Saturday, February 23, 2008

IAEA Report, etc

This is one last post before I leave to visit the country that is the subject of this blog. I am hoping I will have access to my blog while there and be able to report on my experiences. If not, I will certainly post a report upon my return to the U.S. in mid-March.

The much awaited report from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Mohammed ElBaradei was published yesterday. It really came as no suprise that on the one had, the report noted Iranian cooperation to resolve outstanding questions agreed to in the August 2007 work plan. According to the report: "[The] Agency considers those questions no longer outstanding at this stage."

On the other hand, the report notes:

"The one major remaining issue relevant to the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme is the alleged studies on the green salt project, high explosives testing and the missile re-entry vehicle. This is a matter of serious concern and critical to an assessment of a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear programme. The Agency was able to show some relevant documentation to Iran on 3–5 February 2008 and is still examining the allegations made and the statements provided by Iran in response." Iran's response has been that the evidence is fabricated and the accusations baseless.

Another welcome development is that "The Agency has recently received from Iran additional information similar to that which Iran had previously provided pursuant to the Additional Protocol, as well as updated design information. As a result, the Agency’s knowledge about Iran’s current declared nuclear programme has become clearer." The report notes, "However, this information has been provided on an ad hoc basis and not in a consistent and complete manner. The Director General has continued to urge Iran to implement the Additional Protocol at the earliest possible date and as an important confidence building measure requested by the Board of Governors and affirmed by the Security Council."

The report also finds that "Contrary to the decisions of the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities, having continued the operation of [the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant] PFEP and [Fuel Enrichment Plant] FEP. In addition, Iran started the development of new generation centrifuges. Iran has also continued construction of the IR-40 reactor and operation of the Heavy Water Production Plant."

The report concludes:

With regard to its current programme, Iran needs to continue to build confidence about its scope and nature. Confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme requires that the Agency be able to provide assurances not only regarding declared nuclear material, but, equally importantly, regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. With the exception of the issue of the alleged studies, which remains outstanding, the Agency has no concrete information about possible current undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. Although Iran has provided some additional detailed information about its current activities on an ad hoc basis, the Agency will not be in a position to make progress towards providing credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran before reaching some clarity about the nature of the alleged studies, and without implementation of the Additional Protocol. This is especially important in the light of the many years of undeclared activities in Iran and the confidence deficit created as a result. The Director General therefore urges Iran to implement all necessary measures called for by the Board of Governors and the Security Council to build confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme."

Here is an interview entitled "IAEA Report: Beginning of the End?" with Iran representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh and myself on the release of the report.

Also, yesterday, the Seattle Post-Intellingencer published an editorial entitled "Are we on the brink of war? Reasons to worry" by D. Parvaz.

Be sure to check the New York Review of Books on Monday. It will feature an article by two retired senior diplomats, William Luers and Thomas Pickering, and a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jim Walsh (also on the Center's Board of Directors). The article urges the United States to use the intelligence report as a reason to open unconditional talks with Iran, and ultimately to establish an international fuel-production facility on its soil.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Tips for American NGOs on OFAC Licensing

Thanks to Jake Colvin at USA*Engage for passing this information along. It is from a meeting of NGOs with Treasury Department officials responsible for Iran licensing. This is not legal advice, and none of this should this be considered official U.S. government policy. All the observations and interpretations are for informational purposes only.

It appears that few nongovernmental organizations or individuals have applied for humanitarian-related license applications to operate in Iran since the aftermath of the Bam earthquake, though there have been some more that are religious or educational in nature. Officials noted a favorable licensing regime outlined in OFAC’s Statement of Licensing Policy.

This policy differs from the presumption of denial for most exchanges that existed just a few years ago.

The message from the U.S. Government seems to be that NGOs should consider applying for humanitarian licenses, notwithstanding previous difficulties with the system.

OFAC provided some tips NGOs should consider when submitting applications:

  • Provide as much information as possible in an organized format, including information on your organization (board members, sources of funding, etc.); information on the entity you wish to help or conduct an exchange with in Iran (persons involved; sources of funding/income; the organization’s history and mission; evidence that it is not affiliated with the government); and a plan for monitoring and accountability of the project and funding.
  • Be inclusive and use common sense. If you think the government would want to have a piece of information (your board list, funding sources, etc.), it’s a good bet they want it.
  • Fully identify any exports involved, particularly anything subject to U.S. export controls.
  • Exports of modern technology like computers may slow or stop your license.
  • Follow OFAC’s guidance on NGO license applications available in part here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What Would it Take to Launch a War with Iran?

Yesterday, the Seattle Times ran an editorial by Bruce Ramsey entitled "What Would it Take to Launch a War with Iran." The editorial was a result of a meeting with Ramsey during a Folly of Attacking Iran Tour stop in Seattle featuring Stephen Kinzer, General John Johns and myself.

A key tenet of the tour is that we can not allow the possibility of a military strike and its resulting disastrous consequences to fall off the radar of the American public's agenda. As Ramsey notes in his editorial: "What matters is not only the Constitution; it is the outcry. Government does what it can get away with — and in the last year of the Bush presidency, it is still an open question how much that is."

Another key tenet of the tour is that diplomacy is the most viable option for resolving long-standing tenstions between the U.S. and Iran and a much lower-risk option. While sustained, direct, unconditional talks with Iran may not be possible during this administration, we must work to create the environment for diplomacy to succeed.

Being on this tour, I have gone back and re-read much of Stephen Kinzer's most excellent book, "All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror." This book should be required reading for every American to understand our complex relationship with Iran. We were actually allies. One of the first people to die in Iran's 1906-1911 Constitutional Revolution was a Nebraskan named Howard Baskerville. Baskerville is still regarded in Iran today as an "Iranian hero from America."

Under the Truman adminsitration, the U.S. supported Iran in its struggle to nationalize oil. But when Eisenhower became President and with the appointment of John Foster Dulles as Secretary of State, the U.S. chose to side with the British on the oil issue, because concerns that Iran could fall to the communists trumped everything else.

Iranians have not forgotten the fact that the U.S. helped orchestrate the overthrow of their only democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mosadegh in 1953. U.S. support for Mohammed Reza Shah, who was a brutal dictator, fomented the 1979 Islamic revolution that lead to clerical regime today.

Iran's experience in the struggle to nationalize it's oil and Britain's attitude towards Iran has many similarities to the current standoff between the U.S. and Iran. Britain conducted a vigorious sanctions campaign and moved carriers into the Persian Gulf to threaten Iran. But there were those in Britain, like Earl Mountbatten who "told his superiors in the Admirality that instead of listening to the 'notoriously bellicose' Herbert Morrison's advice on how to 'cow these insolent natives,' Britain should realize 'economic and military threats could only make things worse.'" And indeed they did. (All the Shah's Men, page 95)

Like Earl Mountbatten, there are many today who are issuing the same warnings and noting that preconditions for negotiations are a recipe for failure. One must understand Iran's history to realize it will not cow to economic and military threats. The most viable solution is sustained, bilateral direct, unconditional talks with Iran.

I believe that media missed some of the more valuable key findings of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, including:

  • Iran is a rational actor that makes decisions regarding its nuclear program on a cost-benefit analysis; and
  • Iran could halt its nuclear program if it was given opportunities perceived as credible by its leaders to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways.
Much work must be done to create the conditions where an offer is perceived as credible. First, the U.S. should determine which elements of the offer made by Iran in 2003 to settle outstanding disputes might remain a feasible basis for talks. Dropping preconditions for talks on the nuclear program is absolutely necessary as it would signal to both Iran and European allies that the US is sincere in its repeated expressions of preference for real diplomacy.

In the near term, the U.S. could offer confidence-building measures to help bridge the enormous gap in trust between the two countries. At a minimum, the U.S. should pledge non-interference in Iran’s domestic affairs, which is, in any case, its legal obligation as stipulated in the Algiers Accord signed in 1981 to end the hostage crisis. The Bush administration could also repeal Office of Foreign Assets Control restrictions that prohibit U.S. non-governmental organizations from obtaining licenses to work inside Iran, or offer to replace engine parts in the aging fleet of Iranian civilian aircraft. The U.S. could also lift restrictions on visas, allowing for an increase in citizen exchanges, which would in turn foster the growth of constituencies in Iran calling for a government that is fully integrated into the international community. For its part, Congress can divert the regime change slush fund money (a.k.a. the so-called “democracy promotion” funding) in the foreign operations bill to other programs.

There is time, albeit limited, for the US to desist from its punitive measures and its threats of more to come, and to pursue responsible and effective policy of bold, tough-minded direct diplomacy instead.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

American Public Health Association Adopts Policy Opposing U.S. Attack on Iran

The American Public Health Association (APHA) announced today that a new policy in opposition to an attack on Iran is among their recently adopted policies addressing a broad range of issues in public health. According to the press release, the policy outlines the following position:

200718 - Opposing U.S. attack on Iran — Calls on the U.S. government to clearly state it will not launch a pre-emptive military strike on Iran and to explicitly rule out use of nuclear weapons against Iran. Urges the U.S. government to vigorously pursue UN-authorized diplomatic initiatives to guarantee Iranian compliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations not to develop nuclear weapons. Calls on the U.S. government to halt current plans to develop and deploy nuclear weapons and to reaffirm its historical commitment to international treaties aimed at curbing the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
The organization Physicians for Social Responsibility was instrumental in the adoption of this new APHA resolution. Bravo, PSR, we heart you!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Regime Change is a Pathetic Notion

Yossi Alpher, a former senior adviser to Isreali Prime Minister Ehud Barak, former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, and co-editor of the bitterlemons family of online publications, published an excellent new opinion editorial in The Jewish Daily Forward on February 6 in which he argues against the U.S. policy of regime change in Iran. He concludes:

"If Washington does agree to sit down at the negotiating table with Iran, it cannot permit itself to be perceived by Iranians as entering the talks with dirty hands. It cannot appropriate tens of millions of dollars to encourage Iranian civil society efforts, however admirable, that are understood by the regime as subversive, and perhaps here and there encourage dissident Iranian Baluch and Kurds to oppose the regime (while reassuring Iran with a smirk that regime-change is not official American policy), and still expect to engage the Tehran regime in dialogue on a level playing field.

"Whether talking to this regime will produce useful results is, of course, not clear. But it is certainly a more pragmatic option once we rid ourselves of the pathetic notion that, with a little push, or even a big push, the regime will collapse.

"If and when the theocratic regime in Tehran is replaced, its demise will, like the Khomeini revolution 30 years ago, be the result of domestic developments, not outside intervention. In the meantime, containment will be an easier task if we approach Iran without illusions."

Folly of Attacking Iran Video

In 1953, the United States violently intervened in Iran by ousting the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh and installing the shah's military regime. This backfired spectacularly in 1979 when religious militants gained power through a popular revolution and 52 U.S. diplomats were taken hostage.

Veteran New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer, retired General Robert Gard (Senior Military Fellow, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation), Iranian-American scholar Trita Parsi (President, National Iranian American Council), and USA Today reporter Barbara Slavin (also a Randolph Jennings Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace) explain the need for the United States today to use diplomacy instead of force in its relationship with Iran.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Senator John McCain on Iran

In his address yesterday to the Conservative Political Action Committee Conference, Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, spoke about how he will deal with Iran. His position does not seem to have changed much since he sang his little ditty, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran." The excerpt below is from the transcript of Senator McCain's speech.

SEN. MCCAIN: Those senators won't recognize and seriously address the threat posed by an Iran with nuclear ambitions to our ally Israel in the region. I intend -- (applause) -- I intend to make unmistakably clear to Iran we will not permit a government that espouses the destruction of the state of Israel as its fondest wish and pledges undying enmity to the United States to possess the weapons to advance their malevolent ambitions. (Applause.)

Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will concede to our critics that our own actions to defend against its threats are responsible for fomenting the terrible evil of radical Islamic extremism, and the resolve to combat it will be as flawed as their judgment. I intend --


SEN. MCCAIN: I intend to defeat the threat by staying on offense and by marshalling every relevant agency of our government and our allies in the urgent necessity of defending the values, virtues and security of free people against those who despise all that is good about us.

Iran's Centrifuge Progress Underscores Need for U.S. to Drop Preconditions

News reports that Iran is progressing in efforts to make more efficient and reliable centrifuges underscore the need for the U.S. to drop preconditions and begin negotiating with Iran immediately. European diplomats and American officials disclosed this week that Iran is testing new centrifuges known as IR-2s. The existence of the IR-2s were revealed in January when International Atomic Energy Agency officials were allowed to visit a complex for the machine’s development.

The IR-2s are a modified version of the P-2 centrifuge (P meaning Pakistani in origin). According to a new report by David Albright and Jaqueline Shire at the Institute for Science and International Security, a tubelike rotor made of carbon fibers rather than maraging steel is at the core of the new centrifuge design, demonstrating considerable technical creativity.

IR-2s are meant to replace the less reliable P-1 centrifuges, of which Iran currently is operating about 3,000 at 10 percent capacity at the Natanz nuclear facility. According to Albright and Shire, the IR-2 uranium enrichment throughput is about 2.5 times greater than the P-1 centrifuge, which means that if configured properly, it would take approximately 1,200 IR-2 centrifuges versus 3,000 P-1 centrifuges to produce a similar quantity of enriched uranium.

The U.S. is using the opportunity to make the case for a third round of United Nations sanctions against Iran ahead of a new report to be delivered later this month by IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei on progress to resolve outstanding issues related to Iran’s nuclear program. The new draft resolution already agreed to by the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and U.S.) is mostly an incremental increase in sanctions, including a provision that would require countries to deny entry to any person involved in Iran's nuclear programs, it also goes beyond previous resolutions to include a ban on all trade in civilian nuclear equipment or technology that could also be used to create nuclear weapons. The U.S. also wants UN member states to be asked to inspect cargo going to and from Iran if there is reason to believe that contraband is aboard – a measure that raises the danger of further incidents at sea between U.S. and Iranian warships in the already tense Persian Gulf.

Iran is not relenting to existing UN sanctions and is unlikely to relent under a new round of sanctions. Progress on a new generation of centrifuges highlights the need for the U.S. to drop preconditions and engage in direct, unconditional, bilateral talks with Iran to resolve outstanding issues. Such a move would provide incentive for Iran to implement the Additional Protocol, which was reaffirmed by the IAEA delegation in January, so that Iran’s nuclear program will become more transparent and accountable to inspectors and the international community.

As side note related to the Additional Protocol, President George W. Bush took a surprising step on February 4 when he issued an executive order directing U.S. agencies to develop regulations to administer the Additional Protocol to the U.S. safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is still unclear when the President will submit formal notification, but once finalized the Additional Protocol would grant IAEA officials access to civilian nuclear facilities, though not access to nuclear weapons facilities. The move may have been prompted to partially allay concerns about the hypocrisy of U.S. nonproliferation policy which urges Iran and other countries to adopt far more intrusive versions of the Additional Protocol. The move may also be meant to bolster support for U.S. efforts to expand civilian nuclear technology under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and to bolster efforts to carve an exception that would allow the U.S. to cooperate with India, a non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, on nuclear technology.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

House Committee Misdirects Debate on Proliferation Prevention Initiative

Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman testified today in a hastily scheduled hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee to explore diversion of funds under the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP). After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many scientists and engineers with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) knowledge and expertise suffered significant cuts in pay or lost their government-supported work. The U.S. was concerned these scientists might sell their expertise to terrorists or countries of concern and established the IPP program under the Department of Energy (DOE) in 1994.

The efficacy of the program has been increasingly criticized and was the subject of a January 23, 2008 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled “Nuclear Nonproliferation: DOE Needs to Reassess Its Program to Assist Weapons Scientists in Russia and Other Countries.” The GAO was asked to assess (1) DOE's reported accomplishments for the IPP program, (2) DOE's exit strategy for the program, and (3) the extent to which the program has experienced annual carryovers of unspent funds and the reasons for any such carryovers. Among other key assessments, mismanagement chief among them, the GAO found:

  1. DOE has overstated accomplishments on the number of scientists receiving DOE support and the number of long-term, private sector jobs created.
  2. DOE has not developed an exit strategy for the IPP program and recently expanded the program to new areas including providing assistance to scientists in Iraq and Libya. Most importantly, through the IPP program, the DOE is working to develop projects that support a controversial program, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership to expand the use of civilian nuclear power.
  3. In every fiscal year since 1998, DOE carried over unspent funds in excess of the amount that the Congress provided for the program. Two main factors have contributed to this recurring problem—lengthy review and approval processes for paying former Soviet weapons scientists and delays in implementing some IPP projects.

The GAO recommended, among other things, that DOE conduct a fundamental reassessment of the IPP program, including the development of a prioritization plan and exit strategy.

Most significantly, nowhere in the report did the GAO mention issues of diversion of U.S. funds from Russia to support the Bushehr reactor in Iran. However, Michigan Representatives John D. Dingell, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Bart Stupak, chairman of that committee’s Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, are choosing to focus on this issue through letters, articles and hearings. My colleague Leonor Tomero has been closely reviewing the IPP and notes that Congress should truly be concerned about the very real issue of fund diversion to the controversial Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

However, Representatives Dingell and Stupak are concentrating on an essentially non-existent issue, claiming that the IPP program is providing funding for the Bushehr reactor through, for example, the Scientific Research Institute of Measuring Systems in Nizhny Novgorod, which is making control room equipment for the reactor. They sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman on February 6 in which they asked: “What policy logic justifies D.O.E. funding Russian institutes which are providing nuclear technology to Iran? How does this advance our non-proliferation goals?”

The Department of Energy responded in a statement, “We are confident that none of the projects cited by the House committee, or any of the department’s scientist engagement projects with Russia, support nuclear work in Iran.”

In the New York Time articles by Matthew Wald published on February 7, Representative Dingell said, “Only this administration would complain about proliferation in Iran, as part of President Bush’s axis of evil, and then finance it with American taxpayer dollars.” Meanwhile, Representative Stupak called it “schizophrenic foreign policy” and said “We should not be doing business with institutes that help promote Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

The fact that Russia is cooperating with Iran on the Bushehr reactor is not the heart of the matter and only deters focus from the real issues surrounding the efficacy of the IPP program. Although, given his voting record on Iran, it is not so curious that Representative Stupak in particular is choosing to misdirect the debate on issues surrounding the IPP to Russian cooperation with Iran.

It should, however, be noted that the Bush administration has indeed flip-flopped on the Bushehr issue. While the U.S. initially opposed Russian participation in building the Bushehr reactor and supplying it with fuel, the Bush administration changed its position last year in order to get Russian support for United Nations sanctions on Iran. The reversal in the U.S. position on the Bushehr reactor also followed Iran’s agreement to return spent nuclear fuel from the reactor back to Russia to ensure it doesn't extract plutonium to make nuclear weapons. The Bush administration has since been pointing to the Bushehr program to support arguments that Iran does not need a uranium enrichment program.

The Bushehr reactor is expected to start-up in 2009 and Iran received the final shipment of uranium fuel from Russia on January 28. The fuel, around 82 tons, is now in storage, sealed and under constant camera surveillance, per Russia’s demands, and subject to enhanced International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards verification procedures. The nuclear fuel will not be loaded into the reactor until all construction and testing work is complete, which is expected in Fall 2008.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Comprehensive Diplomatic Initiative for the Stabilization of Iraq

On December 19, 2007, Representatives Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Walter Jones (R-NC), Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), John Murtha (D-PA), Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) quietly introduced a new bipartisan resolution, H.Con.Res. 274, the Comprehensive Diplomatic Initiative for the Stabilization of Iraq Act of 2008.

The bill was introduced following President Bush’s announcement that the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq had begun and will continue in the coming months. Members of Congress believe any responsible drawdown in U.S. troops requires a more comprehensive and regional diplomatic initiative and the creation of an adequate diplomatic and political infrastructure to help reconcile Iraq’s fledging government.

H.Con.Res. 274 urges the need for a collaborative effort between the President, the administration and government of Iraq to initiate, develop and implement a sustained comprehensive regional and multilateral diplomatic initiative. It also expresses the vital role that the United Nations Security Council, United Nations Secretary General, Iraq’s neighboring states, regional organizations such as, the Arab League and non-governmental organizations should play in achieving this effort.

The bill also recommends the implementation of Iraq Study Group Recommendation 9, which states, “Under the aegis of the New Diplomatic Offensive and the [Iraq International] Support Group, the United States should engage directly with Iran and Syria in order to try to obtain their commitment to constructive policies toward Iraq and other regional issues. In engaging with Syria and Iran, the United States should consider incentives, as well as disincentives, in seeking constructive results.”

Monday, February 04, 2008

Iran Details in the International Affairs Budget Request

This afternoon, the U.S. Department of State posted a Summary and Highlights of the Fiscal Year 2009 International Affairs budget request (also known as Function 150).

The summary reveals details regarding Iran-related funding in the Economic Support Fund line item. For Fiscal Year 2009, the Statement Department is requesting $65 million in Economic Support Funds for Iran (page 79), this is more than triple the spending amount for Fiscal Year 2008, which is estimated at $21.623 million. I believe this tripling in Economic Support Funds is due to a couple of factors including the restructure in the State Department and it's Iran desk. A second factor is the Fiscal Year 2008 Foreign Operations bill in which Congress appropriated $60 million under Section 693, a general provision for so-called "Programs to Promote Democracy, Rule of Law and Governance in Iran." It has been unclear since Section 693 was originally added as an amendment introduced by Rep. Crenshaw to the House Foreign Operations Appropriations bill for exactly which programs this funding was meant, i.e. whether this section was meant to increase funding for the Economic Support Fund or the Human Rights and Democracy Fund, or if it was meant to serve as an overall guideline for total spending on so-called "democracy promotion" programs. It is still a question that needs to be answered. Thus, the tripling in the request for the Economic Support Funds could indicate that either the State Department recognizes that Congress supports this program and they can get additional funds for it or that State Department is trying to streamline the so-called democracy assistance funds thorugh the Economic Support Fund line item.

While the FY'09 Summary and Highlights does not state exactly how much of the International Broadcasting Operations funds ($654 million requested) will be devoted to Iran, it does note that funds will be used to launch Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Azerbaijani broadcasts to Iran. It is also unclear how much of $522 million in requested funding under the Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs will be allocated to Iran-related programs, but the funding will "provide new opportunities for American students to learn critical need languages." In addition to four other languages, the initiative focuses on Farsi.

Below are details.

Page 29: Economic Support Funds

Democracy Issues in States of Concern: ESF programming encourages democratic reform and builds civil society so that states will respond to the needs of their people.

• Iran – ESF funds will support the aspirations of the Iranian people for a democratic and open society by promoting civil society, civic participation, media freedom and freedom of information.

Page 61: National Security Language Initiative

FY 2009 funding will also sustain the President’s National Security Language Initiative, building international capacity and knowledge among Americans. It will provide new opportunities for American students to learn critical need languages abroad and strengthen foreign language teaching in the United States. The initiative focuses on Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Russian, and Turkic languages.

Page 65: International Broadcasting Operations

The FY 2009 request provides $654 million for International Broadcasting Operations. Through this account, the BBG funds operations of the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (including Alhurra, Alhurra-Iraq, Alhurra-Europe, and Radio Sawa), as well as related program delivery and support activities.

This funding will enhance VOA broadcasts to Somalia and the Horn of Africa and launch RFE/RL Azerbaijani broadcasts to Iran. It will also significantly strengthen VOA, RFE/RL, and RFA Internet capability and improve Alhurra’s television production capability.

Iranian Americans Favor US-Iran Diplomacy

The Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley has released a new research report, "Political Attitudes and Patterns of PoliticalParticipation of Iranian Americans in California," by IGS Research Specialist Dariush Zahedi in collaboration with Susan Rasky of the Graduate School of Journalism. The report outlines the results of a recent survey of the Iranian-American community. Most respondents believe that the United States should establish diplomatic relations with Iran and very few support strategic bombing of Iran's nuclear targets.

According to the report:

"Indeed, even though the survey was conducted prior to the recent release of [the National Intelligence Estimate] NIE, the majority of all respondents (66%) believe that the US should establish diplomatic relations with Iran. Significantly, the preponderance of Iranian Americans today, in contrast to Iraqi Americans in 2003, is adamantly opposed to war. Only 13% maintain that the US should engage in strategic bombing of Iran's nuclear targets, while 8% favor the bombing of Iranian military and oil installations."

Bush's Final Spending Plan

Today, President George W. Bush revealed his final spending plan for the U.S. fiscal year 2009 budget – a whopping $3.1 trillion. The budget includes increased military spending and protects Bush’s tax cuts. According to the Washington Post article:

“The spending proposal, which shows the government spending $3 trillion in a 12-month period for the first time in history, squeezes most of government outside of national security, and also seeks $196 billion in savings over the next five years in the government's giant health care programs – Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor.

“Even with those savings, Bush projects that the deficits, which had been declining, will soar to near-record levels, hitting $410 billion this year and $407 billion in 2009. The all-time high deficit in dollar terms was $413 billion in 2004.”

While the full line-item budget and breakdown is not yet available online, the “Department of State and Other International Programs” budget so far only includes Iran-related funding in the proposed spending for the Broadcasting Board of Governors. There are no other direct references to Iran in the other budget outlines. Here is the description for the $699 million for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (page 2):

Continues international broadcasting. $699 million for the Broadcasting Board of Governors to provide accurate and objective news and information about the United States and the world to international audiences via television, radio, and the Internet with a continued focus on broadcasting throughout the Middle East and to people living under tyranny in North Korea, Burma, Iran, and Cuba.”
I am sure more budget details will be revealed soon and I will post Iran-related measures, particularly when details are revealed about the "Economic Support Fund" and the "Education and Cultural Exchange Programs," both of which had Iran-related funding in the previous year. Both programs also have a projected increase in spending over fiscal years 2007 and 2008.