Friday, May 19, 2006

L.A. Times: U.S. moves to weaken Iran

A campaign to promote democracy and fund dissidents prompts speculation that the administration's goal is to change the regime.

Laura Rozen- U.S. officials have taken a series of steps to increase pressure on Iran, most recently creating new offices in the State Department and Pentagon specifically to bolster opposition to the Tehran government. In February, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Congress for $75 million to supplement $10 million in funds to promote democracy, aid Iranian dissidents and expand the Voice of America's Persian-language broadcasts beamed across the Persian Gulf from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.

The administration's efforts are taking shape on the second floor of the State Department, where a new Office of Iranian Affairs has been charged with leading the push to back Iranian dissidents more aggressively, boost support to democracy broadcasters and strengthen ties with exiles. Nearby at the Pentagon, an Iranian directorate will work with the State Department office to undercut the government in Tehran.

The State Department's new Iranian Affairs office is headed by David Denehy, a longtime democracy specialist at the International Republican Institute, who will work under Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of the vice president. Recently, Denehy and other officials went to Los Angeles for meetings with Iranian exiles and the Persian-language media. The purpose was to inform them of the government's plans, get feedback and — perhaps not a secondary consideration — create a buzz within the Iranian American diaspora and its satellite media outlets, which are beamed into Tehran.

At the Pentagon, the new Iranian directorate has been set up inside its policy shop, which previously housed the Office of Special Plans. The controversial intelligence analysis unit, established before the Iraq war, championed some of the claims of Ahmad Chalabi. A number of assertions made by the former Iraqi exile and onetime Pentagon favorite were later discredited. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable declined to name the acting director of the new Iran office and would say only that the appointee was a "career civil servant." Among those staffing or advising the Iranian directorate are three veterans of the Office of Special Plans: Abram N. Shulsky, its former director; John Trigilio, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst; and Ladan Archin, an Iran specialist.