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More Hostages in Tehran

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The Washington Post reports that Iranian authorities are now accusing three respected Iranian-American academics of anti-Iranian espionage.

Jamshidi said the same charges also had been lodged against Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planning consultant who also has worked for the World Bank, and journalist Parnaz Azima. No trial date has been announced and Jamshidi said the investigation against all three is continuing.

Azima, who works for the U.S.-funded Radio Farda, was detained but released and barred from leaving the country. It was the first time the government has confirmed the arrest of Tajbakhsh, who was believed to have been taken into custody around May 11, according to George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

These named are added to that of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Haleh Esfandiari, and to former FBI agent Robert Levinson, seized around the time of the hostage talks concerning the fifteen British sailors and marines.

Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh are well-known in U.S. national security circles for their harsh criticism of the Bush administration and its war-making design against Iran. Their seizure has the effect, which one would think counterproductive from an Iranian perspective, of silencing the voices who most aggressively advocate that America turn from military means to a policy of constructive engagement with Iran.

As the arrests mount and identical charges are raised, it seems that someone in Tehran has evolved a plan which extends the prior incident involving the British sailors and marines, this time targeting persons with tighter American connections. Either this is a conscious act of provocation – providing Dick Cheney with just the causus belli that he has been feverishly looking for, or it is to support negotiations for a swap of the five Iranians sent to establish a consulate in Arbil, seized in an American raid, and still held in Iraq for no apparent reason. The “bargaining chips” approach seems closer to the mark to me, especially since the charges raised seem to mock those cited against the Iranians in Arbil.

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