Imprisoned Iranian-American scholar is back in the saddle

Stephanie Kuykendal/Getty Images News

Her long nightmare is over and already she's back at the office! Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Wilson Center's Middle East Program and a past FP contributor, spent 4 months under house arrest in Tehran, followed by another 4 months of solitary confinement in Evin Prison. She was released from jail on August 21, was allowed to leave Iran after a couple weeks, and finally arrived back in the United States last Thursday. After spending the weekend with relatives and friends, she arrived at the Wilson Center Monday morning for a press conference.

Esfandiari is a small woman, and had lost significant weight during her prison stay, but her smile during the press conference was bigger than the entire room. During the Q&A, she displayed courage, resilience, and a remarkable sense of good humor. 

I had blocked, you know, thinking about my husband, my daughter, my grandchildren, the house; I blocked all that out because that would have led me to despair. So, for eight months, or for the four months in prison, I didn't think about it.

I dreamt of my first staff meeting at the Wilson Center. (Laughter.) I seriously did. I really did that, I said, OK, I would [not] tell anybody I'm in town ... I would open the door Monday morning at 9:00, walk in to the staff meeting and everybody [would say], "She's here!"

To survive her stay in prison, she imposed a strict schedule on herself, rising early each day for exercise in her cell, with a regimen of reading every evening. Her only contact was with her interrogators, who repeatedly asked her about whether or not the Wilson Center was engaged in efforts to topple Iran. But they were always polite and respectful.

As for her thoughts on her ordeal, Esfandiari harbors no bitterness towards Tehran. She still believes that the U.S. and Iranian governments should hold talks. And she expects to dive right back into her work for peace throughout the Middle East. To learn about details of her imprisonment, as well as her thoughts on U.S.-Iranian relations, I strongly urge you to read the entire transcript of her press conference here.  She's a remarkable woman who's been through a remarkable ordeal.


Morning Brief, Tuesday, September 11

Middle East

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At Monday's hearing in front of the joint House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, Gen. David Petraeus hailed Iraq's progress and called for a reduction in U.S. combat brigades in Iraq by summer 2008. The U.S. commander rejected firmer or faster timelines for withdrawal of U.S. troops, however.

A rocket fired from Gaza struck an Israeli training base, wounding at least 30 soldiers. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad took credit for the attack.

Syria's foreign minister detailed his country's allegations of an Israel violation of Syrian airspace that some people see as a probe of air defenses and possible strike routes for Iran.


Some on Wall Street are profiting from Chinese surveillance companies.

Supporters of Nawaz Sharif are calling on Pakistan's Supreme Court to rule the deportation of the former prime minister an illegal act. Some analysts believe the deportation could hurt Musharraf.

A U.S. delegation is in North Korea to survey that country's nuclear facilities.

Flooding in northeast India has left some 3.5 million people homeless.


Turkish authorities foiled a major bomb plot in Ankara, and a U.S. air base in Germany received a bomb threat of its own.

Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel are joining forces to develop a "foreign economic policy" for the EU in the face of rising competition from Russia and China.


On the six-year anniversary of the attacks of September 11, Osama bin Laden emerged with a second video praising one of the "martyrs" of those attacks. It's unclear, however, just when the tape was made.

Colombian authorities caught a man alleged to be one of the world's most powerful drug lords—in his underwear.

Biofuel subsidies result in higher food prices and environmental destruction, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warns, while having only a minimal impact on climate change.

Today's Agenda

  • Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker are to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 9:30 a.m.
  • Oil ministers from OPEC countries are meeting in Vienna. As oil prices rise again to around $78 a barrel after an attack on a Mexican pipeline, OPEC is discussing a small production boost.

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