"Rice Asks $75 Million to Increase Pressure on Iran," by Glenn Kessler - the Washington Post, 16 Feb 2006
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Congress yesterday to provide $75 million in emergency funding to step up pressure on the Iranian government, including expanding radio and television broadcasts into Iran and promoting internal opposition to the rule of religious leaders.
The request would substantially boost the money devoted to confronting Iran -- only $10 million is budgeted to support dissidents in 2006 -- and signals a new effort by the Bush administration to persuade other nations to join the United States in a coalition to bolster Iranian activists, halt Iran's funding of terrorism and stem its nuclear ambitions, State Department officials said.
"The United States will actively confront the policies of this Iranian regime, and at the same time we are going to work to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom in their own country," Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing on the administration's foreign affairs budget....
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who has called for $100 million to promote democracy in Iran, applauded the initiative as the "absolutely right move at this point in time." Although some Iranian activists have criticized the administration for moving too slowly to support them, Brownback said the administration had been "very methodical" in fighting terrorism. "The first step was Afghanistan, then Iraq, and now you're seeing an increasing focus on Iran."
But Martin S. Indyk, a Clinton administration official who now heads the Saban Center on Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said the democratic forces the administration wants to support have failed in the past to take on the clerics and have little basis of support -- and would be tainted by U.S. aid. "It's hard to see how $75 million makes a dent in that political reality," Indyk said.
The Clinton administration, under pressure from Congress, tried to assist such groups in the 1990s, Indyk said, but Iran interpreted the effort as an attempt to overthrow the government and responded by funding a series of terrorist attacks in Israel.
Rice told lawmakers that because the Iranians have begun enriching uranium, "they have crossed a point where they are in open defiance of the international community." Rice said the United States has a "menu of options" available to punish Iran, adding: "You will see us trying to walk a fine line in actions we take."
Under the proposed supplemental request for the fiscal 2006 budget, the administration would use $50 million of the new funds to significantly increase Farsi broadcasts into Iran, mainly satellite television broadcasting by the federal government and broadcasts of the U.S.-funded Radio Farda, to build the capacity to broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
An additional $15 million would go to Iranian labor unions, human rights activists and other groups, generally via nongovernmental organizations and democracy groups such as the National Endowment for Democracy. The administration has already budgeted $10 million for such activity but is only just beginning to spend the $3.5 million appropriated in 2005 for this purpose.
Officials said $5 million will be used to foster Iranian student exchanges -- which have plummeted since the 1979 Iranian Revolution -- and another $5 million will be aimed at reaching the Iranian public through the Internet and building independent Farsi television and radio stations.
State Department officials, briefing reporters about the plan on the condition of anonymity to avoid upstaging Rice, said they saw an opportunity to enlist support against Iran because of intemperate statements by Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that have called for the elimination of Israel and expressed doubt about the Holocaust.
The United States has no relations with Tehran, but one official said the United States hopes to capitalize on the "disturbing trend of Iranian diplomacy" since Ahmadinejad's election, including the refusal to continue negotiations on the nuclear program. He said the administration would press countries that have ties to "begin to think what they can do to push back against what has been a radical series of proposals out of the government of Iran."
The officials sidestepped questions about whether the administration is seeking "regime change." One official said the United States is pursuing a "hard-headed" diplomatic track in which it hopes the policies of Iran will change and "people who support democracy" will be strengthened. A second official cited the 1980 uprising in Poland by the Solidarity labor movement, which toppled the communist government, as a model for the kind of movement the administration hopes to foster.
The officials acknowledged that aiding activists and dissidents in Iran may be difficult and could expose them to retribution, so they said the aid will probably be provided without much fanfare....
"Iran Ready to Counter Any US Aggression" - AFP (Teheran), as published in the Jordan Times, 16 Feb 2006
Iran is ready to counter any US aggression with offensive action, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards warned Wednesday, as Washington unveiled new plans to promote democracy in the Islamic republic.
The State Department's announcement that it was seeking $75 million from Congress to undermine the clerical regime's tight grip on power upped the stakes amid a worsening international row over Iran's nuclear programme.
"We have worked on all defensive and offensive scenarios for any possible attacks," Revolutionary Guards chief General Yahya Rahim Safavi told state television. Washington's European allies have stressed that military action against Iran is not an option and Safavi said he did not foresee a US-led strike for now.
"Currently there is no military threat against our country, and the United States and Israel are only talking about our nuclear programme as part of psychological war in order to escape from their defeat in Iraq and Palestine," he said.
However, earlier this month, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Washington did not rule out using military force against Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons....
Washington did not immediately specify how it intended to disburse the new money to promote democracy in Iran. Unlike many countries in the region, the Islamic republic does hold regular elections for public positions, albeit with all candidates first vetted by an unelected watchdog body dominated by regime hardliners.
The most high-profile opposition group is the rebel People's Mujahedeen, which has largely fallen from Western favour because of its close links to the ousted Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
Most of the group's fighters are currently cantoned in Iraq under US supervision, but Tehran accuses Washington of complicity in terrorism for its failure to hand over the militants, who have claimed responsibility for a string of attacks in Iran in the past....
"Flexing Softly on Iran" - the Council on Foreign Relations, 16 Feb 2006
The end of the Cold War brought drastic reductions in U.S. funding for public diplomacy programs, especially foreign-language broadcasts, bolstered by a sense in some policy circles that a long, great struggle had ended. The September 11, 2001, attacks showed the shortsightedness of such thinking. The Bush administration has recently re-emphasized the importance of public diplomacy in waging its “war on terrorism,” picking a former top presidential aide to head the State Department’s programs and boosting international broadcasting—including satellite television—with hundreds of millions of dollars.
The latest move in this direction is the administration’s request for $85 million for democracy-promoting efforts in Iran, a majority of it centered on Farsi-language broadcasts.
The announcement generated mixed reviews. Some in Congress applauded an attempt at reaching out to Iranians, though at least one nonproliferation expert was skeptical about the impact of increased broadcasts on the regime in Tehran (LAT)....
Administration officials have stressed broadcasting and educational exchanges but have not provided specifics about how the money would be delivered. Analysts such as Michael McFaul and Abbas Milani of the Hoover Institute have said developing democracy in Iran is the best long-term chance of ending a nuclear weapons program there. But they have written that in the quarter-century since the Islamic revolution, U.S. administrations have failed to develop a strategy for advancing the cause of Iranian democracy. A 2004 CFR Task Force called on the Bush administration to “selectively engage” Iranian political leaders as well as open ties between Americans and Iranians to overcome the official enmity that has festered since 1979.
The General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said last year that boosting broadcasting alone does not amount to an effective strategy. It urged a national communication plan linking the White House, State Department, and agencies like the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees the independence of all U.S.-funded international broadcasts.
To date, the major U.S. public diplomacy initiative directed at Iran is Radio Farda, a twenty-four-hour news and music station jointly run by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Surveys commissioned by the BBG show the Farsi-language Radio Farda is the most-listened to international broadcaster in Iran. Mehdi Khalaji, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says Farda has the potential to make a substantial impact in Iran. But he says a major overhaul is needed in its management to make Farda more effective.
The BBG announced earlier this month plans to shift more of VOA’s resources to broadcasts in the Middle East, including more television programming in Farsi and improvements to the Radio Farda web site (WashPost).
Added 17 Feb 2006:
"A Bid to Foment Democracy in Iran," by Howard LaFranchi - the Christian Science Monitor, 17 Feb 2006
With Poland's Solidarity movement of the 1980s as its model, the Bush administration wants to boost support for opposition groups inside Iran as a way to counter the actions of the Tehran government.
The implicit goal: regime change from within.
An emerging consensus in Washington finds that with diplomacy having so far failed to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions, and US military action deemed extremely problematic, the remaining option is a pro-democracy revolution.
But even as the United States urges other countries in the Middle East, or those with close ties to Iran, to join in pressuring for political change there, questions are arising over the effectiveness of internal-change-from-without programs and the degree of grass-roots support inside Iran for opposition groups. There's also the risk of such a plan backfiring.
"There's no doubt Iran has a very vibrant civil society and a growing and active youth population. But how to translate those strengths into political change - and whether the US can be the external driver for that change - are big hurdles to cross," says Bahman Baktiari, a specialist in Middle East politics at the University of Maine.
An initial problem, Mr. Baktiari says, is that because of Iranians' widespread disdain for US policies - including those in Iraq - "any group identified with the US loses credibility."
Beyond that, he adds, the comparison to Poland is not a good one because the Iranian regime is not as weak as Poland's dictatorship was when an externally supported Solidarity challenged it....
Also see (from June 2005) "Foreign Media on Iranian Elections: Blogger Bias?"
Added 22 Feb 2006:
"Iran's Media Battleground," by Philip Fiske de Gouveia - the Guardian (UK), 21 Feb 2006 (?), as posted to mediachannel.org
It may all seem rather insignificant but Condoleeza Rice's plan to increase funding for a range of new "public diplomacy" activities targeting Iran is a fascinating development in the ongoing struggle between Washington and Tehran.
The new expenditure reportedly includes $50m to increase US government TV and radio broadcasts into Iran; $5m for student exchange and scholarship programmes; $5m to support non-government TV, radio and websites; and $15m for civil society groups.
Such an increase is the equivalent of about a quarter of the entire annual budget of the BBC World Service - and it signals a major expansion of such activities.
The announcement does not come as a total surprise. In recent years, broadcasting has become a key element of Washington's policy towards Iran. In December 2002, the US-funded Radio Farda (meaning "Tomorrow") began regular broadcasts in Farsi (the majority language in Iran) on short-wave, medium-wave and and satellite.
Radio Farda is a classic example of what is known as "public diplomacy" - the activity by which governments seek to communicate and engage with foreign citizens. Replacing the old Voice of America Farsi service, the new 24-hour service has been broadcasting a blend of music and news aimed at Iranians under the age of 30. With an opening broadcast penned by President George Bush, the service has clearly had high-level backing from the outset.
Although radio has traditionally been the US public diplomacy tool of choice, television has also had a role. In 2003, the US government began weekly satellite broadcasts of a half-hour current affairs programme in Farsi called News and Views. The broadcast was reportedly launched in response to student demonstrations that summer.
In a 2003 press statement announcing the launch of the broadcast, Kenneth Tomlinson, the chairman of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors, said that "by reporting what's happening in Iran today, we can help further the struggle for freedom and self-determination in Iran".
Whether or not one believes such broadcasts might genuinely facilitate "regime change" from within - apparently Washington's favoured option - they are clearly being taken seriously by the State Department.
As part of the new initiative, there are even signs that US policymakers will begin funding some of the many independent Iranian exile TV stations based in Los Angeles, something Congress has previously blocked.
All this is evidence of an innovative battle being fought by Washington and Tehran over the international airwaves. Iran, for its part, has not sat back and let the Voice of America and its colleagues do as they please. Much as the Soviet Union sought to do during the Cold War, Iran has used jamming technology, reportedly purchased from Cuba (another key broadcast target for Washington), to prevent Iranians tuning in to the American broadcasts.
At the same time, the Iranian government has been on the offensive. For example, despite the best efforts of the Coalition Provisional Authority to dominate the "information environment" in 2003 post-war Iraq, Iran worked hard to establish an influential media presence there.
The Tehran government made good use of its geographical advantage over rival broadcasters, and links with Iraqi shi'ite groups, to get in on the act very early. Iran's chief success was the launch of its terrestrial Arabic-language television station al-Alam (meaning "The World").
Available 24 hours a day via satellite in much of Europe, the Middle East and Asia, al-Alam was broadcast from a powerful transmitter 150km from Baghdad, just inside the Iranian border, which, at the time, made it the only foreign television channel receivable inside Iraq without a satellite dish....