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August 1998, Week 3

FarsiNet FarsiNews

French Seek to Build Ties With Iran August 21
Iranian court to review German's death sentence August 19
Iran to admit 3,500 Saudi-based Iraqi refugees August 19
Iranian MP wants women elected to clerical body August 16
'New wave' pop a hit in Islamic Iran August 15


French Seek to Build Ties With Iran
By Jocelyn Noveck
Associated Press Writer
PARIS (AP) -- France's foreign minister headed for Tehran today to capitalize on signs that Iran and its moderate president may be ready to build greater economic and political ties with the West.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine's two-day visit is the highest-level French visit to Iran in seven years. His trip comes only weeks after a visit by Italy's prime minister.

It also comes amid a tentative softening of the relationship between Iran and the United States, known in Iran as the ``Great Satan'' since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Vedrine says he plans to broach all subjects, including the thorniest issue affecting Iran's ties to the West: terrorism.

The subject clearly will be on the front burner, with the recent attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and Washington's retaliatory attacks Thursday in Sudan and Afghanistan.

Iran has condemned the embassy bombings.

``I intend to talk about everything when I am in Iran,'' Vedrine said Thursday. His spokeswoman said he'd be carrying a message from President Jacques Chirac.

Only last April, the 15 European Union countries broke off contacts with Iran and withdrew their envoys a fter a German court found Iranian leaders ordered the 1992 assassination of Kurdish dissidents in Berlin.

But four months later, moderate President Mohammad Khatami was elected by a landslide. The EU ambassadors returned soon after.

In January, Khatami called for a ``break in the wall of mistrust'' with the United States. In March, the Europeans resumed ministerial talks.

Earlier this summer, President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made conciliatory statem ents to Iran. Clinton said it was ``changing in a positive way,'' and Albright said it was ``time to test the possibilities for bridging this gap.''

In light of improving ties between Tehran and Washington, Vedrine feels he can serve a useful role by raising some of the problem issues that also affect Europe -- particularly terrorism.

The United States has long seen Iran as a rogue state that sponsors terrorism, and Albright has said Euro pean allies ``just don't get it'' when it comes to Iran's terrorist activity.

The issue directly concerns France. In the last 10 years, eight Iranian dissidents have been assassinated on French soil. Iranian government hit squads are suspected.

Other issues to be brought up during Vedrine's visit include Iran's role in the Mideast peace process, at tempts to develop weapons of mass destruction, and human rights -- including the nearly 10-year-old death sentence on British author Salman Rushdie.

While France may envision a role in facilitating an Iran-U.S. rapprochement -- Vedrine and Albright discussed the visit last week -- Paris and Washington could become rivals when it comes to trade.

European companies have benefited from U.S. economic sanctions. Last year, Washington wasn't pleased when the French oil giant Total signed a $2 billion contract in Iran to expand a southern gas field, along with a Russian and a Malaysian company.

Under U.S. law, Clinton can impose sanctions against companies investing more than $20 million in Iran's energy sector.

``American laws apply in the United States, not in France,'' said French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Iranian court to review German's death sentence
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- A Tehran court is to review the case of a German businessman sentenced to death for illicit sexual relations with an Iranian woman, Iran's state radio said Tuesday.

"The hearing for the German businessman Helmut Hofer will be held publicly at Tehran's international Mehrabad airport on Saturday," the radio said, quoting a judiciary official.

The airport courtroom is usually used for immigration hearings.

Hofer, 56, who is divorced, was convicted in January of sex out of wedlock with a 27-year-old unmarried Iranian Moslem medical student. The woman was sentenced to 99 lashes, a ruling also on appeal.

The court hearing Hofer's appeal was adjourned last month after the woman failed to arrive.

However, Western diplomats said they are confident a solution to the deadlock -- including likely deportation for Hofer -- is imminent.

Under Iran's Islamic laws a non-Moslem man can face a death penalty if convicted of having sex with a Moslem woman.

Iran's judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi said in February that Hofer had claimed he had converted to Islam years ago when he married a Turkish national. He is now divorced.

Germany has made it clear that relations with Iran could worsen considerably if Tehran executes Hofer.

Ties between the two countries have improved lately after a public row last year sparked by a German court ruling that senior Iranian leaders had ordered the 1992 killings of Kurdish dissidents in Berlin. Iran denied the charges.

Iran to admit 3,500 Saudi-based Iraqi refugees
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iran has granted asylum to 3,500 Shi'ite Moslem Iraqi refugees living in Saudi Arabia since the 1991 Gulf War, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported on Monday.

It quoted Gholamali Naziri, a provincial official in charge of refugees, as saying a first group of 50 Iraqis had arrived at a camp near the central city of Arak.

Naziri said a total of 3,500 Iraqis, who had lived in Refha camp in Saudi Arabia after fleeing Iraq following the Gulf War over Kuwait, would be admitted.

United Nations officials said last year they were seeking host countries for some 6,800 Iraqis who remained at the desert refugee camp after 20,000 others were resettled.

Iran has an estimated 1.4 million Afghan refugees and some 600,000 Iraqis, making it the world's most important host country.

Iranian MP wants women elected to clerical body
TEHRAN (Reuters) - A woman member of Iran's parliament on Sunday called on women to compete in upcoming elections for a powerful clerical body which has powers to appoint and dismiss the country's supreme leader.

The official Iranian news agency IRNA said Faezeh Hashemi, a moderate deputy who is also the daughter of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, made the call at a session of parliament.

"She said it is essential for women who have achieved ejtehad (highest level of religious knowledge) to have a presence in the Assembly of Experts, since the policies being adopted by the Assembly also affect women, who make up half of the population," IRNA reported.

Elections for the body, which has 83 members, are set for October 23. Candidates' qualifications must first be approved by the conservative-dominated Guardians Council, which oversees all elections in Iran.

'New wave' pop a hit in Islamic Iran
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranians are increasingly tuning in to the new wave of "revolutionary" pop music, combining state-of-the-art production techniques, Western melodies, traditional Iranian elements and lyrics about divine love.

On Tehran's bustling Enqelab (Revolution) Avenue, many young Iranians eagerly ask in music shops when the latest album by Khashaiar Etemadi will be available.

"Sorry, sold out," says Reza, a record store clerk. Etemadi is one of a dozen singers who jumped to popularity in the past year on the tide of the new pop music.

Some critics say his appeal is strong because he sounds like Dariush, an Iranian exile in Los Angeles whose records are smuggled into the country and snatched up by eager listeners -- a charge Etemadi dismisses.

His most popular song drew much criticism because its lyrics were written by Ahmad Shamloo, a veteran poet who is frequently denounced by suspicious conservatives as a "wayward Westernised lackey."

SMUGGLED MUSIC LOSES ITS APPEAL In Vali-Asr Street, a main Tehran thoroughfare, young men standing on the pavement whisper to passers-by: "I have new tapes, I have new films," mainly contraband music from an Iranian expatriate community in Los Angeles that is so big and influential it is known here as "Iran-geles."

But more and more people are turning to locally produced, officially approved pop music.

"The music is nice, the vocals are powerful, and the lyrics are not important, because you tend to forget them," says Shahrokh, a 21-year-old university student.

Revolutionary pop songs are mostly created by mounting lyrics about divine love and admiration for nature on an off- beat, slow theme.

Nonetheless, the new music draws part of its appeal from similarities in the vocal style to that of expatriate Iranian artists, officially banned inside Iran but widely available.

For nearly 15 years after the 1979 Islamic revolution, the only legal music in Iran comprised war hymns, traditional songs or anodyne instrumentals. Persian-language pop music, mostly contraband from Los Angeles, was smuggled across the Gulf from Dubai.

IMAM'S RULING PAVED THE WAY During the first years of the revolution, there was pressure from the traditionalist clergy to put a total ban on music, which was turned down by the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

In one of his most famous rulings, Khomeini said that if a piece of music were not "intoxicating," there was nothing wrong with it.

In today's more relaxed Iran, fostered in part by the social and political reforms of President Mohammad Khatami, tolerance is increasing towards Western-style music.

Iran's state-run television even shows a video clip about the evils of drug addiction, with instrumental music by British rocker Eric Clapton.

Surprisingly, radio and television are controlled by the conservative faction which frequently expresses concern over the dilution of revolutionary and Islamic principles and fears of a foreign cultural invasion.

However, pop music from the West, in particular from "Iran- geles" still dominates most private parties, including raucous weddings. Revolutionary pop does not offer the necessary beat for dancing.

But for many young people, the Los Angeles music is losing its magic, because it has grown increasingly out of touch with contemporary Iranian society.

"It's becoming boring. I don't listen to it any more except at parties," said 23-year-old Afsaneh.


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