"Weapons of Mass Deception"


Neocons turn their attention to Iran

By Guy Dinmore in Washington
Published: January 18 2005 00:07 | Last updated: January 18 2005 00:07

Having adopted legislation in the past aimed at Cuba and Iraq, similar groups of Republicans and Democrats in Congress are currently setting their sights on promoting “regime change” in Iran.

As a result, new exiled Iranian opposition groups backed by some of Washington's neoconservatives are springing up in the hope of seeing large doses of US funding.

One such group the Alliance for Democracy in Iran is taking shape, strategically located in the heart of the capital's think-tank quarter. Activists described it as an opposition umbrella group that would act as a “clearing house” for US taxpayers' money dedicated to advancing the cause of democracy.

“Our true purpose is to empower the Iranian people, to change the regime to become more democratic,” explained Kamal Azari, its president, stressing that the group renounced violence. Its aim is a referendum on whether to restore the monarchy under the ousted Shah's son, Reza Pahlavi, who lives in Virginia.

Its board members are relatively obscure; some of them are monarchists. Its Oxford-educated chairman, Bahman Batmanghelidj, (known as “Batman”), opened a ski resort near Tehran before the 1979 Islamic revolution. A property magnate in Virginia, he filed for personal bankruptcy protection in 1996.

The group has an Accountability Project to identify friends and foes in the US. Alix Boucher, spokeswoman, fires off letters to editors and academic institutions to denounce advocates of engagement with the Islamic regime.

The Alliance says it is in partnership with the rightwing Hudson Institute. Alliance members are also inspired by Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, an influential neoconservative policy group, who is a veteran campaigner for regime change.

Mr Ledeen said he had not advised the group. “Change in Iran depends on people inside the country and on western government policies,” he commented.

A prominent backer of the Alliance is Jerome Corsi, well known for his role in the Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth campaign against John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate. He believes the freeze on nuclear development agreed between Iran and the European Union will collapse by March and that Israel, supported by the US, will then launch military strikes.

In Congress, the proposed Iran Freedom and Support Act, sponsored by senators Rick Santorum and John Cornyn, calls on the administration to back “regime change” and promote and fund the transition to a democratic government through alliances with opposition groups that renounce terrorism.

Some exiles believe around $100m (€75m, £55m) will be laid out. Others say this figure is too high.

A similar bill in the House is proposed by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida republican and fierce anti-Castro campaigner. Regime change is not in the language, but the bill would back pro-democracy groups. It also seeks to strengthen existing legislation that would penalise foreign companies investing in Iran's energy sector.

The proposed act draws on experience gained from the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act which enshrined regime change and the 1996 Helms-Burton law on sanctions on Cuba. It has the backing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

Funding of $3m for Iranian opposition activities has already been inserted by Congress in the 2005 budget on the initiative of Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican.

Despite these efforts, neoconservatives as a whole are divided over the merits of promoting the exiled opposition, recognising that the parties are torn by internal rivalries and enjoy little support inside Iran.

The administration is not very enthusiastic about the legislation either, despite the president's oft cited support for the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.

One official said present policy was not to embrace the regime change option. But there was interest in supporting groups that would help to “modify” Iran's behaviour through promoting democracy. Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy doubts “regime change” will make it through Congress, and says the exiles' funding hopes are just “dreams”.

The State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative has sought to identify pro-democracy groups inside Iran for funding, but has not found any. Officials are also aware that any group known to receive US money would be targeted by the regime immediately. Congress says their identities would be kept secret.

Some analysts say the proposed legislation, whether explicit about regime change or not, is a foolish waste of “feel-good” money that will only undermine diplomatic efforts by the EU to negotiate a way out of the nuclear crisis.

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Milton Frihetsson, 23:28


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