U.S. 'Outraged' at Iran for Parading American Citizens on TV


By Ed Johnson and Ladane Nasseri

July 18 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. State Department said it's "outraged" at the treatment of four American citizens detained in Iran, after two of them were shown on state television allegedly confessing to espionage charges.

Iran must "put an end to any further broadcasts" and release all Americans "being held on groundless charges," department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement on its Web site late yesterday.

Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, both scholars, are accused of acting against national security by the Iranian government, which aired footage two days ago of them making "confessions," state-run Fars News reported at the time. The full program, entitled "In the Name of Democracy," will be broadcast later today, according to the report.

Iran accuses the Bush administration of sending agents to undermine the regime and demands the release of five Iranians detained in Iraq since January. The U.S., which has no diplomatic ties with Iran, has dismissed the accusation and says the two matters are unrelated.

The issue has further soured relations between the two governments, as the U.S. demands Iran scrap its nuclear program and stop fueling the insurgency in Iraq.

Esfandiari, 67, who is director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was arrested in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on May 8 while visiting her mother.

Iran's Intelligence Ministry has said she was trying to set the stage for a "soft revolution" in the country.

Soros Foundation
Tajbakhsh, 45, is a consultant on urban planning and works with billionaire investor George Soros's Open Society Institute. He was helping Iranian authorities on public health and earthquake relief projects when he was detained in May, the institute, which has denied the allegations against him, said in a statement two days ago.

Iran has previously accused the Soros Foundation of fomenting revolutions in other countries.

"After the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union, the Soros Foundation was to target the world of Islam," Tajbakhsh said in the clip broadcast July 16.

Ali Shakeri, a U.S. mortgage banker who also works for a California-based conflict resolution group called the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding, is being held, along with Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh, at Tehran's Evin prison.

Parnaz Azima, a correspondent for U.S.-funded Radio Farda, had her passport confiscated in January and cannot leave the country. She hasn't been jailed.

"We are outraged that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran would parade two of these American citizens on state-run television," McCormack said, adding they were shown "apparently reading statements made under duress."

FBI Agent
He called on Iran to provide information on the whereabouts of former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Robert Levinson, who went missing on March 8 from Iran's Kish Island.

The U.S. is pushing for tougher sanctions against Iran for ignoring United Nations deadlines to stop uranium enrichment.

The Bush administration has repeatedly accused Iran of arming, training and financing insurgents in neighboring Iraq and fueling sectarian violence between the country's Shiite and Sunni Muslim communities.

Iran last month urged the U.S. to immediately release five Iranian consular officials arrested in January in the Iraqi city of Arbil, warning of unspecified consequences if it fails to do so. The U.S. military has said the five may belong to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard unit training insurgents.

The U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in April 1980, after Islamic revolutionaries in Tehran raided the U.S. Embassy in November 1979 and held diplomats hostage.