U.S. officials hope to focus world attention on Iran's "democracy deficit"
By David Shelby,
Washington File Staff Writer (USINFO)
Washington - The State Department plans to request a $75 million supplemental appropriation during 2006 to support democracy promotion activities in Iran, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress February 15.
"That money would enable us to increase our support for democracy and improve our radio broadcasting, begin satellite television broadcasts, increase the contacts between our peoples through expanded fellowships and scholarships for Iranian students, and to bolster our public diplomacy efforts," Rice told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing on the Bush administration's foreign affairs budget proposals. (See related article.)
A senior State Department official, speaking at a February 15 background briefing on U.S. support for democracy in Iran, acknowledged that there are limitations to what the United States can do in Iran given its lack of diplomatic ties, but added, "What we can do is show support for those in Iranian society ... who wish to see a different type of Iran, who wish to see further democracy and freedoms both for the press as well as for political figures [and] individual citizens."
Another senior State Department official at the same briefing said the United States already has programs in place supporting Iranian labor unions, dissidents and human rights activists. The official said civil society organization is the key to effecting positive change in Iran.
At the Senate hearing, Rice said, "We think the Iranian people deserve to live in freedom, and if you watch how people across the globe over the course of the last couple of decades in particular have been able to rise up and call for their freedom, it's been through organization."
She added, "I think the Solidarity model is a good one, where you had numbers of people come together. You had the labor unions in Poland come together, but they also then were joined by the academics, by human rights activists. When people organize themselves and really become unified in calling for change, then you get the change that you need, and we believe that the Iranian people deserve change."
The State Department would use $50 million of the supplemental funds, if they are approved by Congress, to establish around-the-clock satellite television and radio broadcasts into Iran. An additional $15 million would go to support the development of civic organizations within Iran. Iranian students and professionals who wish to visit the United States would benefit from an additional $5 million in funding for exchange programs. Finally, the department would devote an additional $5 million to public diplomacy efforts aimed at Iran, including its Persian language Web site.
The State Department official indicated that the United States is not planning to work with existing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Iran because, as she said, they all have been infiltrated by government agents.
"The challenge is to help to organize other networks and help to take some of the extremely brave people who are risking their lives to speak out against the regime, who are standing up to the regime, and help to give them the tools to organize themselves and to form new groups that are not infiltrated by the government, that we can work with," she said.
For the time being, she said, the State Department will work through American and international NGOs and is negotiating an umbrella license with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control to circumvent legal delays on providing U.S. government funding to organizations that have dealings with Iran.
Rice also told the Senate committee that she intends to bring greater international pressure on the Iranian regime to address the full spectrum of its domestic and foreign policies.
"We must now expand the international consensus on the Iranian regime's nuclear ambitions to address the full scope of its threatening policies," she said.
A senior State Department official said that in addition to the nuclear issue, the United States hopes to focus greater international attention on Iran's support for terrorism and extremism, which destabilizes the region, and its lack of political freedom.
He said that the secretary would carry this message to the Middle East when she travels there February 20-24. "What the secretary would like to do is broaden that international discussion and discuss with the Arab countries - who obviously have a lot of concerns about Iran - not just the nuclear issue, but the terrorism issue, the aggressive Iranian foreign policy in the region as well as the democracy deficit," he said.
He said State Department officials also will raise these issues during an upcoming G8 - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, United States and Russia -- meeting in Moscow.
"We would hope that countries that have normal relations with Iran would reflect on those relations and would use the instruments at their disposal, in terms of normal economic trade relations, to begin to think what they could do to push back on what has been a radical series of proposal out of the government of Iran since August 4, " he said, referring to the date Iran's president, Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, was elected.
For information on U.S. policy in the region, see Middle East and North Africa.
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