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US wants to work with EU on broader Iran agenda
Updated: 2005-12-15 09:03

The United States and Europe should advance an agenda for Iran in 2006 that includes more funding for civil society groups and other initiatives to reach out to the Iranian people, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

The comments by US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, coupled with recent remarks by other U.S. and European officials, suggest a new coordinated strategy may be emerging beyond the focus on Tehran's nuclear weapons-related activities.

"International pressure may increase in 2006 as it should," Fried told the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank with close ties to the Bush administration.

"But the world democracies should also reach out to the Iranian people. In addition to our efforts to deal with the nuclear challenge in 2006, the United States and Europe should assemble an agenda for hope for Iran," he said.

Fried said that while the United States and Europe have long discussed what to do about Iranian nuclear activities believed aimed at producing weapons, there is growing agreement the problem goes beyond that.

"By agenda for hope I mean an agenda which is directed at support for the Iranian people and the Iranian society and what we believe are universal aspirations, and therefore shared by the Iranian people and Iranian society, of freedom and democracy," said Fried, who oversees U.S. policy on Europe.

All Iranians should not be assumed to share the "rather exotic views" espoused by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has urged Israel's destruction and dismissed the Holocaust as a myth, and "we need to reach out directly to them," he said.

Another senior official, speaking anonymously, said that while the administration has spoken with the Europeans "about the importance of democracy promotion and reaching out to civil society," nothing has been decided.

The United States broke diplomatic relations and imposed sanctions on Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In the past year, it has approved more than $3 million to support civil society groups in Iran and U.S. officials say additional funds are under consideration.

Most of the $3 million has been obligated to five grantees who will be working with Iranian non-governmental organisations and a sixth and final contract is nearly completed, a U.S. official said.

Fried said the administration was discussing Iran-oriented civil society programs with the Europeans, as well as other ideas. He gave no details.

Several factors are propelling Washington and Europe to reconsider their approach. First is the stalemate in efforts by Britain, France and Germany to resolve, with U.S. backing, the nuclear crisis. Washington and its allies accuse Iran of developing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian energy program, a charge Iran denies.

The allies are also concerned about what they call Iran's interference in Iraq during a fragile transition to democracy.

Finally, there is the election of Ahmadinejad whose hostile rhetoric has sparked concern in the United States and Europe.

"The Europeans are in the process of having a long deep look themselves at what their policy toward Iran is. (Tehran's) new government is very different from the one before. It's gotten worse," a European diplomat told Reuters.

There are no plans to halt European engagement with Iran but rather to effect "fundamental change in the way Iran behaves," he said. One idea is "beefing up" or using "more creatively" European funding for programs aimed at building Iranian civil society, he added.

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