"The Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) will shortly discuss a plan to move the capital from Tehran," SNSC chief Hassan Rohani was quoted as saying by the Hayat-e No newspaper.

Rohani said a plan to move the capital, which lies on a major seismological fault, was proposed by the SNSC in 1991, "but due to resistance from certain entities in the establishment, the plan was halted."
 
Rohani said the SNSC would update its 1991 proposal on moving the capital and submit it for consideration by the end of the current Iranian calendar year in March 2004. He did not say to where the capital could be moved.

Government spokesman Abd Allah Ramazanzadeh said moving the capital had been under discussion since 1989 due to Tehran's heavy overcrowding, chaotic traffic, chronic pollution and earthquake risk.

"There have been contradictory views and still our experts have not been able reach a conclusion," Ramazanzadeh told a news conference on Monday.

Quake could kill 700,000

Even before the 26 December earthquake in Bam, which measured 6.8 on the Richter scale and killed more than 30,000, seismologists had warned a strong earthquake in Tehran would be catastrophic for the city of 12 million people. 
 

More than 30,000 were killed in
Bam quake

Bahram Akasheh, professor of geophysics at Tehran university, has said a quake of similar magnitude of that in Bam would kill over 700,000 people. Government buildings would be destroyed, leaving the state powerless to respond.

Akasheh has written to President Muhammad Khatami to propose moving the capital to the central city of Isfahan, which was the country's capital in the late 16th century under monarch Shah Abbas the Great. The capital was moved to Tehran in 1788.

Government officials have acknowledged in recent days that building regulations in Tehran and other Iranian cities have not been adequately enforced - meaning that most buildings were vulnerable to even moderate earthquakes.

Efforts for less risk

Ramazanzadeh said some efforts had been made to make Tehran less of an earthquake risk, but much more needed to be done.

"The government's latest move was securing Tehran's natural gas pipeline network. But we still have a long way to go to make Tehran a safe place to live".

Tehran was last hit by a major earthquake in 1830, but seismologists say a major fault line is located along the base of the Alborz mountains in the north of the capital.

Numerous small tremors jolt the city each year.

The Aftab-e Yazd newspaper on Monday reported Health Ministry estimates that a quake measuring seven on the Richter scale would destroy 90% of the city's hospitals.