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Copyright © 1995, by the Middle East DataProject, Inc. All rights reserved.
Issue No. 3, Feb. 6, 1995
Confused signals from Washington
The CIA is closing down the only opposition radio broadcasting into Iran.
The Clinton administration has embarked on a "dual-track" policytoward Iran, which is reminiscent of the ill-fated adventure duringthe Reagan years to isolate Iran while simultaneously negotiatingwith "moderates" in Tehran.
Signs of the tension within U.S. policy are nowhere more evidentthan in the discord in public rhetoric between the Secretary ofState, Warren Christopher, who has consistently taken a hard linetoward Iran, and career diplomats such as Robert Pelletreau orUndersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff, who told a Middle Easternaudience during a direct satellite interview from Washington on Dec.21 that "the United States has not refused all contact with Iran" andwas "not seeking to overthrow the government of Iran." The mainquestion still puzzling many diplomats and Middle East analysts iswhether this policy has resulted from a conscious choice, or frommere confusion.
Secretary Christopher has stepped up his attacks on the Tehranregime in a series of recent speeches and Congressional testimony. Inprepared remarks before Harvard University's JFK School of Governmenton Jan. 20, Christopher criticized Iran for "leading the rejectionistefforts to kill the chances for peace in the Middle East." He alsowarned that "Iran is engaged in a crash effort to develop nuclearweapons," and said the U.S. was "deeply concerned that some nationsare preparing to cooperate with Iran in the nuclear field. Aboutthat, I will not mince words. These efforts risk the security of theentire Middle East."
Christopher joined words to action a few days later in Geneva,when he took Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev to task overRussia's recent agreement to provide $800 million of nucleartechnology to Iran, to rebuild the Busheir nuclear power plantsabandoned by the regime shortly after the revolution. Christophersaid he was asking Moscow to provide a list of weapons and technologythat had already been delivered to Tehran or was on order. [TheIran Brief published a list of Russian arms sales to Iran in our Jan.5 issue]. The Russians appeared unfazed, announcing thatPresident Yeltsin planned to make an official visit to Tehran laterthis year.
Christopher's harsh condemnation of Iran's nuclear weapons programwas reiterated by Thomas Graham, the chief U.S. negotiator to theTreaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and byUndersecretary of State Lynn Davis, who told a non-proliferationbreakfast group in Washington last week that inadequate controls hadprevented the IAEA from detecting Iran's "crash program" to acquirenuclear weapons. In an unusual move aimed at Russia, the StateDepartment spokesman issued a harsh statement on Iran's failure tolive up to the spirit of the NPT, that "justifies restrictions onnuclear cooperation." (see "U.S. may impose sanctions onRussia,"below)
But while Christopher continued his efforts to get U.S. friendsand allies to curtail high tech sales and concessionary loans toIran, other actions by the administration cast doubt on U.S.resolve.
Opposition radio closed down: In addition to Tarnoff'solive branch, and a series of conciliatory remarks by AssistantSecretary of State Robert H. Pelletreau, late last year the UnitedStates Information Agency scaled back Farsi-language broadcasts intoIran by the Voice of America. Even more dramatic, seen from Tehran atleast, has been an unusual move by the CIA to cut off funding for anopposition radio station based in Cairo, that has been beaming newsand instructions to anti-government militants inside Iran since 1986.To Tehran, the move came as welcome relief.
The radio station, operated by Dr. Manoucher Gandji, an EducationMinister under the Shah, had previously been used by the CIA-fundedMujahidin in Afghanistan. Shortly after the Islamic revolution inIran the Agency decided to hand it over to Iranian exiles linked tothe former Shah. By 1986, when Dr. Gandji took over the station, theshort-wave transmitter had fallen into disrepair. Nevertheless, hisbroadcasts earned him the ire of the ruling mullahs, and on March 16,1993, nine months before he began medium-wave broadcasts into Iran,Ayatollah Khamene'i had issued a "fatwa," or religious order,ordering Intelligence Ministry hit teams to assassinate him. Policesources in Paris told The Iran Brief that Dr. Gandji has been under24-hour police protection for several years, and that severalassassination attempts against him have been thwarted.
According to Iranian sources who have listened to the radio duringtrips to Iran, the regime has set up jamming stations around majorcities in Western Iran within listening distance of the transmitter.Even so, said one Iranian, taxi drivers will still tune into thestation in areas where the jamming is ineffective, and spread theword to others who cannot get within range. Besides regularprogramming on human rights abuses, the rights of women and workers,and news about Iran, the radio also broadcasts instructions tomilitants inside Iran that have led to several embarrassingdemonstrations at public sporting events and to other acts of civildisobedience against the regime. Farsi speakers in the U.S. can hearcassettes of its daily broadcasts by calling (703) 506-8237.
A State Department spokesman opined that the broadcasts had beenscaled back because of the economic squeeze hitting all governmentdepartments. But Dr. Gandji's medium-wave broadcasts, which werehalted on January 1, 1995, cost a mere $15,000 per month. Buriedwithin an intelligence budget estimated at $28 billion per year, the$180,000/year devoted to this project is small beer indeed - if, ofcourse, the United States is truly opposed to the rule of the mullahsin Tehran. The U.S. spent many times these sums to give Sovietcitizens an alternative to their state-controlled media during theCold War through Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.
The Iran Brief has learned that the CIA is planning to stopfunding for Gandji's short-wave broadcasts as well on Sept. 30, atthe end of the current fiscal year, and no replacement radio is underconsideration.
Trade opportunities: Another hopeful sign, viewed fromTehran, has been the administration's staunch refusal to crack downon trade sanction violators, or to curtail the massive purchases ofIranian crude by U.S. oil companies [see our Dec. 5, 1994issue].
[Margin: We have seen a remarkable reverse of the U.S. policyon containment in recent months, aimed at winning market share inIran for U.S. companies." - a senior European diplomat]
According to foreign diplomats who follow trade with Iran, U.S.companies frequently use their subsidiaries in Canada, Britain, andthe Netherlands, as well as front companies in Dubai, to shipembargoed items to Iran. "We have seen whole container loads ofU.S.-made computers - very advanced machines - reaching Iran on dhowsfrom Dubai," one senior foreign diplomat interviewed recently inEurope said. "By our estimates, the United States continues to shiparound $1 billion worth of U.S. goods to Iran per year, despite therecent drop in registered trade." Commerce Department estimates putU.S. sales to Iran at roughly $300 million for 1994, down from $800million in 1992 and 1993. But Commerce Department records show thatsales of high-tech gear are routinely approved to a wide variety ofnon-government commercial entities in the UAE, without any end-userchecks to ensure there is no diversion to Iran.
"We have also seen U.S. oil experts traveling to Iran on Canadianpassports," the diplomats said, "to work on oil field andpetrochemical projects. American experts were particularly noticeablyin Ahwaz recently." The diplomats said that "a U.S. oil company is onthe verge of winning a major contract on the gas fields of Sirriisland. In sum, the Clinton administration's dual containment isworking remarkably well - at containing U.S. allies abroad. The U.S.is making a masterful breakthrough. We have seen a remarkable reverseof the U.S. policy on containment in recent months, aimed at winningmarket share in Iran for U.S. companies."
Another hopeful sign to trade activists was the recent approval bythe administration of five GE engines, worth between $35 million and$40 million, to power two Airbus airliners, which were delivered toIran Air on Dec. 27. According to former Commerce DepartmentUndersecretary, Paul Freedenberg, the Airbus sale could be a "feeler"to Iran about a possible thaw in relations. But the currentUndersecretary for BXA, William A. Reinsch, retorted that licensesfor four of the five engines were approved in April 1992 under theBush administration, while the fifth, replacement engine was coveredby contract sanctity. (Journal of Commerce, 1/23/95).
If the U.S. really was intending to make a quiet diplomaticopening, it can expect stiff opposition from Tehran. On Jan. 23,Parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nategh Nuri told university students andteacher in the central Iranian city of Semnan (home to a SCUD-Cmissile plant), that Ayatollah Khamene'i rejected last November "anyrelations or negotiations" with the United States "unless Washingtonchanges its ways."
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