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Rice Asks for $75 Million to Increase Pressure on Iran [
Bush Plans Huge Propaganda Campaign in Iran
By Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger
The Guardian UK
Thursday 16 February 2006
Congress asked for $75m to fund program.
Rice to visit Gulf states as nuclear crisis deepens.
The Bush administration made an emergency request to Congress yesterday for a seven-fold increase in funding to mount the biggest ever propaganda campaign against the Tehran government, in a further sign of the worsening crisis between Iran and the west.
Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said the $75m ( 43m) in extra funds, on top of $10m already allocated for later this year, would be used to broadcast US radio and television programs into Iran, help pay for Iranians to study in America and support pro-democracy groups inside the country.
Although US officials acknowledge the limitations of such a campaign, the state department is determined to press ahead with measures that include extending the government-run Voice of America's Farsi service from a few hours a day to round-the-clock coverage.
The sudden budget request, which follows an outlay of only $4m over the last two years, is to be accompanied by a diplomatic drive by Ms Rice to discuss Tehran's suspect nuclear weapons program. She is to begin with a visit to Gulf states. Ms Rice told the Senate foreign affairs committee that Iranian leaders "have now crossed a point where they are in open defiance of the international community".
She added: "The United States will actively confront the aggressive policies of the Iranian regime. At the same time, we will work to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom and democracy in their country."
The US is to increase funds to Iranian non-governmental bodies that promote democracy, human rights and trade unionism. It began funding such bodies last year for the first time since Washington broke off ties with Iran in 1980. A US official said all existing citizens' groups and non-governmental organizations in Iran had been heavily infiltrated by the Tehran government, so the US would seek to help build new dissident networks.
US officials depicted the new pro-democracy spending as just one side of a multi-faceted diplomatic offensive aimed at increasing pressure on Tehran. They said Ms Rice would make Iran a focal point of her talks with Middle East leaders in her tour next week, put it centre-stage at the upcoming G8 meeting in Moscow, and call a meeting of political directors from the Nato alliance in late March or April solely to talk about policy towards Iran.
US propaganda efforts in the Middle East since September 11 have been relatively unsuccessful. Analysts say its Arabic news station al-Hurra (the Free One) is widely regarded with suspicion in the Middle East and has poor listening figures.
The move follows talks in Washington last week with British diplomats specializing in Iran. The Foreign Office yesterday welcomed the US move, noting it meant the continued pursuit of diplomatic means rather than hints of military action.
The Foreign Office funds the BBC World Service, whose Persian service has built a following in Iran. This month Iran began blocking the Persian service website.
A senior US official claimed there was now "a broad degree of concern" in the Middle East and around the world about the recent actions taken by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and that the proposed US offensive had been greeted "very enthusiastically".
The stand-off between Iran and the west worsened on Tuesday when an Iranian official said Tehran had resumed small-scale uranium enrichment, a necessary step towards achieving a nuclear weapons capability.
Rice Asks for $75 Million to Increase Pressure on Iran
By Glenn Kessler
The Washington Post
Thursday 16 February 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.
Iranian officials announced this week that they have begun enriching uranium, a step that appears likely to ensure that the country's nuclear program will be discussed by the UN Security Council next month. But US officials despair that any action by the council will be slow and deliberate, so yesterday's effort appears to be part of a sustained campaign to enlist other countries to act against Iran even sooner.
Rice will travel to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates next week in part to discuss the "strategic challenge to the world represented by the Iranian regime," the State Department said. Another senior official, Undersecretary R. Nicholas Burns, also will discuss Iran next week with his counterparts in the Group of Eight industrialized nations. Officials will also seek to coordinate strategy on Iran with NATO members.
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 US 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 the 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 US-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.
At the hearing, Rice won bipartisan praise for her handling of negotiations on Iran's nuclear programs, but lawmakers from both parties raised objections to the overall thrust of the administration's Middle East policy. At one point, Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.) blamed the administration for the victory of Hamas in last month's Palestinian legislative elections. "The whole year, 2005, nothing was done, opportunities missed, and now we have a very, very disastrous situation of a terrorist organization winning an election," Chafee asserted.
Rice acknowledged the victory of Hamas is "a difficult moment" in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but she said it was due to a backlash against the ruling party, not a failure of US policy.