Wednesday, June 13, 2007

State Department Democracy Promotion Funding Broken Down

On June 4, 2007, the US State Department released an update on "Democracy Promotion" funding for Iran. I am posting a breakdown below, but some comments first.

The State Department says the purpose of this funding is to support programs that "assist those inside Iran who desire basic civil liberties such as freedom of expression, greater rights for women, more open political process, and broader freedom of the press." On the surface this seems like a noble goal, but there is no transparency mechanism attached to this money. The State Department has said that information regarding who receives the money and what it is used for should remain classified in order to protect those who receive it. The problem with this argument is that the Iranian government is now detaining prominent Iranian Americans, like Dr. Haleh Esfandiari and Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh, precisely because there is no transparency regarding these monies. They are being accused of taking money from the US government and acting as spies.

In an Op-Ed for the International Herald Tribune on May 30, 2007, Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi (who by the way is also Dr. Esfandiari's lawyer) and Muhammed Sahimi explain the situation quite well. They write:

"The recent arrests, including the detention of Hossein Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator and a close aid to Rafsanjani, should be viewed as Ahmadinejad's retaliation against the more moderate faction. But the most important reason has to do with President George W. Bush's policy toward Iran. Last year, the administration requested and received $75 million from Congress to 'bring' democracy to Iran.

Some of the $75 million has been devoted to the U.S.-funded Radio Farda, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, as well as to VOA satellite TV, which are beaming Persian programs into Iran. Other portions have been given secretly to exiled Iranian groups, political figures and nongovernmental organizations to establish contacts with Iranian opposition groups.

But Iranian reformists believe that democracy can't be imported. It must be indigenous. They believe that the best Washington can do for democracy in Iran is to leave them alone. The fact is, no truly nationalist and democratic group will accept such funds.

According to the Algiers Accord that the United States signed with Iran in 1981 to end the hostage crisis, noninterference in Iran's domestic affairs is one of Washington's legal obligations.

The secret dimension of the distribution of the $75 million has also created immense problems for Iranian reformists, democratic groups and human rights activists. Aware of their own deep unpopularity, the hard-liners in Iran are terrified by the prospects of a 'velvet revolution' and have become obsessed with preventing contacts between Iranian scholars, artists, journalists and political activists and their American counterparts.

Thus, Washington's policy of 'helping' the cause of democracy in Iran has backfired. It has made it more difficult for the more moderate factions within Iran's power hierarchy to argue for an accommodation with the West."

Despite this reality, the President's request for FY 2008 is $108.71 million. The FY 2008 request includes $75 million for Economic Support Funds (ESF) to be spent on democracy promotion projects in Iran. It also includes $28.21 million for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Voice of America - Persian and Radio Farda programs and $5.5 million in Diplomatic and Consular Program (D&CP) funds. Congress has not yet approved this FY2008 budget request.

In the regular FY 2006 Foreign Operations spending bill, Congress appropriated no less than $6.55 million (Public Law 109-102) for Iran from Democracy Funds and requested that at least $10 million be spent by the State Department on democracy and human rights programs in Iran overall.Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also requested $75 million in the FY 2006 Emergency Supplemental for Iran.

Congress only appropriated $66.1 million, allocated as follows (Public Law 109-234):
* $36.1 million for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG);
* $10.274 million in International Broadcasting Operations;
* $25.826 million in Broadcasting Capital Improvements.
* $20 million for democracy programs in Iran through the Middle East Partnership Initiative in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs;
* $5 million for Internet and other interactive programming through the Bureau of International Information Programs;
* $5 million for education and cultural exchanges through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

According to the State Department, to date, it has obligated approximately $16.05 million for Iran democracy programs from our FY06 regular and supplemental budgets, which includes $11.9 million through MEPI and $4.15 million through the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Additionally, $1.77 million has been obligated through the Bureau of International Information Programs, and $2.22 million through the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs from the FY 2006 regular and supplemental budgets.

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