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Embassy Row: ‘Act of suppression’

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A top House Republican denounced the Treasury Department on Thursday for investigating former U.S. officials campaigning to remove an Iranian dissident group from the State Department terrorist list.

"This is a travesty, a sin, that our government is going after these people trying to support the people of Iran," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California.

"This is an act of suppression in our country. This is as un-American as I have seen."

Mr. Rohrabacher, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs oversight and investigations subcommittee, vowed to find out who "is behind this effort."

The Washington Times earlier this month reported that the Treasury Department is investigating speaking fees paid to former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a longtime Democratic Party leader. Mr. Rendell said he received fees from Iranian exiles and American citizens who support their cause. Payments to U.S. citizens from groups on the terrorist list are illegal.

Mr. Rendell is among a group of prominent Americans demanding that the State Department remove the People's Mujahedeen of Iran from the terrorist list. The group includes a former attorney general and a former secretary of Homeland Security. More than 250 members of Congress also support the Iranian dissidents.

Mr. Rohrabacher spoke at a reception held in the House Foreign Affairs Committee Room to mark the Iranian New Year.

Retired Army Col. Wesley Martin said he developed close ties with the Iranian resistance when he served as the U.S. counterterrorism commander in Iraq, where the group has been based since the 1980s.

"They are not our enemy. They are our ally," he said.

He accused the State Department of ignoring a 2004 law that requires terrorists on the list to be foreign, to present a threat to the United States and to possess an intent to attack America.

"Since 2004, they have been grossly and illegally on the list," he said of the dissidents.

Iranian-Americans from as far away as Texas and California traveled to Washington for the celebration of the year 1391 on the Persian calender.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and host of the reception, noted that the New Year marks the 33rd since the Iranian theocracy rose to power in 1979.

"Maybe this New Year will mark a new day for human rights and freedom in Iran," the Florida Republican said.

WATCHING GEORGIA

The United States is closely monitoring democratic progress in Georgia and plans to promote its bid for NATO membership at the next alliance summit, the diplomat picked to serve as ambassador to the former Soviet republic told the Senate this week.

Richard Norland, a career diplomat, also reiterated U.S. support for Georgia's boundaries and criticized Russia for aiding separatist movements.

Georgia and Russia fought a brief conflict in 2008 over Moscow's support for the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Mr. Norland told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that Georgia has a chance to prove its commitment to democracy in parliamentary elections in October and in a presidential election next year.

He agreed with Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, who noted that the political opposition complains that the government throws up electoral hurdles to ensure its power.

"Georgia has made progress toward becoming a full democratic state," Mr. Norland said. "But as you indicated, there are very real concerns about ... the level playing field."

He added that the Obama administration supports Georgia's desire to join NATO and will discuss the issue at the May 20-21 alliance summit in Chicago.

Mr. Norland served most recently as ambassador to Uzbekistan and spent two years as deputy chief of mission in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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