Sunday, March 05, 2006

Cheney Daughter Leads 'Cold War' on Mullahs

Sarah Baxter, Sunday Times:
The war in Iraq is her father’s business but Elizabeth Cheney, the American vice-president’s daughter, has been given responsibility for bringing about a different type of regime change in Iran. Cheney, a 39-year-old mother of four, is a senior official in the State Department, which has often been regarded as hostile territory by Dick Cheney’s White House team. Nonetheless father and daughter agree it would be better for the mullahs’ regime to collapse from within than to be ousted by force.

The question is whether democratic reform can be achieved before Iran becomes a nuclear power. That is the younger Cheney’s job. In the State Department she is referred to as the “freedom agenda co-ordinator” and the “democracy czar” for the broader Middle East. “She’s fantastic and dynamic,” said a colleague.

Her official title is deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and she is in charge of spending the $85m (£48m) — up from $10m last year — recently allocated to promote democracy in Iran. Much of it will be spent on broadcasting the views of exiles, dissidents and reformers inside Iran. READ MORE

Cheney is better known to Iranian listeners of Voice of America’s Persian service than she is to Americans, although she publicly backed her sister Mary’s right to privacy when Democrats made an issue of her lesbianism in the 2004 election.

She rarely gives interviews but set out her agenda in a speech to the Foreign Policy Association’s annual dinner last June. Cheney said there was a “direct parallel” between reform movements in the Arab world and Poland’s Solidarity in the 1980s, which lit the “spark of freedom” in the Soviet bloc.

A strike by Tehran bus drivers that led to the jailing and torture of Mansour Osanloo, a union leader, and protests by textile workers in the northern province of Gilan have raised hopes that Iranians are fed up with the clerics’ repressive rule.

“President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad was elected on the basis of a ‘chicken in every pot’ and there’s no sign that he is living up to that,” said a senior State Department official. “The patience of people who supported him is going to run out.”

Iranian exiles are using the showdown with Tehran over nuclear weapons to build unity among notoriously fractured opposition groups. Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah of Iran, said in Washington last week that democratic regime change was a “race against time”.

“Forget about endlessly negotiating with the mullahs,” he said. “They will only buy the regime more time and a military strike would be a gift to the clerics. Everybody knows you cannot come away from the precipice without democracy.”

Mohsen Sazegara, a former Revolutionary Guard turned reformer who was recently jailed in Iran, said United Nations anti-nuclear sanctions should be linked to improvements in human rights. “Iranians will see that the international community is standing up for the rights of the people of Iran,” he said.

Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said Cheney was well qualified for the post. “She has a lot of experience dealing with non-governmental organisations and knows what she is talking about. She is a different person from her father.”

Another Washington-based expert on Iran suggested her relationship to Dick Cheney sometimes hampered her work. “Her last name can make things difficult for her because people assume everything you tell her is going to go straight to the vice-president.”

Father and daughter will be on the same side if Ahmadinejad’s regime sees off its internal opposition and acquires nuclear weapons. “There’s no credibility gap over our willingness to use force,” a State Department official said, “but hopefully it won’t come to that.”