TEHRAN (Reuters) – A senior Iranian cleric said on Friday televised “confessions” of two detained American-Iranians proved a U.S.-backed plot to carry out a “velvet revolution” using intellectuals to topple Iran’s clerical establishment.
Haleh Esfandiari, an academic at the U.S.-based Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, and Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with George Soros’ Open Society Institute, have been detained separately since May for endangering Iran’s security.
Iran’s state television aired a program called “In the Name of Democracy” featuring interviews with Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh on Wednesday and Thursday. Washington has called the program illegitimate and coerced.
But Ahmad Khatami, a member of the Experts Assembly with the power to appoint or dismiss Iran’s supreme leader, disagreed.
“Confessions of the executors of America’s policies proved that America wanted to bring about a velvet revolution in Iran,” Khatami told worshippers at Tehran University. His remarks were broadcast live on state radio.
Esfandiari, detained when visiting Iran from the United states, said on Thursday she had helped create a network “to lead to very fundamental changes in Iran’s system.”
The U.S.-based Soros Foundation’s Open Society Institute said it was “deeply concerned over Iran’s use of deliberately contrived television footage” of the pair.
A U.S. State Department spokesman told reporters in Washington: “This should be an embarrassment to the Iranian regime. Is it really possible to imagine that a government is so fragile and so under siege that individuals coming to visit elderly family members threaten its existence?”
The spokesman, Tom Casey, said the United States had requested consular access to the pair through the Swiss and other embassies in Tehran, but the requests were refused. The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran.
“The Iranian regime should be embarrassed by its behavior and should do the right thing and let them go,” he said.
Khatami said the program had achieved its aim to “neutralize America’s plot to carry out a velvet revolution in Iran.” The country’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has warned of a U.S.-backed “velvet revolution.”
Tajbakhsh, a consultant with the Soros institute, founded by billionaire investor George Soros, told the same program: “The aim of the Soros centre was to bring a model of the Western democracy” to Iran after an eventual conflict.
State television has in the past broadcast what it said were confessions by dissidents serving jail sentences for alleged attempts to undermine the Islamic Republic.
The program made no mention of two other American-Iranians detained on spying charges, one of whom has been freed on bail.
Long-time foe Washington is leading efforts to isolate Iran over what it says are plans to build nuclear arms. U.S. forces have detained five Iranians in Iraq on charges of backing militants there. Iran denies the charges.
The two countries are set to hold fresh talks in Iraq soon, following a landmark meeting in Baghdad in May.