Monday, October 24, 2005

Grants to promote democracy in Iran delayed


Posted 10/23/2005 10:27 PM

By Barbara Slavin

WASHINGTON — Six months after announcing a plan to give $3 million to promote democracy in Iran, the State Department has yet to spend the money.

The delay comes as the United States is urging Iran to stop interfering in Iraq and to return to nuclear talks with three European nations. The Iranian government has criticized the money, which is meant to go to groups working inside Iran, as meddling in its affairs.

The United States is preoccupied with the nuclear issue, said Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs.

Also, the prospects for improving democracy in Iran diminished after the election of a hard-line president there in June.

Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said the delay is bureaucratic. "There are no outside political considerations affecting these decisions," he said.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who put the $3 million in the budget, expressed frustration with the delay. "This money should be made available immediately for those seeking to express their opposition to the hard-line Islamic government and to promote internationally recognized human rights," he said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said projects to promote democracy had been approved over the summer. But no funds have been dispersed, he said, because the decision came too close to the beginning of the new fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. McCormack also said that the administration isn't planning to announce grantees for fear they would be harmed by the Iranian government.

The State Department has identified grant recipients in such countries as Belarus and Uzbekistan. By not naming them in Iran, it risks having the program look like covert action, which it isn't meant to be.

The Iran effort was a major departure for the United States, which hasn't tried to openly funnel funds into Iran for such a purpose since breaking diplomatic relations with the Islamic government 25 years ago while it held U.S. hostages.

In April, the State Department's Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor began soliciting proposals for the Iran program and was poised to announce the winning bids in August, according to the bureau.

But at the time, Iran broke off talks with three European countries over its nuclear program and resumed efforts to make nuclear fuel. The United States is trying to restart those talks and to bring stability to Iraq, where Iran has major influence.

Brownback, who has been an advocate for human rights in North Korea, said human rights and democracy promotion in Iran "should remain top and pressing issues if we hope to achieve a freer and more prosperous Middle East."


Post a Comment

<< Home