RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Some Iranian-American scholars have found themselves the focus of international attention over the past several weeks. At least two have been detained by the Iranian government. President Bush was asked about the situation during his news conference yesterday.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Obviously to the extent that these people are picking up innocent Americans is unacceptable. And we've made it very clear to the Iranian government that the detention of good, decent American souls who were there to, you know, be beneficial citizens is not acceptable behavior.
MONTAGNE: President Bush. With me on the line is Gareth Smyth. He is a reporter for the Financial Times and he's in Tehran. Hello.
Mr. GARETH SMYTH: Hello.
MONTAGNE: Give us a description of these Iranian-Americans who have been detained.
Mr. SMYTH: Haleh Esfandiari is an academic with the Woodrow Wilson Center. She was arrested on May the 8th. She's the first. The second, who's also been arrested, is Kian Tajbakhsh, who's an associate of George Soros, the financier and founder of the Open Society Institute. The third person we believe to have been arrested is Ali Shakeri, who is a peace activist and we understand a member of the Democratic Party in the U.S. The fourth person is Parnaz Azima, who's a journalist with Radio Farda. She is not in prison, but she has had her passport confiscated and is therefore unable to leave the country.
MONTAGNE: So these are all very different scholars doing different work. But why have they been detained? What is the Iranian government saying about their cases?
Mr. SMYTH: It seems that the common link in these cases may be that they are involved with bodies who have either received U.S. government funding targeted towards a regime change in Iran or are involved with organizations that support regime change or the so-called soft revolution in Iran. That seems to be the common link.
MONTAGNE: And as you have been reporting on the situation, have you been able to find out about their condition, those especially who are detained?
Mr. SMYTH: No. We don't have specific information on the conditions of those detained. I mean talking to other Iranians who have been detained in similar sorts of cases, we shouldn't expect there to be a physical mistreatment. I think what we can expect is some sort of psychological pressure with the aim perhaps of getting the detainee to sign some kind of confession.
MONTAGNE: Confession that might implicate them in what?
Mr. SMYTH: Well, confession that could implicate them in the money that's been spent by the U.S. administration towards regime change in Iran. Hopefully a confession that would give the Iranian authorities some kind of victory to claim and would allow the individual to leave safely.
MONTAGNE: And of course we're paying attention to these particular cases because the scholars are Iranian Americans. But there have also been a number of Iranians being detained recently as well.
Mr. SMYTH: I see some of the international media has been using the phrase crackdown. And I think that's going too far. I mean I think there is a common link in these cases. And it does look like an attempt by the Iranian government to find out where this American money is going and what are the roots that this money takes.
MONTAGNE: Back to the Iranian Americans, is there any sense of what may become of them?
Mr. SMYTH: It's a very difficult situation to read. And I think it's a very difficult situation for the families of the people who have been detained. They've got to draw a kind of balance in how they approach this. Clearly a certain level of publicity, a certain level of pressure is necessary to help ensure the safety of the people concerned. But I think to have too much pressure, to have too much hue and cry runs the danger that these people will become political footballs. And I don't think that's in their individual interests.
MONTAGNE: Garrett Smith is a reporter for the Financial Times. He joined us from Tehran. Thank you very much.
Mr. SMYTH: Thank you.
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