Wall Street Journalist | June 10, 2010
By Jay Solomon

Administration Seeks to Help Counter Tehran’s Jamming of Websites and Western Broadcasting; Some Rights, Democracy Groups Lose Bush-Era Backing

WASHINGTON—The U.S. has accelerated its effort to provide dissidents in Iran with computer hardware and software to evade government censors. But it’s a shift that many activists say is insufficient to bring political change in Tehran.

During much of the Obama administration’s first year—reversing the approach of the George W. Bush administration—the White House withheld action on unilateral economic sanctions and other measures seen as challenging Iran’s regime. Its hope was to engage Iran diplomatically instead.

But this week, the U.S. pushed through new United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran, days before the first anniversary of the Iranian “Green Movement” uprising against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election on June 12.

In announcing the sanctions, President Barack Obama said the measures were as much designed to aid the country’s political opposition as to end Tehran’s nuclear program.

The Obama administration also says it is seeking to aid the Green Movement by facilitating its ability to communicate inside Iran and by punishing government entities responsible for the political crackdown.

As part of its revised strategy, however, the State Department is reversing course from the Bush administration and is no longer funding some aggressive institutions focused on crafting training programs for democracy activists or offering other services intended to aid Iran’s opposition.

The U.S. has cut new funding for programs including a center established in New Haven, Conn., to catalog human-rights abuses in Iran; an Iranian journalist-training initiative and a social-networking program focused on promoting democracy and human rights inside Iran.

“Because Iranians seem willing to take risks, we should be willing to provide them help when requested,” says Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Washington’s Freedom House. The State Department last year declined to provide $3 million in funding to keep open a Freedom House online magazine in Farsi that focused on democracy promotion.

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