Tags: obama | democracy | iran

Obama Erases Pro-Democracy Money for Iran

Friday, 19 Jun 2009 02:40 PM

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Even as Ayatollah Khamenei blasted the United States for fomenting unrest in a defiant Friday prayer address in Tehran, President Obama has kept silent, focusing instead on domestic policy.

Obama spent more time with TV personality Stephen Colbert, taping a segment for a comedy show, than he did addressing the turmoil in Iran this week.

Newsmax has learned that the Obama administration also has zeroed out funding for pro-democracy programs inside Iran from the State Department budget for fiscal 2010, just as protests in Iran are ramping up.

Funding for pro-democracy programs began in 2004, when Congress earmarked $1.5 million of the State Department budget for "educational, humanitarian, and non-governmental organizations and individuals inside Iran to support the advancement of democracy and human rights in Iran."

The funding ramped up dramatically two years later, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requested $75 million for pro-democracy programs. More than half of the $66.1 million Congress finally appropriated went to expand U.S. government-funded Persian language broadcasting services at Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

But no money has been earmarked for such programs in the administration’s fiscal 2010 foreign operations budget request. Congressional sources told Newsmax they doubted that a Democrat-controlled Congress would add it when the budget comes before a committee next week.

Controversy has surrounded the programs from the start, with pro-regime lobbying groups, such as the National Iranian-American Council urging the State Department to cancel the funding.

And although Bush administration officials told pro-democracy activists they wanted to fund projects inside Iran (as called for in the original legislative language), State Department desk officers intervened to block funding for any projects other than cultural exchanges and "think tanks and studies,"insiders told Newsmax.

One key opponent of the funding, who weighed in at meetings to block specific grant requests aimed at helping pro-democracy groups inside Iran, was Suzanne Maloney, who is now at the Brookings Institution.

Speaking at a Washington forum that the National Iranian-American Council sponsored Wednesday, Maloney applauded President Obama’s do-nothing policy. "The best thing we can do for Iranian democracy is sit back and let Iranians fight it out for themselves,"she said, echoing the president’s own words from a brief press statement the day before.

Program supporters say the efforts of people such as Maloney inside the State Department to blunt the original intent have made the funding virtually meaningless.

"The State Department never did a lot with all the funding we gave them, so I’m not sure that zeroing it out is a huge loss,"an aide to a key congressional supporter of the funding told Newsmax.

"Of the total $67 million that was appropriated, $42.7 million has been obligated, and $20.8 disbursed,"according to a just-released report from the Congressional Research Service.

Kenneth Katzman, the analyst who wrote the research service's Iran report, told Newsmax that the programs "suffered from finding few participants"inside Iran who were willing to be seen as taking U.S. government money.

"These programs reached a limited number of people in Iran and that would indicate that their effectiveness was limited."

When reporters asked White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Thursday about the president’s "hands-off approach,"Gibbs said there was "no debate in the White House"over how to address the events in Iran.

"Everybody is on the same page. There’s no difference of opinion. I think the only thing I might take — the only thing I would take — some exception to is the notion that the president has been hands-off."

The next question from the press was about Father’s Day.

Earlier, the White House and the State Department dismissed Iranian government claims that it was interfering in the election.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reinforced the administration’s "hands-off"policy in a statement to reporters on Wednesday.

"It is for the Iranians to determine how they resolve this internal protest concerning the outcome of the recent election,"she said.

At the same time, Clinton defended the phone call by a 27-year old State Department staffer to the CEO of Twitter, urging him to delay scheduled maintenance work to ensure that the social networking service remained available for use by Iranians without interruption.

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