Thursday, September 27, 2007

Modified Kyl-Lieberman Amendment

Here is the modified Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, revised on September 26, 2007 and passed by the Senate.

The new version of the bill contains two quotes on diplomatic measures with Iran, further softening the language of the bill.

Insert prior to section (6) the following:

(16) Ambassador Crocker further testified before Congress on September 11, 2007, with respect to talks with Iran, that "I think that it's an option that we want to preserve. Our first couple of rounds did not produce anything. I don't think that we should either, therefore, be in a big hurry to have another round, nor do I think we should say we're not going to talk anymore . . . I do believe it's important to keep the option for further discussion on the table."

(17) Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated on September 16, 2007 that "I think that the administration believes at this point that continuing to try and deal with the Iranian threat, the Iranian challenge, through diplomatic and economic means is by far the preferable approach. That's the one we are using . . . we always say all options are on the table, but clearly, the diplomatic and economic approach is the one that we are pursuing."

Below is the specific changes in Section (b), the Sense of Senate:

(b) Sense of Senate.--It is the sense of the Senate--

(1) that the manner in which the United States transitions and structures its military presence in Iraq will have critical long-term consequences for the future of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, in particular with regard to the capability of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to pose a threat to the security of the region, the prospects for democracy for the people of the region, and the health of the global economy;

(2) that it is a critical national interest of the United States to prevent the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran from turning Shi'a militia extremists in Iraq into a Hezbollah-like force that could serve its interests inside Iraq, including by overwhelming, subverting, or co-opting institutions of the legitimate Government of Iraq;

(3) that the United States should designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and place the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, as established under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and initiated under Executive Order 13224; and

(4) that the Department of the Treasury should act with all possible expediency to complete the listing of those entities targeted under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747 adopted unanimously on December 23, 2006 and March 24, 2007, respectively.

Clinton Pressed on Her Kyl-Lieberman Amendment Vote

During the Democratic Presidential debate in New Hampshire last night, Senator Clinton was pressed to defend her vote in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment. The Washington Post repports today:

"One of the sharpest exchanges came over a vote in the Senate on Wednesday on a resolution urging President Bush to designate the Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group. Clinton supported the measure, Biden and Dodd opposed it. Obama did not vote.

"'I am ashamed of you, Hillary, for voting for it,' said former senator Mike Gravel of Alaska.
When Clinton defended the vote as something that could lead to sanctions against a group responsible for manufacturing weapons that are being used against U.S. forces in Iraq. But Edwards challenged her for that vote.

"'I voted for this war in Iraq, and I was wrong to vote for this war,' he said. 'And I accept responsibility for that. Senator Clinton also voted for this war. We learned a very different lesson from that. I have no intention of giving George Bush the authority to take the first step on a road to war with Iran.'"

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kyl-Lieberman Amendment Passes

Kyl-Lieberman Amendment passed today with a vote of 76 to 22.

Senators who voted against the resolution were Senators Biden, Bingaman, Boxer, Brown, Byrd, Cantwell, Dodd, Feingold, Hagel, Harkin, Inouye, Kennedy, Kerry, Klobuchar, Leahy, Lincoln, Lugar, McCaskill, Sanders, Tester, Webb and Wyden.

Senators Obama and McCain did not vote on the resolution. Click here for the full Roll Call vote.

Senators Lieberman and Kyl dropped paragraphs 3 and 4 under Section (b), the Sense of Senate section, in attempts to alleviate concerns that the resolution might be taken as an authorization for the use of force against Iran.

Senator Webb stood up once again to oppose the bill, noting that if the administration proceeds as recommended in the resolution, it would be the first time that the US has designated an entire military as a terrorist organization and this could be taken as a defacto authorization for use of force. Mr. Webb again noted that there has not been one hearing on this matter and that the amendment should be withdrawn and considered in the appropriate committees.

Designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization will only undermine US security interests, including hampering talks with Iran over Iraq security.

The IRGC is both a political and military force in Iran and its members are deeply embedded in the country’s political and economic structure. It is not clear who controls the force, though they are under the nominal control of the Supreme Leader. They act as self-appointed guardians of the revolution and they operate as a vast and nebulous network that usually does not act in unison or take a single position. The IRGC is it is very much a reflection of the disparities in Iran now. There are those who want increased engagement and openness and those who do not.

If the US designates the IRGC a terrorist organization, it will likely undermine any proponents of reform and moderation inside Iran. The designation is also likely to undermine proponents of engagement with the US and the West. The designation of the IRGC on the terrorist list could also bring a backlash against Iranian citizens working for democracy and reform.

The members of the IRGC who are responsible for their expansion into the economic arena, espcially the oil and gas sector are badly affected by the economic isolation and sanctions because they need external expertise and support. On the other hand, members of the IRGC who are involved in nefarious activities, including oil smuggling and other clandestine activities have no interest in increased engagement. For them the isolation is a boon.

US policies that encourage isolation will only play directly into the hands of those who want isolation in Iran and undermine the moderates and middle ground.

Newest on Kyl-Lieberman Amendment

A reliable Hill staffer says "we hear the amendment is now dropping sections 3 and 4." This would certainly make the amendment better, but it does nothing to deal with the cherry-picked quotes in Section (a) of the resolution. The resolution will still be inflamatory, buying into the adminitration's notion of an Iranian proxy war in Iraq and calling for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to be labeled a terrorist organization (H.R. 1400 and S. 970 also call for this measure). The Kyl-Lieberman amendment should be dropped altogether.

UPDATE at 12:22 PM:
The Senate has just resumed debate on the Defense Authorization bill. It is going to first debate the Biden amendment for two minutes and vote. Then the Kyl-Lieberman amendment will be debated for 10 minutes and voted on. There is a new version of the amendment, but I don't have a copy yet.

The Best Weapon Against Iran is Diplomacy

John Burroughs from Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy has an excellent Op-Ed in Newsday today in which he writes about the escalating situation between the US and Iran.

According to Burroughs, "What is needed is not another UN Security Council resolution strengthening existing sanctions. Rather the Bush administration should talk directly with Iran, and soon, because the U.S.-Iran confrontation is heating up dangerously." He also argues, "To avoid unpredictable and extremely dangerous escalation arising both from the Iraq war and the nuclear dispute, the United States and Iran must now negotiate on the range of issues dividing them. "

He also outlines the way forward for dealing with Iran's nuclear program:

"A diplomatic approach to reversing North Korea's breakout from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is yielding results. Key elements were direct U.S. involvement and a willingness to contemplate normalization of relations and security guarantees. A similar approach to Iran should be pursued.

"There is real potential for reaching agreement with Iran on monitoring and limiting its nuclear program. Since 2003, when its history of reporting violations was revealed, Iran appears to have met reporting requirements. In a report last month, International Atomic Energy Agency Director Gen. Mohamed ElBaradei stated that his agency "is able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran." While the IAEA cannot now confirm the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities, that is a challenging determination that takes considerable time and requires enhanced inspections not now accepted by Iran.

"The IAEA and Iran have reached agreement on a work plan to clear up outstanding questions about Iran's past nuclear activities. To encourage the process, the six governments meeting at the United Nations this week should defer a Security Council decision on stiffening sanctions. Iran has repeatedly indicated its openness to operation of limited enrichment facilities in Iran under heightened IAEA monitoring and with foreign participation."

Kyl-Lieberman Update

It is possible that the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment No. 3017 could be voted on today. My colleague Travis Sharp just called the Cloak Room and apparently there is not yet an agreement for a vote on either the Biden amendment or the Lieberman-Kyl amendment.

According to Laura Rozen citing a veteran Hill source, "Schumer allegedly [is] working on a side by side. Levin will likely vote yes, while ... Reid is likely to vote no. ... The alternative will still condemn iran, but probably use less inflammatory language and likely make clear that it is not authorizing force in any manner."

Meanwhile, 25 organizations from a broad spectrum, including Americans for Democratic Action,, Open Society Policy Center, National Iranian American Council, Council for Livable World, US Labor Against the War and Win Without War, among others, have sent a letter to every Senate office this morning. Citing the talking points developed by the Council for a Livable World and endorsed by the Open Society Policy Center, the letter reads:

"The Kyl-Lieberman amendment is a provocative measure that will only undermine efforts to resolve tensions with Iran through diplomacy.

"Provocative measures such as the Kyl-Lieberman amendment can lead to a tit-for-tat escalation resulting in military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. There are no good military options for solving our disagreements with Iran. By further destabilizing the Middle East, a military confrontation with Iran would result in disastrous and unintended consequences damaging to the interests of U.S., Israel, and indeed the entire world. If we have learned nothing else from Iraq, it is that there are limitations to the use of military force.

"We strongly caution against any legislation that increases the chances of military force being used against Iran. The current crises must be resolved through diplomacy, not military action. A military confrontation with Iran would have disastrous consequences for security throughout the region and put U.S. forces in Iraq in far greater danger.

"We urge all Senators to vote 'No' on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment No. 3017 to the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill."

Ali Shakeri Released from Prison

Ali Shakeri was released from Evin Prison in Tehran this week. He still must wait for a judge to give him permission to leave Iran. Shakeri is the last of four Iranian Americans who were arrested in May to be released.

Ali Shakeri is a mortgage broker and a founding board member of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at UC Irvine. Iranian officials have not specified what charges he faced or why he was being detained.

There is still no word about former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who has been missing since a business trip to Iran in March. This week, the Iranian government said it will allow Levinson's wife travel to Iran even though it has no information on his whereabouts.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Revised Lieberman-Kyl Amendment

On September 25, 2007, Senators Kyl and Lieberman submitted a revised version of their Amendment No. 3017 to the 2008 Defense Authorization Act. All of the changes can be found in Section (b), the Sense of Senate section. Changes to the amendment are noted below. The amendment is not much better. One of the original concerns with the amendment was that it could be construed as an authorization for the use U.S. military force against Iran. The new language allows for the use of U.S. military instruments inside of Iraq for dealing with Iran, but it still does not contain a measure to prevent a conflict from spilling beyond Iraq's borders. Click here to download the full version of the revised amendment.

(b) Sense of Senate. —It is the sense of the Senate—

Original Amendment
(1) that the manner in which the United States transitions and structures its military presence in Iraq will have critical long-term consequences for the future of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, in particular with regard to the capability of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to pose a threat to the security of the region, the prospects for democracy for the people of the region, and the health of the global economy;

Revised Amendment

Original Amendment
(2) that it is a vital national interest of the United States to prevent the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran from turning Shi'a militia extremists in Iraq into a Hezbollah-like force that could serve its interests inside Iraq, including by overwhelming, subverting, or co-opting institutions of the legitimate Government of Iraq;

Revised Amendment

Original Amendment
(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies;

Revised Amendment
(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to stop inside Iraq the violent activities and destabilizing influence of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies.

Original Amendment
(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies;

Revised Amendment
(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States National power inside Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments in support of the policy with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies.

Original Amendment
(5) that the United States should designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and place the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, as established under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and initiated under Executive Order 13224; and

Revised Amendment

Original Amendment
(6) that the Department of the Treasury should act with all possible expediency to complete the listing of those entities targeted under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747 adopted unanimously on December 23, 2006 and March 24, 2007, respectively.

Revised Amendment

H.R. 1400 Passes House

H.R. 1400 was voted on Suspension today and passed 397-16. Four Republicans and 12 Democrats voted against the measure, with 20 Members not voting.

It should be noted that during the debate of the bill, not a single Member of Congress stood up to speak in opposition of the bill. Though the bill expresses that it is the Sense of Congress that "the United States should use diplomatic and economic means to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem," the bill focuses on imposing broader unilateral sanctions without calling for the implementation of a more comprehensive diplomatic strategy for resolving all outstanding issues with Iran. In other words, the bill focuses on employing bigger "sticks" in dealing with Iran rather than embracing a comprehensive approach.

In the past, many Members of Congress have criticized the Bush administration for not pursuing diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, but pressing forward with efforts to increase unilateral sanctions could directly undermine existing efforts. Many critics of the bill have said that unilateral sanctions are not the answer to the stand-off with Iran, arguing that unilateral sanctions will continue to push Iran into a corner where it will be less likely to negotiate and more likely to act out against the US. And following from this point, if unilateral sanctions undermine diplomatic efforts, it could significantly increase the risk of conflict.

The bill could also alienate the precise allies we need, including European Union countries and Russia, who have more sway with Iran, by applying unilateral sanctions, especially those with extraterritorial reach. A new report written by Harry Clark and Lisa Wang of Dewey Ballantine and commissioned by USA*Engage and the National Foreign Trade Council underscores the ineffectiveness of unilateral sanctions with extraterritorial reach. At the release of the report in August, NFTC President Bill Reinsch said, “The reality is that sanctions are only effective if they’re widely applied. Unilateral sanctions by far represent the most ineffective means to impact a foreign government or persons whose policies and behavior we disagree with or want to change. The same is true for unilateral sanctions that extend beyond our borders and attempt to affect the behavior of entities, companies or persons overseas. These measures put companies in the impossible position of violating someone’s law no matter what they do.”

S. 970 is the Senate version. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) has filed the bill as Amendment No. 2166 to the Defense Authorization bill, but it is unclear whether it will come up for a vote. The bill is unlikely to be voted on as a stand-alone measure in the Senate until either later this year or early next year.

Ambassador Galbraith on Kyl-Lieberman Amendment

Amb. Peter Galbraith, Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation said this today about the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment No. 3017 to the 2008 Defense Authorization bill:

The Lieberman-Kyl Amendment asserts "[i]t is increasingly apparent to both coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran, through the use of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps Qods Force, seeks to turn the Shi'a militia extremists into a Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq''.

In fact, the Iraqi state is dominated by a political party (SIIC formerly SCIRI) that was founded by Khomeini in Tehran in 1982. The Iraqi Army and National Police are dominated by officers from the Badr Corps, a Shiite militia associated with SCIRI, that was created, funded, trained, and armed by Iran and still supported by Iran. SIIC and Dawa (PM Maliki's Party) are close allies of Iran. The US (Bremer and CPA) appointed SCIRI and Dawa officials to key leadership positions in Iraq's central government and in the 9 southern Governorates. Bremer put the Badr Corps into key positions in the American created army and police. By contrast, the radical Shiite militias, including the Mahdi army, take a more Iraqi nationalist (and anti-Iranian) stance. It was the Bush Administration that installed Iran's best friends as the Government of Iraq and it is wrong to use our mistake a pretext for an open ended declaration of hostility to Iran.

Below are some recent quotes by top Iranian leaders on the Iraqi Government:

"The Iraqi government and nation are close friends of Iran," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview this week. "We are natural allies."

“The fact is that because of our great love for Iraq, we agreed to come here and sit at one table with our enemies,” Statement by Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Baqiri at an international conference in Baghdad Sept 9, also attended by the US.

Asked if Iran was undermining the Iraqi Government, Iran's other Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told the Financial Times May 10 “The whole idea is unreasonable. Why should we do that? Why should we undermine a government in Iraq that we support more than anybody else?”

Sanctions Bill on House Suspension Calendar

H.R. 1400, "To enhance United States diplomatic efforts with respect to Iran by imposing additional economic sanctions against Iran, and for other purposes (Rep. Lantos – Foreign Affairs)", is on the Suspension Calendar for today. The House begins legislative work at 9:00 am. There are three votes on the postponed suspension calendar and H.R. 1400 is the first on a list of 13 other suspension votes. With 324 co-sponsors, the bill will assuredly pass. I will post updates throughout the day.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Possible Vote on Lieberman-Kyl Amendment Tomorrow

Today the Senators Lieberman and Kyl presented arguments in favor of Amendment No. 3017 to the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill. According to John Isaacs, the Senate is expected to continue consideration of the Defense Authorization bill this week, but it will also break for other bills, including a Continuing Resolution to keep the government going after October 1 because no appropriations bill have passed. Senators Lieberman and Kyl predicted that their amendment could come up for a vote tomorrow, perhaps following a vote on the Biden amendment supporting federalism in Iraq tomorrow morning. However, it remains unclear when the vote will actually occur as the Defense Authorization bill is going to be on and off the floor likely into next week.

Senator Kyl also said they would possibly change some of the language in the amendment to say that the resolution is not an authorization for use of force against Iran.

Senator Lieberman focused his remarks on the usual unsubstantiated claims regarding Iranians training and arming militias in Iraq. Meanwhile, Senator Kyl made the case that the full Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps should be named a terrorist organization and argued against only naming the Quds force as a terrorist entity. He said it would be like not holding the Mafia responsible for their actions, only their hit men.

Sen. Lamar Alexander asked for unanimous consent to be added as a co-sponsor to the bill.

Haleh Esfandiari Details Her Imprisonment

On September 16, Haleh Esfandiari detailed her imprisonment in Iran in the Washington Post. In the article, she writes about how she coped with solitary confinement and interrogations. Be sure to read the article, "Held in my Homeland."

Open Letter from Akbar Ganji

Below is an Open Letter from Akbar Ganji to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon published prior to Iranian President Ahmadinejad's arrival to the UN General Assembly. The letter is also endorsed by more than 300 prominent academics.

Open Letter from Akbar Ganji to the UN Secretary-General
September 18, 2007

To His Excellency Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations,

The people of Iran are experiencing difficult times both internationally and domestically. Internationally, they face the threat of a military attack from the US and the imposition of extensive sanctions by the UN Security Council. Domestically, a despotic state has through constant and organized repression imprisoned them in a life and death situation.

Far from helping the development of democracy, US policy over the past 50 years has consistently been to the detriment of the proponents of freedom and democracy in Iran. The 1953 coup against the nationalist government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq and the unwavering support for the despotic regime of the Shah, who acted as America’s gendarme in the Persian Gulf, are just two examples of these flawed policies. More recently the confrontation between various US Administrations and the Iranian state over the past three decades has made internal conditions very difficult for the proponents of freedom and human rights in Iran.

Exploiting the danger posed by the US, the Iranian regime has put military-security forces in charge of the government, shut down all independent domestic media, and is imprisoning human rights activists on the pretext that they are all agents of a foreign enemy. The Bush Administration, for its part, by approving a fund for democracy assistance in Iran, which has in fact being largely spent on official institutions and media affiliated with the US government, has made it easy for the Iranian regime to describe its opponents as mercenaries of the US and to crush them with impunity. At the same time, even speaking about the possibility of a military attack on Iran makes things extremely difficult for human rights and pro-democracy activists in Iran. No Iranian wants to see what happened to Iraq or Afghanistan repeated in Iran.

Iranian democrats also watch with deep concern the support in some American circles for separatist movements in Iran. Preserving Iran’s territorial integrity is important to all those who struggle for democracy and human rights in Iran. We want democracy for Iran and for all Iranians. We also believe that the dismemberment of Middle Eastern countries will fuel widespread and prolonged conflict in the region. In order to help the process of democratization in the Middle East, the US can best help by promoting a just peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, and pave the way for the creation of a truly independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. A just resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state would inflict the heaviest blow on the forces of fundamentalism and terrorism in the Middle East.

Your Excellency,

Iran’s dangerous international situation and the consequences of Iran’s dispute with the West have totally deflected the world’s attention and especially the attention of the United Nations from the intolerable conditions that the Iranian regime has created for the Iranian people. The dispute over the enrichment of uranium should not make the world forget that, although the 1979 revolution of Iran was a popular revolution, it did not lead to the formation of a democratic system that protects human rights. The Islamic Republic is a fundamentalist state that does not afford official recognition to the private sphere. It represses civil society and violates human rights. Thousands of political prisoners were executed during the first decade after the revolution without fair trials or due process of the law, and dozens of dissidents and activists were assassinated during the second decade. Independent newspapers are constantly being banned and journalists are sent to prison.

All news websites are filtered and books are either refused publication permits or are slashed with the blade of censorship before publication. Women are totally deprived of equality with men and, when they demand equal rights, they are accused of acting against national security, subjected to various types of intimidation and have to endure variouspenalties, including long prison terms. In the first decade of the 21st century, stoning (the worst form of torture leading to death) is one of the sentences that Iranians face on the basis of existing laws. A number of Iranian teachers, who took part in peaceful civil protests over their pay and conditions, have been dismissed from their jobs and some have even been sent into internal exile in far-flung regions or jailed. Iranian workers are deprived of the right to establish independent unions. Workers who ask to be allowed to form unions in order to struggle for their corporate rights are beaten and imprisoned. Iranian university students have paid the highest costs in recent years in defence of liberty, human rights and democracy. Security organizations prevent young people who are critical of the official state orthodoxy from gaining admission into university, and those who do make it through the rigorous ideological and political vetting process have no right to engage in peaceful protest against government policies.

If students' activities displease the governing elites, they are summarily expelled from university and in many instances jailed. The Islamic Republic has also been expelling dissident professors from universities for about a quarter of a century. In the meantime, in the Islamic Republic's prisons, opponents are forced to confess to crimes that theyhave not committed and to express remorse. These confessions, which have been extracted by force, are then broadcast on the state media in a manner reminiscent of Stalinist show-trials. There are no fair, competitive elections in Iran; instead, elections are stage managed and rigged. And even people who find their way into parliament and into the executive branch of government have no powers or resources to alter the status quo. All the legal and extra-legal powers are in the hands of the Iran’s top leader, who rules like a despotic sultan.

Your Excellency,

Are you aware that in Iran political dissidents, human rights activists and pro-democracy campaigners are legally deprived of "the right to life"? On the basis of Article 226 of the Islamic Penal Law and Note 2 of Paragraph E of Section B of Article 295 of the same law any person can unilaterally decide that another human being has forfeited the right to life and kill them in the name of performing one’s religious duty to rid society of vice. Over the past few decades, many dissidents and activists have been killed on the basis of this article and the killers have been acquitted in court. In such circumstances, no dissident or activist has a right to life in Iran, because, on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence and the laws of the Islamic Republic, the definition of those who have forfeited the right to life (mahduroldam) is very broad.

Are you aware that, in Iran, writers are lawfully banned from writing? On the basis of Note 2 of Paragraph 8 of Article 9 of the Press Law, writers who are convicted of "propaganda against the ruling system" are deprived for life of "the right to all press activity". In recent years, many writers and journalists have been convicted of propaganda against the ruling system. The court’s verdicts make it clear that any criticism of state bodies is deemed to be propaganda against the ruling system.

Your Excellency,

The people of Iran and Iranian advocates for freedom and democracy are experiencing difficult days. They need the moral support of the proponents of freedom throughout the world and effective intervention by the United Nations. We categorically reject a military attack on Iran. At the same time, we ask you and all of the world's intellectuals and proponents of liberty and democracy to condemn the human rights violations of the Iranian state. We expect from Your Excellency, in your capacity as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, to reprimand the Iranian government in keeping with your legal duties for its extensive violation of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights covenants and treaties.

Above all, we hope that with Your Excellency's immediate intervention, all of Iran's political prisoners, who are facing more deplorable conditions with every passing day, will soon be released. The people of Iran are asking themselves whether the UN Security Council is only decisive and effective when it comes to the suspension of the enrichment of uranium, and whether the lives of the Iranian people are unimportant as far as the Security Council is concerned. The people of Iran are entitled to freedom, democracy and human rights. We Iranians hope that the United Nations and all the forums that defend democracy and human rights will be unflinching in their support for Iran’s quest for freedom and democracy.

Yours Sincerely,

Akbar Ganji

Friday, September 21, 2007

Free Ali Shakeri

Friends and family of Ali Shakeri, a respected Iranian-American peace activist who has now been held in prison in Iran for 136 days (as of September 21, 2007), have a launched a campaign site with news and opportunities to take action. Click here to visit the site.

Shift in the IAEA Board of Governors

A shift in the make-up of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors on September 20 could make it easier for the United States to make its case on Iran to the IAEA Board. US allies Saudi Arabia, Ireland and Philippines were among the 11 countries named as incoming members, while both Syria and Cuba were among the outgoing states. Cuba has been vocal in condemning Western states for criticizing the most recent IAEA agreement with Iran on outstanding issues regarding its nuclear program.

The changes are part of a regular rotation of Board members. The members for 2007-2008 are: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russian, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand and the United States. It should be noted that Britain, China, France, Russia and the US are permanent members of the IAEA Board of Governors. They are also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the five so-called “declared” nuclear weapons states.

Middle Powers Initiative on Iran

On September 20, the Middle Powers Initiative, a coalition of seven international non-governmental organizations working primarily with “middle power” governments for a nuclear free world, issued an appeal for a diplomatic and peace resolution to the confrontation with Iran.

The appeal calls for direct negotiations between the US and Iran without preconditions. According to the appeal, "To avoid an unpredictable and extremely dangerous escalation arising both from the Iraq war and the nuclear dispute, the United States and Iran, bilaterally and with other concerned countries, must now negotiate on the range of issues dividing them. They include the US military presence in Iraq; Iran’s alleged involvement in supporting Iraqi insurgents; border control issues between Iran and Iraq; US support of regime change in Iran; and Iran’s nuclear program. There should be no preconditions for commencement of negotiations."

The appeal also states that the establishment of weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East, including both Israel and Iran, would be a useful step.

The Middle Powers Initiative statement also says that the United States and other nuclear weapon states can more credibly insist on Iranian compliance with its international obligations if they meet their own nuclear disarmament obligations

Lieberman-Kyl Introduce Provocative Amendment

On September 20, 2007, Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) filed Amendment No. 3017 to the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill. This extremely provocative measure is a "Sense of Senate" resolution, which if passed, would say it is the policy of the United States to "combat, contain and roll back" Iran and its surrogates in Iraq. The amendment also expresses the view that Iran's Revolutionary Guard should be designated a terrorist organization, a move that the Bush administration is possibly now considering according to leaked media reports last month.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Peter Galbraith on the Iran-Iraq Dynamic

Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation Senior Diplomatic Fellow Peter Galbraith’s latest article – “The Victor?” – is now available on the Center’s website.

The essay will appear in the Oct. 11, 2007 issue of the New York Review of Books and reviews Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States by Trita Parsi (Yale University Press).

Here are Galbraith’s culminant remarks on the Iran-Iraq dynamic and the Bush administration's accusations of Iranian meddling in Iraq:

"U.S. pre-war intelligence on Iraq was horrifically wrong on the key question of Iraq's possession of WMDs, and President Bush ignored the intelligence to assert falsely a connection between Saddam Hussein and September 11. This alone is sufficient reason to be skeptical of the Bush administration's statements on Iran.

"Some of the administration's charges against Iran defy common sense. In his Reno speech, President Bush accused Iran of arming the Taliban in Afghanistan while his administration has, at various times, accused Iran of giving weapons to both Sunni and Shiite insurgents in Iraq. The Taliban are Salafi jihadis, Sunni fundamentalists who consider Shiites apostates deserving of death. In power, the Taliban brutally repressed Afghanistan's Shiites and nearly provoked a war with Iran when they murdered Iranian diplomats inside the Iranian consulate in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Iraq's Sunni insurgents are either Salafi jihadis or Baathists, the political party that started the Iran-Iraq War.

"The Iranian regime may believe it has a strategic interest in keeping U.S. forces tied down in the Iraqi quagmire since this, in the Iranian view, makes an attack on Iran unlikely. U.S. clashes with the Mahdi Army complicate the American military effort in Iraq and it is plausible that Iran might provide some weapons - including armor-penetrating IEDs - to the Mahdi Army and its splinter factions. Overall, however, Iran has no interest in the success of the Mahdi Army. Moqtada al-Sadr has made Iraqi nationalism his political platform. He has attacked the SIIC for its pro-Iranian leanings and challenged Iraq's most important religious figure, Ayatollah Sistani, himself an Iranian citizen. Asked about charges that Iran was organizing Iraqi insurgents, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told the Financial Times on May 10, "The whole idea is unreasonable. Why should we do that? Why should we undermine a government in Iraq that we support more than anybody else?"

"The United States cannot now undo President Bush's strategic gift to Iran. But importantly, the most pro-Iranian Shiite political party is the one least hostile to the United States. In the battle now underway between the SIIC and Moqtada al-Sadr for control of southern Iraq and of the central government in Baghdad, the United States and Iran are on the same side. The U.S. has good reason to worry about Iran's activities in Iraq. But contrary to the Bush administration's allegations - supported by both General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in their recent congressional testimony - Iran does not oppose Iraq's new political order. In fact, Iran is the major beneficiary of the American-induced changes in Iraq since 2003."

Kian is Free

Kian Tajbakhsh was released from Evin Prison late last night with no warning. His release comes a day after Radio Farda correspondent Parnaz Azima departed Iran. The status of the charges against the three Iranian Americans who have been released is still unclear. California businessman Ali Shakeri, who was also picked up in May, is still missing, as is former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who has been missing since a business trip to Iran in March.

The Open Society Institute, for whom Tajbakhsh consults has not yet posted a statement on their website. However, OSI spokesperson Laura Silber said, "OSI is delighted that this distinguished scholar is safe at home in Tehran with his wife and that his harrowing ordeal finally seems to have come to an end."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Iranian Religious Leaders Denied Visas

Jonathan Bell at Inter Press Service published an article today on the Iranian Religious leaders being denied visas. He points out that "what is particularly remarkable about the visa denials is that the administration has spoken out frequently in favor of 'people-to-people' exchanges as a means of encouraging change in Iran and other allegedly hostile nations."

Bell writes, "The State Department declined to comment on why the four members of the delegation were not approved for a visa, insisting that visa matters were confidential. Two of the four proscribed members of the Iranian delegation, however, reportedly were members of the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] during the 1980s, although this could not be independently confirmed."

The visa denials are particularly disturbing because the organizers of the trip were assured by the State Department earlier this year that they would be able to obtain them. The delegation was to be a reciprocation of a 14-member delegation of US religious leaders that went to Iran in February.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

More War Drums

Fox News reports in a web exclusive that the German government's decision to "withhold support for any new sanctions" against Iran has "pushed a broad spectrum of officials in Washington to develop potential scenarios for a military attack on the Islamic regime." Political and military officers, "as well as weapons of mass destruction specialists at the State Department, are now advising" Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that "the diplomatic approach...has failed and the administration must actively prepare for military intervention of some kind." The "next shoe to drop" will be when Secretary Rice and President Bush "make a final decision about whether to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and/or its lethal subset, the Quds Force, as a terrorist entity or entities." The "designation of such a large Iranian military institution as a terrorist entity would also be seen, sources said, as laying the groundwork for a public justification of American military action."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

California State Assembly Passes Iran Divestment Bill

On Thursday, September 6, the California State Senate passed a divestment bill on Iran. The bill was passed by the State Assembly on June 5. The bill requires the $247.7 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the $169 billion California State Teachers’ Retirement System, both in Sacramento, to divest stocks totaling about $2 billion and $1.4 billion, respectively. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has until Oct. 14 to sign the bill.

House Version of Foreign Operations Bill Unclear on Iran Monies

The reported version of the Fiscal Year 2008 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill passed by the House of Representatives included the "Rep. Crenshaw Assistance for Iran Amendment," which was adopted by voice vote and "specified $50 million of the funds appropriated in the bill should be made available for programs to improve democracy, the rule of law and governance in Iran." It is unclear how these funds relate to the $25 million in Economic Support Funds approved in the Committee's report.

The FY 2008 Bush administration request included $75 million for Economic Support Funds to be spent on democracy promotion projects in Iran and this so-called "democracy promotion" funding was presented on pages 75-76 in the Committee report under the Economic Support Fund section:

“The Committee recommendation includes $25,000,000 for programs in Iran, which is $50,000,000 below the request. The Committee is concerned that of the $25,000,000 appropriated for democracy programs in Iran in fiscal year 2006, less than $2,000,000 had been expended as of the end of May 2007. The Committee is further concerned at the lack of adequate justification for the funds that have been requested in fiscal year 2008. The Committee urges that within the amount provided, $5,000,000 be provided for women’s rights and support programs with a particular focus on minority communities. The Committee is aware of the work of the National Endowment for Democracy on these issues and encourages support for such programs."

As noted in the excerpt above, the report language highlights that "less than $2,000,000 had been expended as of the end of May 2007. The Committee is further concerned at the lack of adequate justification for the funds that have been requested in fiscal year 2008." To take a step back for a moment, 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 (Public Law 109-234). Of the $66.1 million, Congress allocated $20 million for democracy programs in Iran through the Middle East Partnership Initiative in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

According to the State Department, it has obligated approximately $16.05 million for Iran democracy programs from its FY06 regular and supplemental budgets, which includes $11.9 million through Middle East Partnership Initiative and $4.15 million through the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Additional explanation of monies can be found here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Federal Judge Orders Iran to Pay $2.65 Billion in Compensatory Damages

Last week, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ordered Iran to pay $2.65 billion in compensatory damages to families of 241 Marines murdered in the 1983 bombing of the US Marines' barracks inBeirut, Lebanon. The marines were in Lebanon at the time as part of a United Nations multinational peacekeeping contingent. Read the Memorandum Opinion of Deborah D. Peterson, et al. v. Islamic Republic of Iran, et al.

US Will Establish Military Base at Iran-Iraq Border

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the US is planning to build its first base near the Iraq-Iran border. According to the WSJ article, the move is part of “a new effort to curb the flow of advanced Iranian weaponry to Shiite militants across Iraq. The push also includes construction of fortified checkpoints on the major highways leading from the Iranian border to Baghdad and the installation of X-ray machines and explosives-detecting sensors at the only formal border crossing between Iran and Iraq.”

The article also cites US officers who say they plan to use the new base for at least two years, though it is unclear whether the base will be among the small number of facilities that would remain in Iraq after any future large-scale US withdrawal from the country.

According to the article, “Maj. Toby Logsdon, the US officer overseeing the project, says that the new base will have living quarters for at least 200 soldiers. He hopes US forces will begin living at the new outpost in November.”

The move comes as US has ratcheted up accusations that Iran is supplying Shiite militias with arms and training, though it has not provided any substantiated evidence for those claims.

Senators Up "Democracy Promotion" Funding in Foreign Ops Bill

On September 6, 2007, Senator Lieberman’s Amendment No. 2691 to the Senate Foreign Operations bill was adopted by unanimous consent. The amendment restores funding for “democracy assistance,” which was cut in the Appropriations Subcommittee, to the Bush administration's request. The amendment provides “that, of the amount appropriated or otherwise made available for the Economic Support Fund, $75,000,000 shall be made available for programs of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs of the Department of State to support democracy, the rule of law, and governance in Iran.” It was cosponsored by Sam Brownback (R-KS), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mel Martinez (R-FL), David Vitter (R-LA).

The House version of the Foreign Ops bill appropriates $25,000,000 for democracy assistance and directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to initiate a comprehensive assessment of the capacity of the U.S. Government to effectively administer democracy programs worldwide.

The Lieberman-Brownback amendment reads:

"On page 410, between lines 15 and 16, insert the following:


Sec. 699B. Of the amount appropriated or otherwise made available by title III for other bilateral economic assistance under the heading “Economic Support Fund”, $75,000,000 shall be made available for programs of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs of the Department of State to support democracy, the rule of law, and governance in Iran."

Here is Senator Lieberman’s floor statement in defense of the amendment:

"Dissidents and democrats in Iran today are under attack by their own Government. The question before this Congress is whether we are going to stand with them in solidarity or whether we will turn away our heads. This amendment would provide $75 million in funds, the amount requested by the administration; in fact, announced by Secretary of State Rice. That announcement, I know from sources I have, was broadly heard and appreciated within the Iranian civil society dissident movement. The committee has recommended one-third of that amount of money. This $75 million would go to labor activists, women's groups, journalists, human rights advocates, and other members of Iranian civil society. It provides Congress an opportunity to demonstrate that even as we condemn the behavior of the Iranian regime, we stand with the Iranian people, a people with a proud history who truly are, in my opinion, yearning to be free. That freedom is suppressed by the fanatical regime that dominates their lives today.

The alternative path before Congress, if we don't adopt this amendment, would be to cut the administration's request by two-thirds. At that level of funding, existing programs will not only be unable to expand, they will actually be cut back. In other words, at just the moment when the Iranian Government is engaged in an unprecedented rollback of the human rights and political freedoms of the Iranian people, the American Government will be rolling back its own programs to help defend those rights and freedoms. Why would we do this?

The report language of the Appropriations subcommittee, I say respectfully, says that ``the Committee supports the goals of promoting democracy in Iran,'' but ``it is particularly concerned that grantees suspected of receiving U.S. assistance have been harassed and arrested by the Government of Iran for their pro-democracy activities.''

In other words, the argument against this amendment seems to be that we should give less to help dissidents in Iran because our help, in turn, may lead to their harassment by the totalitarian government in Tehran. I respectfully disagree with this logic. I know that we do not give less to democracy advocates in Myanmar or Zimbabwe or Belarus when they are being harassed by the regime, nor do we give less to freedom fighters behind the Iron Curtain in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. On the contrary, it is precisely when dissidents are under attack that they need more help from the United States, not less. I am sure my colleagues would agree that if we give less money to these civil society human rights activists in Iran, the Iranian regime will not repress them any less. The repression probably, in fact, will be greater. As to the argument that those who accept this money--and I can say, speaking generally, that the money is given through third parties, international organizations, to the civil society human rights advocates in Iran--that somehow they will be harassed for receiving this money, I believe the just and right thing to do is leave that decision to those who are fighting for freedom in Iran, for us to be willing to help them if they want that help. The record is clear there.

Since the State Department began making these grants 8 months ago, 90 percent of the fiscal year 2006 funds have been obligated, with the remaining funds expected to be obligated by mid-September. Perhaps there are some Iranian groups that do not want our funding, but it is clear that many others do. The need is great. It is beyond the $75 million this amendment would provide. That choice should be theirs. Our moral responsibility is to make the money available to these courageous fighters for freedom in Iran, those who want not only more freedom but a better future for themselves and their children.

I want to close by saying that we know from history that dissidents can change history, because history is made not by abstract, inexorable forces but by individual human beings such as Vaclav Havel or Lech Walesa or Andrei Sakharov or Natan Sharansky. It was the bravery of these people that kindled our moral imagination to see the suffering of millions behind the Iron Curtain, and it was their leadership that inspired millions more to cast off their shackles and overthrow a cruel and dictatorial system of Communist government that many thought would endure forever. Like the Communist terrorists of eastern Europe, the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran repress their people because they are frightened of them. They know how powerful the dissidents and the democrats in their midst can become. These are the people to whom this money would go. That is the reason my colleagues and I have offered this amendment."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

New Iran Resolution Condemning Persecution of Labor Rights Advocates

On September 5, 2007, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk introduced H.CON.RES.203, "Condemning the persecution of labor rights advocates in Iran." The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-NJ) and was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. I will post a link to the bill when it is available.

Shirin Ebadi Intervenes to Prevent Arrests of Human Rights Activists

During U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour's visit to Iran earlier this week, several family members of political prisoners had gathered in front of the UN office in Tehran on September 3 to meet with her following up on the letter sent by Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi to express concerns regarding human rights abuses in Iran. The police brutally attacked and tried to arrest those who attempted to meet with Arbour. Dr. Ebadi
intervened and insisted that if anyone were to be arrested, she too should be arrested. The police retreated. Here is the link to the article in Farsi.

Kian Tajbakhsh to be Released on Bail Soon

Special thanks to Azadeh Ensha for forwarding this information (she also translated the original article for Barnett Rubin and the Informed Comment Global Affairs blog).

"State television of Iran quoted Hassan Hadad, prosecutor for the national security court in Tehran, reported that the investigation of the special court into Mr. Tajbakhsh is ongoing, and that after completion of the investigation, he will be released on bail."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New IAEA Report on Iran

On August 30, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General ElBaradei also delivered his report on the Implementation of Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards in Iran to the IAEA Board of Governors. The assessment states that Iran is now simultaneously operating nearly 2,000 centrifuges, the fast-spinning machines that produce enriched uranium, at its vast underground facilityat Natanz, an increase of several hundred machines from three months ago. More than 650 more centrifuges are being tested or are under construction. That number is far short of Iran's projection that by now it would be running 3,000 of the machines.

Mohamed ElBaradei said in an hour-long interview: "This is the first time Iran is ready to discuss all the outstanding issues which triggered the crisis in confidence. It's a significant step. There are clear deadlines, so it's not, as some people are saying, an open-ended invitation to dallying with the agency or a ruse to prolong negotiations and avoid sanctions." He added, "I'm clearat this stage, you need to give Iran a chance to prove its stated good will. Sanctions alone, I know for sure, are not going to lead to a durable solution."

Reacting to the report, the Bush administration repeated its determination to continue with its current approach. State Department Spokesman Tom Casey said: "There is no partial credit here. Iran has refused to comply with its international obligations, and, as a result of that, the international community is going to continue to ratchet up the pressure."

For his efforts to deal with Iran, the Washington Post published this scathing editorial on ElBaradei today, to which a colleague asked, "Does anybody know what is the Post smoking?"

Dangerous Circumstances for Women's Rights Activists Draws Attention of UN Human Rights Commissioner

I reported last month in my "Iran Update," an email newsletter, that in July, Nobel Peace Laureate and Human Rights Lawyer Shirin Ebadi wrote to the Honorable Ms. Louisa Arbour, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner regarding the dangerous circumstances facing women's rights activists in Iran. Dr. Ebadi said they have become more endangered than ever before and outlined the cases of a group of "women's rights defendants" who have been sentenced to jail for periods of time. Dr. Ebadi appealed for a United Nations delegation to visit Iran to investigate the situation of women's rights defenders.

The "One Million Signatures Campaign" reported today that Arbour will be in Tehran September 2-4 to attend the Non-Aligned Conference which will be held on September 2-3 at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran. During her stay in Iran, Ms. Arbour will also meet with women and human rights defenders, in an effort to investigate increased pressures on these sectors. The meeting with women's rights defenders will be held at the UN headquarters in Iran.

According to Dr. Ebadi's letter and the Campaign:

"Iranian women's rights defenders have come under increased pressure, as they have stepped up efforts to reform laws that discriminate against women. Activists involved in the One Million Signatures Campaign, which is a peaceful and civil effort intended to collect signatures asking the Parliament to reform laws which discriminate against women, have faced consistent pressure in the past year, since the launch of the Campaign. Recently two members of the Campaign, Fatemeh Dehdashti and Nasim Sarabandi were issued 6 month jail terms for collecting signatures and Amir Yaghoubali the most recent member of the Campaign to be arrested for collection of signatures, spent nearly one month in solitary confinement in the Security branch of Evin Prison, Ward 209. In all 13 members of the Campaign have been arrested in relation to their activities in this peaceful effort and for collecting signatures, most are facing security charges. Other forms of pressure, such as threats, phone tapping, interrogations, disruption of meetings, denial of meeting space, blocking of the their website, etc have worked to thwart the Campaign and its activists in their efforts to raise public awareness about the discriminatory nature of the law. Despite these pressures, the Campaign celebrated its first year anniversary on August 27, 2007, and the activists involved in the Campaign are continuing with their work."

Update on H.R. 1400

On September 4, 2007, the House Committee on Judiciary granted an extension for further consideration ending not later than Sept. 21, 2007 on H.R.1400, an bill to impose further economic sanctions on Iran sponsored by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) along with 323 other co-sponsors.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Is it Fall of 2002 Again? Troubling Signs from Administration on Iran Confrontation

Today, the Friends Committee on National Legislation reported that the Bush administration has denied visas to Iranian religious leaders, who were scheduled to engage in dialogue with religious leaders in the United States.

They expressed their disappointment and said they were troubled that the administration denied the visas on what are said to be national security grounds, particularly because they received assurances that the visas would be approved.

“The denials parallel a disturbing escalation of rhetoric against Iran and further demonstrate this administration’s current strategy of confrontation rather than diplomacy,” FCNL said in an email. In February 2007, a delegation of religious leaders including FCNL Secretary Joe Volk went to Iran. They said their conversations in Iran revealed a strong Iranian desire to engage the U.S. and negotiate on the issues that divide our two countries. Failure to pursue aggressively possibilities for future agreements could lead to another avoidable catastrophe in the Middle East for the U.S. and the peoples of the region.

Meanwhile, George Packer from the New Yorker said on his blog today that if there was ever a threat level on war with Iran, we’ve now reached orange. He also confirmed a blog posting from Barnett Rubin, the highly respected Afghanistan expert at New York University, regarding an account of a conversation with a friend who has connections to someone at a neoconservative institution in Washington who said:

“They [the source's institution] have ‘instructions’ (yes, that was theword used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaignfor war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don't think they'll ever get majority support for this—they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is ‘plenty.’”

After Packer posted his blog, he wrote a post script which read: “Barnett Rubin just called me. His source spoke with a neocon think-tanker who corroborated the story of the propaganda campaign and had this to say about it: "I am a Republican. I am a conservative. But I'm not a raging lunatic. This is lunatic."

Haleh Esfandiari and Parnaz Azima Free to Leave Iran

The following is excerpted from a Woodrow Wilson Center statement:

"Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program, left Iran on September 2, and arrived in Vienna, Austria early on September 3. Iranian officials issued her passport on September 1st and she will return to the US after visiting family in Vienna.

“'After a long and difficult ordeal, I am elated to be on my way back to my home and my family. These last eight months, that included 105 days in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, have not been easy. But I wish to put this episode behind me and to look to the future, not to the past,' said Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program.

“'I am immensely grateful for the unstinting support I received from Wilson Center President, Lee Hamilton, and the Wilson Center staff. I am equally grateful to the many organizations and hundreds of individuals all over the world that called and worked for my freedom; to the journalists and news organizations that gave my case wide coverage; and to all those who interceded on my behalf. I owe thanks also to my lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, and her legal colleagues who so ably represented me.'

"'I wish especially to thank the Austrian ambassador to Tehran, Dr. Michael Postl and his colleagues, whose friendship and concern for the well-being of my mother and myself was truly extra-ordinary.'

"'I am sure everyone will understand my need, now, for a period of quiet and privacy before I resume my normal activities.'

"Esfandiari, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program, was incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin prison on May 8, 2007, on allegations of endangering Iranian national security. During her lengthy confinement, she was denied access to her legal defense team and to independent monitoring bodies such as the ICRC and was allowed only limited contact with her family.For detailed information regarding Haleh Esfandiari’s detention and imprisonment, including a comprehensive timeline of events, please visit"

Meanwhile, Parnaz Azima, who works for the US-funded radio station Radio Liberty, was the second Iranian American to reportedly been given permission to leave Iran. She had been charged with spreading propaganda against theIranian state. She had earlier been released on bail but was unable to leave the countrybecause the authorities were keeping her passport.

Ali Shakeri Kian Tajbaksh are still being held in Iran.