Thursday, March 09, 2006

U.S. opens two fronts in an effort to 'defeat' Iran

Farah Stockman, The International Herald Tribune:
The State Department is preparing for a "long struggle" against Iran and has opened a special Office of Iranian Affairs in Washington and a miniature embassy-in-exile in Dubai to help "defeat" the Iranian regime, Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns told Congress.

The new post in the United Arab Emirates - home to 560,000 Iranians - will help funnel funds and support to dissidents and antigovernment activists both inside and outside Iran, according to a State Department cable leaked earlier this week.

The move comes as an Iranian diplomat warned that Iran could retaliate against the United States for pushing to bring Iran's nuclear program before the UN Security Council next week.

Iran, one of the world's largest producers of oil, has influence in Iraq and with militant Palestinian and Lebanese groups.

For the past three years, the United States and its European allies have accused Iran of secretly attempting to build a nuclear weapon. Iran insists that it is only trying to generate civilian nuclear power.

In recent months, Washington has worked hard to build a fragile coalition with Russia and China to bring Iran's program under the spotlight.

Washington has also broadened its accusations against Iran, saying it is attempting to further destabilize Iraq and is frustrating the democratic ambitions of its own people.

"The problem of the Iranian regime has become entrenched over the course of an entire generation," Burns told the House International Relations Committee in a hearing Wednesday. "It may require a generational struggle to address it, but we have no choice but to do so." READ MORE

Since the United States cut off diplomatic relations with Iran in the wake of the 1979 Iranian revolution that saw U.S. diplomats taken hostage for 444 days, the State Department has devoted few funds toward Iran, Burns said.

The State Department trained few Persian language specialists and stationed almost no diplomats in the region to handle Iranian affairs.

In Washington, the State Department's three Iran desk officers shared an office with countries of the Arabian Peninsula. A few weeks ago, they moved into their own office, with a new, Iran- specific office director.

In the coming months, the State Department intends to increase the number of diplomats in Dubai that monitor Iran from one to at least four, creating a diplomatic presence that Burns said would be similar to the U.S. listening post in Riga, Latvia. That post monitored the emerging Soviet Union in the 1920s.

The State Department will also open Iran-specific posts in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, and in Istanbul, Frankfurt, and London - all cities that have sizable Iranian expatriate populations, according to a State Department cable advertising the posts obtained by Think Progress, a blog associated with the Center for American Progress, a Washington research group.

"This initiative will enhance our capacity to respond to the full spectrum of threats that Iran poses," the cable reads, adding that the new diplomats will help find ways to fund "Iranian political and civic organizations" and "locate pro-democracy groups inside and outside Iran."

Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the new moves by Washington suggest "a clear effort to make regime change a more central part of U.S. policy."

But he warned that working with Iranian exiles to undermine the Iranian regime also has risks.

"We learned some tough lessons from Iraq in relying too heavily on the advice and the activities of expats, because they are often out of touch with the realities on the ground," he said.