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US creating network of 'Iran watchers' overseas

Written by: Staff
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Washington, Mar 3: The United States (US), as part of its new effort to promote democracy in Iran, will open a new office of Iranian affairs in the State Department and station more diplomats in key foreign cities to develop ties with Iranian exiles, according to a US cable made public.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month announced plans to ask Congress to boost 2006 spending for pro-democracy initiatives in Iran to 85 million dollars from million.

But even before that money is voted on, the State Department has moved to realign its existing resources with policy priorities, a senior US official told sources.

The cable, released by the liberal Center for American Progress yesterday and authenticated by the State Department, said that addressing the challenge posed by Iran is one of the highest US foreign policy priorities for the next decade.

As a result, Rice approved a plan authorizing 12 to 15 new positions to increase her department's capabilities to focus on Iranian issues, reach out to Iranian people and promote democracy, the cable said.

It is part of a broader campaign to reshape the State Department to meet 21st century challenges.

Diplomats have been asked to apply for new posts in Dubai, London, Istanbul, Frankfurt and Baku that will require them to learn Persian. State Department expertise in Iran's language and culture withered after the 1979 Iranian revolution and Washington's severing of ties with Tehran in 1980.

The goal is to assemble, beginning this summer, a network of 'Iran watchers' to develop contacts with Iranian exiles, seek ways to use US funds to support Iranian civil society groups, and report on Iran's foreign policy and oil-sector activities, the cable said.

"Iran will be given its own 'office' within the department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to coordinate Iran-related activities and staffing will rise to five from two," US officials said.

IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM

Washington's pro-democracy drive has gathered steam as an international nuclear standoff with Iran worsened. Iran has defied Western demands to halt uranium enrichment-related activities, but talks aimed at a diplomatic solution continue. Iran says it only wants to generate electricity.

Some political analysts and diplomats are highly skeptical that reaching out to Iranians can work in a country where America is labeled the 'Great Satan' and perceived as anti-Muslim, mainly due to policies seen as favoring Israelis over Palestinians.

Critics fault the Bush administration for relying on advice of Iraqi exiles like Ahmad Chalabi before the Iraq war. The exiles insisted Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that were never found and predicted Americans would be welcomed as liberators, but the reality was more complicated.

But a second senior administration official told sources, "I think we have a real opportunity (in Iran) to promote respect for human rights and a democratic system with free elections, freedom of speech, against a regime which is highly unpopular internally. People want democracy. It's almost a perfect case of where the United States should be able to do something useful, although of course not alone. We want other democracies doing it too," he said.

REUTERS

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