Monday, May 22, 2006

US Hails the Iranian People But Not Their 'Lunatic' Leaders

Guy Dinmore, The Financial Times:
Voice of America is not in the business of persuading Iranians to overthrow their government, declares David Jackson, director of the US-government funded radio-television station, but he notes he does receive an amazing number of e-mails from Iranians saying: “Please invade Iran!” READ MORE

His comments, made at a Washington conference, were surely not intended to signal the Pentagon’s military plans, but they reflect what officials describe as a push by the Bush administration to demonise the Iranian regime but laud the Iranian people. The administration’s increasingly tough rhetoric is sending a clear rebuttal to European allies who are urging Washington to engage Iran in direct negotiations instead of pursuing diplomacy by proxy.

Speaking about US plans to spend more than $75m (€58m, £40m) on promoting democratic change in Iran, Alberto Fernandez, head of the US State Department’s press and public diplomacy for the Middle East, set out how the US sees Iran’s duality. Like night and day, he said, Iran was divided between – “official Iran” (the regime) and “eternal Iran” (the people).

Official Iran pursues nuclear weapons that it might well supply to terrorists, has an appalling human rights record, isolates itself, oppresses its working people and feeds them a “forced diet of Holocaust denial”. Eternal Iran is the land of religious faith and creativity, of scholars and poets, and courageous rights activists and liberal clerics who see no contradiction between Islam and democracy.

The polls in which Iranians elected President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad are dismissed as a sham by the Bush administration, and its supporters. One European diplomat recently told reporters popular backing for Mr Ahmadi-Nehad did not equal support for the regime.

US policy was to offer “real support for the Iranian people”, Mr Fernandez said. This required “creativity”.

Angry Iranian lawmakers complained at the weekend that creativity was behind what they rejected as false and invented reports last week that the Iranian parliament had passed a law that would require Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians to wear coloured badges to identify them as non-Muslims.

The report was first carried by Canada’s National Post, citing Iranian expatriates.

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential pro-Israel lobby group, circulated this “truly disturbing reportamong many reporters, as did Iranian opposition factions. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, linked it to the nuclear issue, describing the Iranian regime as lunatic and pernicious and slamming the Russian for “playing footsie” with it.

Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, gave cautious but not categorical credence to the reports, which he said had “clear echoes . . . of Germany under Hitler”. The report originated in an opinion piece by Amir Taheri, a prominent Iranian journalist under the Shah who now advocates regime change from London. Mr Taheri told the FT he stood by his claim. He said his sources were three opponents of the bill – which has not yet been approved by Iran’s higher authorities. He cited them as saying a commission of experts was being appointed to work out implementation of the “Islamic identity” law, which could require provisions for identifying non-Muslims.

Iranian lawmakers, including a Jewish member of parliament, said there had been no such discussion.

Karim Sadjadpour, analyst with the International Crisis Group, says the Iranian president has made the Bush administration’s job easier.

“The reality is that when there is a President in Tehran saying on an almost weekly basis that Israel should be wiped off the map, Iran’s international reputation has been so tarnished that it’s a lot easier to plant misinformation about it in the global media,” he commented.

“Fact checkers are far more lax when it comes to Iran these days,” he says, noting that reports on special clothing for Jews would have aroused more scepticism during the previous moderate administration of Mohammad Khatami.