By Ken Dilanian, USA Today, June 26, 2009
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is moving forward with plans to fund groups that support Iranian dissidents, records and interviews show, continuing a program that became controversial when it was expanded by President Bush.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which reports to the secretary of state, has for the last year been soliciting applications for $20 million in grants to "promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Iran," according to documents on the agency's website. The final deadline for grant applications is June 30.
MORE: USAID report on support to Iranian dissidents
U.S. efforts to support Iranian opposition groups have been criticized in recent years as veiled attempts to promote "regime change," said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, the largest Iranian-American advocacy group. The grants enable Iran's rulers to paint opponents as tools of the United States, he said.
Although the Obama administration has not sought to continue the Iran-specific grants in its 2010 budget, it wants a $15 million boost for the Near Eastern Regional Democracy Initiative, which has similar aims but does not specify the nations involved. Some of that money will be targeted at Iran, said David Carle, a spokesman for the appropriations subcommittee that oversees foreign affairs.
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