Thursday, February 10, 2005

People of Iran Draw Backing in Washington

As President Bush ratchets up pressure on Tehran, a member of the Republican leadership in the Senate has introduced legislation supporting Iran's internal opposition.

Senator Santorum, a Republican of Pennsylvania, yesterday introduced the Iran Freedom and Support Act, legislation that commits America to "actively support a national referendum in Iran with oversight by international observers and monitors to certify the integrity and fairness of the referendum." Mr. Santorum, as the chairman of the Republican Conference, is the third-ranking member of the Senate Republican leadership.

The legislation would support the movement in Iran to force a vote that could overturn the theocracy there, which America lists as a top sponsor of international terrorism. The bill would also commit the president to funding pro-democracy forces inside Iran, following in the pattern of amendments inserted into law in the last two years by Senator Brownback, a Republican of Kansas. ...

American diplomats in Vienna yesterday told the Associated Press that votes are being lined up inside the International Atomic Energy Agency for the possibility of taking Iran's violations of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty to the U.N. Security Council. Iran's ruling clerics could avert such a move it they accept a deal from Britain, France, and Germany to abandon their weapons program and freeze uranium enrichment. ...

Yesterday on Iranian television, Mr. Khatemi said, "Those who have been thumping the drums of war and have launched psychological warfare against Iran must know that the Iranian people will not allow the aggressors to put one foot on Iranian soil."

In recent weeks Mr. Bush has also signaled his support for the Iranian democracy movement. In his State of the Union address last week, the president addressed the Iranian people, saying, "As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."

A spokeswoman for Mr. Santorum said that he had coordinated his bill with the White House. Last year, the Bush administration did not support such legislation. "This is a priority for Senator Santorum, this is one of the first pieces of legislation he has dropped in the new Congress," Christine Shott told the Sun. "Our office has worked with the White House in preparation for introducing this bill."

A press release from Mr. Santorum announcing the bill's introduction noted that Iran has "been linked to attacks against American military personnel in Saudi Arabia at Khobar Towers in 1996, and to al Qaeda attacks against civilians in Saudi Arabia in 2004." The senator said the bill "will provide much needed assistance for pro-democracy groups who are committed to advancing democratic ideals and principles despite living at the hands of a government that views freedom as a threat to their power."

Last year the State Department opposed legislation that more explicitly made "regime change" with regard to Iran a policy for America. Mr. Santorum's legislation this year would not make regime change American policy. However, the referendum it supports would likely result in a new government in Tehran.

The legislation this year would also add language that reauthorizes sanctions against American and foreign companies that do business with Iran's oil sector. The bill would end most sanctions against Libya, a country that in 2003 announced its intentions to end its nuclear program. At the same time, it would address a loophole in the current legislation that allows foreign subsidiaries of American companies to do business in Iran without consequence.

The Santorum legislation, dubbed the Iran Freedom and Support Act of 2005, authorizes the president to "provide financial and political assistance (including the award of grants) to foreign and domestic individuals, organizations, and entities that support democracy and the promotion of democracy in Iran. Such assistance may include the award of grants to eligible independent pro-democracy radio and television broadcasting organizations that broadcast into Iran."