The Iran Brief®

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Copyright © 1995, by the Middle East Data Project, 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" policy toward Iran, which is reminiscent of the ill-fated adventure during the Reagan years to isolate Iran while simultaneously negotiating with "moderates" in Tehran.

Signs of the tension within U.S. policy are nowhere more evident than in the discord in public rhetoric between the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, who has consistently taken a hard line toward Iran, and career diplomats such as Robert Pelletreau or Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff, who told a Middle Eastern audience during a direct satellite interview from Washington on Dec. 21 that "the United States has not refused all contact with Iran" and was "not seeking to overthrow the government of Iran." The main question still puzzling many diplomats and Middle East analysts is whether this policy has resulted from a conscious choice, or from mere confusion.

Secretary Christopher has stepped up his attacks on the Tehran regime in a series of recent speeches and Congressional testimony. In prepared remarks before Harvard University's JFK School of Government on Jan. 20, Christopher criticized Iran for "leading the rejectionist efforts to kill the chances for peace in the Middle East." He also warned that "Iran is engaged in a crash effort to develop nuclear weapons," and said the U.S. was "deeply concerned that some nations are preparing to cooperate with Iran in the nuclear field. About that, I will not mince words. These efforts risk the security of the entire Middle East."

Christopher joined words to action a few days later in Geneva, when he took Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev to task over Russia's recent agreement to provide $800 million of nuclear technology to Iran, to rebuild the Busheir nuclear power plants abandoned by the regime shortly after the revolution. Christopher said he was asking Moscow to provide a list of weapons and technology that had already been delivered to Tehran or was on order. [The Iran Brief published a list of Russian arms sales to Iran in our Jan. 5 issue]. The Russians appeared unfazed, announcing that President Yeltsin planned to make an official visit to Tehran later this year.

Christopher's harsh condemnation of Iran's nuclear weapons program was reiterated by Thomas Graham, the chief U.S. negotiator to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and by Undersecretary of State Lynn Davis, who told a non-proliferation breakfast group in Washington last week that inadequate controls had prevented the IAEA from detecting Iran's "crash program" to acquire nuclear weapons. In an unusual move aimed at Russia, the State Department spokesman issued a harsh statement on Iran's failure to live up to the spirit of the NPT, that "justifies restrictions on nuclear cooperation." (see "U.S. may impose sanctions on Russia,"below)

But while Christopher continued his efforts to get U.S. friends and allies to curtail high tech sales and concessionary loans to Iran, other actions by the administration cast doubt on U.S. resolve.

Opposition radio closed down: In addition to Tarnoff's olive branch, and a series of conciliatory remarks by Assistant Secretary of State Robert H. Pelletreau, late last year the United States Information Agency scaled back Farsi-language broadcasts into Iran by the Voice of America. Even more dramatic, seen from Tehran at least, has been an unusual move by the CIA to cut off funding for an opposition radio station based in Cairo, that has been beaming news and 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 Education Minister under the Shah, had previously been used by the CIA-funded Mujahidin in Afghanistan. Shortly after the Islamic revolution in Iran the Agency decided to hand it over to Iranian exiles linked to the former Shah. By 1986, when Dr. Gandji took over the station, the short-wave transmitter had fallen into disrepair. Nevertheless, his broadcasts 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. Police sources in Paris told The Iran Brief that Dr. Gandji has been under 24-hour police protection for several years, and that several assassination attempts against him have been thwarted.

According to Iranian sources who have listened to the radio during trips to Iran, the regime has set up jamming stations around major cities in Western Iran within listening distance of the transmitter. Even so, said one Iranian, taxi drivers will still tune into the station in areas where the jamming is ineffective, and spread the word to others who cannot get within range. Besides regular programming on human rights abuses, the rights of women and workers, and news about Iran, the radio also broadcasts instructions to militants inside Iran that have led to several embarrassing demonstrations at public sporting events and to other acts of civil disobedience against the regime. Farsi speakers in the U.S. can hear cassettes of its daily broadcasts by calling (703) 506-8237.

A State Department spokesman opined that the broadcasts had been scaled back because of the economic squeeze hitting all government departments. But Dr. Gandji's medium-wave broadcasts, which were halted on January 1, 1995, cost a mere $15,000 per month. Buried within an intelligence budget estimated at $28 billion per year, the $180,000/year devoted to this project is small beer indeed - if, of course, the United States is truly opposed to the rule of the mullahs in Tehran. The U.S. spent many times these sums to give Soviet citizens an alternative to their state-controlled media during the Cold War through Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

The Iran Brief has learned that the CIA is planning to stop funding for Gandji's short-wave broadcasts as well on Sept. 30, at the end of the current fiscal year, and no replacement radio is under consideration.

Trade opportunities: Another hopeful sign, viewed from Tehran, has been the administration's staunch refusal to crack down on trade sanction violators, or to curtail the massive purchases of Iranian crude by U.S. oil companies [see our Dec. 5, 1994 issue].

[Margin: We have seen a remarkable reverse of the U.S. policy on containment in recent months, aimed at winning market share in Iran 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, and the Netherlands, as well as front companies in Dubai, to ship embargoed items to Iran. "We have seen whole container loads of U.S.-made computers - very advanced machines - reaching Iran on dhows from Dubai," one senior foreign diplomat interviewed recently in Europe said. "By our estimates, the United States continues to ship around $1 billion worth of U.S. goods to Iran per year, despite the recent drop in registered trade." Commerce Department estimates put U.S. sales to Iran at roughly $300 million for 1994, down from $800 million in 1992 and 1993. But Commerce Department records show that sales of high-tech gear are routinely approved to a wide variety of non-government commercial entities in the UAE, without any end-user checks to ensure there is no diversion to Iran.

"We have also seen U.S. oil experts traveling to Iran on Canadian passports," the diplomats said, "to work on oil field and petrochemical projects. American experts were particularly noticeably in Ahwaz recently." The diplomats said that "a U.S. oil company is on the verge of winning a major contract on the gas fields of Sirri island. In sum, the Clinton administration's dual containment is working remarkably well - at containing U.S. allies abroad. The U.S. is making a masterful breakthrough. We have seen a remarkable reverse of the U.S. policy on containment in recent months, aimed at winning market share in Iran for U.S. companies."

Another hopeful sign to trade activists was the recent approval by the administration of five GE engines, worth between $35 million and $40 million, to power two Airbus airliners, which were delivered to Iran Air on Dec. 27. According to former Commerce Department Undersecretary, Paul Freedenberg, the Airbus sale could be a "feeler" to Iran about a possible thaw in relations. But the current Undersecretary for BXA, William A. Reinsch, retorted that licenses for four of the five engines were approved in April 1992 under the Bush administration, while the fifth, replacement engine was covered by contract sanctity. (Journal of Commerce, 1/23/95).

If the U.S. really was intending to make a quiet diplomatic opening, it can expect stiff opposition from Tehran. On Jan. 23, Parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nategh Nuri told university students and teacher in the central Iranian city of Semnan (home to a SCUD-C missile plant), that Ayatollah Khamene'i rejected last November "any relations or negotiations" with the United States "unless Washington changes its ways."

 [Our complete story is available to subscribers, or to clients of Lexis-Nexis]