- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

CAIRO — Iran confirmed yesterday that it has detained a prominent Iranian-American academic, and a hard-line newspaper accused her of spying for the United States and Israel and of trying to start a revolution inside Iran.

Haleh Esfandiari’s arrest, part of a recent spate of crackdowns against Iranian activists, appears to reflect President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad government’s growing fear that the United States is using pro-democracy advocates to promote regime change, analysts say.

Mrs. Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, went to Iran on a personal visit to see her ailing mother last year. She had been prohibited from leaving for four months, then was sent Tuesday to Iran’s notorious Evin prison after arriving at the Intelligence Ministry for questioning, the institute said.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed her arrest for the first time yesterday, saying that it was “based on law” and that Mrs. Esfandiari, 67, would be treated like other Iranian national. It gave no reason for the arrest.

The day before, however, the hard-line Iranian newspaper Kayhan accused Mrs. Esfandiari of spying for the United States and Israel and of attempting to stage a revolution inside Iran.

“She has been one of the main elements of Mossad [the Israeli intelligence agency] in driving a velvet revolution strategy in Iran,” the newspaper wrote. “She formed two networks, including Iranian activists, in the U.S. and Dubai for toppling down [the Islamic government].”

Mrs. Esfandiari’s group and her husband strongly deny such activities, saying she was an advocate for diplomacy who often brought Iranians sympathetic to their government to talk to Washington officials.

In an e-mail yesterday, Shaul Bakhash, Mrs. Esfandiari’s husband and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, denied the accusations made in the article.

“These accusations are fantasies and are untrue. They are all the Kayhan writer’s shameful fabrications. … It is regretful that Kayhan, one of Iran’s two oldest newspapers still being published and with a long and distinguished history, should allow so much untruth to appear on its pages,” Mr. Bakhash wrote.

Iranian security officials often warn that domestic critics or Iranians living abroad are being used by Iran’s enemies to pressure the government. Their suspicions were raised after Congress last year approved $85 million to promote democratic institutions in Iran.

“The government is suspicious of consultancy groups, think tanks. There is a fear that these groups are mobilizing inside and outside the country for dissent,” said Mahan Abedin from the London-based Center for the Study of Terrorism.

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