Ex-student Hailed as Iran's Hope
An Iranian student leader who was imprisoned and tortured before fleeing to the United States in May is to meet Vice-President Dick Cheney and deliver his message about the need for "regime change" in Teheran.
Amir Abbas Fakhravar, 30, has become the poster child of some of the leading neo-conservatives in Washington and, less than two months after leaving Iran, the former medical student who spent five years in jail and still bears the scars on his youthful face, is being championed as the person who can unite his country's fractious opposition.
He is adamantly opposed to nuclear negotiations with Teheran, which were offered by President George W. Bush in a policy U-turn last month after Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, prevailed over Mr Cheney.
"The world has to do something - whatever it takes - so that [President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not become another Hitler," Mr Fakhravar told The Sunday Telegraph in his office at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies in Washington.
When asked whether military action would be desirable, he replied: "Whatever the world does against the Iranian regime, the Iranian people will be supportive."
Mr Fakhravar's most prominent sponsor is Richard Perle, a former Reagan administration official who later served as chairman of the Pentagon's defence policy board.
Mr Perle was among figures who once hailed Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, as the natural successor to Saddam Hussein. However, Mr Chalabi later fell out with the Bush administration amid allegations of links to Iranian intelligence.
Mr Perle met Mr Fakhravar in Dubai in May after the latter had left Iran, fearing that he was about to be murdered. The Iranian, leader of the Confederation of Independent Iranian Students, was guest of honour at a recent American Enterprise Institute (AEI) lunch attended by key Pentagon and State Department officials.
The AEI, a conservative think-tank, has helped to develop many of the foreign policy positions adopted by the administration and was a major voice calling for Saddam to be toppled.
Michael Ledeen, an AEI scholar and Iran expert who co-hosted the lunch with Mr Perle, said of Mr Fakhravar: "He's a unifying figure. He's strong physically and psychologically. I think he's extraordinarily smart. He's one of the few Iranian opposition figures I've met who can think through the way Westerners look at Iran and help them understand."
Others who are said to have been impressed by his credentials are Professor Bernard Lewis, the Middle East historian, and James Woolsey, a former CIA director.
Prof Lewis, whose arguments helped to underpin the neo-conservative philosophy of spreading democracy, supporting Israel and projecting American power in the Middle East, is understood to have encouraged Mr Cheney to meet Mr Fakhravar. The former student walks with a slight limp, the result, he said, of being viciously kicked in the left knee by the judge who sentenced him to eight years in 2002 for criticising Iran's supreme leader in his novella This Place is Not a Ditch.
Mr Fakhravar has ambitious plans to bring the larger Tahkim Vahdat student organisation, which favours reform rather than regime change, under his group's wing and also to find common cause with the broader opposition movement.
But some Iran hardliners in Washington have distanced themselves from Mr Fakhravar. "This is no Ahmed Chalabi," said one. "I know that my well-intentioned friends are desperate to find a single figure to rally around but it's not the same as Iraq. It won't work."
Mr Fakhrahar said ordinary Iranians had become increasingly pro-American and even pro-Israeli because of Mr Ahmadinejad's bloodthirsty rhetoric about both countries. "They are growing to like Israel now. It's natural to feel the opposite of what he says."