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Ayatollah Khamenei says U.S. statements on Iranian democracy are revealing (file photo)
U.S. interest in Iranian domestic politics has increased recently. The State Department is looking for democratic organizations or activists to support, and Congress is considering legislation relating to Iran. Iranian opposition groups, meanwhile, are soliciting U.S. support. Tehran does not see these developments in a positive light and claims that the United States has always opposed Iranians' democratic efforts.
Pursuant to a $3 million Congressional appropriation, the U.S. State Department is soliciting proposals from "educational institutions, humanitarian groups, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals inside Iran to support the advancement of democracy and human rights," "USA Today" reported on 11 April, citing the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. According to "USA Today," the U.S. government already spends approximately $15 million per year on Persian-language broadcasting to Iran.
Iranian Ambassador to the UN Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced the U.S. effort as a violation of the Algiers Accords (which prohibit interference in Iranian internal affairs) and hinted at referring the United States to an international tribunal, "USA Today" reported.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 11 April that "none of the activities that are mentioned in the announcement or the ["USA Today"] article are inconsistent with our commitments to the Algiers Accords," according to the State Department website (http://www.usinfo.state.gov). "Supporting democracy and human rights around the world is something the United States does everywhere," Boucher said. "It's not an attempt to decide somebody else's internal affairs."
Iranian state radio commented on 12 April that Washington already supports "isolated and rejected groups or elements" but that this only leads to embarrassment for the United States or these groups. It added that not only have U.S. efforts to cause "anarchy and domestic unrest" in Iran over the last 20 years failed, but they have in fact caused "increased public anger and hatred against America." The commentary concluded: "It seems that the American officials have thrown themselves in a fatal abyss by financing opposition Iranian groups."
Foggy Bottom is not the only place where people are thinking about Iran. Iran is of great interest on Capitol Hill, too.
Two Congressmen -- Bob Filner (Democrat, California) and Tom Tancredo (Republican, Colorado) -- chaired a 6 April Capitol Hill meeting of a "think tank" called the Iran Policy Committee, U.S. Newswire reported. Filner described the meeting as an effort by the Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus of the House of Representatives to learn more about Iran and to consider ways to confront it. Tancredo called for an end to the State Department's designation of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization as a terrorist group.
Radio Farda reported that the Middle East Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives discussed legislation relating to Iran on 13 April in Washington, DC. The Iran Freedom Support Act (HR 282) defines its purpose as, "To hold the current regime in Iran accountable for its threatening behavior and to support a transition to democracy in Iran." The legislation calls on the White House to support pro-democracy forces that oppose the Iranian regime.
The legislation is supported by 140 members of the House of Representatives and is stricter in some ways than the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996. The bill calls for mandatory sanctions for those who help Iran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, Radio Farda reported. The legislation also says that independent expatriate Iranian broadcasters should receive funding, and it calls for assistance to pro-democracy forces and groups in the country.
The full International Relations Committee now will consider the legislation, Radio Farda reported, and if it is adopted the entire House will debate it.
Opponents of the Iranian regime -- under the umbrella of the National Convention for a Democratic Secular Republic in Iran -- met in Washington on 14 April to demand U.S. support for their activities. Mujahedin Khalq Organization leader Mariam Rajavi addressed the event via a video link from France. She is not allowed to enter the United States because the MKO is a terrorist organization. Rajavi accused the United States and EU of appeasing the Iranian regime, and she demanded recognition of her cult-like group as a government-in-exile. Several U.S. legislators attended this event. Representatives Filner, Dennis Moore (Republican, Kansas), Ted Poe (Republican, Texas), and Tancredo were there, as were staff members of Kay Bailey Hutchinson (Republican, Texas) and James Talent (Republican, Missouri).
Not surprisingly, Tehran has reacted angrily to these developments.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on 14 April that U.S. statements about promoting democracy in Iran reveal that Washington has a specific timetable in mind, IRNA reported. Khamenei said anonymous "certain individuals" should not be allowed to help what IRNA termed an "interventionist conspiracy."
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani also spoke dismissively about the pro-democracy initiatives in the U.S. "There is sufficient democracy in Iran," he said in an interview that appeared on the Financial Times website on 19 December. "Whenever we have wanted to extend democracy, the Americans have opposed it."