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Historic Kerman Church in Ruins; Handouts, Maseratis for Iranians

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

04 Sep 2011 04:34Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Nuclear Program

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has issued its latest report on Iran's nuclear program. The new report certifies once again that the agency has found no evidence of diversion of nuclear materials for nonpeaceful purposes, but it is also critical of Iran for its lack of cooperation. It expresses the agency's concerns about a possible military dimension to Iran's nuclear program, and claims that it has received reports about it from several countries.

In response, Dr. Ali Asghar Soltaneih, Iran's ambassador and permanent representative to the IAEA, said that the new report, in addition to certifying the peaceful nature of Iran's program, also contains positive aspects about Iran's cooperation with the agency.

On Thursday, China called for more efforts to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said at a regular briefing that "under the current circumstances, relevant parties should ratchet up diplomatic efforts, continue to commit to dialogue and negotiation, take new measures to deepen trust, and create new conditions to properly resolve the Iranian nuclear issue." He added that as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to peacefully utilize nuclear power.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Iran on Thursday that its attempts to build long-range missiles and nuclear weapons could lead to a preemptive attack. He did not indicate which country might launch such a strike. Iran has repeatedly said that it has no intention of building a nuclear weapon and is enriching nuclear fuel for medical research and a domestic atomic energy program.

"Its [Iran's] military nuclear and ballistic ambitions constitute a growing threat that may lead to a preventive attack against Iranian sites that would provoke a major crisis that France wants to avoid at all costs," Sarkozy said. "Iran refuses to negotiate seriously. Iran is carrying out new provocations in response to the challenge from the international community for it to provide a credible response."

In a swift response to the French president, Hassan Tajik, the Foreign Ministry director for Western European affairs, said that the Islamic Republic's nuclear program is meant for peaceful purposes and its defense program is aimed at improving the country's military deterrence capability. "Obviously, making comments based on unrealistic information will set the stage for the instability of the region, so [Sarkozy] is advised to avoid making such remarks in view of the realities on the ground."


An interview broadcast live on Iranian state television with an Afghan expert has become hugely controversial. On Monday, a political program featured Fazolrahman Oria, who was to comment on the security situation in Afghanistan. When asked about the role that Afghanistan's neighbors could play in its stability, Oria responded, "Under the current conditions, in which the globe has become a small village, Afghanistan is only a small house in this village. Our neighbors, including Iran and Pakistan, have never wanted, and still do not want Afghanistan to become a democracy, to have a popular political system accepted by its people. Iran and Pakistan would like instability [in Afghanistan] and over the past ten years, and even the past 30 years, Iran's intervention has been destructive to Afghanistan's internal affairs. That is why Afghanistan's neighbors, including Iran and Pakistan, cannot play a role in the peace and security of Afghanistan."

In response, the interviewer said, "Of course, Mr. Oria, this is your personal view. I agree with you regarding Pakistan, but not Iran." Oria then said, "I respect your opinion about Iran, [but] Iran does not have friendly relations with any of its neighbors and is in deep isolation and crisis..." -- at which point the live interview, which was supposed to last 20 minutes, was cutoff after a little over two minutes.

This exchange on national television created a storm of criticism against Oria in Iran's conservative and hardline mass media (see here, for one example). Oria was even threatened at one point. But, in an interview with Deutsche Welle, not only did Oria refuse to retreat, he criticized Iran even more strongly. For example, he said that Iran and Pakistan did not allow peace to prevail in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union withdrew its forces. "Iran and Pakistan are the enemies of the people of Afghanistan," he said. When asked what evidence he had for these allegations, Oria responded, "I am an Afghan and live in Afghanistan. I am a completely independent journalist. I see Iran's interference in our cultural, political, military and intelligence [affairs] on a daily basis."

Prince Nayef ibn Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia's deputy prime minister and minister of the interior, said that his country is "a target of Iran." In comments published on August 29 by Al-Eqtissadiya newspaper, Nayef said that terrorism remains a threat to the Persian Gulf state. "We will continue to be a target for terrorists, who will continue attempting to attack us, supported by other parties. Evil surrounds us from all sides," he said, citing the unrest in neighboring Iraq and Yemen, as well as Iran's supposed "targeting," as examples.

Two days later, Iran dismissed the "vain claims" as totally baseless. Quoting an "informed source" at the Foreign Ministry, IRNA, Iran's official news agency, reported that Iran has always favored stability, tranquility, and progress in Saudi Arabia. He said that Iran was not targeting Saudi Arabia, the security of Saudi Arabia and Iran were intertwined, and that the Islamic Republic of Iran considered the Saudis' security as its own. IRNA reported that the source expressed shock over the media report, characterizing such claims as propaganda against Iran aimed at raising suspicions about it around the region.

The French conservative daily Le Figaro reported that Iran's representatives have met with members of the Syrian opposition in Europe, and that Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Lebanese Hezbollah leader, has also been in touch with them. This comes on the heels of recent comments from Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi that the Syrian government must listen to the legitimate demands of its people. Iran has appointed a new ambassador to Syria, reportedly because the previous ambassador, Seyyed Ahmad Mousavi's reports to Tehran on the developments in Syria grossly underestimated the strength of the opposition.

Voice of Russia radio reported on Friday that Iran and Russia will cooperate in fighting narcotics trafficking, as they both lie on the route of drugs going from Afghanistan to the European countries. The head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, Viktor Ivanov, has said that Iran and Russia are "key countries" in the campaign against drugs.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday that Turkey and Iran are not doing enough to protect civilians while carrying out military strikes against the Kurdish separatist groups PJAK and PKK in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region. According to HRW, both Iranian and Turkish officials say military operations are targeting armed groups operating out of Iraqi Kurdistan. But when HRW's representatives visited the area in August, Iraqi residents and officials said most attacks are occurring in "purely civilian" areas that are not being used by armed groups. Iran's attacks began in mid July, joined by Turkey on August 18. HRW's deputy Middle East director, Joe Stork, described the situation as "dire." He said Iran and Turkey should "do all they can" to protect civilians and their property from harm, "no matter what the reason for their attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan."


Cleric Ali Samari, a former senior adviser to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that in the last meeting between the president's cabinet and Khamenei, the Supreme Leader essentially gave Ahmadinejad an ultimatum.

Khamenei has told Ahmadinejad to emphasize Iran since Islam, not the one before it; that the government should not make unrealistic promises to the people and that its promises should be compared to what has actually been delivered. This latter point was echoed by Kazem Sedighi in his Friday prayer sermon. A comparison must be made, he said, between the government's promises and what it has actually delivered.

Iran says it will soon send a satellite into orbit that will carry a trained monkey. According to Dr. Hamid Fazeli, head of Iran's national aerospace organization, the orbit will be 100 miles above the earth.


A historic church in the city of Kerman that had been registered for protection as a national historic monument has fallen to ruin (see photos). This comes a month after another historic site, Ganjalikhan Square, was also destroyed in Kerman.


Italian luxury sports car maker Maserati now plans to tap the "new, wealthy elite" in Tehran, according to Dow Jones, confirming a report in the Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore. It will open a dealership, through a representative, in the Iranian capital next year. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Maserati, whose models like the GrandTurismo cost more than EUR100,000 each, has made a push into new markets, bringing the number of dealerships it has worldwide to 250. The latest additions including those in Tel Aviv, Israel; Warsaw, Poland; and Damascus, Syria."


The government deposited its sixth round of "cash handouts" to citizens, payments to help buffer the hardships of eliminated or reduced subsidies. The payments are 45,000 tomans or about $38 each -- $4 of which is targeted for the increase in bread prices, and the rest for energy. Mohammad Reza Farzin, who leads the government office in charge of paying the handouts, said the handouts would not only continue, but also increase in the the near future. He did say however that the government continues to study ways of how to end payments to the well off.

Majles Elections

In his sermon for the special prayer for Eid al-Fitr on Wednesday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that elections in Iran have always been a challenge. "We should not allow elections to become a threat to the national security," he added. He went on to claim that compared to elections in other countries, even those referred to as advanced nations, elections in Iran are better. Referring implicitly to the June 2009 presidential election, Khamenei said, "You saw it, you felt it -- how the enemy wants to abuse elections against the security of our country."

Seyyed Mohammad Reza Mir Tajeddini, vice president for parliamentary affairs, said that the principlists believe that the reformists can run in the upcoming Majles elections -- slated for March 2, 2012 -- if they condemn the Green Movement. Otherwise, he said, they are not qualified to run. Meanwhile, every major reformist has declared that the reformists have no intention of running in the elections, unless the conditions set by former President Mohammad Khatami are fulfilled. Those conditions include the unconditional release of all political prisoners, a completely free press, freedom for all political groups, and the elimination of the vetting powers of the Guardian Council.

Political Prisoners and Human Rights

Mehdi Karroubi's wife, Fatemeh Karroubi, their son, Dr. Hossein Karroubi, and his family met with the elder Karroubi on Thursday.

Hossein Karroubi said that he had not seen his father since he was put under house arrest, but suddenly the security agents allowed him, his mother, and his family to visit the opposition leader. "In terms of both spirit and health, he is in good condition," the son said. "During the visit he spoke about what had happened and emphasized that he is still persisting in his past positions." According to the younger Karroubi, his father said, "Over the past seven months, the security forces have learned about my thinking and know what I believe in, and therefore do not try to change my mind." The security forces have apparently promised that Mehdi Karroubi will soon be transferred to a better place, and may even allow his wife to join him again.

That same day, Yaser Khomeini, a grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, his wife, and his mother Dr. Fatemeh Tabatabaei (wife of the ayatollah's son Ahmad Khomeini) visited with Fatemeh Karroubi. Yaser Khomeini expressed his deep regret over what had been done to Mehdi Karroubi and said, "Mr. Karroubi has always shown that the interests of the people and the nation are always more important than a comfortable life for him."

Reports indicate that Milad Karimi, a Kurdish activist and secretary-general of Muslim Student Association of Islamic Azad University of Sanandaj, has been arrested. It is not yet clear why Karimi, who is also deputy secretary-general of the Democratic League of Kurdish Students, has been detained.

Since Tuesday, Ashkan Zahabian, a student at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, who was expelled from the school and arrested, has been on a hunger strike. Ten of his friends and relatives have sent a letter to judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani, asking him to take action before it is too late. Grand Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat Zanjani has also expressed his concerns over the hunger strike. Zahabian's health has deteriorated badly and he has been transferred to solitary confinement in a prison in Babol, in northern Iran. He has said that he is on hunger strike to protest his illegal arrest, as well as protesting the fact that he is neither released nor is put on trial. Zahabian's mother said that her son was arrested because he met with Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei, the popular cleric and supporter of the Green Movement, as well as Grand Ayatollah Hossein Vahid Khorasani, a traditional critic and father-in-law of Sadegh Larijani, who has been highly critical of what has been happening in the country.

Imprisoned university activist Mahdieh Golroo, who has been sentenced to seven years of incarceration, has written a letter to Sadegh Larijani and protested the pressure on the families of political prisoners. Golroo's husband, Vahid Lalipoor, was arrested and sentenced to one year of mandatory imprisonment and another year, suspended. He was recently arrested to enforce the sentence. Even the security agents have said that Lalipoor has not committed any offense, and his sentence and arrest are meant to pressure Golroo.

The health of political prisoner Misagh Yazdannejad, who is jailed in Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj has badly deteriorated, but the prison officials refuse to allow his family to take him to a hospital for treatment. Yazdannejad, 24, is a student at Payam-e Noor University. He was arrested in September 2007 after he took part in a memorial for the political prisoners that were executed in 1988, and sentenced to 13 years of imprisonment.

Reports by human rights sources in Iran also indicate that the health of attorney Homan Houtankia, who has been imprisoned in Tabriz, has deteriorated. He represented Sakineh Mohammadi, the woman who was sentenced to stoning for adultery and participating in the murder of her husband (the stoning sentence has apparently been set aside). He has been sentenced to 11 years in jail.

Farah Vazhan, another political prisoner, is also in poor health, and although the doctors in the prison where she is jailed have certified four times that she should be allowed to seek outside treatment, prison officials have refused to follow the doctors' recommendation. Vazehan, who resided abroad, traveled to Iran in late 2009 to visit her daughter. She was arrested in December after the large-scale demonstrations on the Day of Ashura. A court first sentenced her to death, but a higher court changed that to 17 years of imprisonment. She has never been granted a furlough.

Political prisoner Hossein Ronaghi Maleki has been under tremendous pressure to sign the document confirming the 15-year sentence that a court has issued against him.

Alborz Noorani, a computer science student at Sharif University of Technology, has been expelled from the school because he is an adherent of the Baha'i faith, which is not recognized by Islam.

Three major reformist figures incarcerated in Evin Prison have been granted three-day furloughs. They are Mostafa Tajzadeh, Ghorbanali Behzadiannejad, and Javad Emam.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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