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Cablegate: Iran: Regime Pressure Reaching Some Istanbul

VZCZCXRO5656
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK RUEHTRO
DE RUEHIT #0352/01 2580952
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 150952Z SEP 09
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9187
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000352

SIPDIS

LONDON FOR MURRAY; BERLIN FOR ROSENSTOCK-STILLER; BAKU FOR
MCCRENSKY; ASHGABAT FOR TANGBORN; BAGHDAD FOR POPAL; DUBAI
FOR IRPO

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/14/2034
TAGS: PINS PREL PGOV PINR IR TU
SUBJECT: IRAN: REGIME PRESSURE REACHING SOME ISTANBUL
CONTACTS

REF: (A) ISTANBUL 47 (B) ISTANBUL 94 (C) ISTANBUL 138
(D) ISTANBUL 189 (E) ISTANBUL 207 (F)
ISTANBUL 244 (G) ISTANBUL 290

Classified By: ConGen Istanbul Deputy Principal Officer Win Dayton; Rea
son 1.5 (d).

1. (S) Several Istanbul-based contacts of ConGen Istanbul's
NEA Iran Watcher have separately cautioned us in the past
week that they been asked (or warned) by Iranian officials to
cease contact with "American diplomats asking questions about
Iran." In one case, a key contact -- XXXXXXXXXXXX-- is returning temporarily to Iran to
"clear everything up." Comment: A number of State
Iran-Watchers' Iran-based contacts have suffered harassment,
intimidation, and detention since the post-election
crackdown. Reporting from IRPO Dubai and others underscores
the likelihood that regime pressure on Iranians with U.S. or
western links will only worsen. These recent warnings to our
Istanbul-based contacts, however, may represent a new element
in this campaign of intimidation, and reconfirms that the
regime pays attention to our outreach efforts outside Iran.
In response, we will take additional steps to protect local
contacts and stay vigilant against regime efforts to track
our interactions with them, while redoubling efforts to
expand the range of Turkey-based contacts willing to share
Iran-related insights. End comment.

2. (S) In the past week, we heard separately from three
valuable Istanbul-based contacts that they each received
recent requests or warnings from Iranian officials to limit
or cease contacts with American diplomats in Istanbul.

3. XXXXXXXXXXXX

4. (S) A UK national who has worked as the Istanbul
correspondent for Iran's satellite news channel "Press TV"
since summer 2007 and has been willing to share insights into
Press TV and Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB)
editorial and press operations (ref d), told us that her
Tehran-based editor warned her last week to stop having
contact with "any American diplomats there asking about
Iran." She speculated that Iranian consulate officials in
Istanbul may have seen her talking to ConGen Istanbul's Iran
Watcher at any number of recent functions and, as they are
presumably aware of ConGen Istanbul Iran Watcher's portfolio,
they may have sent word back to Press TV management to warn
her off of such contacts. She told us her response to her
editor was that as a journalist her job is to gather
information from all informed sources in Istanbul including
diplomats, and that any contact she has with U.S. or other
diplomats in Istanbul is strictly in support of her own
reporting. She told us that because she is a UK citizen and
living in Turkey, and considers herself one of Press TV's
best international correspondents, she is not afraid of
pressure from Press TV management since "the worst they can
do is fire me, which they won't." (Comment: In an incident
that may or may not have been related, but that this contact
found suspicious, her apartment was broken into on June 26
and her laptop was stolen, though her purse, jewelry, and
other valuables were left alone.) She expressed a
willingness to continue occasional contacts with us, though

ISTANBUL 00000352 002 OF 002


we agreed not to have contacts at conferences or other fora
where Iranian consulate officials might be present.

5. (S) We recently contacted the coordinator for the
Turkish-Iran Business Council (ref b), responsible for
setting up the TIBC's frequent meetings and trade fairs with
Iranian counterparts. He is a Turkish national who has been
a helpful contact since late 2007. We contacted him to
request a meeting with the TIBC to discuss recent
developments in Turkish-Iranian commercial relations, in
advance of a biannual "Turkish-Iranian Business Council
Forum" next month in Tehran and Mashhad. Our contact told us
by email that two members of the TIBC's executive board were
queried by "Iranian acquaintances of theirs" (NFI) at a
Ramadan Iftar dinner ceremony at the Iranian Ambassador to
Turkey's residence last week about the TIBC's contacts with
the US Consulate in Istanbul, including what specific
questions we have asked the TIBC about Iran-Turkey commerce.
Our contact did not know how the Iranian Embassy was aware of
the TIBC's occasional meetings with us. (Comment: We have
met about six times with TIBC executive board members,
including a November 2008 courtesy call on the board by
NEA/IR's Office Director; additionally, ConGen Istanbul's
Iran Watcher has met numerous times socially with this
contact, usually for coffee at a local cafe. End comment.)
He said a TIBC board member told him they brushed aside the
Iranian queries, but they also cautioned him that the TIBC
needs to be more careful in ensuring that its Iranian
partners are not given a reason "to doubt our commitment to
expanding bilateral commerce while staying out of politics."
This contact pledged to try to help set up a meeting for us
with the TIBC executive board, but declined an offer to meet
socially in the near-term.

Comment
------

6. (S) Comment: A number of State Department "Iran
Watchers" and others have seen both professional contacts and
friends in Iran suffer harassment, intimidation and in many
cases detention and worse, especially following the recent,
post-election crackdown on Mousavi supporters and others
activists. Reporting from IRPO Dubai and elsewhere
underscores the likelihood that the regime will only
intensify the crackdown against Iranians who have U.S. and
western contacts. However, these recent warnings to our
Istanbul-based contacts may represent a new element in this
campaign of intimidation. These examples are a clear
indication that the Iranian regime is aware of at least some
of our Istanbul-based contacts' interactions with us, and
willing to use varying degrees of pressure -- even against
non-Iranians over whom it has some leverage -- to try or
limit to stop further contact with us. (Overt Iranian
physical intimidation against contacts in Turkey, however, is
unlikely, as it would cross a red-line not crossed since the
GOT expelled then-Iranian Ambassador Mottaki -- now Iran's
Foreign Minister -- in 1989 for playing a likely role in the
kidnapping and/or assassination of several dozen Iranian
dissidents in Turkey in the mid and late 1980s.)

7. (S) Engaging with Iran-related contacts, even in Turkey,
has always been a sensitive undertaking, but now it is
becoming even more so. In response, we make every effort to
try to protect our local contacts, take additional measures
to ensure confidentiality in our meetings with them, and
remain vigilant against Iranian efforts to track our
interactions with them. But we will also redouble efforts to
maintain, and even expand, the range of contacts in Turkey
willing to brave such threats to share valuable insights with
us. End comment.
WIENER

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