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US Denies Iran Democracy Money is Interference

The State Department Monday rejected Iranian charges that a planned U.S. program to promote democracy in Iran would interfere in that country's internal affairs. The U.S. Congress has appropriated $3 million for the effort.

Officials here say the $3 million Iran program would be no different from other U.S. efforts to promote democratization around the world, and they're rejecting Iranian charges it would violate the 1981 Algiers accords which ended the U.S.-Iran hostage crisis.

Iranian officials have been sharply critical of a State Department announcement issued last Friday soliciting bids from non-governmental groups and individuals inside Iran for U.S. funding to support the advancement of democracy and human rights there.

Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Javad Zarif, Sunday described the plan as a clear violation of the Algiers accords.

As part of the arrangement to secure the release of 52 hostages from the U.S embassy in Tehran, the United States pledged not to intervene directly or indirectly, either politically, or militarily, in Iran's internal affairs.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said supporting democracy and human rights is, in his words, something the United States does everywhere, and is not an attempt to decide someone else's internal affairs:

"There is this $3 million in U.S. legislation. It's available now for competition for groups, educational institutions, humanitarian groups, non-governmental organizations and individuals inside Iran who would work to support the advancement of democracy and human rights," said Mr. Boucher. "None of the activities that are mentioned in the announcement, in the article, are inconsistent with our commitments to the Algiers accords. It's a simple fact, as far as we're concerned."

At least one organization, the National Democratic Institute, which is affiliated with the U.S. Democratic party, has expressed interest in trying to organize a program in Iran.

That group along with its Republican party counterpart, the International Republican Institute, have run programs aimed at advancing independent media and free elections in several countries in recent years, including Georgia and Ukraine.

It is unclear whether the Iranian government would try to bar its citizens from participating in or accepting money from such a program. A senior U.S. official said last week an option might be to conduct democracy training for Iranians outside the country.

A government spokesman in Tehran said Monday Iran and its regime are stable enough so as not to be disturbed by such programs. But he also said the envisaged activity is against international norms and law, and that Iran might take the matter to the World Court at the Hague.

The United States and Iran severed diplomatic relations shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Tehran and the takeover of the American embassy.

Bush administration officials have often been critical of the heavy influence of the country's unelected religious authorities. In his second inaugural address in January President Bush told Iranians that, in his words, "as you stand for your own liberty, the United States stands with you".