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New US focus on promoting democracy in Iran

By Guy Dinmore in Washington

03/02/06 "
FT" -- -- The US State Department has created an office dedicated to Iran to reflect the Bush administration’s new focus on promoting democracy in the Islamic republic, officials said on Thursday.

Establishment of the Office of Iran Affairs follows the request to Congress made by Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, last month for an additional $75m this year to spend on influencing democratic change in Iran. The proposed spending has already triggered an internal struggle over who will control the $50m designated for a new Farsi-language television station.

The new office will come with posts in Europe and Dubai for Farsi-speaking diplomats as well as extra personnel in Washington working on human rights and public diplomacy.

Within the state department bureaucracy Iran was previously lumped together with countries of the Arabian Peninsular Affairs Office. Its separation, with extra resources, reflects a new emphasis by the Bush administration and the challenge posed by the regime’s recent behaviour, a spokesman said. Only a few countries merit their own office within the state department.

The director of the new office has not been named. David Denehy, a special advisor on the Middle East, declined to comment on suggestions that he would head the office.

Mr Denehy is involved in the $50m project to create the first 24-hour Farsi television station to broadcast into Iran.

Elizabeth Cheney, who is leading the state department’s “broader Middle East and North Africa initiatives”, has been placed in charge of the television project rather than Karen Hughes, one of the president’s closest advisors who heads US public diplomacy.

Officials told the FT there was a debate within the state department over whether the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an independent federal agency, should be given responsibility for the proposed new television station.

BBG’s mandate covers “all US government and government sponsored, non-military international broadcasting”, and includes Farsi broadcasts by Voice of America radio and television and Radio Farda.

“It’s possible the BBG will not get the money,” one official commented.

The officials said Ms Cheney wanted the new Farsi station to be kept separate from the BBG so that she could exert more direct control. Ms Cheney is said to be among those who were not satisfied with the oversight role played by the BBG regarding alHurra, the Arabic-language television station which is now the subject of state department and congressional inquiries into its programming and spending.

AlHurra says the inquiries are routine.

Mr Denehy and Ladan Archin, a Pentagon official assigned to the state department, recently visited private Farsi television and radio stations run by exiled Iranians in Los Angeles that broadcast into Iran. Editors said they were seeking information on their operations, setting off excitement among Iranian-Americans that the state department was looking for a suitable private vehicle for its new propaganda effort.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2006

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