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Iran's government denounces parliament decision to reduce Turkcell's stake

Tehran, Feb 21, IRNA- Government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh Monday criticized Iran's parliament which decided last week to reduce a Turkish company's stake in a major cell phone project.

"The legislative power's intention to prepare foreign agreements and deals in lieu of the executive power will set a wrong precedent in the history of the country's foreign transactions," he told reporters in his weekly news briefing.

Last Sunday, parliament decided to trim down Turkish telecommunication major Turkcell's stake in a project to set up Iran's first private mobile phone network to a non-controlling 49 percent share, citing security concerns.

"The division of shares among Irancell shareholders must be carried out in a way that the Iranian companies' stake does not go below 51 percent," the parliament declared in approving the bill.

Parliament also decreased Turkcell's subscription price to about dlrs 125 per line from the company's suggested price of dlrs 178.

Ramezanzadeh said, "We hope this parliamentary approval will not bring about a loss for the nation." Even approved by the parliament, the deal could have been blocked by the Guardian Council, which vets parliamentary laws to check their compliance with the constitution and the Islamic Sharia law.

Ramezanzadeh stressed the government's commitment to implement 'whatever is approved by the Guardian Council'.

The spokesman, however, dismissed claims made by 'those who consider foreign investment as leading to servility to the West'.

"Those who raise such slogans are asked to say whether China, Japan, Britain and other advanced countries which have attracted the highest volume of foreign investment are really servile," Ramezanzadeh said.

Iran's Minister of Communications and Information Technology Ahmad Motamedi said last week that parliament's move could lead to a situation where 'no country will ever risk to be party to Iranian deals'.

He said that a final approval would put Turkcell in a position to claim compensation for the consequent losses. Motamedi did not rule out the issue making a case for referral to The Hague for arbitration.

"I hope this will not go as far as that, but if the issue does not go ahead according to the deal, the Turkish side can file a suit," he told reporters on the sidelines of the parliament session.

Last month, Turkcell threatened to abandon the deal after an ad hoc parliamentary committee trimmed down the company's stake.

A representative of the company, Hakan Toygar, told IRNA that Turkcell would have to abandon the deal if Iran's parliament followed suit after its special commission decided to limit the company's stake.

The original deal was worth 385.7 million dollars, giving Turkey's leading GSM operator, Turkcell, a 70-percent stake in the project, called Irancell to operate 16 million lines over a period of 15 years.

Like Irancell, the fate of a deal to build and operate a major airport in southern Tehran by a Turkish consortium, TAV, has remained in balance amid security worries.

The evening daily Kayhan last Sunday quoted the newly-appointed transport minister, Mohammad Rahmati, as saying that officials have accepted to cede the IKIA to a consortium of six domestic entities if parliament removes TAV from the picture.

"In the event of the Majlis' opposition to the participation of the Turkish company TAV in the IKIA deal, the situation will change across-the-board," the paper quoted him.

He did not elaborate.

Rahmati said the government as well as the transport ministry are awaiting parliament's decision on whether to engage TAV in the deal.

Iran's armed forces closed down the Imam Khomeini International Airport on May 8, 2004, citing security concerns, just after it was officially inaugurated with the landing of a foreign aircraft.

Officials have said that the IKIA will eventually be able to handle 40 million passengers a year, making Tehran a regional transport hub.

The country's armed forces, however, have stressed that the airport will remain closed as long as 'security requirements' for conducting flights from the facility are not met.

The dispute has beaten all the way up to the Iranian parliament, leading to the impeachment in October of transport minister Ahmad Khorram, whose ministry had awarded the IKIA contract to the Turks.

The parliament also passed an urgent bill, giving itself the prerogatives to scrap the two contracts if they are deemed a threat to national security.

The decision prompted the Government to postpone President Mohammad Khatami's planned visit to Turkey.

Motamedi has stated that the current Iranian mobile phone network, providing connection to 3.5 million subscribers in a country of 70 million, lags 10 years behind the rest of the world in updating its technology.

"Bridging this gap in the short-term through traditional methods is certainly impossible," he says.

According to the communications minister, the Irancell deal, better known as the Second Operator in Iran, is 'one of the solutions to overcome this problem'.

"A simple estimate indicates that if we rely on the capability of the First Operator, given the 25-fold increase in the country's capacity, it will take between eight and ten years to meet the existing demands (for mobile phones)," Motamedi says.

Next year, 2.5 million new lines will be added to the network, according to the minister.

... Payvand News - 2/22/05 ... --

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