Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The latest on Dr. Haleh Esfandiari

The Iranian's start naming names and I fear for her friends, relatives and professional colleagues:
Iran's Soros spot.

Iran charged yesterday that a Washington-based academic arrested in Tehran this month was working for a George Soros-backed organization trying to undermine the Islamic state's ruling system. An Intelligence Ministry statement, published by Iran's ISNA news agency, said the program had financial backing from "the famous American Soros center."

It was referring to the Open Society Institute, founded by Soros, a Hungarian-born businessman and philanthropist and major left-wing Democratic donor in the United States. Soros, a fierce critic of President Bush, has given millions of dollars to the liberal Web site MoveOn.org and strongly opposes the Iraq war. Many of his views are controversial, including legalization of some drugs.

The Open Society organization has spent upward of $400 million a year on projects ranging from anti-poverty efforts in Africa to pro-democracy efforts in the former Soviet Union. The institute says it is dedicated to "fostering intellectual exchange between Iran and the outside world," and sponsors discussions in culture, education and public health.

But Tehran said Esfandiari admitted to a different role in Iran.

"In the preliminary interrogations, she said the Soros center in Iran had an unofficial communication network and was trying to develop and expand it to follow up its 'soft revolution' aims," the ministry statement said.

Iranian officials use the terms "soft" or "velvet revolution" to refer to a perceived U.S. plot to use intellectuals and others inside Iran to undermine the Islamic state. Officials say the intellectuals are often invited abroad for "training."
"The long-term and final goal of such centers is to try to enable this network . . . to confront the ruling powers. This model designed by the Americans . . . is following the 'soft revolution' in the country," the statement added.

Wilson Center director Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic Indiana congressman, told The Washington Post, "It's very disturbing. We deny all the charges. There is not one scintilla of evidence to support these allegations."

Iran said Esfandiari was cooperating with authorities to track down those working in the Soros center network.

Judiciary officials previously said the Intelligence Ministry was investigating Esfandiari for suspected "crimes against national security."

The Wilson Center acknowledged receiving some support from the Open Society Institute, but noted that the Soros Foundation, another philanthropy, had donated money to the Iranian government after an earthquake in 2003.