Paris, 10 May (IPS) The arrest of Mrs. Haleh Esfandiari, a prominent Iranian-American academic working at the Wilson Woodrow Centre’s Middle East Programme is part of the ongoing cut throat power struggle in Tehran between the hard liners and the moderates, according to many Iranian political analysts.
The arrest of Mrs. Esfandiari, of Mrs. Parnaz (Nazi) Azima, of Mr. Hoseyn Moussavian, of several Iranian journalists, intellectuals, students and female activists etc are part of this inner fight in the Iranian regime’s highest echelons, having it roots in the possible start of direct negotiations between Tehran and Washington.
In a surprising attack on the government, the radical daily “Keyhan”, considered as the mouthpiece of the Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, asked in an article published on Tuesday 8 May “what is the purpose behind efforts to talk to the Americans?”.
“Has Washington changed its anti-Iranian, anti-Islamic, pro-Zionist attitude? Or we are changing our policy of refusing any talks with the Americans, as stated by Grand Ayatollah Khomeini and followed by our great leader, who has rightfully observed that America wanted the talks with us only for talks and nothing else”, Keyhan said, adding:
“By doing so the Americans can deceive the hopes the Muslims all over the world have placed in our struggle, telling the Islamic world which, in following the example of the Iranian Islamic revolution, is uprising against the arrogant, that even Iran is now coming into the fold, is tamed”, the paper wrote, accusing particularly the Foreign Affairs Minister Manouchehr Mottaki for his recent remarks about Iran being ready for talks with the United States in case it sees changes in the American attitude towards Tehran”.
The fact is the normalizing relations with Washington is becoming a vital necessity for the survival of the present Iranian theocracy and for this reason, both wings of the leadership have made their arrangements for initializing the talks.
Hence, the arrest of Mrs. Esfandiari of even worse, that of Mr. Moussavian, accused of having passed secret information to the German counter-intelligence organization BND.
“Considering the enormity, sensibility and importance of the charges, Mr. Moussavian must be executed under Iranian laws, but the fact that he had been released is a testimony to the power his protector, namely ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani”, commented Mr. Alireza Nourizadeh, a well-informed independent Iranian journalist based in London.
[Arrested ten days ago on charges of “espionage and passing nuclear secrets to enemy”, Mr. Moussavian, a former senior nuclear negotiator and seasoned diplomat was freed on a 2.000 million Rials (19.500 US Dollars) bail.
Normalizing relations with Washington is becoming a vital necessity for the survival of the present Iranian theocracy.
"The irony is, in Washington she (Mrs. Esfandiari) faced criticism for bringing in people who were sympathetic to the Iranian government," said Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "By detaining her, the Iranian government only eliminates an advocate for diplomacy and strengthens the voices of those in Washington who say the regime is cruel and should not be engaged".
Ms. Esfandiari is the second Iranian-American female citizen detained by the Iranian authorities in recent weeks. Ms. Parnaz (Nazi) Azima, a reporter for the Persian service of the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty had been arrested some weeks ago and like Mrs. Esfandiari, she was interrogated over her alleged connections with American plans to destabilize the Iranian theocracy. Again, like the Iranian academic, she had gone to her native country to visit her ageing mother and again, like Mrs. Esfandiari, she had visited her family before without facing serious problems.
During her interrogations, Esfandiari was pressured to make false confessions or to falsely implicate the Wilson Center in activities in which it had no part, according to a family member. Esfandiari was contacted again a few days ago and asked to "cooperate" with Intelligence Ministry officials, which she refused. On Monday she was told to report to the Ministry of Intelligence again. When she did, she was taken to Evin Prison. It is unclear whether she has been formally charged with any offense.
According to “Rajanews”, an internet site close to the fanatic President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad as well as the regime’s intelligence secret files, and run by the wife of the Government’s official spokesman, Mr. Qolamhoseyn Elham, Mrs. Esfadiari “married to Sahul Bakhash, a Jew, is one of the leading figure in the international Zionist lobby planning the overthrow of the Iranian regime, including the Zionist regime’s plans to attack Iran”.
The site is known for the most abject and vicious attacks on all opponents of the present Government, but particularly on the reformists, going as far as calling for the execution of Hojjatoleslam Hasan Rohani or accusing former president Mohammad Khatami of selling out the regime to foreigners. The site is also known for fabricating and inventing hallucinating stories on Iranian dissidents, alongside the radical daily “Keyhan”, run by Hoseyn Shari’atmadari, an intelligence officer specialising in the interrogation of political and intellectual dissidents, appointed by Mr. Khameneh’i as the Chief Editor of the paper.
“Ramin Jahanbeglou confessed to political-security relations with a person named Jaleh Esfandiari, (a notorious anti-revolutionary figure married to a Jew). She introduced me to some special agencies in the United States, which offered me a bourse to research on the intellectualism in Iran”, the site quoted the Iranian-Canadian scholar and researcher
Mr. Jahanbaglou, a Canadian-Iranian academic was arrested in Iran last year, accused of aiding the enemy by speaking at similar conferences. He was released in August after confessing that foreign agents might have exploited his expertise.
The Wilson center does not take partisan positions, but its Web site lists a number of conferences that Ms. Esfandiari helped organize. They include one about the future of the reform movement in Iran and another about its nuclear program. Around Washington, she is known as the go-to Iran expert.
“Whatever they think my wife did seems to be in their imagination; she hasn’t done anything wrong”, said Shaul Bakhash, her husband, a well-known Iran expert who is a professor of Middle East history at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. “I hope they realize that they made this mistake and let her return to her family.
Mrs. Esfandiari’s ordeal began on 30 December 2006, when she was en route to the airport to return to Washington. Three masked gunmen waylaid her taxi and stole her luggage, including her Iranian and American passports.
Though it is not clear who the “attackers” were, but this kind of operation is a landmark of operations carried by Iranian Intelligence and Security Ministry.
Mr. Lee Hamilton, the Director of the Wilson Centre and co-chairman of the famous Iraq Study Group which has suggested the Bush Administration to engage the Islamic Republic of Iran to help getting the United States out of the Iraqi quagmire said he had wrote to Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad about the case of Mrs. Esfandiar, but received no answer.
Esfandiari and the other soft hostages appear to be caught in an Iranian reaction to the Bush administration's $75 million program to promote democracy in Iran, which was unveiled last year. Tehran has since cracked down on human rights advocates, labor organizers and campaigners for women's rights, according to human rights activists.
The government's justification for these actions is usually couched as a response to the State Department's announcement to provide financial support to Iranian civil society and nongovernmental organizations.
"The government's justification for these actions is usually couched as a response to the State Department's announcement to provide financial support to Iranian civil society and nongovernmental organizations", said Hadi Ghaemi of Human Rights Watch. "This has fueled a perception among the Iranian politicians that the U.S. is committed to instigating a 'velvet revolution' in Iran. Ironically, the Iranian-Americans who travel to Iran mostly stay away from politics and are not by any means part of the 'regime change' advocates. But they have become pawns in the hands of [the] Iranian government as it charts its strategy in engaging with the U.S."
Esfandiari brought in many scholars and analysts from Tehran to speak at the Wilson Center, one of the few places in Washington that offered a robust range of opinions on Iran.
The United States has not faced this kind of tension over Americans held in Iran since the 1979-1981 hostage crises, when 52 Americans were held for 444 days. Like in the case of Ms. Azima, the Wilson Center and Mrs. Esfandiari’s family had sought to avoid publicity in hopes that she would be granted a new passport.
A fourth American, former FBI agent Robert A. Levinson, disappeared after he flew to Iran's Kish Island in March. The United States has sent five letters through the Swiss government asking for information on his whereabouts. Tehran has repeatedly said it has no knowledge of Levinson's location. ENDS ESFANDIARI ARRESTED 10507