WASHINGTON - Senator Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, is seeking to one-up the Bush administration's request for federal aid to Iran's pro-democracy movement, calling for $100 million to help the Islamic Republic's transition to freedom.
Mr. Santorum is the sponsor of the Senate version of the Iran Freedom and Support Act, a bill that, among its many provisions, would toughen sanctions against the Iranian regime, provide "financial and political" assistance to civil society organizations, and help fund the broadcast of free television and radio into Iran.
As The New York Sun reported in January, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had stalled the bill for a year owing to opposition from the State Department, which did not want negotiations with Iran's President Ahmadinejad to be jeopardized by congressional action making it America's official Iran policy "to support efforts by the people of Iran to exercise self-determination over the form of government in their country."
Last month, however, after the nuclear talks failed, Secretary of State Rice urged the Foreign Relations Committee to secure $75 million in aid for Iranian pro-democracy activity. The recent demonstration of support for Iran's dissidents by the Bush administration, Mr. Santorum said, had inspired him to increase tenfold the bill's initial request of $10 million.
"Given the administration's recent commitment to provide $75 million to pro-democracy efforts within Iran," Mr. Santorum testified before the Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, "I intend to increase the level of funding authorized by my bill to $100 million."
A member of Mr. Santorum's staff told the Sun yesterday that the increased allocation request was based on discussions with the administration following Ms. Rice's announcement, and that the administration was supportive of the $100 million amount.
During his testimony, the Pennsylvania senator also took a swipe at New York's Senator Clinton. Speaking at Princeton University last month, Mrs. Clinton, a Democrat, said: "I believe we lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations," referring to the EU-3 nuclear talks and adding: "I don't believe you face threats like Iran or North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines." Neither Mrs. Clinton nor her Democratic New York colleague, Senator Schumer, has signed on as a cosponsor to Mr. Santorum's Iranian freedom bill.
Yesterday Mr. Santorum singled out Mrs. Clinton in his testimony, saying: "Unlike the junior senator from New York, I believe that the EU-3 negotiations were beneficial in that they demonstrated to the world - with the exception of Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela - that Iran's nuclear aspirations are not limited to peaceful nuclear research."
In a day of Iran activity on Capitol Hill that also included a classified Senate briefing, Mr. Santorum also sponsored, along with Connecticut's Democratic Senator Lieberman and the Washington based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a panel discussion of leading Iranian pro-democracy activists.
Student opposition movement leaders Akbar Atri and Ali Afshari urged the American Congress and the "international community" to refocus their time and resources on helping the Iranian people bring about democracy, framing Mr. Ahmadinejad's nuclear rhetoric and "warmongering" as a tactic to disguise and dispel internal discontent. "The Iranian government welcomes war," Mr. Afshari said through a translator.
The activists, who are in Washington for the week meeting with members of Congress and government officials, also said that Mr. Ahmadinejad's failure to deliver on campaign promises of reform and "social justice" in favor of hostility against the West was spurring widespread disgust with the regime. According to Mr. Atri, Iranian labor and student groups are stepping up their opposition activities to capitalize on the political opportunities, both domestic and international, presented by Mr. Ahmadinejad's nuclear ambitions.
The forum also included a video presentation by the wife of Iranian dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, and was broadcast into Iran by Voice of America and other TV and radio outlets.