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February 1998, Week 1

FarsiNet FarsiNews

Iranian cleric says Algeria 'approves' of killings Feb 6
Dialogue with US useless - Iran parliament speaker Feb 5
Iran Gives US Wrestlers Entry Visas Feb 5
The State Department has been reviewing Feb 4
Iran Parliament Opposes Military Strike on Iraq Feb 4
U.S. Still Reviewing Companies' Gas Deal with Iran Feb 3
Iran Denies Sending Message to US President Feb 2
Iran Denies Reports on Policy Changes towards U.S. Feb 2
U.S. and Iranian officials shake hands in Davos Feb 1
Round-the-world balloon heads towards Iran Feb 1
Iranian vice president submits resignation Feb 1
U.S. open to any Iran shift on Mideast -Albright Feb 1


Iranian cleric says Algeria 'approves' of killings
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) - A senior Iranian cleric Friday accused the Algerian authorities of ``approving'' of massacres in the North African country by not allowing investigations into the continued violence.

``Why does the Algerian government not allow inspectors to come and investigate who is doing this (carrying out the killings)? This shows that it approves of it,'' Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in a Friday prayer sermon broadcast on Tehran radio.

``If it is not involved itself, which we cannot rule out, then it is at least consenting to these acts, while it accuses Muslims of terrorism,'' Jannati told thousands of worshipers gathered at Tehran University.

Algeria has often accused Iran of backing Muslim groups it blames for the massacres in which, according to Western estimates, more than 65,000 people have been killed since 1992.

Tehran has denied the charges and says Algiers must be held responsible for failing to guarantee the safety of its citizens.

Iran, which in December took over the chairmanship of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, has called on the 55-member body and the international community to try to end the killing.

Algeria has dismissed Iranian offers to mediate between the government and Muslim rebels. The Algiers government also says there is no need for an external investigation into the violence. It has rejected European Union offers to send investigative teams as interference in its domestic affairs.

The violence started after authorities canceled a general election in which radical Islamists had taken a commanding lead.

Algeria broke diplomatic ties with Iran in 1993, accusing Tehran of backing the rebels. Iran denies that it is trying to export its 1979 Islamic revolution, but says it has inspired Muslim groups around the world.

Dialogue with US useless - Iran parliament speaker
By Issam Hamza
DAMASCUS, (Reuters) - Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri on Thursday ruled out any Iranian dialogue with the U.S. government saying such talks would be useless.

``We believe there is no good or benefit from the dialogue with the United States. We do not trust the United States because during the last 20 years we did not see any goodwill gesture from its government,'' Nateq-Nouri said.

Addressing a news conference at the end of a visit to Syria, he said Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's recent call for dialogue with the American people did not mean he wanted to have talks with U.S. officials.

``There is a difference between dialogue with the people of America and the government of America,'' he said.

Moderate Khatami expressed respect for the U.S. people in a recent television interview. He said he wanted to have dialogue with the people of America, but he later changed his tone to express a tougher line against the United States following internal criticism.

Nateq-Nouri also strongly criticised the U.S.-brokered Arab-Israeli peace negotiations saying they denied Palestinians of their rights.

``We believe that solving the Palestinian crisis cannot be achieved through these negotiations because it is not correct to sit with the Israeli aggressor who occupied the land to ask for a favour from him,'' Nateq-Nouri said.

The Iranian official said he discussed with Syrian leaders the establishment of an Islamic Parliamentary Union as an offshoot of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC).

He said Iran's Housing and Urban Development Minister Ali Abdolalizadeh, who accompanied him during his visit, signed an agreement with Syria's Economy and Foreign Trade Minister Mohammed Imadi to encourage investment between the two countries.

They also signed a memorandum allowing Iranian companies to engage in economic and development projects in Syria, he added.

The Iranian side expressed readiness to build a $100 million cement factory in Syria with a capacity of producing one million tonnes per year, Iranian officials said.

Iran also offered to build 10 silos for cereals with a capacity of 100,000 tonnes each, they said.

Iran and Syria agreed to continue discussion on how Syria would repay debts worth $1 million, which accumulated as a result of oil imports from Iran during the 1980s.

Iran Gives US Wrestlers Entry Visas
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran has granted American wrestlers visas for an international meet in Tehran next month, allowing U.S. athletes to compete in the country for the first time in almost two decades, a sports official said today.

Coaches, officials of the U.S. wrestling federation and journalists traveling with the team also were given permission to enter Iran, Mohammad Reza Talqani, the vice president of the Iranian wrestling federation, told The Associated Press.

Last month, the U.S. wrestling federation announced that five U.S. wrestlers would compete in the Feb. 19-21 Takhti Cup.

It will mark the first visit by U.S. athletes since the 1979 Iranian revolution overthrew the U.S.-backed regime. Washington severed ties after Muslim militants loyal to the revolutionary government stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

The U.S. team, led by 1993 world champion Melvin Douglas and 1992 Olympic gold medalist Kevin Jackson, is tentatively scheduled to tour Iran Feb. 14-22. But U.S. wrestling officials have given no date for the team's arrival in Tehran, Talqani said.

Relations long have been tense between Iran and the United States, which accuses the Islamic government of supporting international terrorism, seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and opposing the Middle East peace process. Iran denies the charges.

There have been signs of an easing of tensions in recent months.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, a relatively moderate cleric who took office in August, has said he would welcome cultural exchanges between the two countries.

The State Department has been reviewing
Reuters-The State Department has been reviewing billion deal entered into by Malaysia's Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas), France's Total SA (TOTF.PA) and Russia's Gazprom (GAZPq.L) in an Iranian gas field violates U.S. law that seeks to punish firms that invest more than $20 million in Iran or Libya.

The State Department said on Tuesday that it had not yet decided whether to impose sanctions on the firms.

Earlier on Wednesday, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said it would be ``completely unacceptable'' if the United States imposed sanctions over the Iran gas deal.

``I think it would be very unfortunate if the United States pursue that sort of policy. I think it is completely unacceptable because to my mind it is something not consistent with their (U.S.) policy,'' said Anwar, who is also finance minister.

Iran Parliament Opposes Military Strike on Iraq
By Issam Hamza
DAMASCUS, (Reuters) - Iran's parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri on Tuesday voiced opposition to a military strike against Iraq and called for a political solution to Baghdad's problems with the United Nations.

Speaking to reporters on arrival in Damascus at the head of a high-ranking delegation, he said he would discuss the Iraq crisis and other issues with President Hafez al-Assad.

``As you know, Iran and Syria cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening in Iraq,'' Nateq-Nouri said.

``We believe that a military attack against Iraq would not be reasonable or logical. We will condemn this attack if it happens,'' he added.

The Iranian official said the United States, leading an international campaign to rally support for a possible strike against Iraq due to its row with the United Nations over arms inspections, should seek a political solution.

``We believe political dialogue and implementation of U.N. resolutions is the best way to solve the Iraq issue ... we think the military strike is not the correct way,'' Nateq-Nouri said.

Syria backed Iran in its 1980-1988 war with Iraq but it has strongly opposed launching a military attack against Baghdad, saying this would complicate the situation in the region.

Iran and Syria, who share borders with Iraq, also expressed sympathy to the people of Iraq who are suffering as a result of U.N. economic sanctions imposed because of Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Officials said that Nateq-Nouri would discuss with Syria's parliament speaker Abdel-Qadir Qadourah the possibility of establishing an Islamic parliament with the aim of promoting ties among countries of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Iran currently heads the OIC.

Officials said the talks would also cover economic and commercial cooperation.

Officials accompanying Nateq-Nouri said they would meet Syrian Economy and Foreign Trade Minister Mohammed Imadi for talks on how Damascus would repay about $1 billion owed to Iran since the 1980s.

Economic sources said the debt mounted as a result of Syria's imports of Iranian oil during the Iraq-Iran war and before Syria began to export oil after it achieved self-sufficiency in the early 1990s.

Syria produces around 600,000 barrels of oil per day and exports about 320,000 to the world market.

U.S. Still Reviewing Companies' Gas Deal with Iran
By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department has not yet made a decision on whether to impose sanctions against France's Total SA and two other foreign energy companies for entering into a multibillion-dollar natural gas deal with Iran, spokesman James Foley said on Tuesday.

``At this point, no decisions have been made although the imposition of sanctions remains a real possibility,'' Foley told reporters at a daily news briefing.

He said a news report on Monday that said the State Department has already decided to levy sanctions against the three companies is ``absolutely untrue.''

Since last autumn, the State Department has been reviewing whether a $2 billion deal entered into by Total, Russia's Gazprom and Malaysia's Petronas to develop a major Iranian gas field violates U.S. law.

Foley said the State Department was still looking at the facts in the case as well as the implications of imposing sanctions under a U.S. law that seeks to punish companies that invest more $20 million in Iran or Libya.

``So we're still in the fact-finding and assessment stage,'' he said.

He would not say when U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would make a decision on the issue.

``We've been in this assessment mode for a number of months, and I can't put an exact time on it when that process is going to end. But it won't be in the distant future, I can tell you that,'' Foley said.

If the deal is found to fall under the purview of the law, Albright can impose sanctions immediately, waive sanctions for reasons of national security, or enter into consultations with the relevant foreign government to resolve the issue.

If she chooses sanctions, she must impose at least two of a menu of six sanctions that affect the U.S. operations of the sanctioned company, including barring U.S. banks from dealing in a significant way with it and withholding some licenses and and other business.

If she chooses to consult with the foreign government, the Secretary of State has an initial 90-day period for talks and, if she decides that the government shows signs of taking action, a further 90 days for resolving the issue.

Foley said speculating about what kind of sanctions Albright might impose was not relevant ``unless and until the Secretary has made her determination on the sanctionability itself.''

``The Secretary takes her responsibilities very seriously. She will make a decision on these issues as called for under the law, and you can be sure of that,'' he said.

Iran Denies Sending Message to US President
TEHRAN -XINHUA - Iran on Monday denied a report in the Los Angeles Times newspaper that President Mohammad Khatami has sent a message to U.S. President Bill Clinton through the Palestinian National Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mahmoud Mohammadi said this was yet another U.S. attempt to make up that a change has appeared in Iran's position toward the U.S.

Giving an example of the U.S. endeavor to achieve that goal, Mohammadi said U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson also said Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi had received his greetings at the world economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.

There is no room for any negotiations or improvement of relations with Washington unless the U.S. gives up its unrealistic policies towards Iran, he added.

Relations between Iran and the U.S. have entered a subtle stage after the two presidents expressed expectation for more exchanges.

In December and January, Khatami formally called for cultural dialogue between the two peoples in order to make a "crack on the wall of mistrust" between the two countries, although he stressed "no need to have ties with the U.S. administration."

In response, Clinton said on Thursday that he expected more exchanges between the American and Iranian peoples and a good relationship with Iran again in the near future.

Many analysts said the two countries have embarked on some sort of secret contacts for a future rapprochement, though both claimed to pursue a "wait and see" policy toward each other.

Iran Denies Reports on Policy Changes towards U.S.
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - Iran on Monday denied reports suggesting there were changes in its policy towards the United States and said it would not hold talks with Washington.

``As long as America's unrealistic policies towards...Iran continue, there is no room for talks or an improvement in relations with America,'' state-run Tehran radio quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Mahmoud Mohammadi as saying.

``The Foreign Ministry spokesman strongly denied a report by the American newspaper Los Angeles Times about President (Mohammad) Khatami sending a message to (U.S. President Bill) Clinton through (Palestinian President Yasser) Arafat,'' the radio said.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Khatami had told Arafat he was prepared to accept whatever Arafat did in the Middle East peace process, even though the Iranians did not believe it would work.

Arafat communicated that message to Clinton during talks in Washington last week, the newspaper said.

``The Americans, who have been questioned by America's public opinion and their allies over their illogical policies towards Iran, use every occasion to make it appear as if there has been a change in Iran's stand on relations with America,'' Mohammadi said.

``It is only in this context that one can comment on this (newspaper) report and the news spread by the American United Nations ambassador (Bill Richardson) about the Iranian foreign minister (Kamal Kharrazi) reciprocating his expression of respect during a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos,'' Mohammadi said.

Richardson said on Sunday he and Kharrazi had shaken hands at the closed session. ``You may think that's a very minor step, but in diplomacy that says a lot,'' he told a panel discussion in Davos, Switzerland.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, a relative moderate, has sparked widespread speculation about an imminent thaw in relations with Washington by calling for people-to-people exchanges between the two mutually hostile countries.

But Iranian officials and media have said there could be no improvements in ties until Washington dropped its hostile attitude towards Tehran.

Washington broke diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980, months after militants seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took Americans hostage. Fifty-two hostages were held for 444 days.

Washington has imposed sanctions on Tehran, which it accuses of backing terrorism and seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charges and says the United States is bent on destroying its Islamic government.

U.S. and Iranian officials shake hands in Davos
DAVOS, Switzerland, (Reuters) - Washington's U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson said on Sunday he had detected a small sign of the thaw in the long troubled U.S. relations with Iran -- in a rare handshake.

Richardson said his handshake with Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi occurred during a closed session at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.

``Something happened here in Davos that probably only at Davos could happen,'' he told a panel discussion.

``The Iranian foreign minister at one of the very closed panels was in my session, my study group, and he walked towards me and either one of us could have moved over or pretended we weren't there, but we both shook hands.

``You may think that's a very minor step, but in diplomacy that says a lot. Now I'm not trying to say anything more than it was just two men shaking hands representing two countries with vast differences. We are ready with Iran to talk about improving government to government ties.''

There have been signs of a new stance between the United States and Iran since moderate Mohammad Khatami became Iranian president in a surprise election victory last May.

Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic relations since Islamic militants held 52 Americans hostage in Tehran during the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the American-backed shah.

Round-the-world balloon heads towards Iran
By Robert Evans
GENEVA, (Reuters) - Three European balloonists aiming to become the first to circle the globe non-stop flew over the Turkish capital Ankara on Sunday and headed towards Iran on the fifth day of their voyage.

Mission control for the voyage of the Breitling Orbiter-2, which lifted off from the Swiss Alps early on Wednesday, said the trio were clipping eastwards at some 50 kilometres (30 miles) an hour and hoped to be above Tehran by midday Monday.

With a leaky hatch repaired on Saturday after British engineer Andy Elson climbed outside, the crew was able to pressurise the cabin slung under the vast balloon and then fly much higher to catch an air stream blowing from Scandinavia.

Controllers operating from a hangar at Geneva airport said the Orbiter could now fly at altitudes of between 9,000 and 14,000 metres (five to eight miles), far higher than during the agonisingly slow first days of the journey.

After crossing above Greece, the Swiss-Belgian-British trio were given a boost on their 25,000 kms (15,000 mile) journey when they joined another jet stream of winds which flows across North Africa towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But from there they would have to fly south since they have received no permission from Beijing to enter Chinese airspace.

This is likely to add at least two days to the journey, originally expected to take 14 days if all went well.

If they cross Asia successfully, they will head out over the Pacific towards the western seaboard of the United States and onward towards the Atlantic, heading for an eventual touchdown somewhere in North Africa.

Apart from Elson, the team inside the six-tonne orange and blue cabin are mission leader Bertrand Piccard, a Swiss psychiatrist from a famous family of explorers, and Belgian pilot Wim Verstraeten.

The mission is the latest of a total of 14 attempts to fly round the world non-stop in a hot-air balloon -- a feat never achieved.

Piccard and Verstraeten had to ditch in the Mediterranean after only six hours aloft last year. U.S. stockbroker Steve Fossett reached southern Russia from Omaha earlier this month after getting as far as India in 1996.

Two other Americans had to parachute to the ground shortly after lift-off from New Mexico two weeks ago when their balloon started leaking helium.

British businessman Richard Branson, who also had to come down after only a few hours last year, is preparing for a new launch from Marrakesh in Morocco. But aides said the earliest he could take off now was Tuesday.

Mission control said that for Saturday's repair operation, the balloon had to come down to some 1,300 metres (4,000 feet) where the outside temperature was above the freezing mark.

Elson, an enthusiast for mountaineering and other high-risk sports, attached ropes to the outside frame of the cabin -- which has no hand-holds -- and lowered himself down, breathing for part of the time through an oxygen mask.

Flight controllers said he was also equipped with a parachute for extra security.

Iranian vice president submits resignation, reason unknown
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) President Mohammad Khatami's second-in-command has submitted his resignation, but the reason is not known, the Tehran Times reported Sunday.

The English-language newspaper quoted an unidentified source as saying First Vice President Hassan Habibi gave his resignation to Khatami about two weeks ago.

The source denied there were differences between the two, both considered moderates, and said Khatami had not yet decided whether to accept the resignation.

Khatami has several vice presidents, but Habibi, who helped draft the Iranian constitution after the 1979 Islamic revolution, has the title "first vice president" and is second-in-command.

Habibi, 61, was appointed a vice president in August 1989 by Khatami's predecessor, Hashemi Rafsanjani. Khatami retained him after taking office in August.

U.S. open to any Iran shift on Mideast -Albright
JERUSALEM, (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on Sunday Washington would be ``open'' to suggestions that Iran may be shifting away from hostility to the Middle East peace process.

The United States has long accused Tehran of undermining U.S. mediation efforts between Israel and Arabs and insisted this is one of three major areas in which there must be change before relations between the two countries can be restored.

``We are following very closely, obviously, whatever statements they are making because as you know one of the three major problems that we have with Iran is that we have felt that they had not been helpful with the Middle East peace process,'' Albright told a news conference in Jerusalem.

``Clearly what we are witnessing is a discussion of ideas in the Iranian government. As we've all said it is intriguing -- some of it is encouraging -- but again I think we're going to have to watch this closely and be what we are hearing,'' she said.

An Israeli newspaper on Sunday quoted Iranian Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar as saying she supported a dialogue between Iranians and Israelis.

The Yedioth Ahronoth daily said its correspondent spoke to Ebtekar at the economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, in ``the first interview by an Iranian political figure with an Israeli newspaper'' since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

The Iranian news agency IRNA said Ebtekar denied she had spoken to ``the Zionist daily,'' calling the interview a fabrication.

``We support a dialogue between Iranians and Israelis but it's early to talk about a political dialogue between Iran and Israel,'' the newspaper quoted Ebtekar as saying.

The reported remark appeared to depart from Iranian policy which maintains that Israel has no right to exist.

Ebtekar, Iran's first woman vice-president, was also quoted as saying some officials were rethinking Tehran's policy on the 1993 Israel-PLO peace deal negotiated in Oslo.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Iran's new moderate president, Mohammed Khatami, told Palestinian President Yasser Arafat that he was prepared to accept whatever Arafat did in the peace process even though the Iranians did not believe it was going to work.

Arafat communicated that message from Khatami to President Bill Clinton during talks in Washington last week, the newspaper reported. Albright neither confirmed nor denied the Arafat message.

The messages are part a new dynamic between the United States and Iran which has been evolving slowly since Khatami gained office after his surprise election victory last May.

Washington broke diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980, when Moslem militants were holding 52 Americans hostage after seizing the U.S. embassy in Tehran following the 1979 revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah. The hostages were released in January 1981 after 444 days in captivity.

In Paris three days ago, Albright told a news conference: ``We have real differences with some Iranian policies but they are not insurmountable.''

The comments echoed a holiday message President Clinton sent to Moslems around the world in a broadcast carried on Voice of America.

But the fact that Albright chose to emphasise those two sentences underscored a message Washington is keen to send to Tehran in response to private and public messages sent by Tehran to Washington.

The comments constitute a remarkable change in attitude toward Iran, which in the past the United States had branded an outlaw state, accusing it of pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, sponsoring state terrorism and undermining the Middle East peace process.

Tehran denied seeking nuclear weapons or supporting terrorism, and said it opposed the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace process because it saw it as a sell-out of Moslem and Arab rights.


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