By Kenneth R. Timmerman
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published February 23, 2006
Secretary of State CondoleezzaRice asked Congress last week for an extra $75 million to enhanceradio and television broadcasting into Iran and to supportpro-democracy forces there. This is welcome and long overdue.
The good news is that the Bushadministration has finally understood that talking about freedom isnot enough. The United States must devote serious assets to helpingpro-democracy forces inside Iran, if there is to be any hope of along-term resolution to the nuclear crisis with Iran.
The bad news is that, after all theseyears, the administration still has no plan of how to do it.
State Department bureaucrats lastyear torpedoed specific grant proposals (including one by theFoundation for Democracy in Iran, which I represent), to help groupsinside Iran. They argued helping such groups would be seen by theTehran regime as a hostile act and would violate the 1981 AlgiersAccord that ended the 444-day hostage crisis. Mustn't make Tehranangry.
Since then, of course, the showdownover Iran's nuclear weapons programs has intensified, as has theregime's repression of pro-democracy activists, unpaid miners andstriking bus drivers. According to an opposition Web site, Iran PressNews, political prisoners were told by their jailers last week "eachand every one of you will be put to death" if Iran's nuclear file istaken to the United Nations Security Council.
Republican Sens. Sam Brownback ofKansas and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania have proposed increasingfunding for pro-democracy groups in Iran to $10 million this year.But until Miss Rice made her announcement Wednesday, the StateDepartment opposed the Iran Freedom Support Act.
In her testimony, Miss Rice said theState Department now plans to seek $75 million in supplementalfunding for 2006 to support democracy in Iran. "That money wouldenable us to increase our support for democracy and improve our radiobroadcasting, begin satellite television broadcasts, increase thecontacts between our peoples through expanded fellowships andscholarships for Iranian students, and to bolster our publicdiplomacy efforts," she said.
All this sounds encouraging, untilyou realize the only part of this program with substance are existingPersian language broadcasts by the Voice of America and by Radio FreeEurope/Radio Liberty. And these broadcasts are problematic.
While the Voice of America hastremendous talent, and has made serious efforts over the last year toexpand its programming in Persian and make it more professional, itscharter does not allow it to actively subvert foreign governments.And that is precisely what we need in Iran.
In addition, VOA is turning away fromradio programming to more expensive television broadcasts, which itintends to "simulcast" over its old radio frequencies.
The problem here is Iran's poverty.Despite fabulous oil revenues, the World Bank estimates Iran's percapital income is around $2,000 per year. The audiences we need toreach do not all have access to television. And periodically, theregime conducts massive seizures of satellite dishes, which areillegal.
We need more radio, especiallyshortwave, and programming geared to informing the Iranian peoplejust how corrupt and brutal are their leaders, and that teaches themthe mechanics of political organizing and non-violent protest.
In principle, Radio Free Europe/RadioLiberty could do this. But its Persian service, Radio Farda("tomorrow"), has become an open object of ridicule to Iranians.Established in 1997, it became known as "Radio Khatami," because itopenly supported the "reformist" regime of the previous Iranianpresident, Mohammad Khatami. More recently, it has become irrelevant,playing Britney Spears and other nonentities in hopes of attracting ayounger audience, while splicing in just 10 minutes of politicalprogramming each hour.
Miss Rice seems to grasp the problem.As she testified to Congress last week, a team of State Departmentofficials was visiting Iranian-American broadcasters in Los Angelesto assess which programs might be worthy of U.S. support.
We need to shut down Radio Farda,help VOA produce quality radio programs in addition to TV talk shows,and hand over more money to Iranian broadcasters in Los Angeles andelsewhere who have their finger on the pulse of Iran's people.
The real question was avoided by theState Department last year: What type programs should the U.S.support inside Iran? And are we prepared for Tehran's angry response,which could come in the form of a large number of small suicidepackages?
The pro-democracy groups are outthere. And they are champing at the bit. They know what to do andcan't wait to get started.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is presidentof Middle East Data Project, Inc. and author of "Countdown to Crisis:The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran."
Copyright © 2006 News WorldCommunications, Inc. All rightsreserved.
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Kenneth R. Timmerman
President, Middle East Data Project, Inc.
Author: Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown withIran
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Kenneth R. Timmerman is author of "Countdown to Crisis: the ComingNuclear Showdown with Iran," Crown Forum.
Copyright2005, Kenneth R. Timmerman