France Warns Of Possible War With Iran
Kouchner said the EU is preparing its own sanctions against Iran (file photo)
September 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- For the second time in less than a month, France has warned that the crisis over Iran's nuclear program could lead to war.
On September 16, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said negotiations with Tehran should continue "to the end," but he cautioned that the world should also prepare for a possible military conflict.
In an interview on French television and radio, Kouchner said "we must prepare for the worst." Asked how France would prepare for a military conflict with Iran, Kouchner said, "We prepare, first of all, by trying to put together plans that are the prerogative of the head of state, but that is not for tomorrow. We prepare by saying we won't accept the building of this [nuclear] bomb."
Kouchner’s words were an echo of the French president's warning a month ago.
In August, in his first major foreign policy address, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said an Iran with nuclear weapons was “unacceptable.”
Sarkozy then invoked the possibility of a military confrontation -- although he said such a scenario would be “catastrophic.”
In Tehran today, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini responded to Kouchner's statement by saying it damages the credibility of France. Hosseini said the use of such words "creates tensions" and is contrary to French culture and history.
In Vienna, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei cautioned that force would only be used when "every other option has been exhausted," and he said that point had not been reached.
Meanwhile, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, reiterated that Iran is determined to pursue its nuclear program.
A Stronger Stand
Olivier Roy, a regional expert with the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research, told RFE/RL the French warnings should be seen as a signal that France has toughened its policy toward Tehran.
"France has taken a harder stand on the issue," Roy said. "I think this means that the French authorities believe that only economic pressure is not enough and won’t get the results. They believe that the threat of military action and economic pressure could put enough pressure on Iran."
France’s latest warning also comes during a week-long meeting -- dominated by discussions about Iran -- that is taking place at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
Kouchner said in his interview that Paris continues to support negotiations with Tehran at such forums.
But he also added that if Iran fails to stop its uranium-enrichment activities, the European Union could impose sanctions that go beyond current UN measures against Tehran.
It appears the timing of Kouchner’s remarks is designed to put maximum pressure on Iran.
"While negotiations are under way and they should intensify, we have indeed decided to get ready, eventually, for European sanctions outside of those imposed by the United Nations," Kouchner said. "Our German friends proposed such sanctions and we discussed the matter a few days ago."
Kouchner said he has already asked French firms, including oil giant Total, not to invest in any new projects in Iran or take part in any further economic deals.
Iran, for its part, has reiterated that it will continue its uranium-enrichment program, which it says is not for military use.
An editorial by the state-run IRNA news agency today accused the French authorities of seeking to "copy the White House."
(RFE/RL’s Tajik Service contributed to this report.)
Tehran Officials Begin Crackdown On Pet Dogs
Dogs are taken from their owners and kept at a detention center
In an unprecedented move, Iran's police have created a dog "prison" in Tehran. The move is part of a crackdown on what officials describe as immoral and un-Islamic behavior, during which thousands of young men and women have been detained or received warnings about the way they are dressed. Radio Farda reports that Tehran pet-owners are now also among those under pressure from the authorities.
September 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Since the creation of the Islamic republic in Iran in 1979, the acceptability of dog ownership has been debated by the authorities.
Iranian officials say that according to Islam, dogs are considered to be dirty animals, and people who own dogs are viewed as being under Western influence. Some conservative clerics have denounced dog ownership as "morally depraved" and say it should be banned.
Friday prayer leader Hojatoleslam Gholamreza Hassani, who is known for his hard-line stances, was quoted a few years ago as saying that all dog owners and their dogs should be arrested.
In the past, dog owners have received warnings or were forced to pay fines for having a pet dog. Despite such harassment, dog ownership has increased over the years, especially among young people in Tehran.
One of them is 23-year-old Banafshe, whose dog was recently detained in Tehran for 48 hours and then released on bail. Banafshe says she was walking her young puppy, Jessica, when Iranian police snatched the dog and took her to a dog "jail." The dog's crime was "walking in public."
Banafshe claims the police insulted her, but out of fear for her dog, she didn't protest. She said she told the police that Allah says in the Koran that nothing bad has been created in this world.
"They said, 'We want to get rid of Western culture,'" Banafshe said. "They said, 'You live in an Islamic country, it's not right to have dogs. Are you not Islamic? Why does your family allow you to own a dog?' They insulted me, they even told me that they hope my dog will die. But there was nothing I could do but cry. You can't imagine how badly I was insulted."
'The Police Must Be Laughing'
The new clampdown on dogs follows a recent order by the head of Tehran's security forces, Ahmad Reza Radan, who said it is against the law for dogs to walk in public. The order has left many people baffled.
Nadja, whose sick dog was arrested right after it had surgery, considers the clampdown on dogs ridiculous. "One day it's dogs, the next day it's [crime prevention], tomorrow they have to catch birds. The police themselves must be laughing at this," Nadja said.
Another dog owner in Tehran, who did not want to be named, said that instead of detaining dogs, officials should concentrate their efforts on improving the country's economy and other important issues.
Some say they see the move as government interference in their lives.
All detained pets are taken to a newly created detention center. Radio Farda reports that some dogs are housed amid piles of garbage and debris. Others reported that a very large dog was confined to a cramped cage within the dog "prison."
Dr. Javid Aledavud, the head of Iran's Society to Defend the Rights of Animals, told Radio Farda that conditions at the center are very poor and unsuitable for pets. He says there are no passages in the Koran about dogs being dirty.
He adds that sniffer dogs are being used in Iran in the fight against drug trafficking.
Iranian security forces say the ban against walking dogs in public is meant strictly to fight Western influences.
Reza Javalchi, the secretary of the Society to Defend the Rights of Animals, says dog ownership, more common in the West, is considered by Iranian officials to be a sign of Western influence. "But that is not the case," he said. "If we want to speak about symbols of Western civilization then maybe wearing a suit is also Western. These are issues that have become part of human life. Based on our research, domestic dogs were kept in Iran for hunting and guarding maybe long before it became widespread in the West."
Last month, a young person was arrested in Tehran for posting ads of his lost dog.
According to Mehdi Ahmadi, a spokesman for Tehran's police force, such ads spread depravity by encouraging dog ownership.
Activists say that officially no legal prohibition exists in Iran against keeping dogs as pets. But that is little solace to the dozens of dogs that kept in the detention center, or their owners waiting for the return of their beloved pets.
(Radio Farda's Mohammad Zarghami, Keyvan Hosseini, and Azadeh Sharafshahi all contributed to this report.)
Iran: Political Veteran To Chair Clerical Assembly
By Vahid Sepehri
September 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- In Iran, a twice-elected former president
and conservative cleric with a reputation as a political pragmatist was
elected on September 4 to chair the powerful Assembly of Experts.
Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani becomes just the second chairman in the assembly's history, succeeding Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, who died on July 30.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani's selection has been widely seen as strengthening his position against the radical right-wing current that is embodied for many by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and two clerical allies, Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati and Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi.
The Assembly of Experts is a body of mostly senior clerics that elects and supervises the work of Iran's supreme leader. Hashemi-Rafsanjani also heads the Expediency Council, a key legislative and political-arbitration body.
Rafsanjani received 41 of 76 votes against his rival for the chairmanship, perceived presidential ally Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati.
The assembly selected Ayatollah Mohammad Momen, the representative for Qom Province, to take Hashemi-Rafsanjani's place as the first deputy chairman of the assembly. Momen received 37 votes, against 34 votes cast for another member, Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi. The assembly presidium includes Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi as the second deputy chairman, and Ayatollahs Ahmad Khatami and Qorban Ali Dorri-Najafabadi as secretaries. Victory For 'Pragmatism'?
The reformist daily "Etemad" reported on September 5 that "pragmatists" were now heading the assembly, winning a bitter struggle in recent weeks following Ayatollah Meshkini's death. It stated that while the difference in votes between Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Jannati was not resounding, it demonstrated a preference for moderation or pragmatism over dogmatism inside a body that could be called on at some point to replace 68-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The vote came despite what "Etemad" described as a campaign by the radical right to denigrate Hashemi-Rafsanjani. That alleged effort includes, most recently, reported moves to restrict the publication of Hashemi-Rafsanjani's controversial diaries. Some of his recollections of Iran's late revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, have angered the right, for depicting Khomeini in passages as more a pragmatist -- presumably like Hashemi-Rafsanjani -- than a dogmatist or idealist. The daily quoted Culture Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Herandi as saying that new editions of Hashemi-Rafsanjani's memoirs could be printed, if approved by the Center for the Publication of the Imam Khomeini's Works, which presumably is charged with safeguarding documentation and the legacy of the late leader.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani speaking at Friday Prayers on September 7 (epa)
Another reformist daily, "Aftab-i Yazd," reported on September 5 on what it called the "Experts' highly significant vote for Hashemi-Rafsanjani" in the face of weeks of allegedly "focused and planned" attacks on him. It added that the attacks were the culmination of a two-year campaign of denigration against the former president.
It saw this vote as a corroboration of Hashemi-Rafsanjani's election in December to a seat in the Assembly of Experts, and a renewed public rejection, through its representatives in the assembly, of the radical right's antics. The daily speculated that it might be a rejection by many in the chamber of Ayatollah Jannati's public positions, including vague denunciations of large-scale theft and corruption in the oil sector.
Commentator Mohammad Quchani wrote in the daily "Etemad-i Melli" on September 5 that the vote was significant for bringing the nitty-gritty of politics -- in the form of a contest and vote -- to a body that has sought to remain aloof from the petty world of factions. Quchani regarded it as the penetration of a form of political reformism into a highly traditionalist body.
He also noted the assembly's preference for a politician and statesmen over a rival (presumably Jannati) who is reputedly more learned in theology. Members of the assembly are meant to be experts in theology and jurisprudence, and thus able to discern the suitability of Iran's supreme clerical leader. But Quchani cautioned that the first and second deputy chairmen of the body are from the rival, archconservative faction, providing a quasi-supervisory role over the chairman.
Not A Major Shift
Assembly member Hashem Hashemzadeh-Harisi, writing in "Etemad" on September 5, sought to present Hashemi-Rafsanjani's election as natural, given that he had been its deputy chairman for 25 years. He wrote that Hashemi-Rafsanjani's election will not essentially change the "course" of the assembly. Hashemzadeh-Harisi said that "Hashemi[-Rafsanjani] is neither one to break with tradition, nor does he intend to damage the system's past history," speculating that "if he does wish to bring any change, it will be...gradual, not a revolutionary change, and this...governs [Hashemi-Rafsanjani's] spirit."
Hashemzadeh-Harisi added that the assembly has rules and procedures, and its chairman guides its procedures, rather than controlling the body. He wrote that the assembly itself will decide if it desires a more interventionist role in the country's government or remain on the sidelines while it awaits the crucial duty at some point of voting for the next supreme leader.
Tehran-based journalist Ali Keshtgar also had a sober assessment of the election's impact. Keshtgar told Radio Farda on September 4 that Hashemi-Rafsanjani's election will change very little on the political landscape.
Keshtgar argued that "those who think Mr. Hashemi supports an open political atmosphere or will improve the situation of reformists are deluded." He said Hashemi-Rafsanjani has never confronted nor thwarted Supreme Leader Khamenei on matters on which they might have disagreed. "Given the [assembly's] performance," Keshtgar said, "one should not expect it to supervise" the leader's office. Check On Radicals?
Another journalist, Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, told Radio Farda more optimistically on September 4 that the vote showed that Iran's clergy is still intelligent enough not to allow a radical faction that wishes "to forget and detach itself from the past" to eliminate a political veteran.
Shamsolvaezin expressed hope that the assembly would now take a more active role in supervising the supreme leader's office -- and perhaps even limiting his powers. He suggested that "this will be a very important development, and Hashemi-Rafsanjani has referred to this." He said he thinks Hashemi-Rafsanjani is trying to a restore an "acceptable" situation for Iranian society, given his recent rapprochement with critical or reforming elements.
Another commentator, Mohammad Sadeq Javadihesar, told Radio Farda on September 4 that while Hashemi-Rafsanjani will seek to present himself as a bipartisan figure, he expects his election to lead to greater interaction between himself and senior clerics and politicians -- putting a check, in turn, on some displays of radicalism. Javadihesar cited the possibility of pragmatic and "power-oriented" forces gravitating toward Hashemi-Rafsanjani in his newly strengthened position.Ponderous, But Systematic
Journalist Jafar Golabi commented on Hashemi-Rafsanjani's political longevity and resilience in "Etemad" on September 5. Golabi wrote that the first generation of postrevolutionary politicians has yet to be written off, and he urged reformists to learn from Hashemi-Rafsanjani's persistence and preference for discreet maneuvering and quiet negotiations over "senseless hastiness." The journalist called Hashemi-Rafsanjani a "permanent and active resident of the house of politics." He addressed reformists, saying that Hashemi-Rafsanjani's election shows that one faction need not permanently dominate the Iranian political scene.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani's victory might be said to be a reward for his quiet resilience and refusal to engage in a public confrontation with the radical right during the past two years -- which might have been a potentially damaging development for Iran's political establishment. His institutional and political position is strengthened now, and with the endorsement of senior clerics, Hashemi-Rafsanjani is a more difficult target for attack.
But it is difficult to see his election heralding any immediate change of direction for the political leadership, or his moving anytime soon to contain the supreme leader's activities. Like the late Ayatollah Khomeini, Hashemi-Rafsanjani has made statements that are heartening to both conservatives and reformists.
If anything, Hashemi-Rafsanjani is arguably best representative of the positions of the Iranian state -- ponderous but systematic. He defends Iran's long-term strategies and essential foreign-policy, nuclear, and economic-development goals, and urges political unity inside the country.
The Assembly of Experts might have concluded that a check on radicalism was necessary at a time when regional violence and the increasingly threatening tone of some Western powers required the Islamic republic to tread with caution.
Motive In Release Of Iranian-Americans Remains Unclear
By Golnaz Esfandiari
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (in file photo) is the highest political and religious authority under Iran's constitution
September 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The reasons remain unclear behind Iran's recent decision to release two Iranian-Americans who were detained in Iran or prevented from leaving the country.
Scholar Haleh Esfandiari -- who was in isolation at Evin prison for some three months -- was able to leave the country on September 3. Authorities have also returned the passport of Radio Farda broadcaster Parnaz Azima, who had been prevented from leaving Iran for several months.
Iranian officials have said they plan to release another detained Iranian-American scholar, Kian Tajbakhsh, on bail.
The decision-making process within the Iranian government can be obscure, and officials do not officially inform the public of the reasons behind their decisions.
The arrest of the four Iranian-Americans, their detention, and the two recent releases provide an example of the murkiness of Iranian politics.
Authorities have not said what prompted the sudden release of Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson Institute. Esfandiari was charged with serious security crimes, including involvement in what authorities have described as a U.S. plot aimed at destabilizing the Iranian regime.
Officials have only said that the investigation into her case was completed and suggested she would have to return to Iran for the trial.
Azima has also been told that her case remains open and that there will be a court session at an unspecified date.
But there are doubts as to whether there will be an actual trial in their cases or in those of the other Iranian-Americans who have been charged by Tehran.
Bill Samii, an Iran analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses and former RFE/RL regional analyst, believes that the Iranian government realized it got "maximum value" out of the detentions and came to the conclusion that there is no benefit in keeping them.
"The message has been sent to other Iranians that if you cooperate with the U.S. in any kind of activity that could be labeled as antiregime then you face imprisonment at the very least," Samii says. "So they sent a message with Tajbakhsh, with Esfandiari, with Azima, and now the government has realized that if [it] actually has open trials it will look pretty ridiculous for the regime so they just release these individuals, send them home and you can be pretty certain that these people after they've been imprisoned in Iran, if they leave the country, I think they'd be pretty reluctant to go back to Iran."
Esfandiari was released on a bail of about $300,000. Authorities have told Azima that her mother's house -- which was put up as bail for her -- would not be returned. She is facing charges of spreading propaganda against the government.
Samii says Tehran uses the heavy bails as a pressure tool.
"Most of them when they pay these very high bails to get out of jail, they have to mortgage family members' homes, so that's always something that the Iranian government can hold over their heads, basically threatening that if you come back we will arrest you again and you'll lose the bail," Samii says. "Your family member, your mother, or whoever, will lose his or her home."
Analysts believe the arrest of Iranian-Americans is part of a broader crackdown on students, rights activists, and all dissenting voices. The crackdown comes at a time when Tehran is under increasing U.S. pressure over its nuclear program and its role in Iraq and Afghanistan.
'Sending A Message'
Faraj Sarkuhi, an exiled Iranian journalist, believes that by making the arrests Iran is sending a strong message to its critics.
"One of its goals is to send a message and tell critics to remain silent, if not they could meet the same fate as those who have been arrested," Sarkuhi says. "But this message is usually not effective because at least in the past 20 years we've seen that there have been many arrests, many forced [confessions], but despite that Iranian freedom fighters have continued their work inside Iran."
Sarkuhi credits human-rights groups, academics, and others for the release of the Iranian-Americans and also extensive media coverage that brought attention to their plight.
"[They] use all possible methods in their factional disputes or fight against those who oppose them without considering its results," Sarkuhi says. "In [the case of Iranian-Americans] nothing new was added to the case of the Islamic republic. Even without the arrest of Haleh Esfandiari and the others the Islamic Republic of Iran was known as being an establishment that violates human rights, arrest critics and opposition members, and executes people."
Some observers have said that by agreeing to allow citizens with dual citizenship to leave the country, Tehran was signaling a willingness not to worsen relations with Washington further.
Analyst Samii, however, says it is unclear why Tehran would make such a move now.
"As I speculate, I wonder if the tensions of the Iranian-Americans are somehow connected with the detentions of Iranian military personnel in Iraq," Samii says. "So perhaps there are some sort of negotiations taking place or even if it's not negotiations, a hope on the Iranian side that if we release these people maybe the Americans will release our soldiers who are being held in Iraq."
The United States has welcomed Iran's decision to permit Esfandiari and Azima to leave the country. U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said on September 5 that Iran should also release the other Iranian-Americans who are jailed in Iran.
They include Tajbakhsh, a consultant with the Open Society Institute, and peace activist Ali Shakeri.
Iran: U.S. Senator Discusses Democracy-Promotion Efforts
September 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (Independent, Connecticut) talked to Radio Farda's Kambiz Tavana on September 5 about the recent U.S.-Iran talks on Iraq, U.S.-Iran relations, and the U.S. administration's request for $75 million for democracy promotion in Iran.
RFE/RL: Senator Lieberman, on the Iraq issue, can you give us a picture? What's the role of the Iranian government in Iraq?
Joseph Lieberman: Well, at this point the role of the Iranian government is a destructive one, particularly in Iraq, particularly when it comes to the United States. We now have very clear documentation that Iran has essentially been running a proxy war against American and Iraqi individuals and forces, to the extent that Iraqi extremists are taken to bases in Iran to be trained, then sent back, and have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians because of the extremists' aggression once they get back into Iraq.
Now this is why...look, I have supported discussions between the United States and Iran, but they have to be honest and mutually respectful. And the initial discussions that have occurred in Baghdad between our ambassador [Ryan Crocker] there and the ambassador of Iran [Hassan Kazemi-Qomi] have really focused on this problem with a request -- a plea -- from the American ambassador to the Iranian representative, to accept the evidence we have and to stop this aggression, and then we can begin to talk about other questions.
RFE/RL: As you said, you supported the current talks between Iran and the United States on the ambassadorial level. Why now? There is a history between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States for the past 27 years. The question is, why now?
Lieberman: Well, these are talks for a very limited purpose, which is to confront the Iranian government with the evidence of the proxy war that they're running against us and the people of Iraq.
But I think we have to be very careful as we talk about U.S.-Iranian relations, and it's very important for me to say here that I and, I would say, most every member of the U.S. Congress, differentiates between the current Iranian regime, which we take to be fanatical and extremist and totalitarian, and the people of Iran who are the victims of this regime, just as others who the regime is attacking through proxies are victims.
I don't think we can suggest that we can simply reason the current regime of Iran into behaving in a more law-abiding and humane way. We cannot deceive ourselves; I'm always interested in diplomacy, but diplomacy has to produce action. And thus far, as you go back -- really to the beginning of the revolution and the late '70s and the first shouts of "Death to America" in Iran, those shouts that have been repeated hundreds of thousands of millions of times -- that's not the kind of message that should encourage any American government to think that it's possible to really have peaceful relations with this Iranian regime, as distinguished from the Iranian people.
When I said that the Iranian people are victims of this regime, they are in many ways -- first, in many ways the government of Mr. [Mahmud] Ahmadinejad is squandering the money of Iran to spend millions, billions of dollars to fund foreign terrorist groups.
And also, in a modern age when the world is growing smaller and smaller and economies of the world are coming closer and closer together, this fanatical regime in Tehran has made Iran into a pariah nation, separating Iran from so much of the rest of the world, isolating its people economically, culturally, and politically.
I can say for the American people [that they] have the greatest admiration for the Iranian people, the history of this great nation, the intellect of the people, and yearn for the time when we can have better people-to-people relations between Americans and Iranians, liberated from this current totalitarian regime.
RFE/RL: The Islamic Republic of Iran has been considered by the United States since 1982 a state sponsor of terrorism, and in the last two years the current government of Iran has been bold, especially on nuclear issues and the Middle East crisis. How can we [believe] that current talks on the ambassadorial level on Iraq issues are going to help something...if you say that there is [proof] that [Iran is] waging a proxy war in Iraq? What was the response and was there any change in any way from the Iranian side?
Lieberman: Right, as I understand what happened at the meeting -- and I wasn't at the meetings and I wasn't there -- the Iranian side essentially denied the evidence, and this is evidence that I've seen and that I consider to be absolutely trustworthy that Iran is conducting a proxy war against American troops and Iraqi civilians in Iraq. But the more compelling proof, unfortunately, tragically, is this: Nothing has changed; Iraqi extremists are still being brought to Iran where they are being trained by not just Iranians, but by the terrorist Hizballah clients of Iran and then sent back to blow up these explosives, fire sophisticated weapons that Iranian taxpayers are paying for at Americans and Iraqis. While this goes on, there can be no hope of really better relations between the U.S. government and the Iranian regime, and this is why we are at a very difficult moment.
Even the program as you referenced to build nuclear weapons by the Iranian government...a significant part of what motivates American opposition and I think global opposition to this is the nature of the regime in Tehran that is developing these programs, a regime that is, as you said, [according to] the U.S. State Department's evidence and conclusion, the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism right now, conducting through proxies, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Palestine, all supporting fanatical extremists against more moderate and democratic movements.
So this has to change, and it's part of the reason why I've been a very strong supporter of U.S. government funding for civil-society programs in Iran. The repression...look, this is a regime that has been brutal to its neighbors and others through the support of terrorism and proxy wars, but it unfortunately, as you well know and as the people of Iran well know, has been brutal to the people of Iran. The repression of human rights activists, of women's rights activists, of labor unions, of anybody who expresses a different political point of view -- that has to change, and I'm going to be working with colleagues in both political parties in the Senate, as it happens in the next few days, to increase the amount of funding to $75 million from $25 million per year for support of so-called civil-society, freedom-advocating, human-rights-protecting, free-expression groups within Iran. Let the people of Iran have a chance to have a government that really is as good as they are.
RFE/RL: Do you mean that in addition to the $75 million that has been previously addressed, there is going to be $25 million?
Lieberman: Here's what happened: The Bush administration recommended $75 million for this coming fiscal year for human rights, civil-society programs in Iran. Unfortunately, the Senate Subcommittee on Foreign Relations Appropriations reduced that to $25 million. And that bill, that piece of legislation, that budget recommendation, we expect to have on the floor of the Senate tomorrow (September 7) or at the latest the next day.
A number of colleagues and I of both political parties will be submitting an amendment to increase that funding to $75 million, which really is a small amount considering everything we're spending to defend ourselves against the fanaticisms of this current regime and the suffering of the people of Iran and other victims of this regime....
I was extremely upset when the committee came in with that $25 million, and part of their argument is that money from America is dangerous for Iranian dissidents or human-rights or civil-society groups to accept. Most of this is given through third parties in any case. But my argument is: Let the Iranian groups decide. If we had taken this position in the Cold War that it could be risky for freedom fighters behind the Iron Curtain to accept funding from us, you know, the Iron Curtain might still be up, instead of the people having risen up to build a better future for themselves.
RFE/RL: Having a budget is one thing, but having a mechanism for spending that budget effectively is something else. Is there a clear mechanism [for] how it's going to work?
Lieberman: Yes, this is not much talked about. I have been briefed on it, but there is work in the State Department -- working through third-party organizations, not directly from the federal government -- to support student groups, women's groups, the whole array of civil society, to give some hope to the people of Iran.
I know people are very disappointed by the economic leadership given by the current government, but the Ahmadinejad administration, and the isolation of Iran which is...you know, generally the Iranian people are well-educated, forward-looking people. This government seems to want to take Iran backward instead of forward. But there will be an effective system set up for distributing this money, and I don't know that I can talk about it too much more; but I think that groups that are interested will know how to find their way to this support ,and perhaps people from the State Department and others will come on Radio Farda and explain in more detail.