Tehran Detains 4th Iranian American Before Talks

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Iran has imprisoned a consultant for philanthropist George Soros's Open Society Institute programs, according to sources who work with the Columbia University-educated social scientist. Kian Tajbakhsh becomes the fourth dual U.S.-Iranian national to be incarcerated, detained or put under house arrest in recent weeks.

Tajbakhsh was picked up around May 11, although relatives and colleagues learned of his imprisonment only this week, the sources said.

In another sign of U.S.-Iranian tensions, Tehran has refused visas to several Americans invited to two conferences in the Iranian capital next week, Iranian officials and U.S. academics said. Others had visas in their passports revoked.

Analysts suggested that the new tensions may be related to talks Monday in Baghdad between U.S. and Iranian diplomats on Iraq's future.

"There is a clique of powerful officials who have entrenched financial and political interests in Iran's status quo isolation and don't want to see any improvement in the U.S.-Iran relationship," said Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Tajbakhsh, 45, has worked with the Open Society Institute in Iran since 2004 and also has done work for the World Bank in Iran, colleagues said. An Iranian government official said yesterday that Tajbakhsh had also advised Iranian ministries and was widely respected as a social scientist.

His arrest came about three days after the May 8 imprisonment of Potomac resident Haleh Esfandiari of the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Esfandiari received funding from the Open Society Institute to sponsor Middle East programs in Washington.

The institute said yesterday that its activities in Iran centered only on humanitarian relief, public health and culture. "These activities were undertaken with the knowledge of Iran's government and in full compliance with the specific licenses granted by the United States Treasury," spokeswoman Amy Weil said. After the 2003 earthquake in Iran's ancient city of Bam, the organization provided humanitarian relief at Tehran's request. The U.S. government did not initiate or fund any of its activities, a statement said.

The institute confirmed that Tajbakhsh is serving as a part-time consultant, but it would not publicly confirm that he had been imprisoned.

Tajbakhsh worked on health and urban policy issues, most recently on AIDS prevention and drug addiction in Iran, said Laura Silber of the institute. His Web site, http://www.kiantajbakhsh.com, says he taught urban policy and politics at the New School for Social Research from 1994 to 2001.

"He has no political ambitions whatsoever," Sadjadpour said. "He's a U.S. citizen -- he could have chosen a comfortable life as a university professor in New York, but he chose to go back to Iran because of his love of the country."

Meanwhile, the House introduced a bipartisan resolution yesterday demanding that Iran free Esfandiari. It was co-sponsored by Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D), Elijah E. Cummings (D) and Wayne T. Gilchrest (R), all of Maryland, along with Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.).

"We want to send a strong message to the Iran government that her release is a priority," Van Hollen said in an interview. "If the Iranian government is truly interested in dialogue and improving relations with the United States, it should immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Esfandiari."


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