Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Bush says Iran will not get nukes -DAWN - Top Stories; 27 September, 2004

Bush says Iran will not get nukes -DAWN - Top Stories; 27 September, 2004: "Bush says Iran will not get nukes

CRAWFORD, Sept 26: US President George W. Bush says "all options are on the table" for making sure Iran dismantles its nuclear programme, and that Washington will never let Tehran acquire atomic weapons.

"My hope is that we can solve this diplomatically," Bush said in a three-part interview with Fox News Channel's "O'Reilly Factor" programme, excerpts of which were made public on Sunday.

"Let me try to solve it diplomatically first," said Mr Bush. "All options are on the table, of course, in any situation. But diplomacy is the first option." The Bush administration has charged that Iran does not need a civilian nuclear programme for energy and that Tehran is actually seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

Asked whether the United States would let Iran develop that capability, Mr Bush replied: "No, we've made it clear, our position is that they won't have a nuclear weapon."

"We are working our hearts out so that they don't develop a nuclear weapon, and the best way to do so is to continue to keep international pressure on them," the president said.

IRAN'S STAND: Iran called on Sunday for a negotiated settlement to its stand off with the UN atomic energy watchdog but showed no inclination to abide by a resolution calling for an immediate halt to its sensitive nuclear activities.

"No negotiations with the Americans are on the agenda, but we call on the Europeans to discuss with us," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters."

IranMania News: Iran spares no efforts to release diplomat in Iraq

IranMania News: "Iran spares no efforts to release diplomat in Iraq

Monday, September 27, 2004 - ©2004 IranMania.com
LONDON, Sep 27 (IranMania) - Iran said Sunday it had exhausted all diplomatic efforts for the release of diplomat Fereidoun Jahani who was kidnapped in Iraq in August, Iran's Official News Agency (IRNA) reported.

"We have taken many measures for the release of Mr. Jahani and used all our diplomatic capacities," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said.

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi discussed the matter with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshiyar Zebari in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations' annual meeting, he said.

Jahani was abducted by a group calling itself Islamic Army in Iraq on August 4 on the way to Karbala from Baghdad, where he was to assume his consular post.

Iraq's new ambassador to Iran, Mohammad Majid al-Sheikh, expressed recently his concern over the continued capture of Jahani, saying `the Iraqi Foreign Ministry is following up the issue`.

The group, said to have slain Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni, had threatened to punish Jahani within 48 hours after his arrest if Iran did not release 500 prisoners it alleges were captured in the two countries war of 1980 and 1988.

Al-Sheikh also regretted the martyrdom of Labib Mohammadi, an employee of the Baghdad office of Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, who is said to have been assassinated near Karbala. Iran has demanded that `the Iraqi interim government work seriously to identify and punish those behind` the assassination.

Earlier this month, the Foreign Ministry summoned Iraqi charge d'affaires Khalil Salman al-Sabihi to 'strongly protest this terrorist action'. Kharrazi regretted the 'martyrdom' of Mohammadi as well as assassination in April of the Iranian embassy`s first secretary in Baghdad, Khalil Naimi.

The Minister expressed concern over the disappearance of the Iranians in Iraq and called on the Iraqi authorities to resolve the matter as soon as possible. Four Iranian businessmen working to improve trade ties with Iraq have been arrested by US troops who reportedly handed them over to the Iraqi police.

Officials have said that Iran holds the interim Iraqi government responsible for the safety of its nationals. Last month, the Iraqi police freed IRNA reporter in Baghdad Mostafa Darban, whom they had arrested along three other IRNA journalists on August 9."

France sees Iran’s capability for L-90 project IranMania News

IranMania News: "France sees Iran’s capability for L-90 project

Monday, September 27, 2004 - ©2004 IranMania.com

Related Pictures





LONDON, Sep 27 (IranMania) - Iranian companies are capable of producing all required spare parts for L-90 domestically, manger of L-90 manufacturing project in Tehran told Fars News Agency.

Asked about the volume of production, Pierre Edward stated that, as the initial phase, in excess of 50% of the cars would be manufactured in Iran.

Pointing to high capabilities of Iranian producers and low costs of spare part production in Iran, Edward added that it would not be so far for Iran to get the full project. Meanwhile, he said that Arab countries and East European states are considered as L-90’s chief target markets. “While Arabs have different tastes for cars, L-90 will be offered to foreign workers there.”

Renault experts had thoroughly studied any aspects to design a car that suits everyone’s taste in Iran, he implied. “We have also compared our product with other cars in Iran to achieve best possible results,” Edward uttered.

The contract between the French company and two giant Iranian carmakers, Iran Khodro and SAIPA, defines a primary production capacity of 300,000 cars, which is expected to be almost doubled by 2010."

CNN - 'Man Without a Gun' - Giandomenico Picco and President Rafsanjani

CNN - 'Man Without a Gun' - July 23, 1999: "Working for peace, against all odds
'Man Without a Gun'
By Giandomenico Picco

"Man Without a Gun" is the true story of a single UN diplomat's astonishing high-wire struggle for peace in the Middle East. In more than two decades, Giandomenico Picco negotiated an end to wars in Afghanistan and between Iran and Iraq with the force of his decency and the strength of the UN. But little could prepare Picco for the danger he would face in resolving the Lebanon hostage crisis.

Excerpt
Washington, Damascus, Teheran
Spring 1992

It was my third visit to the White House in as many months, and the omens were not good. In January and March, I had gone to Washington to see Brent Scowcroft, the retired air force general serving as George Bush's national security adviser and a man with a well-earned reputation as a strategic thinker. My mission was at once simple and delicate. For years, I had been telling the Iranian authorities in Teheran that the American president would reciprocate in some way, would reach out to the Islamic Republic, if they used their influence in Lebanon to win the freedom of the American hostages. Bush had used the words "Goodwill begets goodwill" in his inaugural address of January 20, 1989, and he had meant it as a signal to those who might help in Beirut. It was directed, I reminded the Iranians early and often, at them. Now it was nearly four months since Terry Anderson, the last of the American hostages in Beirut, had been freed, and the Iranians were growing restless. It was time for Washington to deliver its part of the implied quid pro quo.

Scowcroft had intimated at our first two meetings that the United States might have some difficulty living up to its "promise" of three years earlier. Even so, I held out hope that the administration would give me something I could take to the Iranians. Perhaps I was in denial: the idea that a word given would not be kept was unacceptable to me, since my credibility had been essential to the success of my work. Indeed, it had saved my life more than once. I did not even hint to Teheran that I was facing problems securing reciprocity from Washington. In retrospect, maybe I should have because Scowcroft made it official in April: the timing was not propitious; there would be no gesture toward Iran anytime soon. Was it the upcoming presidential election? Perhaps. After all, could the incumbent risk looking soft on a country that still tarred America as "the Great Satan"? Could he appear to pay off a government that had essentially taken over the U.S. Embassy in Teheran in 1979? Whatever the reasons, a three-year operation in Beirut built on a foundation of trust had suddenly turned to sand. Unwittingly -- naively, as it turned out -- I had misled an entire government.

I made one more run at Scowcroft. Iran, I learned, had approached a European company for spare parts that did not fall under the NATO embargo on trade with Teheran. Nevertheless, no NATO country would authorize such a sale without a green light from Washington. So I tried to dope out another way, something that might get us out of the bind. What if the United States simply ignored the sale? The ambassador from the European country involved could call on Scowcroft to raise the issue. Given that the spare parts were not on the blacklist, the White House would neither sanction nor reject the proposal. In other words, the ambassador would receive no official comment. White House officials could then properly say, if asked, that they had never given formal consent even as the sale went through. The Europeans, in effect, would act as the conduit for the goodwill gesture to Iran. I, in turn, would suggest to Iran that the White House had allowed that to happen, making good on George Bush's words of January 20, 1989.

Good play, unresponsive audience: Scowcroft rejected the proposal. There would be no deal. That left me with a broken promise, two German hostages still in Beirut, no clue to the fate of the missing Israeli pilot Ron Arad, and, painfully, my credibility -- the most important thing, which had enabled me to spring nine Western hostages and ninety-one Lebanese prisoners -- in tatters. Time had run out. My failure to deliver the American side of the deal with the Iranians essentially rendered me a liar, and I had to face up to the fact if I were to have any chance to reclaim my integrity, one more trip would be required. I could hardly expect the United Nations' new secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to understand or to pop for a ticket to Teheran. But this was personal now: going to Teheran was exactly what I had to do. I had to look into the eyes of President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and acknowledge my inadvertent deception. Nothing less would do, not if I wanted to salvage what I could of my professional and personal credibility. Without it, I knew, I was a nonentity.

My chance came quickly. In late spring, I was in Damascus working on the release of the last two German hostages in Lebanon. I made arrangements with the Iranians to fly to Teheran on one of the many flights linking it to the Syrian capital. The two countries were close politically: Damascus was then a tourist destination for families of Iranians who had been killed in the war against Iraq, as well as a city for political pilgrims. Buses would take tourists from the Syrian capital to the border of the occupied Golan Heights to gaze down upon the enemy: Israel.

In Teheran, I met with Javad Zarif, the Iranian diplomat I had worked with for years. He knew that I had asked to see the president to deliver an important message. He also knew that I had been to the White House and was expecting information about the goodwill gesture. At about 4 p.m., Zarif took me to see Rafsanjani. We met in his private office, more spartan than the official office where I had met with him and UN Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar in years past. It was our first meeting since all the American hostages had returned home from Lebanon.

There were few pleasantries. I looked straight into the president's eyes, which is considered somewhat impolite in Eastern cultures, and said in English that I had come to Teheran with news of broken promises. I explained that although the hostage operation had been based on the assumption that a goodwill gesture from America would be offered, I had been informed by Washington that no reciprocity would be forthcoming.

At first, Zarif declined to translate the bad news. When he hesitated, I told him to put my words into Farsi. "You want me to say this?" Zarif couldn't quite believe it. "Do you understand what you are saying?" "Yes," I said, "I want you to tell the president of Iran that I lied to him, although unknowingly. The principle is more important to me than the consequences." Rafsanjani followed our exchange, bemused and curious, since he did not speak or understand English. Finally, he seemed almost embarrassed by the obvious tension between his two guests.

Eventually I said, "If you don't translate, I'll sit on the floor." It had just popped into my mind, something that would make the point to Zarif and increase his uneasiness. Zarif finally agreed, and I repeated my message sentence by sentence so that he would translate word for word and would not summarize.

Rafsanjani looked at me, then paused, giving himself time to collect his thoughts before responding. I had no idea what would come next, but the difficult part for me was over. I had spoken the truth.

"My government has had always good relations with you," he began. "We have known you for a long time. We have assisted you in Lebanon out of respect for the United Nations secretary-general. We have taken many political risks in our cooperation with you. Not everybody was in favor of such cooperation. Nevertheless, we went ahead. Since we engaged in this effort we have listened carefully to what you told us, including all the various assurances. You understand, Mr. Picco, that you are putting me in a very difficult position. In fact, it may be a very difficult position for both of us."

I understood him loud and clear. Rafsanjani was Iran's most pragmatic political leader, and he must have played a valuable chip convincing those in Teheran who opposed him that helping in Beirut would pay off in an American goodwill gesture. Now he had just been told the bet was worthless.

"The first thing I could do here is to decide never to let you leave Teheran," Rafsanjani said. The potential menace was clear. "I came to do what I had to do," I told him. "To me, my job is done. I understand that you will have to do yours."

I waited for the translation and kept looking at his face for any reaction or any hint of what would happen next. I thought about Evin prison, the infamous place where the shah's secret police had tortured its opponents and where the Islamic Revolution had incarcerated many others. Yet I had no regrets. I actually felt relieved because I did not have to make any more decisions. It was now up to others or to the Almighty. It was almost ironic that, having played a part in putting an end to the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, having survived the scrutiny of the Islamic Jihad in Beirut, having spent more hours with a hood over my head than I care to remember, I could now end up in a Teheran prison.

The translation complete, Rafsanjani was ready. "I am sad to hear that this is the reason you came," he said, Zarif translating the Farsi into English. "The relationship we have had goes back for years. I think it is best if you leave Teheran very, very quickly. The news of what you have told me will travel fast to other quarters, and they may decide not to let you go."

It was time for the last retreat. Rafsanjani and I shook hands very politely, neither of us smiling. Leaving his private office, I heard no noise and no voices. I cannot say if that was because there were none or simply because I was in a different dimension, numb to the immediate reality. "You are mad to come here and say these things," Zarif scolded on the way out. He was very worried about the domestic consequences for Iran's president. My troubles might be over, but Rafsanjani's and those of other Iranian officials who had spent political capital to help free the Beirut hostages were just beginning.

As we were going to the airport, I reflected on the city that had been so central to my professional life for so long. Between 1982 and 1992, I had been to Iran more often than I had been to Italy, my home country. My activities in Afghanistan had an Iranian connection, my work in Iraq was part of the war with Iran, and my last operation for the United Nations, securing the release of the Western hostages from Beirut, had been done together with Iran. There is no doubt in my mind that I survived the dangers of Beirut because of Teheran's cooperation and assistance.

In the end it had come to this. I was angry then, not at Scowcroft, a true professional and the greatest strategist I have ever met, and not at President Bush, whose political predicament I understood and whose Middle East policy had been on many occasions quite courageous, wise, and good for America. Further, I was fully aware I had created new problems in Iran for President Rafsanjani. What made me mad was the fact that the foreign policy of any country can fall victim to domestic politics, that other lives in Lebanon might hang in the balance, and that I could do very little about it. My only consolation -- and it wasn't much -- was that I had taken for granted early on that governments could change positions and leave us out in the cold. That was why the hostage deal had been made principally on a quid pro quo that had depended only on myself and the UN secretary-general. It was probably the reason why I was still alive and free and most of the Western hostages had gone home.

I would continue my work for another month, helping to free two German hostages held in Beirut and finishing up some odds and ends at UN headquarters in New York. But as Zarif and I headed for the airport, I could hear the sound of a door closing. My life at the United Nations, my time as one of Pérez de Cuéllar's unarmed commandos, was over."

Opinion - Chris Floyd's Global Eye - The St. Petersburg Times. General news from St.Petersburg and Russia

Opinion - Chris Floyd's Global Eye - The St. Petersburg Times. General news from St.Petersburg and Russia: "Chris Floyd's Global Eye
By Chris Floyd

The Deceivers
How many times must the truth be told before it conquers the lies? Again and again, the brutal realities behind the rape of Iraq - that it was planned years ago, that the aggressors knew full well that their justifications for war were false and that their invasion would lead to chaos, ruin and unbridled terror - have been exposed by the very words and documents of the invaders themselves. Yet the reign of the lie goes on, rolling toward its final entrenchment in November.

Mid-month, as hundreds of Iraqi civilians were being slaughtered by insurgents and invaders, as more pipelines exploded, more hostages were seized, more families sank into poverty and filth, the cynical machinations of the oh-so-Christian Coalition of Bush and Blair were revealed yet again.

This time it was a tranche of leaked documents from March 2002, a full year before the war: reports to Tony Blair from his top advisers plainly stating that the intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was unsubstantiated, that there was no connection between Saddam and al-Qaida, that there was no legal justification for invading the country, and that any such invasion would lead to years of chaotic occupation, The Daily Telegraph (an arch-conservative, pro-war paper) reports.

Even more remarkably, Blair was told that the likely end result of the invasion would be the rise of yet another Saddam-like tyrant, who would then try to acquire the very weapons of mass destruction that the Coalition attack was ostensibly designed to destroy. In fact, Blair was told, with Iraq hedged in by a powerful Iran to the east and a nuclear-armed Israel to the west, any Iraqi leader, even a democratic one, will eventually seek WMD to defend the country.

All of this echoed similar warnings given to George W. Bush by the State Department, the CIA, top military brass - even his own father. Most of these alarms were reported - obscurely at times - in the press before the invasion. The Coalition's maniacal drive to war without evidence or provocation was later confirmed - again, often obliquely - by Congressional probes, the 9/11 commission, the Hutton report, the Butler report, Bush's official WMD investigators and a raft of revelations by top insiders on both sides of the Atlantic, such as Robin Cook, Richard Clarke, Bob Graham, John O'Neill and others.

The public record, available to anyone who wants the truth, is undeniable: The war was waged on false pretenses - and the war leaders knew it.

They knew it would bring unimaginable death and suffering to multitudes of innocent people in Iraq - and to thousands of their own soldiers and civilians as well. They knew it would lead to more terrorism, more chaos, more insecurity in the world. Yet they plunged ahead anyway, deliberately deceiving their own people with a poison cloud of lies, exaggeration and bluster. Why? Because for the warmongers, the game was worth the candle: The loot, the power, the "dominance" to be won was an irresistible temptation.

The Telegraph expose centered on papers prepared for Blair's March 2002 summit with the true ruler of the United States: Dick Cheney. As often noted here, Cheney was a key figure in the corporate/militarist faction Project for the New American Century, along with Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and other bloodthirsty elites.

In September 2000 - before Bush was installed as the faction's White House frontman - PNAC issued the final version of a plan, years in the making, to ensure American geopolitical and economic "dominance" through military control of key oil regions and strategic pipeline routes, either directly or via client states. This would be accompanied by a "revolutionary" transformation of American society into a more warlike state: a transformation that PNAC said could only be accomplished if the American people were "galvanized" by "a catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor."

The conquest of Iraq was a vital cog in this long-range plan, and the depredations of the Baath Regime - the worst of which occurred with the full support of PNAC's top players during the Reagan-Bush years - had nothing to do with it.

The Cheney-Rumsfeld group put it plainly in 2000: The need to establish a military presence in Iraq "transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." Likewise, 9/11 and "the new threats in a changed world" - evoked so often as a justification by the warmongers - were equally irrelevant to an invasion planned years before the CIA's ex-ally, Osama bin Laden, obligingly provided that longed-for "new Pearl Harbor."

What's more, the warmakers knew that Saddam's WMD arsenal and weapons development programs had been dismantled at his order in 1991.

This was confirmed in 1995 by crateloads of documentary evidence supplied by top defector Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son-in-law and WMD chieftain - as Time magazine reported years ago.

It was confirmed again by UN inspectors, who independently verified the elimination of 95 percent of Iraq's WMD arsenal - before they were summarily pulled out of the country ahead of a U.S.-British punitive strike in 1998.

Bush, Blair, Cheney and the rest knew all of this when they made the decision to launch what the Nuremberg Tribunal called "the supreme international crime" - aggressive war. Now they are openly planning a new blitzkrieg to crush all resistance to their profit-seeking conquest: an assault - conveniently set after Bush's re-installation as frontman - which they know will churn through countless innocent bodies like a meat grinder.

When they stand before the world to justify the coming outrage, remember this, and hold to it: everything they say about their war is a lie. And it has been from the beginning."

Iran entitled to access to nuclear technology: Rafsanjani

Description of Selected News: "Iran entitled to access to nuclear technology: Rafsanjani

Tehran Times Political Desk
TEHRAN (MNA) -- In response to the remarks of U.S. President George W. Bush, who claimed that Iran does not need nuclear energy given its plentiful reserves of oil, Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said on Tuesday that Iran is certainly entitled to have access to nuclear technology.

Speaking during a visit to the Mamlu Dam Project currently under construction in the Parchin area of Tehran Province near Pakdasht, he noted that even the United States had plenty of oil when it launched its nuclear power activities.

"Meanwhile, nowadays many countries make use of nuclear energy," he added.

He dismissed the remarks made by U.S. officials during the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting in which they claimed that Iran was conducting nuclear activities in the Parchin area, calling the statements nonsense. He also rejected the U.S. claim that rocket tests had been conducted in the area during the Iraqi-imposed war, saying, "Such tests could not have been conducted in the vicinity of the residential areas of Pakdasht, Varamin, and Tehran. These claims are baseless and sound odd to experts."

Rafsanjani lamented the slow progress of the dam project and said that he expected it to be completed in four to five years."

Reuters AlertNet - Iran's hardline lawmakers want withdrawal from NPT

Reuters AlertNet - Iran's hardline lawmakers want withdrawal from NPT: "Iran's hardline lawmakers want withdrawal from NPT
28 Sep 2004 15:44:58 GMT

Source: Reuters
By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Iran's hardline lawmakers could try to force President Mohammad Khatami's government to follow North Korea's example and quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the official IRNA news agency said on Tuesday.

Leading conservative parliamentarian Hassan Kamran has prepared a bill for submission to parliament that would force the government to set a November deadline for the U.N. nuclear watchdog to take Iran off the agency's agenda, IRNA said.

"The bill obliges the government to pull out of the NPT if the International Atomic Energy Agency does not meet the deadline," IRNA quoted Kamran as saying.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has threatened it will take tough action against Iran at its November meeting if it defies the agency's call to stop uranium enrichment.

The United States accuses Iran of running a secret nuclear weapons programme and has forced the IAEA to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible economic sanctions.

Iran insists its network of nuclear facilities are geared to produce atomic power, not bombs. Iran's Foreign Minister said Iran did not intend to pull out of the NPT: "No that is not our policy," said Kamal Kharazzi when questioned on CNN on Tuesday. "We are sticking to NPT".

The bill by Kamran, a member of parliament's Foreign Affairs and National Security commission, will be submitted to parliament if it is backed by 15 out of 290 lawmakers.

Kamran said he was seeking special triple-urgency status for the bill. If accepted by two-thirds of lawmakers, parliament would have to discuss it immediately. It would then go to the hardline Guardian Council, a watchdog body, before becoming law.

Some sections of Iran's clerical establishment have called for the country to withdraw from the NPT in return to the IAEA's "hostile stance". But the government has assured the world that it had no intention to end its co-operation with the IAEA.

Kamran said the government would be obliged to end its "voluntarily undertakings" to the IAEA as well if the bill passed into law.

International pressure forced Tehran last year to agree to snap checks of its nuclear sites and to halt the enrichment of uranium, a process that can be used to develop nuclear weapons.

Reformist lawmakers said they were against the bill. "We believe in more co-operation with the IAEA," Nureddin Pirmoazen told Reuters. He added: "But we are in minority in parliament". "

:: Xinhuanet - English: Iranian official refutes Bush's statement on nuclear issue

:: Xinhuanet - English ::: "Iranian official refutes Bush's statement on nuclear issue


TEHRAN, Sept. 28 (Xinhuanet) -- Iranian Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Tuesday rejected a recent statement by US President George W. Bush over Iran's nuclear file, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"Iran is certainly entitled to have access to nuclear technology," said Rafsanjani, referring to Bush's remarks that Iran does not need nuclear energy given its plenty of oil reserves.

"A lot of countries in the world make use of nuclear energy today," Rafsanjani said, adding "even the United States had plenty of oil when it launched its nuclear activity."
The United States, accusing Iran of secretly developing atomic weapons for years, has been consistently trying to prompt a referral of Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions on the Islamic republic.

Tehran denies the US accusation, insisting that its right to get access to peaceful nuclear technology be natural.

Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) adopted a resolution on Iran's nuclear program, urging the country to suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities and fully cooperate with inspectors to clear up related issues."

IHT: Globalist: Iran sees wide cracks in U.S.-Europe relations

IHT: Globalist: Iran sees wide cracks in U.S.-Europe relations: "Globalist: Iran sees wide cracks in U.S.-Europe relations
Roger Cohen NYT Tuesday, September 28, 2004
NEW YORK A reasonable case can be made that the country most critical to the geo-strategic fortunes of the United States these days is one with which it has no diplomatic or significant commercial relations: Iran.
.
The mullahs in Tehran are in a position to be helpful in neighboring Iraq or foment chaos through their Shiite surrogates. To the east, they are well placed to assist another major American undertaking, the democratization and pacification of Afghanistan, or they can undermine the process through support of regional warlords.
.
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran's underwriting of Hezbollah and training of Palestinian militants constitute major factors in the conflict; any shift in Iranian policy would have a significant impact. At home, Iran holds several Al Qaeda suspects of an importance that has not been clarified but who would certainly be of interest to the Untied States.
.
Not least, we now know that while Iraq's nuclear program had become the empty fantasy of a deluded tyrant busy writing trashy novels by the time the United States invaded last year, Iran's nuclear ambitions are substantial and real. If weapons of mass destruction were the true target, America's aim was off by several hundred miles.
.
A pattern of concealment and incriminating clues - a trace of highly enriched uranium here, a spot of work on a heavy-water reactor there - have now convinced most Western democracies that Iran seeks and is within two or three years of nuclear bomb production, despite official insistence that Iran's sole interest is nuclear power for its energy needs.
.
Iran knows that all of the above gives it real leverage over the United States. In Iraq alone, its role could be decisive; it has already shown a readiness to be alternately conciliatory and confrontational. The country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also knows that America is stretched militarily. Taking on a second member of the "axis of evil," so named by President George W. Bush in 2002, would be a step too far.
.
At the same time, however, Iran does not wish to become an international pariah. The revolutionary fervor of a quarter-century ago has given way to greater realism. Commercial interests have prompted a push, resisted by the United States, to join the World Trade Organization. A majority of Iranians favor some form of engagement with America, and popular support for the hard-liners in the government is limited. All of this gives Washington some leverage over Iran. But although the two countries need each other, and have occasionally flirted in recent years, they remain mired in the oceans of bad blood between them, estranged and implacably hostile. Meanwhile, all of the indications are that Iran is pressing forward with its ambition to become a nuclear power, a status coveted by the mullahs as a guarantee of security and a potential source, as in Pakistan, of immense national pride.
.
"The United States, Europe and the Russians desperately need to get together to agree on a strategy that stops Iran by changing its calculation of benefits and risks," said Robert Einhorn, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation. "The Europeans have been soft, the Bush administration distracted, and the result is the Iranians see themselves in a strong position."
.
This month, the International Atomic Energy Agency gave Iran until Nov. 25 to halt all of its enrichment-related programs and meet other demands for clarification of the country's nuclear ambitions.
.
That was the lowest common denominator of agreement between the Europeans and the United States - and it was pretty low. Iran, in a deal brokered by the British, French and German foreign ministers, had already agreed a year ago to suspend its uranium-enrichment program, only to prevaricate, procrastinate, fudge and fiddle.
.
The Bush administration wants to refer Iran's past concealment and current evasions to the United Nations Security Council, a referral it hopes would lead to sanctions. The Europeans are wary of a confrontational approach, not least because they believe Iran, a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, could argue that it has the right under that treaty to enrich uranium for use in nuclear power plants - and that that is all it has set about doing.
.
All of this is enough to make any Atlanticist despair of ever seeing the Europeans and Americans get their act together these days over a major threat. Here we go again. The Europeans feel that John Bolton, the U.S. under secretary of state for nonproliferation, spends his time dismissing them as naïve stooges of the Iranians.
.
The Americans feel that the Europeans have gone hopelessly soft, with the biggest stick the old continent's wimps can muster now represented by the postponement of a carrot. Iran sees these cracks as wide as canyons and zips ahead with the assembly of centrifuges and the production of the uranium gas used to make enriched uranium.
.
In this gathering mess, four things seem clear. First, any effective policy toward Iran will require European-American cohesion. Second, whatever America's misgivings over Iran - going all the way back to the 1979 seizure of hostages and Hezbollah's 1983 attack on U.S. marines in Lebanon - the sheer extent of American interests hinging on some degree of cooperation with Tehran now appears to demand the opening of a dialogue, however limited. Third, an Iranian bomb would constitute an unacceptable threat to world peace, because of the links to terrorists that Iran maintains and because the region would be rapidly destabilized, with Saudi Arabia and Egypt scrambling to keep up. Fourth, America's ambitions to remake the Middle East, spreading democracy, are unlikely to go far so long as the 70 million citizens of Iran and their government sit on the sidelines of this enterprise.
.
"We are determined that they are not going to achieve a nuclear weapons capability," Bolton said of Iran this month. What was not clear was how. Bombast will go nowhere these days. America has moved into Iran's neighborhood. Nobody knows that neighborhood better or can pull more strings in it than the mullahs.
.
E-mail: rcohen@iht.comTomorrow: Alan Riding explores pride and prejudice among artists and critics.



See more of the world that matters - click here for home delivery of the International Herald Tribune.
< < Back to Start of Article NEW YORK A reasonable case can be made that the country most critical to the geo-strategic fortunes of the United States these days is one with which it has no diplomatic or significant commercial relations: Iran.
.
The mullahs in Tehran are in a position to be helpful in neighboring Iraq or foment chaos through their Shiite surrogates. To the east, they are well placed to assist another major American undertaking, the democratization and pacification of Afghanistan, or they can undermine the process through support of regional warlords.
.
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran's underwriting of Hezbollah and training of Palestinian militants constitute major factors in the conflict; any shift in Iranian policy would have a significant impact. At home, Iran holds several Al Qaeda suspects of an importance that has not been clarified but who would certainly be of interest to the Untied States.
.
Not least, we now know that while Iraq's nuclear program had become the empty fantasy of a deluded tyrant busy writing trashy novels by the time the United States invaded last year, Iran's nuclear ambitions are substantial and real. If weapons of mass destruction were the true target, America's aim was off by several hundred miles.
.
A pattern of concealment and incriminating clues - a trace of highly enriched uranium here, a spot of work on a heavy-water reactor there - have now convinced most Western democracies that Iran seeks and is within two or three years of nuclear bomb production, despite official insistence that Iran's sole interest is nuclear power for its energy needs.
.
Iran knows that all of the above gives it real leverage over the United States. In Iraq alone, its role could be decisive; it has already shown a readiness to be alternately conciliatory and confrontational. The country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also knows that America is stretched militarily. Taking on a second member of the "axis of evil," so named by President George W. Bush in 2002, would be a step too far.
.
At the same time, however, Iran does not wish to become an international pariah. The revolutionary fervor of a quarter-century ago has given way to greater realism. Commercial interests have prompted a push, resisted by the United States, to join the World Trade Organization. A majority of Iranians favor some form of engagement with America, and popular support for the hard-liners in the government is limited. All of this gives Washington some leverage over Iran. But although the two countries need each other, and have occasionally flirted in recent years, they remain mired in the oceans of bad blood between them, estranged and implacably hostile. Meanwhile, all of the indications are that Iran is pressing forward with its ambition to become a nuclear power, a status coveted by the mullahs as a guarantee of security and a potential source, as in Pakistan, of immense national pride.
.
"The United States, Europe and the Russians desperately need to get together to agree on a strategy that stops Iran by changing its calculation of benefits and risks," said Robert Einhorn, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation. "The Europeans have been soft, the Bush administration distracted, and the result is the Iranians see themselves in a strong position."
.
This month, the International Atomic Energy Agency gave Iran until Nov. 25 to halt all of its enrichment-related programs and meet other demands for clarification of the country's nuclear ambitions.
.
That was the lowest common denominator of agreement between the Europeans and the United States - and it was pretty low. Iran, in a deal brokered by the British, French and German foreign ministers, had already agreed a year ago to suspend its uranium-enrichment program, only to prevaricate, procrastinate, fudge and fiddle.
.
The Bush administration wants to refer Iran's past concealment and current evasions to the United Nations Security Council, a referral it hopes would lead to sanctions. The Europeans are wary of a confrontational approach, not least because they believe Iran, a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, could argue that it has the right under that treaty to enrich uranium for use in nuclear power plants - and that that is all it has set about doing.
.
All of this is enough to make any Atlanticist despair of ever seeing the Europeans and Americans get their act together these days over a major threat. Here we go again. The Europeans feel that John Bolton, the U.S. under secretary of state for nonproliferation, spends his time dismissing them as naïve stooges of the Iranians.
.
The Americans feel that the Europeans have gone hopelessly soft, with the biggest stick the old continent's wimps can muster now represented by the postponement of a carrot. Iran sees these cracks as wide as canyons and zips ahead with the assembly of centrifuges and the production of the uranium gas used to make enriched uranium.
.
In this gathering mess, four things seem clear. First, any effective policy toward Iran will require European-American cohesion. Second, whatever America's misgivings over Iran - going all the way back to the 1979 seizure of hostages and Hezbollah's 1983 attack on U.S. marines in Lebanon - the sheer extent of American interests hinging on some degree of cooperation with Tehran now appears to demand the opening of a dialogue, however limited. Third, an Iranian bomb would constitute an unacceptable threat to world peace, because of the links to terrorists that Iran maintains and because the region would be rapidly destabilized, with Saudi Arabia and Egypt scrambling to keep up. Fourth, America's ambitions to remake the Middle East, spreading democracy, are unlikely to go far so long as the 70 million citizens of Iran and their government sit on the sidelines of this enterprise.
.
"We are determined that they are not going to achieve a nuclear weapons capability," Bolton said of Iran this month. What was not clear was how. Bombast will go nowhere these days. America has moved into Iran's neighborhood. Nobody knows that neighborhood better or can pull more strings in it than the mullahs.
.
E-mail: rcohen@iht.comTomorrow: Alan Riding explores pride and prejudice among artists and critics. NEW YORK A reasonable case can be made that the country most critical to the geo-strategic fortunes of the United States these days is one with which it has no diplomatic or significant commercial relations: Iran.
.
The mullahs in Tehran are in a position to be helpful in neighboring Iraq or foment chaos through their Shiite surrogates. To the east, they are well placed to assist another major American undertaking, the democratization and pacification of Afghanistan, or they can undermine the process through support of regional warlords.
.
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran's underwriting of Hezbollah and training of Palestinian militants constitute major factors in the conflict; any shift in Iranian policy would have a significant impact. At home, Iran holds several Al Qaeda suspects of an importance that has not been clarified but who would certainly be of interest to the Untied States.
.
Not least, we now know that while Iraq's nuclear program had become the empty fantasy of a deluded tyrant busy writing trashy novels by the time the United States invaded last year, Iran's nuclear ambitions are substantial and real. If weapons of mass destruction were the true target, America's aim was off by several hundred miles.
.
A pattern of concealment and incriminating clues - a trace of highly enriched uranium here, a spot of work on a heavy-water reactor there - have now convinced most Western democracies that Iran seeks and is within two or three years of nuclear bomb production, despite official insistence that Iran's sole interest is nuclear power for its energy needs.
.
Iran knows that all of the above gives it real leverage over the United States. In Iraq alone, its role could be decisive; it has already shown a readiness to be alternately conciliatory and confrontational. The country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also knows that America is stretched militarily. Taking on a second member of the "axis of evil," so named by President George W. Bush in 2002, would be a step too far.
.
At the same time, however, Iran does not wish to become an international pariah. The revolutionary fervor of a quarter-century ago has given way to greater realism. Commercial interests have prompted a push, resisted by the United States, to join the World Trade Organization. A majority of Iranians favor some form of engagement with America, and popular support for the hard-liners in the government is limited. All of this gives Washington some leverage over Iran. But although the two countries need each other, and have occasionally flirted in recent years, they remain mired in the oceans of bad blood between them, estranged and implacably hostile. Meanwhile, all of the indications are that Iran is pressing forward with its ambition to become a nuclear power, a status coveted by the mullahs as a guarantee of security and a potential source, as in Pakistan, of immense national pride.
.
"The United States, Europe and the Russians desperately need to get together to agree on a strategy that stops Iran by changing its calculation of benefits and risks," said Robert Einhorn, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation. "The Europeans have been soft, the Bush administration distracted, and the result is the Iranians see themselves in a strong position."
.
This month, the International Atomic Energy Agency gave Iran until Nov. 25 to halt all of its enrichment-related programs and meet other demands for clarification of the country's nuclear ambitions.
.
That was the lowest common denominator of agreement between the Europeans and the United States - and it was pretty low. Iran, in a deal brokered by the British, French and German foreign ministers, had already agreed a year ago to suspend its uranium-enrichment program, only to prevaricate, procrastinate, fudge and fiddle.
.
The Bush administration wants to refer Iran's past concealment and current evasions to the United Nations Security Council, a referral it hopes would lead to sanctions. The Europeans are wary of a confrontational approach, not least because they believe Iran, a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, could argue that it has the right under that treaty to enrich uranium for use in nuclear power plants - and that that is all it has set about doing.
.
All of this is enough to make any Atlanticist despair of ever seeing the Europeans and Americans get their act together these days over a major threat. Here we go again. The Europeans feel that John Bolton, the U.S. under secretary of state for nonproliferation, spends his time dismissing them as naïve stooges of the Iranians.
.
The Americans feel that the Europeans have gone hopelessly soft, with the biggest stick the old continent's wimps can muster now represented by the postponement of a carrot. Iran sees these cracks as wide as canyons and zips ahead with the assembly of centrifuges and the production of the uranium gas used to make enriched uranium.
.
In this gathering mess, four things seem clear. First, any effective policy toward Iran will require European-American cohesion. Second, whatever America's misgivings over Iran - going all the way back to the 1979 seizure of hostages and Hezbollah's 1983 attack on U.S. marines in Lebanon - the sheer extent of American interests hinging on some degree of cooperation with Tehran now appears to demand the opening of a dialogue, however limited. Third, an Iranian bomb would constitute an unacceptable threat to world peace, because of the links to terrorists that Iran maintains and because the region would be rapidly destabilized, with Saudi Arabia and Egypt scrambling to keep up. Fourth, America's ambitions to remake the Middle East, spreading democracy, are unlikely to go far so long as the 70 million citizens of Iran and their government sit on the sidelines of this enterprise.
.
"We are determined that they are not going to achieve a nuclear weapons capability," Bolton said of Iran this month. What was not clear was how. Bombast will go nowhere these days. America has moved into Iran's neighborhood. Nobody knows that neighborhood better or can pull more strings in it than the mullahs.
.
E-mail: rcohen@iht.comTomorrow: Alan Riding explores pride and prejudice among artists and critics. NEW YORK A reasonable case can be made that the country most critical to the geo-strategic fortunes of the United States these days is one with which it has no diplomatic or significant commercial relations: Iran.
.
The mullahs in Tehran are in a position to be helpful in neighboring Iraq or foment chaos through their Shiite surrogates. To the east, they are well placed to assist another major American undertaking, the democratization and pacification of Afghanistan, or they can undermine the process through support of regional warlords.
.
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran's underwriting of Hezbollah and training of Palestinian militants constitute major factors in the conflict; any shift in Iranian policy would have a significant impact. At home, Iran holds several Al Qaeda suspects of an importance that has not been clarified but who would certainly be of interest to the Untied States.
.
Not least, we now know that while Iraq's nuclear program had become the empty fantasy of a deluded tyrant busy writing trashy novels by the time the United States invaded last year, Iran's nuclear ambitions are substantial and real. If weapons of mass destruction were the true target, America's aim was off by several hundred miles.
.
A pattern of concealment and incriminating clues - a trace of highly enriched uranium here, a spot of work on a heavy-water reactor there - have now convinced most Western democracies that Iran seeks and is within two or three years of nuclear bomb production, despite official insistence that Iran's sole interest is nuclear power for its energy needs."

Reuters.com: No Sign of Nuke Work at Suspect Iran Site-Diplomats

International News Article | Reuters.com: "No Sign of Nuke Work at Suspect Iran Site-Diplomats
Tue Sep 28, 2004 08:11 AM ET

VIENNA (Reuters) - The analysis of soil samples taken by U.N. inspectors at Lavizan, a site in Tehran that U.S. officials suspect may be linked to an atomic weapons program, shows no sign of nuclear activity, Western diplomats said.
Satellite photos of Lavizan taken between August 2003 and May 2004 showed that Iran had completely razed Lavizan, a site which Iran said was a former military research laboratory, but which it said had nothing to do with atomic-related activities.

"The environmental samples taken at Lavizan have come back negative so far," a Vienna-based diplomat who follows the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told Reuters. Negative means the samples contained no traces of nuclear materials.

Washington accused Iran of removing a substantial amount of topsoil and rubble from the site and replacing it with a new layer of soil, in what U.S. officials said might have been an attempt to cover clandestine nuclear activity at Lavizan.

Former U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Kenneth Brill, accused Iran in June of using "the wrecking ball and bulldozer" to sanitize Lavizan prior to the arrival of U.N. inspectors.

But another diplomat close to the IAEA told Reuters that on-site inspections of Lavizan produced no proof that any soil had been removed at all.

The United States accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program, a charge Tehran has repeatedly denied.

The IAEA has been inspecting Iran's nuclear program for two years. Although it has uncovered many previously concealed activities that could be linked to weapons activity, it has found no "smoking gun" to prove Washington's case."

The Gadflyer: Paralyzed Over Iran

The Gadflyer: Paralyzed Over Iran: "Paralyzed Over Iran
The Bush Administration doesn't know what to do about that other four-lettered country in the Middle East
by Matthew Yglesias, Guest Contributor
9.28.04

Demonstrating its typical - and lamentable - preference for scandal over substance, the media have been filled of late with accusation of spying against Larry Franklin and other Pentagon officials and counter-charges of anti-Semitism mounted by their neoconservative friends outside of government.

As Laura Rozen and her colleagues have documented, the story is certainly an important one - if classified information is being mishandled, the FBI should get to the bottom of it. The notion that the entire inquiry is motivated by some sort of bias is, moreover, absurd. Franklin is not Jewish, and the only Jewish members of the Bush Administration being targeted are those who just so happen to be above Franklin in the chain of command while those working elsewhere remain above suspicion.

Lost in the fog, however, is the opportunity to start shedding some light on the long underreported story of the Administration's paralyzing internal divisions over Iran policy and the danger these divisions pose to American security.

Iraq problems strengthen Iranian position

Those divisions are longstanding, going back at least to the spring of 2001 when the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) was soon set to expire. Reflecting the inordinate influence of oil companies who stood to benefit financially from a relaxation of sanctions as well as the generally realist inclinations of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, the Bush administration was inclined to let the law lapse.

Israel's friends in the Congress, however, felt otherwise and soon began organizing support for a bill to extend ILSA, thus strengthening the hand of the minority faction of Iran hawks -- centered, as ever, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Vice President -- inside the administration. Faced with the prospect of expending political capital on an issue that would leave him vulnerable to charges of being soft on terrorism (back then when the Iraq War was just a twinkle in Paul Wolfowitz's eye, Iran, not Iraq, was considered to be the primary state sponsor of terrorism), the president flip-flopped, signaled support for ILSA extension, and it passed overwhelmingly in both houses.

Then came 9/11, the period of neoconservative ascendancy within the Administration, and the Iraq War, which the Iran hawks hoped would revolutionize Iran policy. The details here were always hazy (just as it turned out that the details on what, exactly, to do after Iraq was invaded were), but the thought was that toppling Saddam Hussein would either inspire Iranians to overthrow their government, intimidate Iran into substantial policy shifts, or possibly even pave the way for a quick march to Teheran.

Things didn't work out that way.

While the United States became increasingly bogged down in Iraq, the Iranian position was strengthened as anti-American sentiment rose throughout the region and it became increasingly unclear that military action would be taken. The Iranian nuclear program has proceeded apace - or even been accelerated - while the neocons fell from favor and Rice returned to her realist roots. She brought Robert Blackwill, her former boss in the first Bush administration's National Security Council, onto her staff and charged him with wresting control of Iraq policy away from the Pentagon. At this Blackwill, who favors engagement with Iran, has been successful. Paul Bremer was wooed away from the neocons, dropped his support for Ahmed Chalabi, and the American Enterprise Institute and other neocon strongholds are now seething with discontent about the outcome of their venture.

The result has been to stick America with an Iran policy - unilateral sanctions, no diplomatic relations, and no real push for regime change - that no one really favors and is becoming increasingly untenable. With American troops fighting counterinsurgency campaigns in two countries - Afghanistan and Iraq - that share borders with Iran, a total absence of diplomatic relations is unworkable. Iran, like the United States, has a deep interest in the future of both countries, an interest that cannot simply be ignored. To succeed in either place we must either talk to Iran, work out a common policy, and cooperate on implementing it - or, if failing altogether to deal with the current regime, do something to put a new one in its place. A policy of ineffective hostility merely guarantees continued Iranian interference with U.S. policy and continued instability in both countries.

Interagency squabbles

And then there's the small matter of Iran's nuclear program. Here, we have two options: either talk and make concessions, or else threaten and use force. The current paralysis leaves us doing neither, shunting the issue onto the shoulders of European diplomats who don't have the ability to do either.

The contours of both debates are similar and, indeed, resemble the contours of the original debate within the administration about Iraq. Hawks in the civilian leadership of the Defense Department allied with Dick Cheney and Undersecretary of State John Bolton find themselves pitted against Colin Powell and Richard Armitage at the State Department along with the bulk of the professionals in the Intelligence Community. This time around Powell and Armitage are assisted by Blackwill at the NSC, and the hawks' credibility has fallen far enough that they have not been able to carry the day. And yet they've not been weakened enough for the engagers to win, either. Instead, American policy is simply paralyzed - neither the President, nor Rice, whose job is supposed to be helping him resolve interagency disputes of this sort, quite seem capable of making up their minds.

For the Administration's detractors it's amusing to watch the once hyper-confident Vulcans twisting in the wind like this, but the situation is extremely dangerous. North Korea posed a similar challenge in late 2002 and early 2003 and the Administration found itself similarly divided between hawks and doves and led by a president incapable of resolving the dispute. There, as Fred Kaplan wrote the in Washington Monthly, Bush "neither threatened war nor pursued diplomacy" until the DPRK's nuclear program had advanced so far as to take military options off the table, at which point he decided it was time to start talking. The trouble is that diplomacy only works if it's undertaken before military options have become infeasible. Now if we do manage to get a deal (which appears increasingly unlikely), it will be far less favorable than what could have been achieved had we been willing to talk seriously in the first place.

Bush's learning curve

One would think that the president would have learned something from this experience and acted decisive to resolve interagency debates about Iran. Instead, things have even gotten worse. It appears that Franklin leaked a policy memo on Iran to the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) less out of a desire to help Israel than in the belief that AIPAC could use its influence on the White House political shop to help him circumvent the policy process. The engagers, meanwhile, have been leaking information about the investigation into the handling of classified information in an apparent effort to throw the hawks into sufficient discredit to win the day. Accordingly, if Bush ever does come up with an Iran policy it won't be the result of considering his options on the merits. Instead of a policy debate we'll watch a race between FBI counterintelligence officials and AIPAC congressional lobbyists to silence the other side. Alternatively, as in North Korea, the debate may ultimately be resolved by simply dithering until it's too late to take effective action either way.

Fortunately, the situation could be resolved easily enough if we had a president who didn't disdain nuance, detail, policy, and book-learning. A president like that could ask the various players to write up their arguments, read what both sides have to say, ask some more questions, read a few more memos, make up his mind, and then tell everyone they either need to get with the program or leave his administration.

Unfortunately, we don't have a president like that. Instead we have a president who's a captive of his advisors rather than their boss. A president who, when his subordinates disagree, remains paralyzed while they fight it out amongst themselves. And their fights are getting nastier, dragging foreign intelligence services and the U.S. law enforcement apparatus into the mix. It's no way to run a railroad, and we may all pay a high price for it.

Matthew Yglesias is a staff writer at the American Prospect."

Bizarre exile sparks opposition gathering in Iran

IranMania News: "Bizarre exile sparks opposition gathering in Iran

Tuesday, September 28, 2004 - ©2004 IranMania.com LONDON, Sep 28 (IranMania) - A US-based exile with a bizarre scheme to overthrow Iran's Islamic regime has managed to draw out a few hundred half-hearted protestors onto the streets of the capital, causing a slight but insignificant blip in what remains an apathetic mood, Agence France Press (AFP) reported.

On Sunday, police in the capital broke up a gathering of several hundred protestors outside Tehran university calling for increased freedoms, in what was the first sign of domestic opposition to the regime in months.

According to witnesses, the protest was small and somewhat half-hearted, with people clapping, shouting "congratulations" to each other for actually gathering in the first place and handing out sweets or flowers.

It was eventually broken up by a small number of police.

"A limited number of people gathered illegally and police acted legally in dispersing them," government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh told reporters Monday.

"In any case, the events were of no importance to us," he added, reminding "all people who want to have political activites in Iran to act within the framework of the regulations."

The last pro-freedom rally held in Tehran was in October 2003, marking the return to Iran of Shirin Ebadi after it was announced the human rights activist had won the Nobel Peace Prize -- a gathering of several thousand that Sunday's protest did not come close to matching.

Nor did the demonstration match the anti-regime protests of June and July 2003, which marked the anniversary of a wave of violent student-led rallies in

Sunday's gathering was also different because participants appeared to be answering a call made over the opposition-run Rangharangh satellite television channel by a mysterious US-based Iranian exile, Ahura Pirouz Khaleghi Yazdi.

In recent months, Khaleghi has been declaring he intends to return to Iran on October 1 with some 50 chartered passenger planes packed with his supporters, and his scheme -- while in all appearances totally absurd -- has become a hot topic of conversation here.

Satellite television is banned in the Islamic republic but the restrictions are flouted by millions of home owners.

According to the mystic aviation enthusiast -- who left Iran at the age of seven some 40 years ago -- the regime will collapse on the very same day all by itself.

The personality also operates a bizarre Internet site (www.ahura.info), featuring a "freedom" countdown timer, "Regime Change in Iran", in his events calendar and an invitation to "all Iranians to go with him to remove the Terrorist Regime using Good Words, Good Thoughts and Good Deeds and to launch a Free, Open and Democratic referendum" (sic).

The date of October 1 has not been chosen by accident. It corresponds to the Mehregan festival of Zoroastrianism, Iran's ancient religion. According to mythology, Kaveh the blacksmith defeated the bloodthirsty tyrant Zahak.

The mystic's real name is the more Muslim-sounding Fatollah, but his chosen name of Ahura Pirouz means victory of the Zoroastrian God.

And mixing Islam and Zoroastrianism -- as Iranians often do -- the date of his scheduled return also coincides with the birthday of the 12th Shiite imam, Mehdi, who, the faithful believe, will one day return to earth.

It may all sound hairbrained, but clearly a number of people have been caught up in the excitement.

"He gives us back some hope," said one Iranian in his mid-50s.

But the more general reaction is one of laughter.

"It's pathetic," said another resident of the capital who works as a hospital doctor. "Everyone talks about him and his ridiculous scheme."

Khaleghi also has his critics in the Iranian opposition -- mostly pro-monarchist -- that is exiled in the United States. Some view him as having been sent by the regime itself to discredit its critics."