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Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report

Vol. 9, No. 24, 7 July 2006

A Review of Developments in Iran Prepared by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team








creation in Iran this week of a foreign policy council connected with

the Supreme Leader's Office may reflect a desire to balance the

brash and inexperienced foreign affairs apparatus of President Mahmud

Ahmadinejad with the more measured input of elder statesmen. It also

could be a sign of the Iranian leadership's outright

dissatisfaction with the Ahmadinejad team. A third possibility is

that the new council will serve as a back-channel foreign policy

instrument. Coming on the heels of Washington's willingness to

take part in multilateral talks with Tehran on the nuclear issue, the

creation of this council could have profound implications on

Iran-U.S. relations.


The new Strategic Council for Foreign Relations (Shora-yi

Rahbordi-yi Ravabet-i Khareji) was created by a June 25 decree from

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The council is supposed to

facilitate the country's decision-making process, find new

foreign policy approaches, and make use of foreign policy experts,

according to the decree.


Vast Experience On Council


The council's membership reflects a search for practical

expertise. Kamal Kharrazi, who served as foreign minister from

1997-2005, will head the council. Other members are Ali Akbar

Velayati, who preceded Kharrazi as foreign minister and who currently

serves as Khamenei's foreign affairs adviser, and former Islamic

Revolution Guards Corp admiral Ali Shamkhani, who served as defense

minister from 1997-2005. These three officials have experience in the

highest levels of foreign policy.


Two other council members -- Mohammad Shariatmadari and

Mohammad-Hussein Taremi-Rad -- are not as well known.

Shariatmadari's whole career, it seems, has been spent in the

Commerce Ministry, and he served as minister from 1997-2005.

Taremi-Rad is the only cleric on the council. An alumni of the

hard-line Haqqani Seminary, he has headed the Iranian Center for

Historical Studies since May 1997 but, more significantly, has served

as ambassador to China and Saudi Arabia.


The cumulative experience of this council surpasses that of

the youthful and inexperienced foreign policy team under President

Ahmadinejad. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki is a relatively young

53 years old, although he has served as a foreign envoy (ambassador

to Turkey from 1985-1989 and ambassador to Japan from 1994-1999) and

also as a legislator. Individuals named to ambassadorial postings

have been criticized for their relative inexperience, furthermore,

and the replacement by Ahmadinejad of some 60 envoys in important

posts such as Berlin, Brussels, London, and Paris, is viewed as



Unhappy With The President...


The creation of the new foreign relations council is the most

recent indication that Supreme Leader Khamenei is concerned about

Ahmadinejad's confrontational approach as well as his management

style. Shortly after the president's August 2005 inauguration,

Khamenei tasked the Expediency Council with overseeing the

system's policies by supervising the executive, legislative, and

judicial branches of government and reporting on their performance to



This development was followed by the addition of old foreign

affairs hands -- former Supreme National Security Council Secretary

Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani and former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad

Khatami -- to the Expediency Council's Strategic Research Center.

The Expediency Council must consider any issue submitted to it by the

supreme leader, according to the Iranian Constitution (Article 112),

so it appeared that he was turning to it for foreign policy advice.


This coincided with speculation that responsibility for the

nuclear account no longer rested with the Supreme National Security

Council, which is chaired by the president. Expediency Council chief

Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, however, rejected such claims

and observed that decisions on this subject are reached collectively.


Collective decision-making almost certainly continues to be

the case. Last autumn, however, there were calls for the creation of

a foreign-policy guidance team. The new Strategic Council for Foreign

Relations appears to fulfill that role. The leadership is keen to

preserve the illusion of unity within the governing system, so it

will not publicly chastise or shunt aside the executive branch of

government. Behind the scenes -- where real power is wielded -- it

could be that this is what has happened.


...Or A Means To Talk To The U.S.?


The third possible explanation for the creation of this

foreign relations council rests in Supreme Leader Khamenei's

repeated disavowals of any interest in holding talks with the U.S.

Most recently, during a June 27 meeting in Tehran, he said, "Talking

with America does not have any benefits for us; and we do not need

such talks," state television reported. Nevertheless, it was Khamenei

who in March defended Tehran's willingness to discuss Iraqi

affairs with Washington bilaterally. He may not favor talks with

Washington, but he or his advisers recognize that they are necessary

if the nuclear impasse is to be resolved.


The Strategic Council for Foreign Relations could conduct

such talks away from the limelight that an official diplomatic

delegation would attract. Indeed, one of the council members,

Velayati, has been used for such communications in the past. He

established an office in Dubai to facilitate clandestine contacts

with U.S. officials in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom,

"Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported in August 2002. More recently, he was in

Riyadh to relay a direct message from Khamenei to the Saudi monarch.


Some observers hope the new foreign relations council will

supplant the executive branch in foreign affairs. An enthusiastic

"Sharq" on June 27 described this as the return of the "moderates" to

foreign relations. The pro-reform daily noted that the council has

the makings of a presidential cabinet -- a military person

(Shamkhani), a commerce person (Shariatmadari), and a political and

cultural person (Velayati), working along with the head of the

council (Kharrazi).


At this early stage it is difficult to determine if this will

be the precise role of the new council. Executive branch spokesman

Gholam-Hussein Elham put on a brave face, saying on June 26 that the

council will add new views on foreign policy, but it is not empowered

to interfere with the Foreign Ministry or Supreme National Security

Council, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Kharrazi,

the head of the council, was more blunt, suggesting that the

executive branch has failed to implement national strategies. He said

on June 27 that Supreme Leader Khamenei "sensed a deficiency" in

which there was no strategy for the implementation of his policies,

IRNA reported. He said the council will devise appropriate strategies

and present them to Khamenei. If he approves the strategies, Kharrazi

continued, the relevant foreign policy bodies will act accordingly.

(Bill Samii)



Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during a June 27 meeting with

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade that talks with the United

States would be of no benefit to Iran, state television reported.

However, Khamenei did not appear to rule out the suspension of some

aspects of Iran's controversial nuclear program. "We shall not

negotiate with anyone over our absolute right to acquire nuclear

technology and to benefit from this technology," Khamenei was quoted

as saying. "However, if they were to recognize this right of ours, we

are ready to talk about controls, supervision, and international

guarantees. And grounds have been paved for such talks, too."


Khamenei ascribed Iran's technical and scientific

accomplishments to necessity that resulted from "resistance in the

face of the arrogant powers' conspiracies and excessive demands."


Khamenei added that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will

participate in the upcoming Organization of African Unity (OAU)

meeting as an observer. The OAU should meet in Banjul, Gambia, in

early July, according to the organization's website. Khamenei

discussed Islamic unity and claimed that the United States and the

"Zionist regime" oppose the emergence of a powerful global Muslim



Khamenei told Justice Ministry and judiciary officials on

June 28 that national officials are expected to strengthen the

country against "hegemonic powers" by promoting "responsibility and

national solidarity," IRNA reported. Khamenei said popular support

serves as security for the government. (Bill Samii)





repeatedly denied seeking nuclear weapons. Iran could, however, build

an atomic bomb by 2009 if it prepares for the production of highly

enriched uranium this year, American physicist David Albright writes

in the July-August edition of the "Bulletin of the Atomic

Scientists," Reuters reported on June 29.


The international community, meanwhile, is encouraging Iran

to respond a proposal it received in early June that calls for the

implementation of certain measures -- such as the suspension of

uranium enrichment and greater cooperation with nuclear inspectors --

while the peaceful nature of its nuclear program is ascertained.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on June

29 that G8 foreign ministers expect Iran to reply "soon," RIA-Novosti

reported. France's Philippe Douste-Blazy said in Moscow on June

29 that Tehran must respond to the proposal "by 15 July," AFP

reported. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Kabul on

June 28 that the world awaits an authoritative response from Tehran,

the State Department reported ( She added,

"We've made very clear that we need an answer soon," and referred

to "weeks, not months."


Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said

on June 29 that Iran will not submit to pressure on the nuclear

issue, state television reported. "As we have said, a harsh approach

to Iran's nuclear case would not yield any results. Iranian

people would not forfeit their irrefutable rights," Larijani said.

The international community's proposal, which Larijani received

from visiting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on June 6, "was a

positive step forward." Larijani spoke optimistically about his talks

with Solana in the coming week. Larijani denied that Iran is facing a

deadline, IRNA reported. (Bill Samii)



TEHRAN DENIES INTERFERING IN IRAQ. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid

Reza Assefi denied on June 24 that Iran is interfering in Iraqi

affairs, IRNA reported. The previous week, Ambassador David

Satterfield, currently the senior adviser for Iraq to U.S. Secretary

of State Condoleezza Rice, and General George Casey, the top

commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, ascribing to Iran support for

insurgent activities. Assefi said such accusations are meant to hide

alleged U.S. failings in Iraq, and he added that Washington wants a

weak Iraqi state in order to justify its occupation. (Bill Samii)



against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking today, there is some

good news: according to the UN's latest World Drug Report, global

opium production fell last year. Though it is a welcome

development, the head of the UN's counternarcotics office says

Afghan opium production could increase this year. That will have

a strong impact on Iran, which has the world's highest drug-

seizure rate but also suffers from drug crime and abuse problems.

While the UN believes a reduction in demand for drugs is the most

important aspect of counternarcotics, the Iranian government

continues to emphasize supply interdiction.


Global opium production is estimated to have reached 4,620

tons in 2005 -- 5 percent less than the previous year, according to

the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) World Drug

Report 2006, which was released on June 26.


UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa gave an overview

of which countries are growing the opium.


"By and large, 90 percent is from Afghanistan," he said.

"There is still a certain amount of cultivation -- I think over

30,000 hectares but going down rapidly -- in Myanmar (eds: Burma). On

the 14th of February this year we certified Laos as opium free; there

is practically nothing from... Thailand; about 5,000-6,000 hectares

were detected over time in Colombia -- to some extent eradicated but

some is still there -- and the Colombia crop goes to the United

States while the Afghanistan crop goes basically to Europe, China,

and Russia."


Overall cultivation figures from Afghanistan have fallen, but

cultivation in some areas of the country has increased. There are

indications, furthermore, that opium poppy planting increased this

year, particularly in the south.


Some 24 percent of all the opiates produced annually are

eventually seized by security forces. Afghanistan produced some 4,100

tons of opium in 2005, so it is natural that its neighbors -- Iran,

Pakistan, and China -- accounted for the highest seizure rates.


But Costa says it is not enough to interdict drugs or even to

eliminate opium crops. Costa recommended aggressive measures be made

to reduce demand for narcotics.


"We can consider drugs as an addiction problem and therefore

a behavioral problem," he said. "We can consider drugs as a

cultivation and an economic problem; but by and large it's a

market, with a demand and a supply. An illicit market -- an

'evil' market, if you wish -- but still it has a demand and a

supply. Like for any other product, if you cut the supply the demand

persists. Something is going to happen. First of all the price will



Costa added that more people will enter the drug business as

it becomes more lucrative, and therefore more land will be devoted to

drug production. It is also possible that heroin addicts will turn to

other drugs that could be more dangerous.


"Therefore, my plea is indeed to forcefully act on curbing

the cultivation, and also, and perhaps even more forcefully, acting

on reducing demand, namely abuse, namely consumption."


According to the UN report, narcotics trafficking to Central

Asia and Pakistan has decreased, whereas trafficking towards Iran has

increased. Almost 60 percent of Afghan opiates go to or through Iran

and, according to the UNODC, this figure will rise. But UNODC chief

Costa also pointed out that Africa is playing an increasingly

important role in drug trafficking as interdiction efforts make it

more difficult for traffickers to use traditional routes.


"Africa is under threat. Nobody suspects transhipment of

narcotics from Africa into Europe," Costa said. "Therefore,

traffickers are using Africa to transship cocaine coming from

Colombia and the (Andes mountain region) and heroin coming from South

Asia and Afghanistan, in particular."


The amount of narcotics entering Iran is having a profound

impact on public health. Dr. Mohammad Mehdi Gooya, the chief of the

Iranian Health Ministry's disease-management center, said in

April that approximately 3.7 million Iranians abuse drugs, "Mardom

Salari" reported on April 18. He said there are 2.5 million addicts,

and that some 137,000 inject drugs occasionally.


Gooya said that research conducted five years earlier in six

cities in Tehran Province found that many addicts are female sex



He added that, "Some 94.8 percent of AIDS patients are men,

and 64.3 percent of them caught the disease through the use of

infected and shared syringes, while only 7.3 percent caught AIDS

through sexual intercourse."


The impact of narcotics on the Iranian penal system is

noticeable as well. More than 60 percent of the country's

convicts, Iranian officials say, have been imprisoned for

drug-related crimes. And more than 10,000 narcotics traffickers and

drug users have been executed over the past few decades, while

hundreds more face the death penalty.


Ali Akbar Yesaqi, the head of Iran's Prisons, Security,

and Corrections Organization, said some 50,000 people go to prison

every month, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on June 14. Yesaqi said that the

prison population increased by 1.7 percent in the last year. He added

that some 70 percent of the prisoners seek drugs, and he admitted

that it is difficult to prevent drugs from getting into prisons.


Another prison organization official, Mohammad Ali Zanjirei,

said drug-related crimes are the most common in 19 of Iran's 30

provinces, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on June 20.


The narcotics trade is not just having an impact on the

public-health sector and the penal system. The Iranian government

says more than 3,000 security officers have lost their lives fighting

drug trafficking, and Tehran asserts that it has spent billions of

dollars creating static defenses along its 1,800 kilometer border

with Afghanistan and Pakistan. As most of the drugs smuggled into

Iran are destined for Europe, Iranian officials say Western states

should be greater financial support to their efforts.


Fada Hussein Maleki, the secretary-general of Iran's Drug

Control Headquarters, addressed these issues in a speech before the

June 23 Friday Prayers sermon at Tehran University. He criticized

American and British efforts in Afghanistan because of the failure to

stop drug trafficking, and he accused them of wanting to legalize

opium cultivation, IRNA reported. Maleki added that the prevalence of

crystal methamphetamine, Ecstasy, and other synthetic drugs is

complicating the situation in Iran.


Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar

Hashemi-Rafsanjani dedicated a great deal of his June 23 sermon in

Tehran to counternarcotics as well. In countries like Iran, he said,

synthetic drugs are more dangerous than opium, state television



Hashemi-Rafsanjani failed to discuss Iranians' demand for

drugs, and he focused instead on the supply side, for which he blamed

other countries. He referred to "traces of colonialism" and added:

"We realize that the leaders of all these major trafficking bands

that we arrest are supported by colonial countries." The West could

wipe out opium in Afghanistan by using chemical sprays,

Hashemi-Rafsanjani continued, and if it can track down terrorists

hiding in caves, why can't it deal with narcotics dealers in the

streets and heroin-manufacturers?


Iran's Expediency Council is revising current laws,

Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the congregation, but the police, Ministry of

Intelligence and Security, and legislature must work together as well

to help combat drug use and trafficking. Public awareness is

important, too, he said. "After all, if we can change the destiny of

a young addict, be it a boy or a girl, and give proper guidance to a

household where an addicted person was brought up, we can help

prevent others from falling into this dangerous trap."

Hashemi-Rafsanjani called on all citizens to work against drugs: "We

should all join hands and act together to tackle the problem."


It is notable that for UNODC chief Costa reducing the demand

for drugs is the most important issue, whereas Iran's leaders

seem to continue to focus on reducing the supplies of drugs. More

than a year ago the Iranian government said that greater attention

needs to be given to reducing demand, but with the election of

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad the old yet unsuccessful prioritization

of law and order and interdiction have been reinstated. (Bill Samii)




RELUCTANCE TO USE OIL AS WEAPON. Iranian Petroleum Minister Seyyed

Kazem-Vaziri-Hamaneh said on June 25 that Iran will use oil as a

weapon -- presumably restricting oil exports -- only "if the

country's interests are jeopardized," Fars News Agency reported.

Vaziri-Hamaneh said that under normal conditions this is not an

issue, and, furthermore, Iran would like to enjoy normal relations

with other countries. The imposition of sanctions, he said, would

lead to oil price hikes, with the price for a barrel of oil reaching

$100. (Bill Samii)




Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved.

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