"The United States has begun a $75-million program to promote democracy by supporting Iranian NGO's [non-governmental organizations]," write Haleh Esfandiari and Robert Litwak. "That program, coupled with loose talk about regime change ... has fed a sense of vulnerability and paranoia among elements of Iran's ruling regime." Iranian officials have warned scholars, students, NGO workers and others not to travel overseas, lest they be recruited for U.S. plots. Iran also suspects "the grant-giving programs of American foundations, universities, and think tanks." While the U.S. has used similar methods to destabilize other governments, in Iran the approach has backfired, "further reducing the political space for open debate in Iran," write Esfandiari and Litwak. "In this new climate of intimidation, NGO's and journalists are subject to censorship and are defensively engaging in self-censorship. Prominent Iranian activists, such as the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, declared their opposition to the U.S. program." Instead, Esfandiari and Litwak suggest, "governments should talk to governments, while Iranian and American NGO's should be permitted to interact in a transparent fashion without the intrusion of governments."
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