The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 23           July 7, 2003  
U.S. government tightens noose
around Iran, using report
of UN nuclear agency
Student protests in Iran
push for democratic freedoms
(front page)
AP/Wide World Photos
Iranian students protesting arrests of organizers of demonstrations for democratic rights sit in parliament hall in Tehran June 22. Placards read, "We want freedom for those arrested," naming each of the students jailed by the police.

Under heavy pounding from Washington, and with increasing pressure from all the other imperialist powers, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a sharp declaration accusing Iran of going around provisions of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). After three days of deliberations at its Vienna board of governors meeting, which concluded June 19, the United Nations agency also demanded that Iran “promptly and unconditionally” sign an additional protocol permitting UN “inspectors” to carry out stricter surveillance of its nuclear facilities, including surprise visits.

The IAEA decision was issued a day after U.S. president George Bush said that Washington would “not tolerate” an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Leading up to the Vienna meeting, the U.S. government had announced its goal of the IAEA declaring Iran in breach of the NPT, which Tehran has signed. Such a step would mean the issue would automatically be placed on the UN Security Council agenda for consideration of sanctions. Having pushed for what many in the bourgeois media described as unattainable, Washington laid the trap of making it seem that the IAEA rebuke was rather mild. But in fact Washington succeeded in tightening the noose further around Iran. The IAEA said Iran failed more than once to report facilities and activities related to its nuclear program, and demanded wider latitude in access to Iran's nuclear plants and related installations.

Immediately after the meeting, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Kenneth Brill, stated, “I am very satisfied with the outcome today. We have an important message from the board that supports the U.S. position and concern about the Iranian program.” Brill added that his government looks forward to the IAEA’s next report on the issue, scheduled to be released in September. This position was echoed by the editors of the New York Times, Financial Times, and much of the big-business media.

Meanwhile, nearly two weeks after they began, student protests demanding democratic freedoms spread to at least seven other cities beyond Tehran, even though they have subsided to a degree, faced with repression by the government. Demonstrations took place in Tabriz, Zanjan, Shiraz, Yazd, Sabzehvar, Kermanshah, and Isfahan June 20, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) and other press reports. The protests, which began June 10 at Tehran University against proposals by government officials to privatize schools, were initially met by attacks from progovernment goons. Failing to squash them through the use of these thugs, Tehran backed down a bit, arresting some of the vigilantes.

At the same time, the Iranian authorities stepped up arrests of students. In a letter to Mahmoud Shahroudi, head of Iran’s judiciary, member of the Majles (parliament) Ahmad Shirzad protested the arrest of one of his children in the crackdown, ISNA reported. He stated that the arrests were being made on an illegal court order allowing the police to apprehend anyone they found suspicious.

But the students continue to press for democratic freedoms, including the release of those arrested. Their persistence deepened fissures within the Iranian ruling class.  
Debate on the nuclear issue
“Iran has failed to meet its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement with respect to the reporting of nuclear material, the subsequent processing and use of that material and the declaration of facilities where the material was stored and processed,” the IAEA report said. “Although the quantities of nuclear material involved have not been large, and the material would need further processing before being suitable for use as the fissile material component of a nuclear explosive device, the number of failures by Iran to report the material, facilities and activities in question in a timely manner as it is obliged to do…is a matter of concern. While these failures are in the process of being rectified by Iran, the process of verifying the correctness of the Iranian declarations is still ongoing.”

As Washington has kept up this kind of pressure on Tehran, the Iranian government has maintained that its atomic program is designed to help supply the country’s electricity needs, stating it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons.

Iran’s representative at the IAEA, Ali Al Salehi, rejected the call for wider UN inspections, saying, “We have disassociated ourselves from this part of the statement.”

Washington is now calling on the IAEA to speed up its snooping and present new findings within three months. The U.S. rulers are also pressing Tehran to make concessions, through economic sanctions and under the threat that U.S.-defined “contraband cargo” on Iranian ships or planes may be intercepted by the armed forces of the imperialist powers. John Bolton, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told BBC radio June 20, “The president has repeatedly said that all options are on the table, but (military action) is not only not our preference, it is far, far from our minds.” When questioned further on whether Washington still left open the possibility of military action, he said, “It has to be an option.”

The IAEA demand for more intrusive inspections has also been backed up by the “Group of 8,” the European Union and the governments of Russia, Canada, and Australia. At the same time, Russian president Vladimir Putin warned against pressuring Moscow to abandon the $800 million contract it has with Tehran to build a nuclear power plant in the coastal Iranian city of Bushire. Moscow opposes “using the nuclear card in unfair competition on the Iranian market,” he said.

Under this pressure, Tehran indicated quickly after the Vienna meeting that it is prepared to concede. “We will definitely try to cooperate more than before with the IAEA and give them the necessary assurances about Iran’s activities,” the head of Iran’s atomic energy program, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, told a news conference in Tehran June 21. “We have never said we don’t want to sign the additional protocol…. Our view about the protocol is positive.” Earlier Tehran’s position had been that it would sign the additional protocol under the condition that Washington dropped its economic sanctions against Iran and did not hinder other countries from transferring nuclear technology to the country for energy purposes, as stipulated by the NPT.  
Washington’s ‘deputy sheriff’
In addition to pressing its campaign against Iran on the nuclear issue, Washington is pursuing charges that Tehran is “supporting terrorism.” The U.S. rulers are getting backing on this front in their campaign by all the other imperialist powers.

During a European Union summit at the northern resort of Porto Carras in Greece, the EU heads of state approved a statement June 20 backing Washington’s “war on terrorism” around the world, including support for the U.S. government’s use of the “nonproliferation” club against Iran and North Korea. “Clearly, EU leaders are doing their rhetorical best to convince Washington they could play deputy to its role of sheriff in maintaining global security,” an editorial in the June 21 Financial Times of London said.

A draft statement that was to be issued on the second day of this EU summit demanded that north Korea “visibly, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear programs and return to full compliance with international non-proliferation obligations.” It also called on Iran to accept no-notice checks of its nuclear facilities. According to Reuters, the document also stated that Tehran’s “future trade ties with the EU would depend on progress in that area, human rights and cooperation in Middle East peace efforts.”

In that capacity as “deputy sheriff” to Washington, Paris ordered 1,300 French police to raid 40 houses north of the capital June 17 and arrest 150 members of the Mujahedeen Khalq of Iran (MEK), or People’s Mujahedeen. This is an armed group that originated as an anti-shah guerrilla organization in the 1960s, turned against the Iranian regime after the 1979 revolution, and carried out assassinations and sabotage during the Iran-Iraq war. Former U.S. president William Clinton classified the group as “terrorist” in 1997. The current White House has stuck by the designation. Last year, the EU placed the MEK on its own list of “terrorist” groups. The MEK’s center of operations was in Iraq until U.S. forces captured its bases this spring. Paris had allowed the group free reign for almost a quarter century. But not any more.  
Student protests persist
Meanwhile, protests by students and others have continued in Tehran and other cities. Days after the demonstrations broke out, U.S. president Bush and other government officials voiced support for the protesters.

Most reports in the big-business press, however, have not been able to paint the unfolding protests as pro-imperialist. “This is a student movement, not an American movement,” chanted some 500 students outside their dormitories in Tehran in answer to charges that they were tools of Washington, according to the Iranian Student News Agency. A number of reporters also noted that most of the protesting students were angered by Bush’s meddling, and that only a small minority expressed support for U.S. intervention. “We want no shah, we want no supreme leader,” was a popular chant.

In spite of the government’s official disavowal of the proposal to privatize universities, the protests picked up momentum after the first week and began to spread to other cities. As goon attacks on the demonstrators failed to stop the student actions, the government came under increasing criticism and had to backtrack from earlier open support for such practices.

At the same time, Tehran stepped up the arrests of students, reportedly taking in as many as 135 in Tabriz, 50 in Yazd, and 105 in Sabzehvar. Muhammad Yazdi, former head of the country’s judiciary, said at Friday prayers June 20 that the protesters should be punished. “I asked the head of the judiciary and public prosecutors across Iran not to treat these people with compassion as they endangered the country’s security,” he said.

At Tehran University students have organized a public committee in defense of those arrested during the recent demonstrations, reported the Iranian Students News Agency. According to ISNA, the committee has three goals: to follow up and identify students who are arrested; to meet with families of those students and attend to their needs; and to meet and consult with Majles deputies and security officials to help gain their release. Students and families of arrested students have been conducting silent pickets, sometimes with signs, in front of the Majles and some universities. After the meetings they held with parliamentary deputies, including the speaker of the house, the identities of more students arrested were made public and reported in the press.

Iranian papers also reported that Saeed Asgar, one of the ringleaders of extralegal goons, is still under arrest. After the landslide victory of President Mohammed Khatami in 1997, Asgar made an unsuccessful assassination attempt against one of the president’s advisors. He was found organizing attacks against students in recent demonstrations and was arrested.

Nearly 170 members of the Majles issued a statement June 22 in relation to the student protests. “Because there has not been enough attention to the just demands of the people, and because there is no suitable vehicle to criticize the regime in an orderly fashion, any small social and economic protest tends to lead into crisis and disturbance,” the statement said. “At times this whets the foreign powers’ appetite to intervene in the country’s internal affairs.”

The statement continued: “Despite the harsh treatment of students…they proved quite capable of differentiating between conduct that is thought out and responsible, and adventurism.” At the end of the statement, the Majles deputies declared their solidarity with all legal student activities and called for prosecution of all the so-called “forces in civilian clothes” who have victimized the students—a euphemism for the progovernment thugs.

ISNA reported that some student organizations have applied for a permit to demonstrate on July 9, the anniversary of massive student protests in 1999. At that time student demonstrations were met with brutal force by extralegal vigilantes and police. Pro-regime goons broke into student dormitories in Tehran, beating students indiscriminately and setting their rooms on fire. Each year since then, students have honored the memory of Ezzat Ibrahim-Nejat, a conscript soldier and protester who was murdered while visiting a friend at his dormitory, and have continued to demand that his killers be brought to justice.
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