After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, U.S.-sponsored "radio free" broadcasts are expected to begin beaming into Iraq and Iran this fall, delivering news and perhaps a few lessons in how a free press and democracy work.
The Clinton administration, which has been frustrated by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's defiance and authoritarian rule, heartily backed the congressionally mandated "Radio Free Iraq" program.But the White House balked at lawmakers' approval for starting a "Radio Free Iran," concerned it could provoke Tehran just as U.S.-Iranian relations are warming now that a moderate, Mohammad Khatami, is Iran's president.
As a result, the Iran broadcasts are being referred to simply as a new Farsi language service of Radio Free Europe/Liberty, which began airing behind the Iron Curtain and in the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. And the State Department and backers insist the broadcasts won't attack governments, but instead will report the news.
"We're simply trying to broadcast the truth to the Iranian people," said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., author of the radio free Iran bill that had languished after approval in 1997 with $4 million in funding.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said, "The purpose of these broadcasts is not to beam anti-government propaganda into Iran."
At the same time, if the new programs operate like 2-year-old Radio Free Asia, whose success may have led to the mini-boom in radio free proposals, the broadcasts will include commentary from dissidents and reports quoting opposition figures as part of the news.
The Radio Free Iraq plan came from Republican congressional lead-ers, but Secretary of State Madeleine Albright supported the idea.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., angry at Saddam's refusal earlier this year to allow full U.N. inspections of suspected weapons sites, put $5 million for the Iraq broadcasts into an emergency spending bill that President Clinton signed in early May.
"I would like for us to try to find ways to limit his ability to spew his venom to his people," Lott said, referring to Saddam's use of the con-trolled media to foment anti-American feelings.
Using similar tactics, Radio Free Europe/Liberty broadcast news in-to the former Yugoslavia during the Bosnia war that ended in 1995, countering local programs that stirred up ethnic hatred.
Tom Dine, president of Radio Free Europe/Liberty, said he believes he'll get the new Farsi service in Iran and Arabic language "Radio Free Iraq" operating by the new fiscal year, beginning on Oct. 1.