Sunday, October 03, 2004

Iran removes barriers to large-scale privatisations

Iran removes barriers to large-scale privatisations: "Iran removes barriers to large-scale privatisations
TEHRAN, Oct 3 (AFP) - Iran's most powerful legislative body has decided to remove constitutional barriers to large-scale privatisations in an effort to shake up the lumbering state-dominated economy, press reports said Sunday.

The Expediency Council, the Islamic republic's final arbiter of legislation, ruled that the reformist government could go ahead with privatising sectors of the economy protected by two articles in the constitution.

"In order to bring about economic development and prevent further losses to the national economy, the government is authorised to cede large industries and those mentioned in Articles 43 and 44 of the constitution to the cooperative and private sectors," the Expediency Council said.

The concerned sectors that had been protected by the post-1979 constitution are banking, transport, downstream oil and gas production, insurance, telecommunications and shipping.

Article 43 of the Iranian constitution, put together after the 1979 Islamic revolution, stipulates "economic independence", the "prevention of foreign domination over the economy" and "the provision of basic necessities to all citizens".

Article 44 refers to the sectors to remain under state control. It also includes radio and television, which was not referred to in the Expediency Council's ruling.

The decision by the council, which is headed by former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatic conservative, gives a rare boost to the liberalising agenda of reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

The privatisation drive is enshrined in Iran's fourth five-year economic plan (2005-2010), which has met stiff opposition in parliament since hardliners took control of the legislature in May.

The five-year economic plan had been approved by deputies in the previous parliament, but was blocked by the Guardians Council -- a body that vets all legislation -- on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

The dispute left the decision in the hands of the Expediency Council, whose decision is considered as final.

The council called on the speaker of parliament, Gholam Ali Hadad-Adel, to now forward the five-year plan to the government so it can be put into practice.

But exact details of the planned privatisations have yet to be worked out, meaning more conservative resistance could be encountered.

Deputies have already voiced opposition to foreign banks opening branches here, as well as moves to allow foreign oil companies to directly tap oil fields they have discovered.

Furthermore, parliament has passed a bill giving itself veto power over an airport and telecommunication contracts signed with Turkish companies, forcing Khatami to postpone a visit to Ankara.

The government has set itself an objective of selling six billion dollars of state assets before March 2005, and this month wants to sell off 570 million dollars of assets in heavy industry."

Minister Shariatmadari arrives in Khazakhstan

IranMania News: "Iranian Minister arrives in Khazakhstan

Sunday, October 03, 2004 - ©2004 LONDON, Oct 3 (IranMania) - Iranian Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari arrived in this former capital of the Republic of Khazakhstan on Sunday for a three-day visit, Iran's State News Agency (IRNA) reported.

The Iranian minister flew into Khazakhstan from Kyrgyzstan where he was earlier part of a visiting delegation headed by First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Aref.

Shariatmadari is due to leave Almaty later in the day for Khazakhstan`s capital, Astana, to hold talks with senior Kazakh officials.

In Astana, the Iranian minister will meet with Khazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetiv, Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev, Industry and Trade Minister Adelbek Dzhaksybekov, Minister of Transportation and Communications Kazhmurat Nagmanov and the mayor of Astana.

He will return to Almaty on Monday evening to attend a joint meeting of Iranian and Khazakh trade officials and businessmen. The two sides are to discuss Tehran-Astana relations in the economic and trade fields. According to the Iranian embassy in Khazakhstan, Tehran-Astana trade exchanges stood at dlr 500 million in 2003."

:: Xinhuanet - English :: Iran hints at participation in conference on Iraq

:: Xinhuanet - English ::: "Iran hints at participation in conference on Iraq 2004-10-03 00:04:37
TEHRAN, Oct. 3 (Xinhuanet) -- Iran hinted on Sunday that it might participate in an international conference on Iraq to be held in Cairo next month, saying it welcomed any effort to restore peace in the war-torn country, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"The Islamic Republic welcomes any initiative to establish stability in Iraq, but details of Iran's participation in this conference will be announced later," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi was quoted as saying.

"As Iraq's neighbor, we are attentive to the country. All talk sare about preserving Iraq's territorial integrity as well as establishing security and a broad-based government," Asefi said.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Sept. 26 that aconference on Iraq would be held in November, saying foreign ministers from major Western countries and several Middle Eastern countries would attend the meeting.

Egypt announced Saturday that it would host the conference during the last week of November."

Iran's Parliament Impeaches Transport Minister

Iran's Parliament Impeaches Transport Minister: "Iran's Parliament Impeaches Transport Minister
VOA News

Iran's conservative-dominated parliament has impeached the country's transport minister, accusing him of corruption and mismanagement.
Ahmad Khorram was stripped of his post in President Mohammed Khatami's reformist government Sunday by a vote of 188 to 58.

Two-hundred and fifty-eight members of the 290-member parliament participated in the vote. There were 9 abstentions.

In debates broadcast live on state media, lawmakers accused Mr. Khorram of failing to improve rail and road safety records. They also criticized him for awarding an airport operating contract to a foreign consortium.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters."

Iran welcomes greater German investments in Iran

Iran welcomes greater German investments in Iran: "Iran welcomes greater German investments in Iran
Tehran, Oct 2, IRNA -- Iran's Deputy Economic and Finance Minister Mohammad Safaei-Farahani and his German counterpart Alfred Tacke stressed here Saturday investments by German companies in Iran.
The Economy Finance Ministry's Public Relations Department reported that Farahani referred to the strong industrial and trade ties between Tehran and Berlin.

He added the region has many economic potentials ready to be tapped into. Crisis in Iraq and Afghanistan should be resolved and the prospects for regional economic development is strong in the future, he added.

He specifically touted the increasing need for electricity in the region. Iran needs to produce 20,000 megawatts of electricity in the next decade Safaei-Farahani said adding "Turkey's needs will go beyond the figure."

He said Germany has an opportunity to make investments in electricity sector and Iran as the country with the second gas reserves in the world is a good candidate for investments in the sector.

Electricity powerplants are under-construction throughout the country for generating 10,000 megawatts of electricity, "in which German firms are participating in around 50 percent."

On investments in other sectors, he added Iran is building 16 cement production plants which when completed will double the cement production in the country. Iran needs German investments to complete these projects, Safaei-Farahani added.

He stressed on holding the Iran-Germany Joint Economic Commission in 2005. "We should tackle ways to separate our bilateral economic cooperation from the political aspects of the overall ties," he underlined.

Tacke referred to the current strong mutual ties between the two nations notably in technical area.

Germany is keen on electricity investments in Iran, Tacke said and referred to "the solid industrial potentials in Iran an other regional states."

He also highlighted the participation of German companies in Bandar Abbas and Kerman aluminum production plants.

He further called for greater participation of German companies in Iran's steel sector.

Iran and Germany will expand cooperation in the housing sector, sespecially in Hashtgerd township, according to an agreement signed here last week.

The agreement, signed by Head of the Housing and Building Research Center Ghassem Heydarinejad, Managing Director of Iran's New Cities' Development Company Seyed Mahmoud Mirian and Chancellor of Berlin University of Technology Dr. Kurt Kutzler, calls for making necessary planning for densely populated cities, optimal construction and infrastructure installations, preparation of flexible construction models tailor-made to culture and building resistant buildings.

In September a German business leader predicted that the German-Iranian trade volume could reach 5 billion euros within three years, pointing to the continued economic boom in bilateral trade ties.

"It's only a question of two or three years until we reach the 5-billion-euro mark, which is a realistic figure," the influential chairman of Germany's Near and Middle East Association (NUMOV), Werner Schoeltzke, told IRNA in an exclusive interview.

He added that after Turkey, Iran could become Germany's second most important trading partner in the Middle East region, surpassing the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

"German-Turkish trade volume stands currently at around 7-8 billion euros. I believe the German-Iranian trade volume could reach this figure within four to five years. Frankly, I don't see any limits with regard to expansion of bilateral economic relations," Schoeltzke said.

The German-Iranian trade volume hovered around 2.2 billion euros last year.

He referred to a "double-digit growth" in the bilateral trade volume, especially in the steel and aluminium industries and in the petrochemical sector."

Interview with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on Iran’s nuclear program

Description of Selected News: "Iran wants to be self-sufficient in producing nuclear fuel: Kharrazi

NEW YORK (Newsweek)— Last week the Newsweek magazine conducted an interview with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on Iran’s nuclear program, the Iraqi crisis and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The text of the interview comes as follows: Q: Is Iran seeking a uranium-enrichment capability solely to fuel nuclear power reactors or also to give your country a nuclear-weapons option?

A: It is solely for producing fuel needed in our power plants. It is not for producing nuclear weapons.

Q: The IAEA does not seem to be persuaded that you are living up to the agreement that you made with the Europeans in the fall of 2003—to stop enriching uranium.

A: We have suspended the enrichment process, but they are asking us to suspend related activities, by which they mean the production of spare parts. For some time, in an agreement with the Europeans, we stopped manufacturing spare parts. But the Europeans were supposed to work actively to close Iran's file at the IAEA. Since they failed to meet their commitments, we did not find ourselves committed to the agreement. Q: What are you doing with uranium hexofluoride gas?

A: That is not part of the agreement. The IAEA claims that we should suspend all activities related to enrichment, and we have not agreed to that. Q: Once Iran has the uranium- enrichment capability, won't that give you the ability to pursue a nuclear-weapons program?

A: We are capable to enrich uranium, and we are capable to manufacture all machinery that is needed (in this process). But this does not mean that we are capable of producing (nuclear) weapons. It is a complicated process we don't intend to undertake. Q: Are you worried that Israel may strike your nuclear facilities?

A: It is a threat, and when there is a threat, you have to take it into consideration and be prepared to react. We are prepared. Q: With the Shahab missile?

A: There are capabilities that we will use. Shahab missiles are well developed and made in Iran, and we are proud of having them. Q: Reportedly, Iran's intelligence services are providing support to Iraqi insurgents who are attacking Coalition forces?

A: That is quite wrong. On the contrary, we have been quite helpful in diffusing the crisis in Iraq — especially in Najaf. Q: What is your assessment of the security situation in Iraq?

A: It is a very dangerous place. Coalition forces are unable to secure Iraq and the government is facing many problems. The people of Iraq are delighted Saddam Hussein is gone, but they are not happy with the presence of foreign troops. That was America's mistake. They thought that if people opposed Saddam Hussein, they would welcome the presence of Americans. So, the ground has to be prepared for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Q: You seem to agree with the Americans that Iraqi elections should take place in January.

A: That's right. It is a very important first step for a solution to the crisis. We need to get a representative government in place. Q: Is Iran ready to join many other countries in advocating a two-state solution for the Israelis and the Palestinians?

A: If the Palestinians decide to have two states, we don't mind, but we are for a one-state solution. Q: Is there any prospect for an Iranian-U.S. dialogue? A: No, I don't see any prospects at this time because the policies of the United States in the Middle East have been so wrong. They have left no room for any rapprochement, especially in the case of Iran. They

[U.S. officials] have interfered in our internal affairs and have talked about a change in regime. Q: Some people here say "anybody but Bush." Do you agree?

A: We are not happy with President Bush. His policies have resulted in hatred of the U.S. in Muslim countries.

Europe should understand the mood in Iran: FM spokesman

Description of Selected News: "Europe should understand the mood in Iran: FM spokesman

Tehran Times Political Desk
TEHRAN (MNA) -- The Europeans should understand the mood in Iran and move in the direction of recognizing Iran’s legitimate right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy through mutual respect and understanding, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi told reporters on Sunday. Asked about the moves by some MPs pushing for a resumption of the uranium enrichment program and the contradiction between this proposal and the Iran-EU dialogue, Asefi said, “This plan is just in the preliminary stages, but if the parliament passes a bill and the Guardian Council approves it, the government must obey the decision.”

In an attempt to prove its goodwill, Iran has voluntarily suspended the enrichment of uranium and signed the additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which allows for snap inspections of its nuclear activities.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors adopted a resolution last month demanding Iran freeze all activities related to uranium enrichment.

Asefi shrugged off efforts to have Tehran's nuclear case sent to the UN Security Council, saying it was confident the next report of the world nuclear watchdog on Tehran's nuclear program next month would be positive.

He said that all major questions about Iran's case have been answered and only a few minor issues remain which are also solvable.

"We believe there is no ambiguity in our file, which is the subject of our dialogue with the (International Atomic Energy) Agency and there remain only one or two minor issues which are solvable," he said. ----------Iran calls proposal to forgo nuclear fuel technology ‘illogical’

Asefi said that it is illogical to ask Tehran to give up its capability to enrich uranium and instead purchase nuclear fuel from Western countries.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has suggested providing Iran with nuclear fuel to generate electricity if Iran agreed to give up its work on the nuclear fuel cycle.

In the first presidential debate with U.S. President George W. Bush, Kerry said the United States should have joined a British-French-German initiative aimed at convincing Iran to agree to stop activities related to the enrichment of uranium.

Asefi said this proposal was only a campaign ploy which should not be taken seriously.

“There is no logic in this proposal. When we ourselves have this technology why should we acquire it from others? They should give it (nuclear fuel) to those who do not possess this technology,” Asefi told reporters.

“One should not put his fate in the hands of others, and we do not need such generosity and help,” he noted.

He went on to say that there would be no guarantee that they would continue providing fuel and would not one day cut off the fuel supply.

Nuclear fuel cycle work for peaceful purposes is permitted according to the provisions of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which Iran is a signatory. -------Iran welcomes any initiative that helps stabilize Iraq

Iran welcomes any initiative that would help stabilize the war-torn Iraq and that it intended to take part in an international conference on Iraq scheduled to take place in Egypt.

"Principally, we feel no problem to take part in the conference but the details on our participation will be announced later," the spokesman added.

“At what level we will take part is something which should be studied," Asefi added.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry announced Saturday it will host the international conference during the last week of November. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the conference should be attended by the G8 group of industrialized nations as well as Iraq's neighbors including Iran and Syria. -------Iran warns Iraq of Israeli agents in Kurdish north

Iran said Sunday that although it wasn’t able to confirm reports that Israeli agents have been operating in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, Iraqi officials should “pay attention”.

“Regarding the presence of Israeli forces in northern Iraq, we have also heard some things,” Asefi said as quoted by Aljazeera net.

“We hope this news is a lie and that Iraqi officials pay attention to the sensitivities of neighboring countries,” he warned, adding the matter was the subject of “protests” by several states on the sidelines of an Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) gathering in Turkey. Although Asefi said “our proof is only based on reports”, he warned that any Israeli presence in northern Iraq “is not something that the Islamic and regional nations would accept, because Israel is an enemy of the region.”

On Saturday, Mustafa Feki, a leading Egyptian MP charged that Israel had taken advantage of the U.S. war on Iraq and the political turmoil in the country, to deploy large numbers of it agents there to spy on Iran and Syria. -------Iran says freed diplomat has no news of kidnapped French journalists

Asefi said that the Iranian diplomat freed by kidnappers in Iraq last week had no information on two French journalists believed to have been taken hostage by the same group.

"Our freed diplomat had no information about the French hostages, although… God willing they will be freed soon," Asefi told reporters.

Iranian diplomat Fereydun Jahani was freed last week after being held for 55 days by a group calling itself the Islamic Army of Iraq.

The same Iraqi group is believed to be holding French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, who went missing along with their Syrian driver on August 20.

A glimmer of hope for U.S.-Iran rift?

A glimmer of hope for U.S.-Iran rift?: "A glimmer of hope for U.S.-Iran rift?
Steven R. Weisman, New York Times
October 3, 2004 IRAN1003

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Bush administration's new openness to having Secretary of State Colin Powell attend a conference along with an envoy from Iran next month is spreading hope among European and Arab officials that such a meeting may reduce tensions in the region.

State Department officials insist that Powell's newly expressed willingness to be in the same room with an Iranian representative at a conference on the future of Iraq does not portend a softening in other U.S. grievances, including the demand that Iran abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program.

"We don't see this as an opening for a new dialogue," said a senior State Department official. "It just shows we will talk to Iran on certain issues like Iraq when it is in our interest to do so."

But administration officials say there has been a debate for months over how to deal with the growing problem of Iran's nuclear program as Britain, France and Germany have sought to engage the Iranians over it to avoid a confrontation with the United States.

While hard-liners around President Bush press for a tough stance, hoping to open a debate about whether to support "regime change" after the U.S. election, some in the State Department are said to be more sympathetic to the idea of diplomatic engagement, as urged by many Arab and European allies.

Except for a brief talk between a U.S. envoy in Baghdad and some visiting Iranian officials earlier this year, the United States has not had diplomatic contact with the Iranian government since May 2003. Talks were cut off then after a series of bombings in Saudi Arabia that were linked to groups based in Iran.

An opening for a new engagement occurred in recent weeks, however. It was initiated by Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, say officials from the United States, Europe and the Arab world.

Allawi has appealed to Iran and Syria, which also has troubled relations with the United States, to do more to stop cross-border help for insurgents in Iraq. While in the United States late last month, Allawi said that this issue could best be dealt with in a conference of Iraq's neighbors in the region, plus other leading countries.

The United States accepted the idea, and State Department officials say they now expect it to occur in late November in Cairo. Although the purpose of the conference is not to achieve an American-Iranian reconciliation, some organizers say they hope it may coax the process along.

'Ratcheting down'

Powell, in an interview last week with Al-Jazeera, said the conference would focus on bringing stability to Iraq. "If the Iranians are in the meeting and wish to talk in a responsible manner about this problem, I will be in the room, too," he said.

An Iraqi official said that Iran's role in supporting insurgents in Iraq was alarming but that the conference could lead to a "ratcheting down" of tensions within Iraq and between the United States and Iran.

One reason European and Arab officials say they are hopeful, despite the fact that there are no signs of willingness by the United States to do more than attend the Cairo conference, is that there have been signs of improvement in U.S. relations with Syria.

Powell, after meeting in New York last month with Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara of Syria, said there had been some positive signs of Syrian willingness to cooperate on a number of fronts, including stopping cross-border infiltration into Iraq and cracking down on terrorist groups based in Syria."