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Issue 339 - 14 June 1988

CHANGE AT THE TOP

Free

The appointment of Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Majlis Speaker, as acting commander-in-chief of Iran's armed forces has been almost universally taken - and probably correctly - as an indication of the regime's concern over not only the recent military setbacks on the battlefield but also dissatisfaction with the overall conduct of the war.

Issue 338 - 31 May 1988

PAYING THE PRICE

Free

By agreeing to exchange ambassadors with Iran "at the earliest opportunity" France has paid the first instalment of the account presented by Iran for its part in obtaining the release of the three French hostages held by an Islamic Jihad group in Lebanon. Michel Rocard, the new Prime Minister, has said that his Socialist Government did not have all the details of the deal which gained freedom for the hostages but "France has given her word and she will keep it in those areas that are known about.

Issue 337 - 17 May 1988

INEVITABLE OUTCOME

Free

Some eight years of steadily worsening relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia culminated last month with the kingdom's decision to sever diplomatic ties with Tehran. Saudi Arabia's official reasons for the break refer to Iran's "hostile attitudes and practices" and singles out the mob attack on the kingdom's embassy in Tehran and an Iranian attempt two years ago to smuggle explosives into the country, using the Iranian pilgrim contingent as cover, as prime causes for its action. But even a semblance of any cordiality in the relationship between the two countries was ended with the violence which broke out in Makkah during last year's Haj ceremonies, resulting, according to Saudi Arabia, in the deaths of 402 people.

Issue 336 - 03 May 1988

A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

Free

For the first time since 1982 Iran has lost and Iraq has regained territory in the land war in the seven and a half year old Gulf conflict. Iraq's recapture of the strategic Al Faw peninsula has been greeted with jubilation in Baghdad and by face-saving references to a "redeployment to new positions" from Tehran.

Issue 335 - 19 April 1988

MISSILE FALL-OUT

Free

The revelation that Saudi Arabia has acquired Chinese-made ballistic missiles continues to cast shadows over the kingdom's relations with the United States. Since the news of the missiles first leaked out (Gulf States Newsletter No. 334), the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Hume Horan, has been brought back to Washington after only a six-month sojourn in Riyadh, the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister has paid a flying visit to the kingdom and King Fahd has been making frequent public justifications of the deal with China.

Issue 334 - 05 April 1988

THE MISSILE MESSAGE

Free

The acquisition by Saudi Arabia of Chinese-made surface-to-surface missiles introduces yet one more complicating strategic element into the already anarchic military situation in the Middle East. The CSS-2 class missile, named "Dong Feng" (East Wind) by the Chinese, has a range of about 2,200 miles. Sited in the kingdom, it is capable of reaching most parts of the region, including Tel Aviv, Tehran and Aden.

Issue 333 - 21 March 1988

THE RISING TOLL

Free

The ceasefire agreed last week in the Iran/lraq war of the cities lasted only two days: it resumed, in a welter of charges and counter-charges by the two belligerents, with increased ferocity. Before the fragile truce came into force, more than 100 missiles had been fired, about 70 launched by Iraq and over 30 by Iran. Since then, much the same ratio of missile strikes has been maintained. The concentrated missile barrages have introduced a new and savage ingredient into the Gulf war. There is no longer any pretence that military targets are the objectives; the missile attacks are meant to cause civilian casualties and in this they are horribly effective

Issue 332 - 07 March 1988

CORDIAL ASSOCIATIONS

Free

The restoration of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union was brought a little closer by the recent visit to Riyadh by a senior Soviet official, Viktor Polyakov. The visit came three weeks after Prince Saud al Faisal, the Foreign Minister, had been in Moscow as an envoy of the GCC, of which Saudi Arabia is currently chairman. Prince Saud had delivered a message from King Fahd urging the convening of the UN Security Council to consider action on Iran's rejection of the UN resolution on a ceasefire in the Gulf war.

Issue 331 - 22 February 1988

THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE

Free

Later this week George Shultz, the US Secretary of State, begins a tour of the Middle East in order, it is widely held, to continue previous US efforts to obtain a lasting settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute. But the State Department, announcing the Secretary of State's trip, was careful to disclaim any such grand and ambitious notions. Mr. Shultz would not, the Department said, be presenting any formal US peace plan at his ports of call and no dramatic breakthroughs were expected as a result of his visit.

Issue 330 - 08 February 1988

NOTHING IS FOR FREE

Free

Riyadh's laconic announcement last month that Prince Saud al Faisal, the Foreign Minister, was to visit Moscow for talks with the Soviet leadership was issued with a studied - and remarkable - lack of fanfare. No particular remark was made of the fact that Prince Saud's visit would provide the opportunity for the highest-level discussions to have taken place between Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union for several years. Prince Saud was in Moscow in 1982, but he went there in the capacity of head of a seven-man Arab League delegation and Saudi-Soviet relations were not at issue.

Issue 329 - 25 January 1988

HALTING PROGRESS

Free

A flurry of recent Arab diplomatic activity, directed mainly at Tehran and aimed at bringing a halt to the Gulf war, has been the dominant feature in the region. At the beginning of this month, following on from the December summit meeting of the GCC heads of state during which the Syrian Foreign Minister, Faruq al Shara held discussions with the Gulf leaders, a Syrian-brokered peace initiative was under way. It had a not unpromising beginning, with Tehran indicating its willingness to engage in a dialogue with the six GCC states on ways to ease tension in the region.

Issue 328 - 11 January 1988

KHOMEINI'S WILL

Free

Last month, Imam Khomeini revised his political testament, handing it over for safe keeping until his death. It replaces a will whose contents are also secret which was drawn up some 10 years ago, and two copies will be sent - one to the majlis (parliament) where it will be in the possession of the Assembly of Experts, the other to the holy shrine of Imam Reza at Hashhad. Great ceremony and some confusion surrounded the dispatch of the copies of the will, with many leading figures from the regime present at the performance. Since the drawing up of a new political will is seen as a particularly important event, the ceremony was televised in full.

Issue 327 - 14 December 1987

LINE-UP IN IRAN

Free

Over the past few weeks, Iran's political leaders have all been making repeated public statements in preparation for the next expected ground offensive against Iraq. The valour, enthusiasm and proficiency of the armed forces have been lavishly praised, those who suspect Iran of battle-weariness have been admonished, and the United States has been defiantly challenged to show its mettle. But beneath this apparently unanimous chorus of belligerent confidence lie sharp divisions within the ruling hierarchy which seem scarcely noticed outside Iran.

Issue 326 - 30 November 1987

RAFSANJANI IN TROUBLE?

Free

Suddenly, a cloud seems to have passed over the political prospects of Hojatolislam Hashemi Rafsanjani, the speaker of the Majlis (parliament) and hitherto the most powerful political figure in the Iranian regime after Ayatollah Khomeini. Rafsanjani is being exposed to mounting - and apparently concerted - criticism for his moderation on the issue of the war.

Issue 325 - 16 November 1987

ARAB ADJUSTMENTS

Free

The negative responses from Iran and Iraq to the UN Secretary General's latest proposals for a ceasefire in the Gulf war effectively quashed any hopes that the replies might have opened the road to an eventual peace settlement. Iran dismissed the UN proposals, which would link a ceasefire to the setting up of an independent commission to establish the blame for starting the war, accusing the UN of "cheating" and adopting a partisan attitude in favour of Iraq.