Thursday, March 09, 2006

U.S. Will Use Emirates To Watch Iran

Megan Clyne, The New York Sun:
The State Department yesterday stressed the importance of plans to station at least 10 diplomats in Dubai to monitor the Tehran regime and support Iran's pro-democracy movement. The move was intended to assure a restive Congress of the Bush administration's commitment to containing the Iranian nuclear threat. READ MORE

The siting of the monitors in Dubai reemphasized that the president and the State Department believe the United Arab Emirates is a strong American ally in the war on terror at a time when the Dubai government is facing hostility from lawmakers over its planned purchase of facilities in six American ports.

The Dubai monitors, and the setting up of American radio and television stations beaming into Iran, would address "a serious divergence between our capabilities and the profound challenges before us concerning Iran," Foggy Bottom's no. 3 official, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, told the House International Relations Committee.

Mr. Burns made his remarks to a hearing tied to the Iran Freedom Support Act, legislation that has been languishing for more than a year without committee action because of obstruction by the State Department.

Mr. Burns confirmed that by this summer a new Iran-watching office would be in operation at the American Consulate in Dubai with 10 diplomats designated to keep a watchful eye on Tehran as well as to meet and work with Iranian dissidents.

Mr. Burns likened the initiative to fabled American diplomat George Kennan's monitoring of the Soviet Union from a German outpost during the 1920s.

The undersecretary also stressed the importance of the creation in recent weeks of a new Iran desk at Foggy Bottom - a new Office of Iranian Affairs within the Bureau for Near East and North African Affairs.

In written testimony, Mr. Burns said the State Department "will increase the number of officers working on Iran at other diplomatic posts in the region. We will expand our Farsi language training to train a new generation of American diplomats in Iranian history, culture, and language."

The State Department announced the expansion late on Friday, and according to press accounts, will also station diplomats in London; Istanbul, Turkey, Frankfurt, Germany, and Baku, Azerbaijan. The reports estimate the number of new Iran-related positions in the State Department to be between 15 and 17.

Mr. Burns said the initiative was certainly not a reopening of diplomatic relations with Iran, acknowledging the concerns of survivors of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis still awaiting justice for their 444-day imprisonment, including Barry Rosen, who was present at the hearing.

An Iran scholar and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, Patrick Clawson, praised the Dubai initiative yesterday, saying it was "a big step forward" and was essential to successfully keeping an eye on Tehran, "modeling what they did for relations with the Soviet Union."

Yesterday's hearing was the full committee's first meeting to address the Iran Freedom Support Act, introduced more than a year ago by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican of Florida. As the Sun reported in January, the chairman of the committee, Rep. Henry Hyde, a Republican of Illinois, had refused to bring the bill before the full committee at the request of the State Department, which was concerned the legislation's provisions for sanctions and support for regime change in Iran would disrupt talks on Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions with members of the European Union, known as the EU-3.

Mr. Hyde announced yesterday that Ms. Ros-Lehtinen's bill, which now has 345 co-sponsors, will finally receive a committee markup next Thursday.

Mr. Burns said yesterday that the State Department, while supportive of the bill, was still hoping to modify some of its sanctions provisions and apologized to Ms. Ros-Lehtinen - who expressed disappointment with the "disengagement from the Bush administration with Congress on the issue of Iran" - for State's year-long delay in addressing the bill.

In addition to being peppered with questions about the State-requested obstruction of the bill, Mr. Burns was also asked about the Department's recent requests for $75 million in funding to help Iran's pro-democracy efforts. He said the Department hopes to allocate at least $20 million to broadcast radio and television signals into Iran, and was looking to work with private broadcasting companies in California, New Jersey, and the Washington area.

Mr. Burns's testimony was preceded by a lively exchange between Mr. Hyde and committee member Gary Ackerman, a Democrat of New York, who accused Mr. Hyde of silencing committee members during the long-overdue hearing, and of "insulting their intelligence." Mr. Ackerman, who represents parts of Queens and Long Island, also expressed concern that the $75 million requested by Ms. Rice might be misspent, likening Iran to Iraq and accusing the administration of having picked the wrong representative for a democratic Iraq in Ahmad Chalabi.