COMMENT The strange case of Roxana Saberi
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
United States President Barack Obama has been swift and strong in his response
to a Tehran court's eight-year prison sentence for espionage given to
American-Iranian reporter Roxana Saberi. Obama insists Saberi is innocent and
should be set free.
According to reports from Iran, Saberi was caught trying to purchase
information regarding Iran's nuclear program. This is a serious charge that the
Iranian judiciary must back up with solid evidence. Otherwise, the suspicion
that Saberi is simply caught in the net of US-Iran political intrigue may
linger as long as she is in jail.
Following a directive by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad calling for a fair and
speedy appeal process for Saberi, 31, her prison
term might be commuted. Chances are she will receive a lighter sentence, partly
as a result of the pressure. The Ahmadinejad administration has responded
positively to Obama's offer of direct dialogue and does not want the
high-profile case to slow or block any potential progress.
At the same time, Saberi's case raises new questions about the US government's
covert actions inside Iran. Such tactics were openly admitted by the George W
Bush administration and have yet to be repudiated by the new Obama team.
In 2007 and 2008, the US media were awash with reports of Bush's authorization
of covert action in Iran. According to the reports, intelligence was collected
on Iran's nuclear program. Last summer, journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in The
New Yorker about Bush's authorization of covert action to destabilize Iran.
Having inherited Bush's presidential directives on Iran, Obama may have signed
new directives without letting the public know about them. This can be
logically deduced by the absence of any news that the White House has rescinded
the past directives to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other arms of
the US intelligence community, for covert action inside Iran.
In light of the distinct possibility of such a move by Obama, the Iranian
government may be excused for being sensitive about alleged US espionage.
At a time when Iran is under US and United Nations sanctions and Tehran's
nuclear intentions are being debated by the International Atomic Energy Agency,
it is all but a forgone conclusion that Western and Israeli intelligence would
not spare any effort to get more information about Iran's nuclear program.
Could it be that Saberi was an unwitting accomplice in the Western drive for
intelligence on Iran? The possibility cannot be ruled out. If this is the case,
the real culprits are the information-mongering governments that are pressing
Iran with sanctions without any evidence that Tehran is on the march toward
Obama's unwillingness to make a radical departure from Bush's policy of covert
action does not bode well for a "new beginning" between the US and Iran.
Instead, it serves only to convince Tehran that changes from Washington are
merely cosmetic. A serious attempt by the White House to convince Iran's
leaders otherwise should begin with a public refutation of Bush's covert action
in Iran from Obama.
Until this step is taken, it is a sure bet that news about Iran's arrest of
individuals accused of spying for foreign governments will continue. Obama's
alleged willingness to engage in direct dialogue with Iran may soon implicate
him in an open pledge to honor the terms of the Iran-US accord in Algiers in
1981, whereby the US pledged to honor Iran's internal affairs.
The US government has been violating its own agreement with Iran for many
years. What better way to build confidence with Iran than by renewing its
commitment to the Algiers accord? Such a step may turn out to be the biggest
blow to the prosecutor's case against Saberi.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry,
click here. His
Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing
, October 23, 2008) is now available.