Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday defended plans to step up U.S. broadcasting and democracy-promotion efforts in Iran. The Bush administration is asking Congress for $75 million for the programming amid the diplomatic confrontation over Iran's nuclear program.
The secretary of state is standing by the supplemental budget request for Iranian outreach in the face of Congressional criticism that the Iranian government will be able to dismiss the program as merely U.S. disinformation.
The administration request was made in mid-February but has yet to be acted on by Congress. It is asking for $75 million, two thirds of it for increased Farsi-language television and radio broadcasting into Iran and the rest for democracy promotion and exchange programs.
At a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the State Department budget, veteran House Democrat David Obey said he had very little faith in prospects for success of the outreach effort. He said it could be characterized as either an information or a regime de-stabilization package but said that in any case it could be easily discredited by the Tehran government. "If we are going to engage in activity like that, why on earth would we be as public about it as we've been. It's simply giving that regime an opportunity to claim that virtually every piece of information which is produced is disinformation from us. I mean, why are we making it easier for them to blame us for interfering in their affairs by being so public about something like this?," he asked.
The secretary, however, said she believed that subtlety in trying to promote reform in Iran is not the proper course, and that the budgetary process requires the administration to be very public about the Iran program.
She said U.S. officials have heard from Iranians and frequent visitors to the country that the people of Iran want to hear the United States speak about their plight, and she said the experience of the Cold War era suggests they will not dismiss the U.S. message out of hand. "I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that Iranians believe what their government says about that. I remember in the days of Radio Free Europe and Voice of America that the Soviet Union and the Eastern European governments made the same claims about those. And people listened to them in droves anyway and they got the information they needed. And they sustained their hopes of one day being part of a democracy, even though their governments said the same things," he said.
Congressman Obey said he was unsure whether the United States has the tools, short of "doing something extreme" to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capacity.
Secretary Rice, who has been a key player in U.S.-led efforts to move the Iranian nuclear issue to the U.N. Security Council, had no direct response to the remark.
Elsewhere in her testimony, Rice said Iran's backing for the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon is probably the most egregious example of Iranian interference in another country's sovereign affairs.
She said the United States continues to work with France and other international partners for the full implementation of U.N. Security Council resolution 15-59, which secured the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon a year ago, but also demands the disbanding of Lebanese militias.