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US funding undermines progressives in iran { October 11 2007 }

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Groups call for cut in US Iran democracy funding
October 11, 2007

WASHINGTON (AFP) A coalition spearheaded by an Iranian-American group Thursday urged Congress to cut 75 million dollars in funding for democracy promotion in Iran, saying it did more harm than good.

A total of 26 organizations, including the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and human rights groups, argued there was overwhelming opposition to the program among activists within Iran.

"The money has made all Iranian NGOs targets and put them at great risk," said Trita Parsi, president of NIAC, which bills itself as the largest Iranian American group in the United States.

"While the Iranian government has not needed a pretext to harass its own population, it would behoove Congress not to provide it with one."

The activists said that the Iranian government sees the US funding, in a program launched in 2006, as designed to enforce regime change, and conservative leadership elements had used it as a pretext for a crackdown.

In a letter to lawmakers who will merge Senate and House of Representatives appropriations bills containing the funding, the group said the money would be better spent on activities outside Iran to promote civil society.

"We believe this program, intended to aid the cause of democracy in Iran, has failed and has instead invigorated a campaign by conservative regime elements to harass and intimidate those seeking reform and greater openness."

"Iranian reformers believe democracy cannot be imported," they wrote.

The group said Iranian authorities arrested four Americans of Iranian descent this year, accusing them of accepting US government grants to promote regime change in Iran.

The State Department said it was not aware of letter to the lawmakers but defended the pro-democracy programs.

"Congress authorized this funding for us to be able to do things like expand radio and television broadcasting into Iran ... to be able to allow (Iranians) to hear subversive things like the truth," said State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey.

"I don't think anyone would likely suggest that is a bad idea or something that we should stop," he said.

The coalition said that an expansion in funding of radio and television broadcasting into Iran was useful.

But it said that further budget increases should await a boost an evaluation of past steps, including an expansion of the Voice of America Farsi service last year.

The letter to the lawmakers was also signed by groups including the United Methodist Church, the Center for Arms Control and Proliferation and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

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Copyright 2007 AFP.

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