With his bright, dancing eyes and easy smile, Akbar Ganji does not look like a man holding dark secrets of political assassination and government-sponsored violence. The 40 year-old journalist, however, has spent the last few months in jail for exposing some of those secrets.
Ganji, with his fearless reporting and vocal criticism of Iran's powerful conservatives, has become a leading voice in Iran's nascent pro-democracy movement. He is widely believed to have eclipsed in popularity all other reformist figures, including President Mohammad Khatami, who calls for a more cautious approach.
The Iran Air flight to Damascus was fully loaded and prepared for take-off from Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport. In the front half of the plane, elderly pilgrims headed to a famous Shia Muslim shrine in Damascus were urged by their tour leader to say a group prayer. "Peace and blessings to Mohammad and the family of Mohammad," the tour group responded appropriately.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said immediately after the 11 September attacks, which killed some 6,500 people, that his "deep sympathy goes out to the American nation, particularly those who have suffered from the attacks."
Iran is moving aggressively to stake out a major role in the development of Caspian Basin oil and gas reserves.
At a September 19 forum in New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazzi courted US oil-sector executives and analysts, saying Iran was prepared to cooperate with Western firms in helping develop the Caspian Basin's energy infrastructure.
Iran's hardline conservative opposition has long been suspected of scheming to halt the country's nascent democracy movement. A recent videotaped confession of a hardline militant appears to confirm the existence of a conspiracy among conservative elements in Iran aimed at upholding the old order.
Since 1992, economic relations between Germany and Iran have withered. Trade has dropped by about 50 percent. During Khatami's visit to Germany, the German government announced that it would increase its export credit guarantees by up to 500 percent in an attempt to stimulate trade.
Iran's pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami concluded a groundbreaking visit to Germany on July 12. The trip largely succeeded in producing a thaw in bilateral relations. Ties had languished for several years because of several incidents.
Three months ago, Iran's democratic reformers overwhelmingly swept Parliamentary elections, proclaimed a new era of reform, and basked in the cheers of a triumphant voting public. In last week's opening session of Parliament, they were just happy to take their seats.