In a striking departure, the US has earmarked $3m (pounds 1.6m) to promote democracy in Iran " a small sum but one that has been denounced by Tehran as impermissible meddling by Washington in its affairs.
The money has been appropriated by Congress, and the State Department announced last week that it was inviting educational and humanitarian groups, as well as NGOs and individuals inside Iran, to submit proposals 'to support the advancement of democracy and human rights'.
Iran and the US have had no diplomatic relations since 1979, when Iranian students took over the US embassy in Tehran. The announcement, however, is a natural follow-up to last year's Greater Middle East initiative that seeks to further free speech and democracy across the region, and President Bush's promise to Iranians in his second inaugural address that 'as you stand for your liberty, America stands with you'.
Nevertheless, it breaks with a US undertaking, given as part of the 1981 Algiers accord that secured the release of 52 American hostages, that Washington would not intervene, directly or indirectly, in Iran's internal affairs. …