- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

The State Department plans to fund some independent Iranian radio and television stations that broadcast into that country, a senior official told Congress yesterday.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. support for the private Iranian broadcasters would be on a “case- by-case basis.”

The department would consider funding for these stations through the Middle East Partnership Initiative, a program started last year to support democratic movements in the Middle East and spur the region’s authoritarian regimes to reform, he said.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, oversees the initiative and has received more than $100 million so far in funding for its projects.

Since last spring, the State Department and Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, have been locked in a battle over U.S. funding for U.S.-based satellite stations that broadcast into Iran and are run by Iranian exiles who seek to overthrow the Islamic Republic’s theocracy.

Unlike current U.S. broadcasting into Iran that is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the exile-run stations usually broadcast a much tougher line against the ruling mullahs in Tehran and have been more closely associated with the son of the late shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi.

One such station, Azadi (Freedom) TV, has been operating for the past year at a considerable loss.

“We needed the money like yesterday,” the station’s owner, Fariborz Abbassi, said in an interview yesterday. He said he raises on average around $25,000 a month from individuals in Europe and the United States, but his costs exceed $120,000.

In April, Mr. Brownback proposed legislation to set up a $50 million annual fund for Iranian democracy, with much of the money set aside for satellite stations, according to a former Brownback staff member who worked closely on the legislation.

Mr. Armitage’s announcement yesterday “seems to be a new position” for the State Department, the official said. “Previously, they had opposed any of our efforts to reach out to these independent groups.”

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