May 24, 2007

STATEMENT OF SENATOR BENJAMIN L. CARDIN ON DR. HALEH ESFANDIARI

Mr. President, I rise today to call the Senate's attention to the ongoing plight of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari. Dr. Esfandiari is the Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars here in Washington, D.C. She holds dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship and visits her ailing 93 year old mother twice a year.

During her return to the United States on her last visit, Dr. Esfandiari's vehicle was robbed by three knife wielding men. She lost her luggage and her travel documents. Later, when she requested replacement travel documents, agents of Iraq's Ministry of Intelligence began to question her for hours over the course of several days.

The Ministry of Intelligence asked Dr. Esfandiari questions about her work and the work of the Woodrow Wilson Center. The Wilson Center supplied exhaustive information on their education and information dissemination mission.

Dr. Esfandiari was essentially kept under house arrest for 10 weeks. The Iranian harassment was so abhorrent that agents entered her family'd apartment and videoed taped the home while Dr. Esfandiari was napping.

On May 7, she was informed she must return to the Intelligence Ministry on May 8. Upon honoring the summons, Dr. Esfandiari was immediately taken into custody and jailed. She has been denied contact with her family, attorney and the outside world.

Mr. President, earlier this week, news reports stated Dr. Esfandiari is suspected of espionage and supporting the "soft revolution" against regime in Iran.

Mr. President, Dr. Esfandiari is a well known and well respected Middle East scholar. She has dedicated her professional career bringing people from the West together with those from Middle Eastparticularly Persiato gain greater understanding and common ground.

Increasingly, Iran has begun to stifle intellectuals by harassing them and undermining their ability to promote international exchanges. In essence, this is wrong.

The Department of State has called upon the Iranians to release Dr. Esfandiari. The resolution that I introduced earlier today with Sentors Mikulski, Biden, Lieberman, Smith, Clinton and Dodd encourages the State Department to keep up the pressure on the Iranians to do the right thing and release Dr. Esfandiari.

Mr. President, I also with to recognize the solid effort of the Woodrow Wilson Center and its staff, led by former U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton, for their steadfast support for Dr. Esfandiari.

Finally, Mr. President, I want to express my support for Dr. Esfandiari's family during this trying time. Dr. Esfandiari has a strong family and dozens of caring friends who refuse to let her plight fade away and who also refuse to let the Iranians suppress a beacon of peace and understanding.