|Sunday, 15 December 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 03-02-06
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 KREMLIN UNMOVED BY POWELL'S SPEECHResponding to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's 5 February address to the United Nations Security Council, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told the council the same day that any allegations that the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has deceived international weapons inspectors should be carefully checked by the inspectors themselves in Iraq, ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. He added that Iraq should respond to other questions raised in Powell's speech. "One frequently hears claims that 'time is running out,' but UN [Security Council] Resolution 1441 is based on practical results rather than on time limits," Ivanov said. Responding to journalists after the session, Ivanov said that Powell's speech does not amount to "a declaration of war against Iraq," RIA-Novosti reported. Polit.ru commented on 6 February that Russia, France, and China continued to stick to their united position against military intervention in Iraq following Powell's speech. State Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unity) said that on 12 February the Duma will consider a resolution requiring the Foreign Ministry to veto any UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of military force against Baghdad. VY
 GOVERNMENT TO ACCELERATE TAX REFORMSpeaking to a cabinet meeting on tax reform on 5 February, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that his government has succeeded over the last three years in reducing the overall tax burden by the equivalent of 3 percent of GDP, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. In 2004-06, the government will continue this pace, Kasyanov said, further reducing the tax burden by 1 percent of GDP per year. In 2003, property taxes and VAT will be reduced, and in 2004, the single social tax will be reduced. In 2005, however, taxes and fees related to the extraction of mineral resources will be increased. VY
 PRIME MINISTER URGES MORE GOVERNMENT OPENNESSAt the same government meeting, Prime Minister Kasyanov said the government should increase public access to information about its activities, as well as about those of the legislative branch, ABNews and other Russian news agencies reported on 6 February. Kasyanov said that federal agencies and state organs should post information about federal programs, laws, and international agreements on the Internet and publish it in the print media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003). He also urged them to make public information about their internal processes and developments, as well as announcements about state tenders. VY
 PUTIN URGES POLICE TO WIN PUBLIC CONFIDENCEAddressing senior Interior Ministry officers on 6 February, President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that the general public does not give "very high marks" to the ministry's work, nns.ru reported. He said it is essential for the ministry to regain public confidence and promised that "there will be no revolutions as such an important agency is modernized." All changes within the ministry should be made smoothly and aimed at increasing the efficiency of law enforcement agencies, Putin concluded. VY
 PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION PROPOSES SHUTTING DOWN MEDIA OUTLETS THAT MISBEHAVE DURING THE ELECTIONSPresident Putin on 4 February introduced a package of amendments to four federal laws that would further reform the election system, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 February. One of the amendments would allow authorities to shut down media outlets that violate election legislation, according to the report. Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov was quoted in December by strana.ru as calling for such measures, saying that the current situation "presents a threat to democratic elections." Under the Kremlin's draft legislation, whenever a media organ violates election laws more than once, notification would be sent to the agency where it is registered, usually the Media Ministry or one of its territorial organs. The Media Ministry would then have the right to decide whether the violations are serious enough to warrant the immediate suspension of the outlet's activity until after the election. JAC
 IT'S OFFICIAL: RUSSIAN IS THE STATE LANGUAGE...State Duma deputies on 5 February passed the law on Russian as a state language in its third and final reading, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 248 in favor, with 37 against and one abstention, RosBalt reported. The law is designed to strengthen the right of citizens to use Russian as the state language. It prohibits the use of foreign words or expressions that have Russian-language equivalents in public documents or in civil, criminal, or administrative court proceedings, the agency reported. "The Moscow Times" reported earlier that since the Duma approved the bill in its first reading last June, deputies have eased proposed restrictions on journalists and television personalities, who would be able to use otherwise prohibited language if it is "an integral part of an artistic concept" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2002). JAC
 ...AND ZHIRINOVSKII CAN KEEP HIS LEADERSHIP POSTAlso on 5 February, the State Duma declined to consider the question of removing Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) from his leadership post, RosBalt reported. Only 181 deputies of the 226 required supported an initiative to consider Zhirinovskii's ouster for recent inflammatory remarks he made about a possible U.S. military strike against Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003). This was not the first time that fellow deputies have proposed punishing Zhirinovskii for his unorthodox oratory. Last September, for example, he got into hot water for calling for military strikes against Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2002). During the same session, legislators also rejected two versions of a bill on the recall of State Duma deputies, ITAR-TASS reported. The legislation, proposed by Oleg Shein (Russian Regions) and Sergei Apatenko (Unity), outlined the procedure for recalling legislators who do not fulfill their responsibilities before the electorate. JAC
 MINISTER CALLS FOR BOOST IN AID TO THE DISABLEDSpeaking at a 5 February Duma hearing on developing the program of state assistance to the handicapped, Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said that there are 10.8 million disabled people in Russia, including 400,000 World War II veterans and 685,000 children. Each year the number of people who qualify for state assistance to disabled people increases by from 900,000 to 1 million people, and soon that figure will reach 15 million. Pochinok urged lawmakers to increase funding for the disabled in the 2004 budget. He reported that in 2002 the government opened 42 special-education centers and 100 employment-opportunity enterprises for the disabled. VY
 SCIENTISTS SAY THEY ARE READY TO CLONE A MAMMOTHPetr Lazarev, a researcher with the Institute of Applied Ecology of the North in Khabarovsk, has announced that Russian scientists believe they have isolated a mammoth cell that is suitable for cloning, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. He said that a well-preserved fragment of mammoth bone was discovered in permafrost in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic by a joint Russian-Japanese expedition last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2002). He said the cell is now being preserved at a biotechnology center in Novosibirsk and that the first-ever effort to clone a mammoth will be undertaken in Japan if scientists there confirm the opinion of their Russian colleagues. VY
 ZYUGANOV PLAYS THE ETHNIC CARD?Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told a group of local party leaders he believes that there has "been a glaring ethnic bias in the composition" of federal governing bodies, Interfax reported on 5 February, citing a party press release. He continued that "earlier, people were not interested in the so-called Jewish issue, but nowadays at meetings, even in remote villages, scores of comments on this problem come in." He concluded that the lack of tolerance is "striking to an impartial observer." Zyuganov also linked the recent dispute in the Moscow city government and "attacks against [Moscow Vice Mayor Valerii] Shantsev's group"(see item below) with an attempt to foment ethnic intolerance. JAC
 CONFLICT WITHIN MOSCOW MAYORAL ADMINISTRATION COMES TO LIGHT"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 February that the conflict between two of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's deputies was made public when RTR showed an exchange between Luzhkov and First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Resin over the quality of new municipal housing. Before the television cameras, Resin accused Vice Mayor Shantsev of giving "fabricated evidence" about defects in housing construction. According to the daily, participants in the city's construction market have long been aware of the animosity between Shantsev and Resin, but their relationship has worsened of late because of the upcoming mayoral election. Resin has always controlled the construction branch in the city, but Shantsev has played a more noticeable role in the construction business since March, according to the daily. The newspaper concluded that it is possible the outcome of the struggle between the two officials will influence Luzhkov's choice of a running mate next year. Moscow's government currently has one elected vice mayor, five appointed first deputy mayors, and three appointed deputy mayors (see http://www.mos.ru/gov/shema/pm.htm). However, last month the Moscow City Court ruled that the provision of the Moscow Charter calling for the election of the city's vice mayor at the same time as the mayor contradicts federal law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). JAC
 IS ENERGY REFORM ON HOLD UNTIL AFTER THE ELECTIONS?Members of the Duma Council could not decide on 4 February on a date for the Duma to consider a package of bills that would reform the country's electrical-power system, "Gazeta" reported on 5 February. The leaders of the Duma's centrist factions have expressed their support for the legislation, but "experts are not excluding the possibility that the reform will be postponed for a while," the daily commented. These unidentified experts, according to the daily, reckon the Kremlin believes that considering the falling ratings for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003), it is too risky to undertake such an unpopular reform with Duma elections scheduled for December. Duma Banking Chairman Valerii Zubov (People's Deputy) told the daily that "this question is very politicized, and therefore to talk about examining the bills and approving them in the near future is still difficult." However, the daily also quoted Deputy Oleg Kovalev (Unity) as saying the package of reforms will be adopted in all three readings before the end of the month. Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais said in December that delays in adopting the reforms have already cost Russia more than $200 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002). JAC
 ENVOY RAISES ALARM ABOUT HOUSING STOCK, MUNICIPAL INFRASTRUCTURESpeaking in Omsk at a session of the collegium of the State Construction Committee on 5 February, presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District Leonid Drachevskii said that "the problems of the country's communal-housing and public-utilities sector are crossing over from the social sphere to those of the maintenance of stability in society and national security," ITAR-TASS reported. According to Drachevskii, this winter revealed starkly the problems of the communal sector in both large and small cities, problems that specialists predicted many years ago would emerge. As a partial solution, Drachevskii called for consolidating all the resources of the federal, regional, and municipal levels of government to replace outdated heating networks and equipment. JAC
 CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD SAYS PRIME MINISTER WILL BE REPLACEDChechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov told journalists in Grozny on 5 February that Mikhail Babich will not resume his duties as Chechen prime minister and that another ethnic Russian will shortly be named to replace him, Russian news agencies reported. Babich left Grozny for a "vacation" in Moscow last month following a public disagreement with Kadyrov over the best qualified candidate for the post of Chechen finance minister, but Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev subsequently said he had persuaded the two men to continue working together (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 15, 17, and 24 January 2003). Babich was appointed to his post in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002). LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 OSCE, U.S. AMBASSADOR, ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPLORE ASSAULT ON ELECTION CAMPAIGNERThe stabbing in Artashat on 4 February of Hayk Babukhanian, opposition presidential candidate Aram Karapetian's campaign manager, elicited further condemnation on 5 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). Peter Eicher, the U.S. diplomat who heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission monitoring the ballot, said that "there must be no threats or violence in the course of democratic elections," according to Noyan Tapan. U.S. Ambassador John Ordway said, "We expect that the Armenian authorities...will vigorously investigate the charges," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. All parliament factions issued a joint statement on 5 February demanding that the people responsible for the attack be detained and punished and steps be taken to prevent further election-related violence, Noyan Tapan reported. No one has yet been arrested in connection with the stabbing. LF
 ARMENIA AGREES TO TRANSFER FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT OF MEDZAMOR TO EESUnder an agreement signed in Yerevan on 5 February by Russian Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov and Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian -- who are the co-chairmen of the Russian-Armenian intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation -- financial and economic management of the Medzamor nuclear-power plant will be transferred to Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES), Russian news agencies reported. Klebanov explained that doing so will solve the problem of obtaining new fuel supplies for the plant and help its management avoid incurring further debts. Armenia owes Russia some $40 million for earlier supplies of nuclear fuel. The details of the transfer are to be worked out within two weeks, according to Noyan Tapan. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CHAIRS MEETING ON EXPORT-PIPELINE PROJECTHeidar Aliev chaired a closed meeting in Baku on 5 February to discuss issues relating to the construction of the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian Sea oil, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Also present were the Georgian and Turkish ambassadors to Azerbaijan, the presidents of Azerbaijan's State Oil Company and the Georgian International Oil Corporation, and David Woodward, president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, which will be the first consortium to export Caspian oil via the pipeline. On 6 February, the "Financial Times" reported that as a result of protests from environmental activists, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corporation might not approve until the second half of 2003 some $600 million in loans toward the estimated $3 billion construction costs. The consortium created to build the pipeline had hoped to have all external loans and credits in place by the end of March, the paper said. LF
 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONIST RELEASED FROM JAILAzerbaijan Democratic Party (ADR) member Gurban Mamedov was released from a Baku prison on 5 February after serving a five-year sentence, Turan reported. Mamedov, together with two other ADR members, was convicted in July 1998 of falsely claiming that National Security Minister Namig Abbasov was preparing a coup against President Aliev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 16 July 1998). Mamedov was quoted on 6 February by zerkalo.az as saying he will continue his political and journalistic activities. He is one of the cofounders of the ADR newspaper "Hurriyet." Mamedov also predicted that ADR Chairman Rasul Guliev will return to Azerbaijan in August from his exile in the United States and will win the presidential election to be held this fall. LF
 AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES BUYING KOLCHUGA RADAR FROM UKRAINEAzerbaijan's Defense Ministry issued a statement on 5 February denying that Baku purchased one or more Kolchuga air-defense systems from Ukraine and sold them to Iraq, Turan reported on 6 February, quoting the independent Russian-language daily "Ekho." Speaking at a press conference in Kyiv on 4 February, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said that prior to the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine produced 76 Kolchugas, some of which were provided to Germany, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, and the Russian Federation, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. LF
 MORE DETAILS EMERGE OF ALLEGED GEORGIAN COUP PLANS...At a press conference in Tbilisi on 5 January, leading members of the New Rightists party disclosed what they claimed were new details of an alleged planned coup to oust President Eduard Shevardnadze, BS-Press and Caucasus Press reported. National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili claimed in a television interview on 4 February that the "power" ministries were preparing a "velvet coup" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). Levan Gachechiladze claimed that Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili and Vitalli Khazaradze, who heads the former majority Union of Citizens of Georgia parliament faction that supports Shevardnadze, met with Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze at the latter's apartment to discuss the coup plans. New Rightist Pikria Chikhradze said that Djorbenadze was to replace Shevardnadze as president, while Narchemashvili was to succeed Djorbenadze as minister of state. LF
 ...WHICH PRESIDENT LAUGHS OFFShevardnadze commented on 5 February that anyone intent on installing a new leadership should consult him, as he knows better than most how to set about doing so, Caucasus Press reported. Prosecutor-General Nugzar Gabrichidze dismissed the coup reports as not serious, adding that it should take no longer than two weeks to investigate them, Caucasus Press reported. Djorbenadze offered to form a special commission to investigate the allegations. Khazaradze asked why Saakashvili and others who claimed to have wind of the coup plans did not pass that information on to Shevardnadze. He noted that parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, who under the Georgian Constitution would take over as acting president should Shevardnadze be incapacitated or resign, was quoted as saying she was aware of the planned coup, but that she did not act on that knowledge. LF
 FORMER SOUTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT'S SON RELEASED ON BAILAleksei Chibirov, the son of the former president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, has been released from detention in Tskhinvali, according to "Akhali taoba" on 5 February, as cited by Caucasus Press. He was arrested last month on suspicion of preparing to overthrow the current president of the republic, Eduard Kokoyty, who defeated Aleksei's father, Lyudvig, in the November 2001 South Ossetian presidential ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). LF
 U.S. COMPANY PULLS OUT OF KAZAKHSTANKerr-McGee Corporation, a U.S.-based energy and inorganic-chemical company, confirmed on 5 February that its subsidiaries will sell their interests in Kazakhstan, including its 1.75 percent stake in the Caspian Oil Consortium pipeline, according to Reuters, as quoted by Caspian News Agency. The company originally announced that it would do so last fall, according to "Vedomosti" on 21 November. LF
 U.S. WATCHDOG CRITICIZES KYRGYZ REFERENDUM...In a statement released on 4 February, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) highlighted what it characterized as major shortcomings in the preparations for the 2 February referendum on draft constitutional amendments, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Those shortcomings included the appointment in early January of an experts' group that amended the previously agreed-on draft changes, and the announcement of the date for the referendum only three weeks in advance. The statement noted that the draft amendments strengthen the power of the president vis-a-vis the government and the parliament. In October, at the invitation of the Kyrgyz government, the NDI made written recommendations concerning the conduct of the referendum, but those recommendations were ignored, the statement noted. LF
 ...AS FINAL RESULTS RELEASEDOn 6 February, Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission released the final results of the referendum, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The final figures differ slightly from the preliminary ones. They give the number of voters who participated in the referendum as 2,137,334, or 86.68 percent of the registered electorate (as compared with the previously announced 2,128,150 and 86.36 percent). The number of voters who approved the proposed amendments was given as 1,889,203, or 76.61 percent of all registered voters (compared with 1,860,921, or 75.5 percent of all those who participated in the referendum). The number of voters who indicated that President Askar Akaev should remain in office until his presidential term expires in December 2005 was given as 1,941,558, or 78.74 percent of all registered voters, compared with preliminary figures of 1,938,457, or 78.68 percent of those who actually voted. LF
 ELEVEN DEAD IN FLU EPIDEMIC IN KYRGYZSTANAt least 11 people have died of influenza in Kyrgyzstan in recent weeks, and the epidemic shows little sign of abating, akipress.org reported on 5 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2003). Almost all the victims were children under the age of six. The epidemic affects not only Bishkek but the Chu, Issyk-Kul, and Naryn oblasts in the north of the country. The situation in the south is reportedly less serious. LF
 TURKMENISTAN REINTRODUCES EXIT VISASTurkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov announced on 5 February new formalities to register the arrival of foreigners and their movements while in Turkmenistan, Interfax reported. Those measures take effect on 1 March. He also said that exit visas for Turkmen citizens, which were theoretically abolished in January 2002, will be reintroduced. LF
 UZBEK GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO ENCOURAGE RETAIL TRADEThe Uzbek cabinet adopted a resolution on 4 February on measures to encourage the development of retail trade, uza.uz reported. Those measures are intended to ensure that domestically produced goods are available throughout the country, and thus to reduce the need to import cheap consumer goods from neighboring countries and China. Two weeks earlier, President Islam Karimov issued a decree on increasing the role of the private sector in the country's economy by simplifying the privatization of state-owned enterprises and removing many of the bureaucratic obstacles to establishing private businesses. LF
 UZBEKISTAN, INDIA TO UNDERTAKE JOINT ANTITERRORISM MEASURESDuring a two-day visit to India, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov held talks with his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh, President Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Defense Minister George Fernandez, uzreport.com reported on 4 February. The talks focused on bilateral economic cooperation, especially in highway construction, and measures to counter international terrorism. The two sides agreed to establish a joint antiterrorism working group that will exchange intelligence information and meet once each year. The possibility of India providing training for the Uzbek military was also discussed, according to Interfax on 5 February. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUS CONCLUDES REGISTRATION OF CANDIDATES FOR LOCAL ELECTIONSCentral Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna on 5 February reported the results of the registration process for candidates in the 2 March local elections, Belapan reported. Of the 26,567 people who sought registration, local commissions registered 25,805 candidates (including 693 proposed by political parties) to contest 24,012 seats on local councils. In Minsk, 165 of the 305 individuals who sought registration will vie for 55 seats on the City Council. JM
 BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT ADJUSTS POVERTY LINEThe government has set the average monthly subsistence level at 89,557 Belarusian rubles ($46) per person, Belapan reported on 5 February. The previous figure was 81,333 Belarusian rubles. JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR END TO FREE ECONOMIC ZONESPresident Leonid Kuchma said at a meeting with the State Customs Service leadership on 5 February that "it is necessary to put an end to the [free economic] zones [and] liquidate them completely," UNIAN reported. "[These zones] have become semi-criminal zones, and this refers not only to the Donetsk zone," Kuchma noted in a reference to the eastern coal-mining center that is home to some of the country's mightiest oligarchs. "You pull the meat that Europe doesn't want to eat into these zones and sell it there without [paying] taxes," the president said, singling out customs officers, law enforcement officers, and the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). Ukraine's 11 free economic zones, which offer tax and customs benefits, have failed to attract foreign investors or boost economic development, Kuchma said. The closure of free economic zones in Ukraine is among the International Monetary Fund's demands on the country. JM
 UKRAINE'S MINIMUM-WAGE HIKE WILL REQUIRE ADDITIONAL $2 BILLIONParliamentary Budget Committee head Petro Poroshenko told journalists on 5 February that the country needs to find an additional 10.6 billion hryvnyas ($2 billion) if it wants to comply with an increase in the minimum wage that was passed by the Verkhovna Rada in December, UNIAN reported. According to that law, the minimum monthly wage should equal 185 hryvnyas in January-June and 237 hryvnyas in the second half of 2003. Poroshenko said the 2003 budget assumed a minimum wage of 165 hryvnyas throughout the year. He added that the Budget Committee will have to draft a "new budget" for 2003 if parliament fails to find a legislative solution. JM
 VILNIUS 10 BACKS U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE'S IRAQ ALLEGATIONSThe foreign ministers of the so-called Vilnius 10 issued a joint statement on 5 February, shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's appearance before the UN Security Council to make the case for enforcing Iraqi disarmament, BNS reported. The Vilnius 10 -- comprising Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- was established in 2000 by states seeking NATO membership. The ambassadors of Latvia, Romania, and Slovakia presented the statement to the State Department in Washington. It affirmed that Powell "presented compelling evidence to the United Nations Security Council detailing Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, its active efforts to deceive UN inspectors, and its links to international terrorism." Asserting that Iraq has breached UN Security Council Resolution 1441, it declared: "The clear and present danger posed by Saddam Hussein's regime requires a united response from the community of democracies. We call upon the UN Security Council to take the necessary and appropriate action in response to Iraq's continuing threat to international peace and security." SG
 NATO APPROVES LATVIA'S MILITARY REFORM PLAN FOR MEMBERSHIPRepresentatives from all 19 NATO members, chaired by NATO Deputy Secretary-General Guenter Altenburg, approved Latvia's draft military-reform plan at a meeting in Brussels on 4 February, BNS reported the next day. The representatives spoke approvingly of Latvian progress in implementing its NATO Membership Action Plan, noting stable economic growth and dynamic development accompanied by adequate funding for defense needs and planned reforms. The Latvian delegation head, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins, told reporters in Riga on 5 February that some NATO representatives also recommended that Latvia bolster its administrative capabilities in Brussels, within the Defense and Foreign ministries, and at "other institutions either directly or indirectly involved in ensuring our NATO membership." SG
 LITHUANIAN PRIME MINISTER MEETS WITH U.S. VICE PRESIDENTAlgirdas Brazauskas told reporters in Washington on 5 February that the situation in Iraq was among the main topics of his meeting with Vice President Richard Cheney, BNS and ELTA reported. Brazauskas said the evidence supplied by Powell to the UN that day convinced him that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. He noted that Lithuania supports the U.S. campaign against international terrorism, has granted U.S. planes permission to use its airspace and airports in this action, and has sent army representatives to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Tampa, Florida, which would coordinate any operations in Iraq. Brazauskas affirmed that the election of former Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic leader Rolandas Paksas to succeed Valdas Adamkus as Lithuanian president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2003) will not change the country's foreign policy. Membership in NATO and the EU, as well as good relations with neighboring countries, will remain foreign-policy priorities, he said. SG
 POLISH PREMIER DISCUSSES IRAQ, F-16 DEAL IN WASHINGTON...Premier Leszek Miller met with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on 5 February, PAP reported. Miller said at a news conference after the meeting that Bush briefed him on Colin Powell's report concerning Iraq to the UN Security Council the same day. Miller confirmed that Poland supports the U.S. policy toward Iraq but declined to say whether the Polish government would support a possible military operation against Baghdad without a further resolution by the Security Council. Earlier the same day, Miller met with Lockheed Martin head Vance Coffman and discussed offsets accompanying Poland's recent decision to purchase F-16 fighter jets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002). Miller said Coffman "understood Poland's needs," but he added that the offset projects for Polish industry offered by Lockheed Martin are unsatisfactory. "We are mainly hoping for projects in the high-tech branch," Miller said. "This contract must open a new phase in our commercial contacts and tie Poland's and America's economy closer together." JM
 ...AS DEFENSE MINISTER EXPLAINS 'SPECULATION' ABOUT TRANSFER OF U.S. BASES TO POLANDVisiting Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski on 5 February met with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, PAP reported. "The speculation about the relocation of U.S. military bases from Germany to Poland is premature," Szmajdzinski told journalists after the meeting. Szmajdzinski was referring to the recent Polish press reports that cited unnamed sources in the Bush administration as saying Washington and Warsaw are secretly mulling such a relocation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003). "[The U.S. defense secretary] explained to me that this speculation might have appeared in connection with a directive to review all U.S. military bases abroad in terms of their further usefulness," Szmajdzinski added. JM
 CZECH DEPUTY PREMIER WITHDRAWS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACYDeputy Premier and Justice Minister Pavel Rychetsky said on 5 February that he is withdrawing his candidacy for the post of Czech president and will push for direct presidential elections. Rychetsky was supported by the ruling Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) deputies' group the previous day as a possible candidate in the pending third presidential vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). Government spokeswoman Anna Starkova said Rychetsky made the decision "out of regard for the CSSD's partners in the ruling coalition." Leaders of the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union, CSSD's partners in the coalition government, had already rejected Rychetsky as a joint candidate. MS
 CZECH UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT SAYS 'IRAQ CONCEALING SOMETHING'Fifty-seventh UN General Assembly President and former Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said on 5 February that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell succeeded in demonstrating with his speech before the Security Council the same day that Iraq "is concealing something," CTK reported. Kavan nevertheless added that he agrees with the position of France, Germany, China, and Russia that UN weapons inspectors should be given more time in Iraq to determine, on the basis of evidence Powell submitted, whether Iraq is lying when it denies it possesses banned weapons. MS
 SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER CONVINCED BY U.S. EVIDENCE AGAINST IRAQForeign Minister Eduard Kukan said on 5 February that Powell succeeded the same day in demonstrating before the Security Council that Iraq has violated all relevant UN resolutions, TASR reported. Kukan added that Slovakia is ready to participate in an international coalition to disarm Iraq in the event that Baghdad fails to do so voluntarily. A Foreign Ministry statement released on 5 February said Slovakia is asking "all democratic countries and the UN to coordinate their action against this danger." Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda is among the European leaders who last week urged united action to ensure Iraqi disarmament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 January 2003). MS
 SLOVAK CABINET SEEKS 'THREE STRIKES AND OUT' CLAUSEThe cabinet on 5 February approved an amendment to the Criminal Code that would introduce the "three strikes and out" sentencing rule for convictions for violent or drug-related crime, TASR reported. Under the rule, a third such conviction would carry a mandatory life sentence. The measure must still face scrutiny by the legislature. Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic told journalists: "Prison must be used to protect society from the most dangerous criminals by ensuring their long-term or permanent isolation." The government-backed amendments also introduce a ban on human cloning, but do not extend a ban on the cloning of tissue. MS
 SLOVAK POLICE OBLIGED TO WEAR BADGESThe cabinet also approved on 5 February an amendment to the Police Law under which police officers would have to wear identification badges while on duty, TASR reported. Interior Minister Vladimir Palko said the amendment is aimed at combating corruption. "It is difficult to be corrupted if your name is known," Palko told journalists after the cabinet meeting. The amendment now goes to parliament for a vote. MS
 HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RULES OUT PARTICIPATION IN MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQDefense Minister Ferenc Juhasz on 5 February told the parliamentary Defense Committee that Hungary will not participate in any military action against Iraq, dpa reported. Juhasz also said the U.S. military training camp at Taszar, in southern Hungary, poses no threat to the local population and that any allegation to the contrary reflects efforts by the opposition to incite panic. Juhasz said a memorandum circulated recently by a Kaposvar medical officer, Erzsebet Fadgyas, urging doctors in the area around Taszar to update their knowledge of anthrax needlessly causes worry and damages the national interest, according to Hungarian media reports. He said he is considering filing a complaint about the memorandum for what he labeled "rumormongering." MS
 HUNGARIANS OVERWHELMINGLY OPPOSE WAR IN IRAQAccording to separate polls carried out by Gallup Hungary and by Median, some 82 percent of Hungarians are opposed to a war in Iraq, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. If the UN approved a resolution on war, one-third of respondents (33 percent) said they would support military action against that country, but the remaining two-thirds would still oppose it. MS
 SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER WANTS KOSOVA STATUS TALKS IN JUNEZoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 5 February that he wants the international community to launch talks on the final status of Kosova by June, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 February 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 January 2003). He charged that the province's ethnic Albanian majority is in fact setting up its own state in Kosova, which he considers unacceptable. "Serbs in Kosovo are a nation that cannot live in its own state. We are looking for a solution which will enable them to live there," Djindjic added. He called for a "compromise, [which] means that neither Belgrade nor Prishtina will be happy, but the interests of the both will be respected." This is the first time that Djindjic has mentioned a date in conjunction with his recent call for status talks, which the international community has rejected as premature. All political parties representing the ethnic Albanians, who constitute more than 90 percent of the population, favor independence and want nothing to do with Belgrade. Many Albanians suspect that Djindjic seeks a partition of Kosova. PM
 RUSSIA URGES SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO TO GET TO WORKRussian Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov said in Moscow on 5 February that Russia wants to "continue and expand close relations" with Serbia and Montenegro "on the basis of stable and time-tested traditions of friendship with the peoples" of those two republics, Interfax reported. He added that the new state should set up its institutions as soon as possible so that it can play its role in Balkan affairs. Malakhov said setting up the joint state is the most efficient way for the two republics to carry out needed political, economic, and social reforms. PM
 A MONTENEGRIN TO HEAD THE NEW STATE?Svetozar Marovic, a former speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, said in Podgorica on 5 February that Serbian and Montenegrin authorities have agreed that he will be the first president of the new state of Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The post is expected to be largely ceremonial, since most power is concentrated in the governments of the two republics. Marovic said it is too early to say whether the new state will prove a success (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). PM
 EU CONTINUING PRESSURE ON SERBIA AND MONTENEGROEU security policy chief Javier Solana began talks in Belgrade on 6 February about setting up the institutions for the new state of Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. His hosts included Djindjic and outgoing Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Many Serbs and Montenegrins regard the new state as Solana's own creation and have dubbed it "Solania." PM
 SERBIAN OFFICIAL CALLS FOR BETTER RELATIONS WITH THE U.S.Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic told a meeting at the Serbian-American Center in Belgrade that the United States needs a stable strategic partner in Southeastern Europe and that a democratic Serbia can be that partner, "Politika" reported on 6 February. He noted that many Serbs doubt the United States' good faith, and that many influential Americans remain suspicious of Serbia and its goals. But Covic argued that there is no anti-Americanism among the current leaders in Belgrade and that there are no Serbophobic feelings within the current U.S. administration. He stressed that he does not think a purely Albanian Kosova is in the interests of the United States and regrets that many influential Americans seem to have concluded that a multiethnic future is not possible for the province. PM
 MORE BOSNIANS GOING HOMEUdo Janz, acting head of the UNHCR in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 5 February that in 2002 a record 100,000 refugees and displaced persons returned to their former homes, mostly in areas now controlled by an ethnic group other than their own, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. He noted that about 39,000 Muslims went back to homes in the Republika Srpska, and a similar number of Serbs returned to places that are now part of the Croat and Muslim federation. Almost 11,000 Croats went home to areas in both parts of the country. Janz said many of those who have not yet returned have probably begun new lives elsewhere and will not be back. He nonetheless added that an additional $500 million in assistance is needed to help reconstruct damaged homes. It is not clear, however, how many of the returnees actually moved back home permanently and how many returned temporarily in order to sell their property. PM
 CROATIAN DOCTORS' STRIKE ENTERS ITS THIRD WEEKA doctors' strike for a 45 percent wage hike is continuing with no end in sight, dpa reported from Zagreb on 5 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 23 January 2003). The strike has so far been carried out as a work-to-rules protest, but henceforth hospitals will be closed and doctors will treat only emergency cases. Public opinion appears to consider the strike irresponsible. PM
 HAGUE PROSECUTOR CALLS ON CROATIAN GOVERNMENT TO ARREST INDICTED GENERALFlorence Hartmann, who is spokeswoman for The Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, quoted Del Ponte as saying that indicted war criminal General Ante Gotovina moves about freely in Croatia and calling on Croatian authorities to arrest him, "Jutarnji list" reported on 6 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2003). A second issue clouding relations between Zagreb and The Hague is what she called "Croatia's selective cooperation" with the tribunal. Hartmann added that the tribunal is as well informed about Gotovina's whereabouts as it is about the activities of General Ratko Mladic in Serbia, but she declined to provide any details. PM
 ROMANIAN OFFICIALS SAY IRAQ ATTEMPTED, FAILED TO PURCHASE URANIUM-ENRICHMENT EQUIPMENTForeign Minister Mircea Geoana told Mediafax on 5 February that in 1995, 1996, and 1999, Iraq attempted, but failed to purchase uranium-enrichment equipment in Romania. Geoana said the attempts were foiled by the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) in cooperation with the United States, which alerted the Romanians. Former SRI Director Catalin Harnagea said on 5 February that Iraq also attempted to purchase missile components in Romania in 1998. These attempts were also foiled due to warnings received by the SRI from the U.S. authorities, Harnagea said. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the U.S. Security Council the same day that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium-enriching equipment in Romania, Russia, Slovenia, and India. Geoana said in New York that Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council was convincing and demonstrated that Iraq is violating on UN resolutions, Romanian Radio reported. MS
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS DECISION ON IRAQ BELONGS TO PARLIAMENTPresidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu said on 5 February that President Ion Iliescu wishes to draw attention to the fact that any decision on Romania's participation in a possible military action against Iraq must ultimately be approved by the parliament, Rompres reported. Cretu said the most important contribution Romania can make in the event of such action is to offer the United States "solidarity and coherence in action, confirming the continuity of Romania's abidance by the basic principles of NATO." MS
 ROMANIA TO SWITCH TO EURO AS 'CURRENCY OF REFERENCE'The National Bank on 5 February announced that the euro will replace the U.S. dollar as Romania's "currency of reference" as of 1 March, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
 MOLDOVAN PREMIER SAYS U.S. HAS 'RADICALLY CHANGED' ITS ATTITUDE TOWARD MOLDOVAPrime Minister Vasile Tarlev said on 5 February that the United States "radically changed" its attitude toward Moldova following last year's official visit to Washington by President Vladimir Voronin, Flux reported. Tarlev said the United States now supports Moldova "at the national and international level" and that its influence on the efforts to bring about a solution to the Transdniester conflict is becoming evident. MS
 FITCH UPGRADES MOLDOVA'S RATINGFitch Ratings agency on 5 February upgraded Moldova's rating on long-term, foreign-currency debt from DD to B minus, thereby adding Moldova to its list of investment-grade countries, Flux and Infotag reported. According to Infotag, the decision reflects the successful restructuring last year of $39.6 million in Moldovan debt. The agency maintained Moldova's C rating on short-term, foreign-currency debt. It also upgraded Moldova's rating on local-currency debts from CCC to B and changed from "positive" to "stable" the rating on long-term debt in Moldovan lei. MS
 BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SUPPORTS U.S. APPROACH TO UN SECURITY COUNCILForeign Minister Solomon Pasi told the UN Security Council on 5 February that Bulgaria welcomes the U.S. government's decision to provide more evidence on Iraq's weapons programs, as this "enhances the council's central role," BTA reported. Pasi said following U.S. Secretary of State Powell's presentation to the Security Council that he still believes that a peaceful disarmament of Iraq is possible, but said "the Security Council will have to take all necessary and appropriate measures toward implementation of the resolutions adopted after 1990" if Baghdad does not change its conduct soon. Iraq has thus far been acting in "grave violation" of Security Council resolutions, according to Pasi. Concluding his speech, Pasi said that "the people of Iraq deserve a better fate and a peaceful future, and Bulgaria is willing to assist the attainment of this objective." Bulgaria is a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council. UB
 BULGARIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES DRAFT MEDIA LAWPresident Georgi Parvanov on 5 February harshly criticized the draft law on radio and television proposed by the parliamentary majority of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), mediapool.bg reported. The draft law would replace the current Council on Electronic Media (SEM) with a National Council on Electronic Media (NSEM), which would choose the directors of state-owned radio and television stations, among others. Parvanov criticized the fact that the majority of the NSEM's members would be nominated by parliament, while the president's quota would be reduced. According to the president, the authors of the draft did not keep in mind the results of an earlier public discussion about the potential law or proposals made by NGOs. Parvanov said the draft law will be submitted to parliament at the most inopportune moment, when the country must decide on its role in the Iraq crisis. UB
 GAZPROM INTERESTED IN BULGARIAN GAS COMPANYGazprom CEO Aleksei Miller announced in Sofia on 5 February that his company is interested in buying the state-owned gas company Bulgargaz, which is to be privatized next year, mediapool.bg reported. Miller also held consultations with President Parvanov, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski and other government officials on increasing gas supplies to Bulgaria as well as to neighboring Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey. According to the news agency, Gazprom also offered closer cooperation with the Bulgarian chemical industry. UB
SOUTHWESTERN ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
 DEPARTING TURKISH COMMANDER URGES EXTENDED ISAF PRESENCE IN AFGHANISTAN...Turkish Major General Hilmi Akin Zorlu, who on 10 February will turn over command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to a joint German-Dutch contingent, on 6 February urged the international community to keep peacekeepers "in and around Kabul [for] at least two or three more years," Reuters and other international news agencies reported. He said if the "ISAF leaves the country [before that], it may create some chaos in the capital and [place]...the government in a difficult position," according to AP. The ISAF mandate currently expires in December, although Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah on 4 February said his government would like to see that term extended, Reuters reported. Turkey has commanded the ISAF for more than seven months. The Germans and Dutch are slated jointly to lead the ISAF for six months, beginning on 10 February, when German Lieutenant General Norbert van Heyst officially assumes command from Zorlu. The ISAF currently comprises nearly 4,000 peacekeepers from 22 countries. Zorlu said the Turkish contingent of some 1,400 troops in Afghanistan will likely be decreased to 160, AP reported. AH
 ...AND REMINDS INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO 'REMAIN COMMITTED'...Major General Zorlu on 6 February also praised the "significant impact" that the ISAF has made on Kabul, adding that "the city has become a safer place both...to live and work, and life is returning to normal," AFP reported from the same farewell press conference. "The rebuilding of the whole of Afghanistan will take many years and a great deal of patience on the part of the Afghan people and the international community," Zorlu said, according to AP. "The international community will and must remain committed to this major undertaking," he added, according to AFP. In addition to "removing and neutralizing" more than 175,000 pieces of heavy weapons and ammunition, Zorlu said, the international peacekeepers have headed off disaster in the form of vehicles packed with explosives. Infrastructure, health, and education endeavors have included the completion of 176 projects and "44 ongoing, with another 38 planned under Turkish leadership," AFP quoted him as saying. "While there remains a lack of jobs, food, water and electricity as well as a shortage of schools and medical facilities, every day there are new signs of the return to normality." Fourteen peacekeepers have died on duty in Afghanistan since the ISAF was created by the UN in 2001, AP reported. AH
 ...AS GERMANS, DUTCH LAUNCH COORDINATION CENTERThe German army's inspector general, General Wolfgang Schneiderhan, and the Dutch military representative in Germany, Major General Marcel Celie, inaugurated an Operation Coordination Center in Geltam near Potsdam on 5 February that will monitor Afghan operations during their countries' six-month ISAF command, ddp reported. Celie stressed the German and Dutch commands "are speaking in one voice" through the operation. AH
 CANADA SAYS 'NO DECISION YET' ON TROOPS' RETURN TO AFGHANISTAN...Foreign Minister Bill Graham said the Canadian military is "doing what the military does -- making contingency plans" that could include a return to Afghanistan by Canadian troops, AFP reported on 5 February, citing a debate in the House of Commons. The news agency added that the "Globe and Mail" reported that Prime Minister Jean Chretien last week discussed sending Canadian troops to Afghanistan if war breaks out in Iraq. "No decision on [returning to Afghanistan] has yet been made," Graham said. Canada withdrew a 750-strong contingent of ground troops from Afghanistan in mid-2002 after complaining that its forces were being stretched too thin by a wide range of peacekeeping duties. Graham was quoted by the "Globe and Mail" of 6 February as saying that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell the previous day "made an absolutely convincing presentation showing that [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein is trying to play hide-and-seek with the [UN] arms inspectors." He added, "It amounts to a transfer of the burden of proof from the United States to Saddam Hussein." AH
 ...AS CANADIAN ACCUSED OF RUNNING AFGHAN TERRORISM CAMPA Canadian citizen allegedly ran an Al-Qaeda training camp in eastern Afghanistan, Toronto's "The National Post" reported on 3 February, citing "secret intelligence documents" released by the Canadian government. The papers charge that 22-year-old Abdullah Khadr, a suspected Al-Qaeda member, ran a camp in Lowgar Province. Khadr's two younger brothers -- 20-year-old Abdulrahman and 16-year-old Omar -- were arrested in Afghanistan shortly after the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. The documents detail charges that the Khadr family -- including patriarch Ahmed Khadr, an Egyptian-born Canadian citizen -- have longstanding ties to Al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden. Ahmed Khadr was arrested in Pakistan in 1995 for his alleged role in a terrorist bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad that killed 17 people, but was released in 1996 following what the newspaper described as "an extraordinary intervention" by Prime Minister Chretien during a state visit to Islamabad. Khadr is reportedly wanted by the U.S. authorities for his alleged links to Al-Qaeda. RC
 COALITION FORCES WRAP UP INSPECTION OF AFGHAN CAVE COMPLEX, FIND NO REBELSU.S. military spokesman Colonel Roger King announced on 6 February that coalition forces have completed their mop-up operation at a cave complex in the Adi Ghar Mountains near the border with Pakistan, AFP reported. Up to 80 former Taliban and Al-Qaeda members thought to be united with radical leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islami were believed to have taken refuge in the cave complex after battling with coalition forces near Spin Boldak on 27 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January and 5 February 2003). King said 75 caves were cleared or destroyed during the eight-day sweep, but that no opposition fighters were discovered other than the 18 that were reportedly killed in last week's fighting. "We didn't find them in the caves. If they are still in the region, we may have other opportunities to find them," King said. MES
 PAKISTAN ANNOUNCES HANDOVER OF AFGHAN PRISONERSA senior official of the North-West Frontier Province on 6 February said his government will "release all those Afghan prisoners who are jailed for petty charges" and hand them over to the Afghan consulate in the provincial capital, Peshawar, AFP reported. The move affects some 400-500, the news agency added, and Afghan Ambassador Rahmatullah Musa confirmed that the Transitional Administration in Kabul has been informed by Islamabad of the releases, planned to precede the annual Muslim religious festival of sacrifice that marks the end of the Hajj. Pakistan has recently released Afghan prisoners on two occasions, including 145 people on 5 December and another 29 on 20 December. Those in the first group were believed to have been Taliban fighters, according to the report. Kabul has released several groups of Pakistani prisoners captured fighting alongside the Taliban, though some 1,000 Pakistanis are estimated to still be in Afghan jails, according to AFP. AH
 AID AGENCIES CONCERNED ABOUT SECURITY IN AFGHANISTANInternational aid agencies working in Kandahar have documented 27 incidents of violence in recent weeks, including death threats, killings of security staff, gunfire attacks on organizations' vehicles, and land-mine explosions, AFP reported on 6 February. The agencies assembled in Kandahar this week to discuss their concerns over the security situation and to evaluate their future. In one incident last week, the French agency Action Against Hunger suspended its operations after TNT was detonated on its premises. Mercy Corps operations head Diane Johnson said the organization is on "red" alert and is not allowing staff members to enter the field. "The question is: Do we sit around waiting for the trigger event, for somebody to be killed, before we say it's time to go," an unidentified aid worker was quoted by AFP on 5 February as saying. "We want to get some breathing space, some time to assess the security situation. This doesn't mean we will pull out altogether, it means we will adapt to whatever threat is out there." MES
 UNICEF DELIVERS SCHOOL SUPPLIES TO AFGHAN EDUCATION MINISTRYUN spokesman Edward Carwardine said on 5 February that UNICEF has begun airlifting school supplies worth $15 million to support education in Afghanistan, dpa reported. Earlier this week, the Education Ministry took receipt of 3,200 tons of "School in a Box" materials when the first of seven shipments arrived. The country has approximately 4.5 million school-age children, of whom only 3 million could attend school last year. The country's education system is recovering from years of war and lacks teaching materials and proper facilities. The UN program will pay particular attention to the education of girls, who were banned from attending school under the Taliban. "Efforts will be made this year to increase enrollment rates amongst girls, which improved in 2002 but still falls short of the goal of seeing every Afghan girl benefiting from education," Carwardine said. MES
 IRANIAN NGOS PROTEST AGAINST AMERICAN PRTSA group of nongovernmental organizations from Iran's Isfahan Province on 5 February protested against American aid activities in Afghanistan, Mashhad radio's Dari-language service reported. In an apparent reference to Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), which consist of Special Forces, psychological-operations, and civil-affairs personnel, as well as security detachments from the 82nd Airborne Division, the Iranian NGOs claim that the U.S. military is attempting to achieve its objectives by distributing aid. Mashhad radio added that American aid activities in Afghanistan face domestic and international objections, and it added that people in Kabul have demonstrated against U.S. activities in Afghanistan and demanded an American withdrawal from the country. The remarks are part of a long-running state-media campaign against U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. BS
 DID AL-QAEDA MEMBER TRANSIT IRAN?U.S. Secretary of State Powell in his 5 February address to the UN Security Council about Iraqi violations of Resolution 1441 said Iraq is harboring the network of Al-Qaeda collaborator and associate Abu Mussab al-Zakawi (a.k.a. Abu Musaab Zarqawi), and Powell showed a photograph of a facility in northeastern Iraq that is run by Zarqawi's network. Last year, anonymous senior U.S. and Israeli officials asserted that Zarqawi was in Iran, according to "The New York Times" on 24 March and "The Washington Post" on 30 June and 29 October. It is possible that Zarqawi transited Iran on his way to Iraq, but it is still not clear if he received help from Iranian officials while making his trip. BS
 FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES ANTI-IRAN SANCTIONSForeign Minister Kamal Kharrazi during a question-and-answer session following his 5 February presentation at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) in London criticized the imposition of sanctions against Iran, IRNA reported, although he did not specify which country is imposing such sanctions. Kharrazi said multilateralism is preferable to unilateralism, adding that it is a mistake to try to marginalize any country in today's interdependent world. Kharrazi used Iranian interception of ships smuggling Iraqi oil as an example of Iran's contribution to "peace-building campaigns." Such interceptions are a relatively new development -- after the imposition of sanctions against Iraq, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps charged protection fees for smuggled oil shipments and an IRGC station at the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway controlled the operation (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 December 1998). It is only in the past two-three years that Iran has begun intercepting some of the shipments. BS
 AMERICA DESCRIBED AS IRAN'S 'PRINCIPAL ENEMY'Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Ground Forces, said on 5 February at an IRGC base in northern Tehran that Iranian society has always opposed foreign aggression, ISNA reported. Jafari described the United States as Iran's "principal enemy," and he said America is trying to eliminate the Islamic Republic by exploiting its groundwork of the previous 20 years and reducing the authority of the guardianship of the supreme jurisconsult (velayat-i faqih). "The enemy's main threat is to weaken the system through issuing mild threats, by political means, or a psychological media war with particular subtlety," he said. BS
 PARLIAMENT APPROVES ANTI-AMERICAN BUDGETThe Iranian legislature on 5 February approved a 12.5 billion-rial budget (about $1.6 million) to counter alleged U.S. plots, state television reported the same day. The money would support Iranian lawsuits against the United States in international courts and "enlighten public opinion" inside and outside the country about America's "cultural onslaught." The legislature also allocated 20 billion rials for the Center for Dialog Between Civilizations. BS
 COURT SUMMONS GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN IN POLLING CASEGovernment spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh appeared in court on 4 February to answer questions about his comments on the recent polling-institute trial, IRNA reported on 5 February. Although two of the defendants have already received jail sentences for their roles in conducting a poll that found that the majority of Tehran residents favor a resumption of Iranian relations with the United States, a final verdict on the charges relating to possession of classified documents remains outstanding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 January 2003). BS
 IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES IRAQForeign Minister Kharrazi also told the audience at RIIA that he is in London to discuss the avoidance of war and ways to persuade Iraqi President Hussein to cooperate with the United Nations, IRNA reported. "We believe that it is the responsibility of the Security Council to deal with Iraq and other matters. We are basically against war and would not support either side," Kharrazi said. Kharrazi's 30-minute discussion with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on 6 February also focused on Iraq, according to IRNA. Blair was expected to reassure Kharrazi about the United Kingdom's commitment to Iraq's territorial integrity, "The Financial Times" reported on 6 February. BS
 U.S. PRESENTS ITS CASE ON IRAQ TO THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL...U.S. Secretary of State Powell presented Washington's evidence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and terrorism links to the UN Security Council on 5 February. The transcript of Powell's statement can be found on the U.S. State Department's website (http://www.state.gov). The evidence, Powell stated in his briefing, was compiled by the United States and unnamed "other countries," and included intercepted telephone conversations and satellite photographs of Iraqi military and industrial installations, as well as eyewitness testimonies concerning Iraq's development of WMD. Powell said that in one of the telephone conversations two Iraqi officers discussed how to hide from UN inspectors a "modified vehicle" that was built at Al-Kindi State Company. In another conversation, Powell said, one officer asks another to "destroy the message" ordering Iraqi personnel to "clean out all the areas" containing forbidden ammunition. Powell added that the United States has evidence that Iraqi President Hussein ordered his security organizations to hide all correspondence related to Iraq's Military Industrialization Organization, which oversees Iraq's WMD programs. Powell also cited unidentified "sources" as saying that computer hard drives had been replaced at some Iraqi weapons facilities. Powell reiterated the U.S. view that Iraq is in "material breach" of UN Security Council Resolution 1441. KR
 ...AND DETAILS ASSERTIONS THAT IRAQ POSSESSES WMD...Secretary Powell said in his Security Council presentation that the Iraqi regime has failed to account for "even one teaspoon" of the anthrax and other biological weapons known to be in their possession, either from Iraq's own admission or from evidence uncovered by previous UNSCOM inspections. Iraq has also failed to account for chemical weapons, including 6,500 bombs from the Iran-Iraq war, and stockpiles of the nerve agent VX. Powell claimed that in one intercepted telephone conversation an Iraqi officer orders another to remove the expression "nerve agents" "wherever it comes up" in wireless instructions. Powell added that unnamed "sources" indicate that President Hussein has recently ordered field commanders to use chemical weapons in the field. His presentation also cited eyewitness accounts of "human experiments," in which the Iraqi regime allegedly exposed some 1,600 prisoners to biological and chemical agents. Regarding nuclear weapons, Powell told the Security Council that Iraq possesses "two out of the three key components needed to build a nuclear bomb." Iraq has recently approached 11 countries in attempts to purchase the high-specification aluminum tubes, magnets, and high-speed balancing machines needed to develop the third component, enriched uranium, Powell alleged. KR
 ...AND THAT IRAQ TRIED TO DECEIVE INSPECTORSSecretary Powell also alleged that Iraqi government officials, Ba'ath Party members, and scientists have hidden key documents in their homes, and other key files from scientific and military organizations are being driven around Iraq by Iraqi intelligence agents in an attempt to conceal them from UN weapons inspectors. Powell presented the UN Security Council with satellite photos that he claimed suggest that banned materials have been moved from several Iraqi WMD facilities. He also alleged that Iraq has placed several of its scientists under house arrest at a "guest house" to prevent UN inspectors from speaking to them. Other scientists were forced to sign documents "acknowledging that divulging information [to UN inspectors] is punishable by death," Powell charged. Powell's presentation also addressed alleged links between Iraq and the international terrorism network Al-Qaeda and Iraq's alleged possession of ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that exceed UN-permitted ranges. KR
 IRAQI UN AMBASSADOR FLATLY DENIES POWELL'S ALLEGATIONSIraqi Ambassador to the UN Muhammad Al-Duri addressed the UN Security Council on 5 February following U.S. Secretary of State Powell's presentation. His statement to the Security Council session can be viewed in its entirety at (http://www.un.org/webcast/). "What came in [Secretary] Powell's statement on the weapons of mass destruction is utterly unrelated to the truth," al-Duri told the Security Council, adding that the U.S. presentation contained "no new information." "It is well-known that the inspection teams took samples of water, soil, plants, air, and factory remnants, as well as production remnants from vast areas in cities, villages, on highways, farms, factories, and universities throughout Iraq," al-Duri said, noting that these samples have not indicated the presence of any banned biological, chemical, or radiological agents in Iraq. Regarding the allegations of terrorism links, al-Duri cited recent Western press reports indicating that CIA analysts complained the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "exaggerated" Iraqi links to Al-Qaeda. Al-Duri told the Security Council that he expected the upcoming 8-9 February meeting between UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei to be "a further opportunity to verify and ascertain the validity of [U.S.] allegations." KR
 U.K. SHOWS SUPPORT FOR U.S. PRESENTATION...British Foreign Secretary Straw called Secretary Powell's presentation a "powerful and authoritative case against the Iraqi regime," the "Financial Times" reported on 6 February. "It is clear that Iraq has failed the test," Straw said. Citing the upcoming meeting between UN officials and Iraq, Straw said the Security Council must "meet its responsibilities," if Iraq fails to offer more cooperation to UN inspectors, the "Financial Times" reported. British Prime Minister Blair is scheduled to meet with UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Blix and IAEA Director-General el-Baradei on 6 February in London. KR
 ...BUT OTHER SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBERS STILL ON THE FENCEThe initial reaction to Secretary Powell's presentation by three permanent members of the UN Security Council continued to stress the desirability of finding a political solution to the Iraq situation. Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told reporters after the 5 February meeting, "China remains in the belief that this problem should be worked out through political means, through the framework of the Security Council," CNN reported on 6 February. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called for strengthening the inspection regime, stating, "Given the choice between military intervention and an inspections regime that is inadequate because of a failure to cooperate on Iraq's part, we must choose the decisive reinforcement of the means of inspections," CNN reported on 6 February. Villepin's statement to the UN Security Council (http://www.un.org/webcast/) declared, "It will fall to the inspectors, as mandated by Resolution 1441, to assess the facts" [of Powell's presentation]. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Russia's ORT television on 5 February that Russian experts intend to study the information presented by the United States, but added that "this information must above all be studied on the spot by...UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors." Ivanov said it is premature to discuss war against Iraq, adding that Iraq must demonstrate "full cooperation" between now and 14 February, the date set for the next UNMOVIC/IAEA report to the UN Security Council. KR
 TEHRAN DOES NOT WANT TO BE LEFT OUTBy Bill Samii
The Iranian government has a habit of trying to have its cake and eat it too, and it appears to be pursuing this objective in respect to a possible war in Iraq. Iranian officials are decrying U.S. concerns about Iraq as just an excuse to gain access to the region's energy resources, thereby portraying their country as independent and a regional leader. Nevertheless, Tehran recently hosted Iraqi opposition groups' meetings. These meetings, as well as other meetings in Iraq, underline Iran's resolve to reserve a more important place for itself in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq than it did in the post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Iraqi opposition groups that are eligible for U.S. assistance are the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the Iraqi Free Officers and Civilians Movement, the Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the Iraqi National Front, the Iraqi National Movement, the Iraqi Turkmen Front, the Islamic Accord of Iraq, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), the Movement for Constitutional Monarchy, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).
Representatives of the major opposition groups met in Tehran at the end of January. Participants in these meetings included members of the SCIRI, Ahmad Chalabi of the INC, Brandeis University Professor Kanan Makiya, Iraqi National Movement leader Muzar Shukat, Kurdish representatives Latif Rashid and Kuran Talabani, and former chief of Iraqi military intelligence Major General Wafiq al-Samarra'i. Muhsin al-Hakim of the SCIRI said on 25 January that the focus of the meetings was to prepare for an opposition conference in northern Iraq that is planned for February, IRNA reported.
Professor Makiya said the oppositionists at the meeting turned down an Iranian offer to protect them in Iraq, "The New York Times" reported on 25 January. But this helpfulness is coming from only one faction within the Iranian hierarchy, and Makiya said the opposition members did not meet with anybody from President Mohammad Khatami's office or from the Foreign Ministry. "We're not involved with the Khatami group. They have absolutely no say over Iraqi affairs," Makiya said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 26 January confirmed that no meetings between Chalabi and Iranian officials were arranged.
Formally, the main participants in the formulation of Iranian foreign policy are the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), the Defense Ministry, and the Foreign Ministry, which are all supposed to coordinate their activities through the Supreme National Security Council chaired by President Khatami. In reality, the IRGC and the MOIS have a great deal of autonomy and are the real players in Iranian foreign policy.
IRNA reported on 28 January that the opposition meetings in Tehran were continuing, and it described meetings between SCIRI officials, Chalabi, and some of the other visitors. A delegation from the SCIRI traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan to meet with leaders of the KDP and the PUK earlier in the month, ISNA reported on 19 January.
It is notable that these meetings took place in spite of repeated objections by Iranian officials to U.S. military action in Iraq, and they coincided with an expansion of relations between the SCIRI and Washington. Shahram Chubin, a regional expert at the Geneva Center for Security Policy in Switzerland, gave one explanation for this in an interview with RFE/RL. "Since the Iranians do expect there will be a war, they want to have some influence in Iraq. And what better way to do it than through this one institution [SCIRI] that they have?"
Chubin added, "There is no inherent tension between American interests in postwar Iraq and Iranian interests in postwar Iraq, since they both want a stable, moderate, relatively well-integrated-into-the-region Iraq. It's only on the very broad things beyond that [that they differ] -- you know, will [post-Saddam Iraq] be pro-American or anti-Iranian?"
Iran is not limiting itself to reliance on the SCIRI, and it is involved with other Iraqi opposition groups, including Al-Dawa, Ansar al-Islam, the Islamic Movement, the Kurdish Islamic Group, and the Union of Iraqi Islamic Forces.
Tehran's concern about a post-Hussein Iraq is behind the frequent meetings between Iranian officials and the Iraqi Islamists. Colonel Masjidi, commander of the IRGC's Ramadan headquarters, met with the Islamic Movement in mid-January, "Hawlati" reported on 27 January. On 18 January, Masjidi and other Iranian officials met with Kurdistan Islamic Group head Ali Bapir, Suleimanieh's "Komal" publication reported on 25 January. Furthermore, a delegation led by Bapir arrived in Tehran on 3 January, according to the 4 January issue of "Komal." On 30 December, Kurdistan Islamic Group officials in Arbil received Messrs. Abbasi and Qodusi from the Ramadan headquarters, and the same day another delegation of Iranian officials met with the Kurdistan Islamic Group's spiritual leader, "Komal" reported on 4 January.
Islamic Movement deputy leader Siddiq Abd-al-Aziz refused to say if the IRGC is proposing a Kurdistan Islamic Group-Islamic Movement union, according to the 27 January "Hawlati." Nevertheless, he acknowledged that Colonel Masjidi had met with officials from both Islamist groups and with the PUK. He also said that the two Islamist groups have begun negotiations.
The accelerated pace of meetings between Iranian officials, the Kurdistan Islamic Group, and the Islamic Movement may be tied to the state of relations between the Iranian government and the Ansar al-Islam (also known as the Peshtiwanani Islam le Kurdistan). A PUK official said the Iranian government informed the Kurds in November that it no longer has ties with the Ansar al-Islam, "The New York Times" reported on 14 January. Nevertheless, Kurdish officials told "The New York Times" that Iran has encouraged Ansar and helped it destabilize Kurdish secularists. Moreover, "Hawlati" reported on 30 December that Iran continues to aid Ansar.
This raises questions about Iran's motivation for supporting Ansar al-Islam. According to "Hawlati," Iran's original objective was to protect its border with Iraq's Kurdish regions by creating a "security belt." Now, Iran hopes to involve the secular Kurdish groups and the Islamists in a war of attrition, thereby reducing their ability to participate in creating a post-Hussein state.