By Jahon Jamali
National Iranian American Council
Washington DC, July 24, 2003 - As the questions and concerns continue to mount regarding Iran's nuclear aspirations, and in the wake of the recent student demonstrations in Tehran, the U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a non-binding version of the Iran Freedom and Democracy Support Act, to serve as a congressional statement of encouragement towards Iranian democratic change. A similar version of the act had already been introduced and passed in the Senate. However, neither version included allocation of money to Iranian opposition groups and satellite TV's.
The original Senate version of the bill, which was introduced by Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, included a provision to allocate $50 million to fund anti-regime Iranian media outlets, specifically Los Angeles based stations, who broadcast uncensored Persian programs into Iran, and others such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's "Radio Farda."
That allocation, however, was stricken from the bill before the legislation was allowed to leave committee for a vote by the Senate as a whole. Subsequently, the House version of the bill, introduced by Congressman Brad Sherman of California, also passed without any type of monetary allocation. Sherman and other bill supporters in the House, including Congressman Christopher Cox, also from California, hinted that although the $50 million provision was removed, monetary allocation for pro-democracy Iranian elements could possibly take form within future Commerce, Justice, or State appropriations bills. The bill did, however, provide a non-binding outline for U.S. policy towards Iran centered on supporting pro-democracy forces within and outside the country. The opponents of the bill, who argue that the US should not fund Iranian opposition groups, saw the passing of the watered-down version of the Act as a victory.
In addition to the broadly worded statements of support in the Senate version, the House version of the bill also included several other provisions, covering areas such as trade restrictions, international monetary aid, and the ongoing "War on Terror."
The act would tighten trade embargo restrictions on Iran, bringing them back to pre-2000 levels, with a complete halt to the importing of any "textile or food articles [which are] produced, grown, or manufactured in Iran." Proponents of the bill hope that this restriction will add to the policy of isolation towards the Islamic Republic. Opponents argue that economic sanctions hit the people in Iran and not the government.
Another provision places financial pressure on international agencies such as the World Bank, on economic assistance to Iran. Although the loans fund legitimate infrastructure projects, Congressman Sherman tells NIAC that he believes that these projects could adequately be funded by the Iranian government itself. More importantly, "these loans from the World Bank" according to Sherman, "issue a stamp of approval from G-8 countries on the current regime in Iran," which the bill hopes to dissuade.
Additionally, the bill contains a provision for a presidential report to Congress on Al-Qaeda's presence in Iran and the Iranian government's subsequent posture towards those elements. The bill notes an April 2003 State Department report which listed Iran as the "most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2002." Earlier today, Tehran emerged with new information regarding Al-Qaeda's presence in Iran, which according to U.S. officials, had not previously been disclosed. According to CNN, Iran acknowledges the presence of a "large number" of senior Al-Qaeda members in Iranian custody. The United States believes that Suleiman Abu Ghaith, presumably Al-Qaeda's current military commander, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, a top Bin Laden deputy, are two of the top lieutenants being held. Tehran, however, would not comment on the identities of those in custody. It is widely believed that Iran wants to use the arrested Al-Qaeda commanders as a bargaining chip for possible future negotiations with the US.
Furthermore, the House Republican Policy Committee will meet this Thursday in extended executive session, with U.S.-Iran policy on the agenda. Policy Committee Chairman Chris Cox, House Administration Chairman Bob Ney and International Relations Committee Ranking Democrat Tom Lantos will join Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philo Dibble and others in participation.
The National Iranian American Council is a Washington, DC-based non-profit educational organization promoting Iranian-American participation in American civic and political life. For more information, please visit www.niacouncil.org, email NIAC at email@example.com or send a fax to 202-518-6187. NIAC is a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization. All donations to NIAC are tax-deductible.
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