taste of Cherries,"at the 1997 Cannes festival next month, he said late Wednesday, April 23.
Speaking on Radio France Internationale, Kiarostami said the decisionwas notified to him by a deputy culture minister responsible for cinema.The official told him that the movie should have been shown first at theannual Tehran festival which is held in February to mark the victory ofthe Islamic revolution in Iran.
Cannes festival head Gilles Jacob said Tuesday he had received no informationon Kiarostami's film, but added: "We are still keeping a place forhim." Kiarostami's previous movie was shown at Cannes last year. [AFP,April 27]
Deputy Commerce Minister Mohammad Nabi-Habibi, quoted by IRNA, saidIran plans to import around five million tons of wheat in 1997, a dramaticincrease over last year because of drought in many regions of the country.He said Iran had already bought and taken delivery of 2.5 million tonsof grain from Canada and Australia. [IRNA, April 27]
Iran produces around 11 tons of wheat each year, which is not enoughfor its domestic consumption of around 15 million tons. A shortage of rainin many regions of Iran last winter has seriously affected the wheat harvest.The authorities announced in January the formation of a "crisis cell"to deal with the water shortage in Tehran, which has a population of 13million. [AFP, April 27]