1 MIDDLE EAST DAILY BULLETIN / GÜNLÜK ORTADOĞU BÜLTENİ 24 MARCH 2010 / 24 MART 2010 TABLE OF CONTENTS / İÇİNDEKİLER 1. IRAQ / IRAK 2. IRAN / İRAN 3. ISRAEL PALESTINE / İSRAİL - FİLİSTİN 4. LEBANON / LÜBNAN 5. EGYPT / MISIR 6. SYRIA / SURİYE
2 1. IRAQ / IRAK An al Qaeda-linked militant group claimed responsibility for election day bombings in Iraq and vowed to continue attacks against U.S. forces, according to an audiotape. The group, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), had threatened voters before the March 7 parliamentary election. It called the election a farce aimed at cementing Shi'ite Muslims' domination of minority Sunnis. "We will continue to pursue the occupation, its helpers, and its agents, until we purify the land of their filth," said the audiotape posted late on Tuesday on a website used by jihadists. The site said the voice was that of ISI head Abu Omar al-baghdadi. The speaker said the rocket, mortar and other attacks that killed 39 people on election day were aimed at keeping Sunnis from voting and not at killing them. Despite the threats 62 percent of Iraq's registered voters turned out to cast ballots. Overall violence in Iraq has fallen in the last two years, but a series of blasts shattered the peace in the months leading up to the election. The vote was seen as a crucial test as Iraq emerges from years of war and sectarian slaughter. ISI is believed by intelligence analysts to have been created by al Qaeda in Iraq as a local umbrella group for insurgent organizations. Iraq's Sunnis feel they have been marginalized by the ascent of the Shi'ite majority after the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. At least 100,000 Iraqis have been killed in the seven years since the invasion. (Reuters) Gunmen killed five Iraqi soldiers when they attacked an army checkpoint in the village of Radwaniya near Baghdad, the Baghdad security spokesman's office said. (Reuters) A roadside bomb wounded three people in eastern Baghdad, police said. (Reuters) A roadside bomb killed a bomb disposal expert while he was trying to defuse it in Muqdadiya, 80 km (50 miles) northeast of Baghdad, police said. (Reuters)
3 A roadside bomb killed one civilian and wounded two others when it exploded as a police patrol passed by in central Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said. (Reuters) Two people were killed and 16 others wounded in separate attacks in Baghdad and Iraq's eastern Diyala province on Tuesday, the police said. In Diyala, an Iraqi soldier was killed and seven others were injured in a bomb explosion near their patrol in the town of Jalawla, some 150 km northeast of Baghdad, a provincial police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. Also in the province, the leader of a local anti-qaida paramilitary group was killed when a roadside bomb struck his motorcycle in the town of Baladruz, east of the provincial capital city of Baquba, some 65 km northeast of Baghdad, the source said. Three more people, including a child, were wounded in another roadside bomb explosion near their car in Baladruz, the source added. In Baghdad, four people were wounded when a roadside bomb went off near the Elwiyah Hospital in eastern the capital, an Interior Ministry source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. In separate incident, two people were wounded in a roadside bomb explosion near the Babil Hotel on the eastern side on the Tigris River which bisects the Iraqi capital, the source said. The attacks came as the Iraqis across the country are expecting the results of the March 7 parliamentary election which will shape the future of the war-torn country. (Xinhua) Iraq's two main Shi'ite political blocs, one led by Prime Minister Nuri al-maliki and another whose leaders have close ties to Iran, are discussing a merger that could widen Iraq's sectarian divide. A union between Maliki's State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance, two of the top three vote-getters in Iraq's March 7 parliamentary election, could sideline secularist former premier Iyad Allawi, whose cross-sectarian Iraqiya coalition won strong support from minority Sunnis. A merger could also push aside Maliki, who wants another term at the helm. One of INA's major components, the Sadrist movement of anti-american cleric Moqtada al-sadr, was the top vote-getter for INA and has poor relations with the premier. The makeup of the next government is being watched closely by Washington, which plans to formally end combat operations in Iraq by September 1, and by global oil companies that have signed multibilliondollar contracts to develop Iraq's oilfields.
4 "There has been more than one meeting with INA to reach a deal to form an alliance or merge both coalitions," Sami al-askari, a prominent member of Maliki's State of Law, told Reuters shortly after another leading member of the bloc issued a public statement saying the two needed to merge. State of Law is running in a virtual dead heat with Allawi's coalition. None of the leading blocs is expected to win enough seats to form a government alone and talks between parties and coalitions about potential alliances are in full swing. The final preliminary vote count is scheduled to be released on Friday, nearly three weeks after the election. Allawi's Iraqiya drew strong support from Iraq's minority Sunni population and analysts have said any attempt to exclude Iraqiya from the government could anger Sunnis marginalised after the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. "There is a necessity to merge the State of Law coalition and the Iraqi National Alliance," Ali al-dabbagh, who serves as Maliki's government spokesman, said in a written statement. Former Partners Maliki and INA's main component, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), are former partners that split before the March 7 election. ISCI, formed in exile in Shi'ite neighbor Iran, allied for the election with the Sadrist movement. There had been speculation that ISCI and the Sadrists, who performed strongly, would split after the election. But INA sources suggested a merger of the two coalitions would include the Sadrists, who are known to have strong objections to Maliki remaining as prime minister. Al-Askari said there was no talk of dropping Maliki as the candidate for premier of a merged bloc. "There is no other choice except Maliki," he said. But a senior INA member and candidate in the election, who confirmed the two blocs were in merger talks, said the union could not happen if State of Law insisted on Maliki as premier. "It's impossible to allow Maliki to be PM again," the official said. "There is no way to change this and if he (Maliki) rejects this, OK, let him go to ally with Iraqiya." In reaction to the possibility of a State of Law-INA merger, Iraqiya candidate Jamal al- Bateekh said: "There are people who want to cling to power despite the voters' interest." "Forming coalitions is a natural right for the winning blocs, but we want the country's interest to prevail, not the sectarian coalitions that will return us to square one." Sixteen
5 days after the election, about 95 percent of the vote count has been made public. Allawi's Iraqiya leads Maliki's State of Law by about 11,000 votes. Maliki's bloc is ahead in seven of 18 provinces and Allawi's in five. Seats in parliament will be allocated on the basis of a bloc's success in each province, not the national popular vote. State of Law and Iraqiya each expect to hold more than 90 of the 325 parliamentary seats. Analysts say INA may win Formation of a new government is expected to take months. Analysts have said attempts to sideline Allawi could be seen as an attempt to relegate Sunnis to the political wilderness and set back Iraq's fragile security gains following years of sectarian warfare that killed tens of thousands of people. The United States plans to halve the number of troops in Iraq by the end of August and withdraw completely before (Reuters) Supporters of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-maliki complained of vote fraud yesterday after new but incomplete results from a March 7 election showed their candidate trailing secularist challenger Iyad Allawi. Allawi, who served as interim prime minister from , could still lose his narrow edge over Maliki, a Shiite whose law-andorder message has put him ahead in seven of 18 provinces, including electoral prizes Baghdad and Basra. But no matter what the final outcome, Allawi's strong showing, particularly among minority Sunnis resentful of the dominance of Shiite religious parties since 2003, has broad implications for the formation of the next government and stability in the country once U.S. troops withdraw. Allawi's cross-sectarian Iraqiya alliance is leading in five provinces, and his nationwide edge is only 9,000 votes. Trailing the front-runners are the Shiite Iraqi National Alliance (INA) and Kurdish parties that dominate Iraq's Kurdish north. It is too early to say who Iraq's next coalition government will include, and the weeks or months of charged negotiations ahead may become even more fraught if, as the close race suggests, the results are challenged by those who lose out. Ali al-adeeb, a close Maliki ally, said the PM's State of Law bloc had been tipped off by election workers that votes were being manipulated in favour of a competitor. The bloc has
6 asked for a recount in Baghdad. A Western official said: "Systemic fraud is virtually impossible." (Reuters) Leaders with the secular Iraqiya list said Tuesday they feared its members would be targets of assassination attempts after the final vote count in Iraq. The Iraqiya list of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has a slim lead over the State of Law coalition of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-maliki from March 7 parliamentary elections. Jamal al-batiekh, a member of Iraqiya, told the Voices of Iraq news agency that the secular membership was worried as the Iraqiya lead solidifies. "There is a fear that some competitors could resort to assassination against the list's leaders after the preliminary results, which show the advancement of Iraqiya," he said. Maliki during the weekend asked for a manual recount of the votes as the official vote count topped 90 percent. He warned election officials that security could deteriorate in the country after the final tally. Iraqiya in a statement Tuesday, meanwhile, said it would take legal action against "the caretaker government" for launching a "smear campaign" in the media against the coalition. Several of the leading contenders in the parliamentary elections have issued rhetoric targeting their opponents both before and after the March 7 vote. Iraqi satellite station al- Sumaria reports that "intensified talks" are under way between members of the State of Law collation and the Iraqi National Alliance of Shiite leader Ahmed Chalabi to form a future alliance. Iraqi election officials said a final vote count was expected by Friday. (UPI) The Kurds, the strongest U.S. ally in Iraq and a leading political kingmaker, appear likely to lose some of their influence to a stridently anti-american group that did surprisingly well in this month's parliamentary elections. Fiery cleric Moqtada al-sadr's movement -- whose militiamen have battled the Americans and were blamed for some of the worst sectarian violence of recent years -- is positioned to take a pivotal role in the next parliament. The Shiite Muslim group, which had largely been driven underground by U.S. and Iraqi forces, has made a remarkable comeback by developing a sophisticated political organization in addition to its armed wing. Meanwhile, the staunchly pro-american Kurdistan Alliance has been weakened by a fracturing of the Kurdish electorate, according to a preliminary count of Iraq's March 7 vote. Although the
7 Kurds had been the most important kingmaker in past governments, they probably will share that role with the Sadrists as the two leading vote-getters -- Ayad Allawi's secular Iraqiya bloc and Prime Minister Nouri al-maliki's State of Law group -- struggle to build a coalition. "The Sadrists had political and military power that surpassed that of the government, but they misused it and ended up in jails and in exile," said political analyst Ibrahim al- Sumaidaie. "Now, they have mastered their political power. They will find that the political game will give them more power and a wider role than their guns." In 2006, the Sadrists played a part in choosing Maliki, a Shiite, as prime minister. Two years later, Maliki relented to U.S. pressure and deployed the Iraqi military to target the Sadrist militia, the Mahdi Army, in a successful offensive. But instead of disappearing, the Sadrists regrouped, shifting their focus from armed struggle to political strategizing. In advance of this year's elections, the Sadrists were among the only blocs in Iraq to educate voters about the nation's complex electoral system. Although they nominated only 52 candidates out of the more than 6,000 who ran nationwide, they were shrewd in deciding which seats to target. As a result, they are expected to win as many as 40 seats in the next parliament, with their Shiite allies probably taking just over 20. There are 325 seats in the new parliament. As of Monday, 95 percent of the votes had been counted, with the remaining results due on Friday. The Sadrists' electoral success comes as the strength of the Kurdish coalition -- a bedrock of U.S. support -- has been thrown into doubt. The two main Kurdish parties face an internal challenge from a breakaway movement called Goran, or Change, which is expected to win eight to 10 seats. The Kurdistan Alliance, made up of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party, also lost seats in the ethnically mixed provinces of Diyala and Nineveh, where Sunni Arabs, whose participation was hampered by violence in the December 2005 parliamentary elections, turned out to vote in large numbers this time around. The alliance is expected to hold about 42 seats in the new parliament. In the last parliament, which had 275 members, it had 50 seats and was boosted by eight legislators from other Kurdish parties. Goran is considered a wild card, because no one knows whether its legislators will ultimately side with the alliance. "The role of the Kurds depends to a large
8 degree on what the Goran is going to do," said Sumaidaie, the analyst. "If Goran goes on a collision course with the Kurdistan Alliance... the power of the Kurds will be diminished." The contest for the largest number of seats in Iraq's next parliament is now between the groups headed by Allawi and Maliki, which are locked in a neck-and-neck race. Both are expected to court the Kurds and the Sadrists to secure the majority needed to form a government. "They are going to try to woo both blocs," said Tanya Gilly, a Kurdish legislator. "Anybody who is going to get those two is going to be able to form the government. Our numbers have decreased, but at the same time, the presence of any of these alliances gives the government more legitimacy." On Friday, Hakim al-zamili, a Sadrist candidate for parliament, sat in the front row of an outdoor prayer service in Baghdad and was besieged by admirers who rushed to hug him and kiss his ring. Unlike many Iraqi politicians, Sadrist candidates tend to live and pray in the communities they plan to serve. "Everyone is scared of the Sadr trend now," said Zamili, a top vote-getter in Baghdad who is poised to win a seat. Zamili, a former deputy minister of health, was detained by the United States for more than a year. He was accused of running a militia through the ministry and was seen as a significant player in the sectarian warfare that nearly crippled the country. He says he was defending the ministry from "terrorists." The Sadrists have not abandoned their violent tactics and continue to promote themselves as forcefully resisting the U.S. occupation. The leader of the movement, Sadr, has been living in Iran for about three years but retains his influence because of the sway he holds with the Shiite poor. At the Friday service, men passed out DVDs carrying a message from Sadr promising to avenge U.S. arrests of the group's members. After the message, the recording showed a series of attacks by the Mahdi Army against U.S. military vehicles and bases dating from 2009 and earlier this year. "Do not be weak. You are in our hearts and in our mind," the message from Sadr said, addressing the detainees. "We will not forget you as long as we are living." (Washington Post) Senior politicians from Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's ruling coalition warned Tuesday that Shiite Muslim-dominated southern Iraq could severely loosen its ties with Baghdad if the nation's electoral commission failed to meet its demand for a manual
9 recount of ballots in parliamentary elections. The politicians, who also echoed Maliki's warning Sunday that sectarian violence could return without a recount, accused the U.S. Embassy of working against them. In turn, Western diplomats and advisors to the Iraqi government described Maliki's circle as terrified of losing power and said Iraq was entering a dangerous period. Preliminary results of the March 7 balloting are due Friday, but the Independent High Electoral Commission has already made it clear it does not intend to conduct a ballot-by-ballot recount. The U.S. Embassy and the United Nations have said that the elections appeared to have been carried out in a credible fashion, with no evidence of widespread fraud. An analysis of the latest figures by the U.S. military has projected that Maliki's slate will lose the popular vote but win 90 parliamentary seats, compared with 87 seats for the Iraqiya list of his rival Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite and previous prime minister. Such a narrow outcome would make it difficult for Maliki to cobble together a ruling coalition in parliament, observers say, explaining the unease among Maliki supporters. Sami Askari, a member of Maliki's inner circle and his State of Law election slate, described the electoral commission as a U.N. puppet. He also accused the CIA and elements of the State Department of working to bring Allawi, who has ties to the U.S. intelligence community, back to power. "The Americans told me six months ago that the CIA and State Department are working on bringing back Allawi," Askari said. "Within State of Law, many believe this." Askari referred repeatedly to a plot to bring down Maliki's coalition and install Allawi's slate, which includes figures associated with the late dictator Saddam Hussein's Sunni Arabdominated regime. Askari said if there was no recount, many Shiites would refuse to support a central government that they feared heralded the resurrection of Hussein's Baath Party, which tormented the Shiite majority for 35 years before being toppled in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Askari warned that Shiites in the south have threatened to cut oil to Baghdad and freeze their relationship with the capital. He also said he worried that Shiites in mixed areas would be provoked into fighting. "The question is not who will be the prime minister, but what will be the fate of the country. Will we face chaos? Will we be an unstable country? This is the question," Askari said.
10 His remarks amounted to the most extensive explanation of the thoughts behind a statement Maliki issued over the weekend invoking his status as commander in chief in warning that a failure to hold a recount could lead to renewed sectarian violence. Askari made it clear that Maliki would act if the situation started to deteriorate. The U.S. Embassy has publicly denied any concern over the letter, although in private, many members of the international community and U.S. military have expressed anxiety over the remarks. If the vote is seen as illegitimate, Askari said, the Shiite south could declare itself a semiautonomous region and hoard Iraq's oil wealth as the country fragmented. He argued Maliki could be forced to act to restore legitimacy to the vote and guarantee a credible transition. "Maliki insists on the recounting because he takes into consideration the security situation in Iraq," Askari said. "He predicts and fears the situation will be dire.... He will use all legal and legitimate means to control the government." The prime minister's confidant insisted Maliki was a democrat and that any actions taken in the coming days would be aimed at keeping the country intact. "He will have to consider what measures to take, but in the end, he will be ready to give the prime minister [post] to anyone who is chosen by parliament," Askari said. "This is a democracy." Meeting Monday with Maliki, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and Army Gen. Ray Odierno informed the prime minister that they did not support a recount, according to Iraqis and others familiar with the talks. Others around Maliki warned that they would never accept election results they felt had been manipulated. "There is a dynamic inside the Iraqi society toward refusing the manipulation of their votes," said Khalid Assadi, a member of Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party and his State of Law coalition. "Even if the results are announced, we will not accept them." A Western advisor to the Iraqi government described Askari as the most sensible person in Maliki's circle and worried about what might come next. "They are very close to doing things that are really stupid," the advisor said. "Knowing how all these people operate, aren't you wondering if they have been planning to declare the election rigged...."it's a very dangerous period. I hope it's mostly bravado and tongue-whipping, but I'm not sure that it is." (LAT)
11 Major Kurdish media published Secretary Clinton s message on Nowruz, in which she offered her congratulations and best wishes to all those around the world celebrating Nowruz. Her message on behalf of the American people was well received locally for making explicit mention of Kurds as among those celebrating the holiday. All Kurdish media included the part saying For Iranians, Afghans, Kurds, Azeris, and people across Central Asia, Nowruz marks the beginning of a new year full of promise and possibility. On this occasion, Secretary Clinton also cited the Iranian poet Simin Behbahani who wrote we are all parts of the same body, similar in essence. The Kurdish media outlets that published the message included PUKMedia.com, KIU website, KNN TV, Peyamner.com, Rwber.net, Hawlati.info and Kurdistani Nwe newspaper. (PUKMedia) PUKMedia.com reported on March 19, Vatican radio disclosed a letter sent by Ninewa Governor Atheel Nujaifi to Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-maliki, in which he accused Kurds of expelling Mosul Christians in order to expand the KRG s borders. In the letter, Nujaifi asked for an international investigation. Nujaifi sent copies of the letter to USF-I Commander in Iraq and asked the UN and European Union to investigate the case and uncover the reasons behind the killing of the Christians. (PUKMedia) An unnamed source told the independent newspaper Awene that KRG President Masoud Barzani met with a Change Movement (Goran) delegation consisting of Mustafa Sayid Qadir, Qadir Haji Ali and Osman Haji Mahmud on March 20. The meeting took place behind closed doors. The source added that this meeting is part of preparations for a bigger meeting that Barzani wants to hold with representatives of all KRG Lists which won Iraqi Council of Representatives (ICoR) seats. The bigger meeting will take place after Nowruz Holidays. The source said that during the meeting, the Goran delegation stressed that if the Kurdistani List and PUK want Goran s support on several key issues that the Kurdistani List and PUK will take up in Baghdad, the PUK should quit fighting Goran in Sulaiamaniyah. Goran wants the PUK to stop putting pressure or dismissing Goran-affiliated employees in KRG, and end the campaign of arresting their members among Peshmerga and KMOI forces. According to the source, Barzani s response was positive, and he promised to also covey Goran s message to President Talabani. (Awene) Change Movement (Goran) s website Gorran.org reported that on March 18, a delegation of Goran members in the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament (IKP) visited KRG Prime Minister Dr. Barham Salih. Goran IKP member Kardo Muhammed said that, as
12 opposition, they believed it is necessary to visit the Prime Minister to solve problems related to political situations, including election-related and other violations against their members in the government for holding different political views. The delegation submitted a memorandum with their key points to Salih. (Gorran.org) The independent magazine Lvin published an editorial entitled Please, Do Not Sell All Kurds for Talabani s Seat in which the author, Hemin Baqir, starts by asking a question Which is more important: Talabani or the Kurdish cause? Baqir opines that the Kurdish cause is, in fact, more important, and asks why would the PUK forget Kurdish issues in order to secure Talabani s seat? Baqir believes that Talabani compromised several Kurdish issues in exchange for the Presidency in Baghdad. In response, Baqir pleads to the political leadership do not sell us, our cause, Kirkuk and Peshmerga, all together, for Talabani s seat. (Lvin) The PUK-backed newspaper Kurdistani Nwe reported that KRG Prime Minister Dr. Barham Salih received the Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Kazimi Qumi. Both sides discussed areas of cooperation and Iraq and the region s political developments. (Kurdistani Nwe) Kurdistan Islamic Union s website Kurdiu.org reported that PKK Leader Murat Qaraylan predicted that serious fighting will take place between PKK guerillas and the Turkish army this coming Spring. Qarayalan said that the PKK will retaliate severely if they are attacked. (Kurdiu.org) 2. IRAN / İRAN Head of Iran-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Group Masahiko Komura said Iran is a great and influential country and a regional power. Komura was speaking in a ceremony held in Iran s ambassador s residence in Tokyo to celebrate Iranian new year on Tuesday night. Komura, who was once Japan s foreign minister, emphasized that Iran-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Group believes that peaceful use of nuclear energy is the absolute right of all NPT members. He expressed hope that Iran s nuclear issue would be solved through peaceful ways and negotiations. Iran s Ambassador to Tokyo Seyed Abbas Araqchi said Iran and Japan are among the victims of weapons of mass destruction. He said people of Japan were the first victims of
13 atomic bombs and Iranians have been the victims of chemical weapons. This can be a motive for both Iran and Japan to cooperate in order to establish a world free of weapons of mass destruction," said Araqchi. He added there is no dark point in Iran- Japan relations and Iranians have a good image of Japan in their minds and this can help expand bilateral relations. (IRNA) Turkish Minister of State Hayati Yazici lauded the close ties between Tehran and Ankara, and said the two countries' customs and economic relations will further expand in future. "There is very good cooperation between Iran and Turkey in the political and trade fields and bilateral relations are going to gain further boost in the future," Yazici said in a interview with the Islamic republic news agency on Monday. He said the two-way ties have expanded to a high level since 2009 since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Teyyip Erdogan's Iran visit. He added that his trip to Iran's northern province of Gilan is aimed at upgrading bilateral customs relations via their borders. More on the issue, he said there will be customs protocols to be endorsed by the two sides' officials to that effect. (FARSNEWSAGENCY) Azerbaijan's Energy Minister Natiq Aliyef asked for Iran and Iraq's participation in the Nabucco gas pipeline project. In an interview published in UK newspaper Independent, the minister said the success of the Nabucco pipeline will be based on the participation of other gas-rich countries such as Iran and Iraq, as Azerbaijan could not produce all the required gas for the project. "I don't think construction will be in one or two years. Countries like Iraq, Iran and Turkmenistan need to join this project," he said. The Nabucco gas pipeline project worth 7.9 billion envisages gas supply from the Caspian region to EU countries. Construction of the gas pipeline was scheduled for The first supplies will be launched in Maximal capacity of pipeline will hit 31 billion cubic meters per year. The proposed 3,300-kilometer Nabucco pipeline aims to carry natural gas from Central Asia via Turkey and the Balkan states to Austria, bypassing Russia and Ukraine. Participants of the project are Austrian OMV, Hungarian MOL, Bulgarian Bulgargaz, Romanian Transgaz, Turkish Botas and German RWE companies. Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari told FNA in December 2009 that Iran's participation in the project would be a must for the materialization of the project because the member states of the project will not be able to produce and supply the gas needed for the project. Earlier in July, Managing Director of the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC) Seyed Reza Kassaeizadeh underlined that the Nabucco pipeline project would make no progress without Iran. "It is obvious that Europe needs several gas supplying pipelines. Iran is the main gas supplier in the region and has rich resources, high security and proper infrastructure. In other words, Nabucco pipeline would not be materialized and
14 would remain at the level a plan without Iran," Kassaeizadeh told FNA. Iran sits on 16 percent of the world's natural gas reserves - second in the world only to Russia. (FARSNEWSAGENCY) The vice president for parliamentary affairs has said administration will continue its dialogue with Majlis to resolve dispute over the subsidy issue, proposing establishing an arbitration committee to mediate between the administration and the Majlis. An arbitration working committee comprising certain Majlis representatives and state officials as wells certain economic experts, who has no particular political affiliation, should be formed to reassess the subsidy bill, Mohammadreza Mirtajedini told the Mehr News Agency. The tension between Majlis and government is heightening as President Ahmadinejad said on Friday that his government needs 40 billion dollars from subsidy cuts savings to implement the reform plan. Majlis approved only $20 billion. The president also suggested holding a referendum on a reform to the subsidy system that would save $40 billion and threatened his government would not implement the plan if the Majlis did not agree with its request. ollowing these remarks three lawmakers Ahmad Tavakoli, Elyas Naderan, and Gholamreza Mesbahi Moqaddam issued a statement seeking a televised debate with the president over the Majlis ratification. Mirtajedini said the key to settling the dispute is at the hand of Majlis and if Majlis agrees with the administration s request then there will be no need for a referendum. Mirtajedini, who resigned as lawmaker to take over as vice president, said discussions over economic issues should be done in logical and academic environment. He also dismissed as unusual the call for a TV debate with the president by the three legislators, saying there are persons in the administration who are ready to hold debates with the three lawmakers and give logical responses to their arguments. The vice president added those lawmakers who oppose raising revenues from subsidy cuts are those who pushed for fixing prices in the previous parliament which led to a postponement of subsidy reform plan for four years. In confirming the annual budget for the current Iranian year which began on March 21 the Guardian Council okayed the Majlis ratification for saving only $20 billion from subsidy cuts. When a parliamentary bill is approved by the Guardian Council the government is obliged to implement it. Putting a brake on such a great economic reform is easy but to put it in motion again will be very difficult, the cleric VP noted. Constitutionally, when Majlis and Guardian Council cannot reach an agreement over a bill the issue is referred to the Expediency Council for a final arbitration. However, Mirtajedini predicted that the issue will not be sent to the Guardian Council or the Expediency Council, saying the administration will pursue the issue until a compromise is reached between Majlis and government. (TEHRANTIMES)