April 09, 2006

Activists in Iran say U.S. strategy hurts their work

By Karl Vick and David Finkel
The Washington Post

TEHRAN, Iran — Prominent activists inside Iran say President Bush's plan to spend tens of millions of dollars to promote democracy here is the kind of help they don't need.

In a case that advocates fear is directly linked to Bush's announcement, the government has jailed two Iranians who traveled outside the country to attend what was billed as workshops on human rights.

Two others who attended were interrogated for three days.

The workshops, conducted by U.S.-based groups, were held in April. But Iranian investigators did not summon participants until last month, about the time the Bush administration announced plans to spend $85 million "to support the cause of freedom in Iran this year."

"We are under pressure here both from hard-liners in the judiciary and that stupid George Bush," activist Emad Baghi said as he waited for his wife and daughter to emerge from interrogation last week.

The fallout illustrates the challenge facing Washington as it seeks a role in a country where U.S. influence is unwelcome even by many who share the same goal.

"Unfortunately, I've got to say it has a negative effect, not a positive one," said Abdolfattah Soltani, a human-rights lawyer recently released from seven months in prison.

After writing in a newspaper that his clients were beaten while in jail, Soltani was charged with offenses that included spying for the United States.

"This is something we all know, that a way of dealing with human-rights activists is to claim they have secret relations with foreign powers," said Soltani, who co-founded a human-rights defense group with Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi. "This very much limits our actions. It is very dangerous to our society."

Activists said the Bush initiative demonstrates the chasm that often separates those working inside Iran for greater freedoms — carefully calibrating their actions to nudge incremental changes in a hostile system — and the more strident approach of many Iranian exiles who often have the ear of Washington.

"Our society is very complicated," said Vahid Pourostad, editor of National Trust, a reform newspaper. "Generally speaking, it is impossible to impose something from outside.

"It seems to me the United States is not studying the history of Iran very carefully," Pourostad said. "Whenever they came and supported an idea publicly, the public has done the opposite."

Russia, China resist pressuring Iran

UNITED NATIONS — Russia and China have rejected proposals from the United States and other veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council for a statement demanding Iran clear up suspicions about its nuclear program, diplomats said Monday.

The dispute raises the threat of an impasse in the Security Council and means that the U.S., Britain and France may not get their wish for strong action by the powerful U.N. body.

They believe such a text could further isolate Iran and help force it to abandon uranium enrichment, a process that can make fuel for a civilian nuclear reactor or fissile material for an atomic bomb.

The sittle Times

Tuesday, March 14, 2006 - 12:00 AM

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