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US Lawmakers Approve Iran, Darfur Resolutions

The House of Representatives has approved resolutions on Iran and the situation in Darfur. One calls on the government in Tehran to release dual Iranian-American citizens it is holding, the other urges China to do more to pressure the government of Sudan to end violence in Darfur. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

The resolutions have been making their way through Congress in recent weeks, and finally made it to the House floor Tuesday for a vote.

In its measure on Iran, a version of which was also approved by the Senate last month, lawmakers demand the immediate release of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, a 67-year-old academic who heads the Middle East program at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

In December of 2006, she was preparing to return to the United States after visiting her ailing 93-year-old mother in Iran when she was robbed of her passport.

Subsequently, she was interrogated by Iranian authorities, accused of espionage, and imprisoned in Evin prison.

House lawmakers say Iranian intelligence officials have yet to produce any evidence of wrongdoing on Esfandiari's part to justify actions against her, and demand her immediate and unconditional release.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, notes that three other Iranian-Americans have also been unlawfully detained in what she calls egregious actions by the government in Tehran.

"We must remain resolute in our condemnation of the Iranian regime for detaining innocent American citizens for political purposes and demand that the Iranian regime immediately and unconditionally permit all American citizens detained in Iran against their will, to leave," said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Democrat Chris Van Hollen:

"Their detention is a gross perversion of the rule of law, and the claim that the Iranian government has made that they seek dialogue and improved relations with the west, is belied by the actions they have taken with respect to these individuals," said Chris Van Hollen.

Others detained include Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planning consultant with the Soros Open Society Institute, Parnaz Azima, a journalist for Radio Farda, and Ali Shakeri, a peace activist from California.

President Bush last week demanded that Iran "immediately and unconditionally" release the Iranian-Americans and provide information about a fifth American citizen, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who has been missing in Iran since early March.

In a separate action, the House also approved a resolution calling on China to use its unique influence and economic leverage to stop genocide and violence in Sudan's western region of Darfur.

In urging Beijing to pressure Khartoum, it points to China's heavy investments in Sudan's oil sector, other economic support, and military arms and ammunition sales.

Republicans joined Democrats in accusing Beijing of complicity in genocide in Darfur through its economic backing of Khartoum government policies.

Congressman Ted Poe is a Texas Republican:

"The perpetrators of evil are also propped up by China," said Ted Poe. "Seventy percent of Sudan's oil goes to China, and loads of Chinese arms regularly find their way to these demons in the desert. No wonder China is road blocking change in Sudan. It is all about money, and who gets it."

The resolution also states that the spirit of the Olympics, which China hosts next year, is incompatible with any actions directly or indirectly supporting acts of genocide.

George Miller, a California Democrat, says Beijing should carefully consider the image it will be portraying if it does not do more to end violence in Darfur:

"It is hard to believe that the world is going to look upon the host of the Olympics and see there at the same time a nation that is under-writing a genocide," said George Miller.

The House resolution, and a similar version pending in the Senate, call on China to press Khartoum to agree to deployment of a full United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force.

In a separate development Tuesday, a House subcommittee approved just under $950 million for aid to Sudan, including $210 million in aid for Darfur, an increase of $104 million primarily to support African Union peacekeeping efforts.