mardi, mars 07, 2006

US creating network of ‘Iran watchers’ overseas

US creating network of ‘Iran watchers’ overseas

WASHINGTON: The United States, 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 on Thursday.

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 from $10 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 Reuters.

The cable, released by the liberal Center for American Progress 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. 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. reuters

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