Our IPS colleague Barbara Slavin has a piece up about the Obama administration’s tough tone against Iran in the wake of yet another crackdown on protests organized by the Green Movement.
Slavin hits on the tenor of administration officials’ comments, as well as the effort to boost Voice of America‘s public diplomacy bona fides as a way of talking to Iranians over the heads of their government.
Carnegie Iran analyst Karim Sadjadpour tells Slavin that the U.S. shift may reflect an administration belief that a deal to ratchet down tensions between the West and the Islamic Republic over the latter’s nuclear program may not be possible:
Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says that the administration was more inhibited when protests broke out following Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential elections because “Obama still held out hope of reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran. Today I think the White House has come to the conclusion that they can’t reach a modus vivendi with a regime that seemingly needs them as an adversary.”
On the public diplomacy front, Slavin notes an interesting turn at VOA‘s Persian News Network, which is illegally beamed into Iran by satellite. Slavin writes that neoconservatives have already attacked a new VOA official, a State Department Foreign Service officer heading up PNN, for comments related to the National Iranian American Council. (NIAC is run by Trita Parsi, a former IPS colleague and frequent neoconservative target who wrote for IPS before Slavin began writing for the wire .)
Slavin (with my emphasis and links):
The Obama administration has struggled to find ways to communicate support for Iranian protesters without giving the Iranian government ammunition to blame unrest on outside interference. Broadcasts by the Persian News Network (PNN) – the Farsi service of the Voice of America – are a component of the strategy even though VOA’s mandate is to present news without political bias.
On Monday, Ramin Asgard, an Iranian-American Foreign Service officer whose last posting was as a political adviser to Central Command – took the helm of the PNN. VOA executives said it was the first time since the waning days of the Cold War that a non-journalist has assumed such an important position in U.S. government-funded broadcasting.
VOA management has had difficulty finding the right person to run the sprawling service, which has one hit show – a “Daily Show” clone called “Static” or “Parazit” in Farsi – but has been riven by disputes among its staff over what vision of Iran’s political future to promote. Some members of Congress as well as some Iranian expatriates have complained that PNN is too critical of U.S. policy and too accommodating to Tehran.
Asgard, who also served as head of an Iran watch office in Dubai, did not seek the position but was offered it after several others turned VOA down or were deemed unsuitable, according to a source with knowledge of the process.
On the job only three days, he has already been the target of an attack on a blog run by the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. Trey Hicks, a researcher at the Hudson Institute, accused Asgard of undermining U.S. policy toward Iran by suggesting U.S. taxpayer support for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group that has in the past advocated engagement with Iran but has also taken a tough stance on human rights abuses. Hicks also questioned Asgard’s command of Farsi.
Asgard did not respond to requests to reply to the allegations.
Trita Parsi, head of NIAC, said Asgard had once suggested that the grassroots group help him recruit interns for the Dubai office but Parsi said he was not in a position to help and no funds were offered. While in Dubai, Asgard did promote scientific and cultural exchanges with Iran, which was – and remains – the policy of the U.S. government.
Sadjadpour said Asgard was chosen in part to insulate VOA from Congressional complaints that the service was not sufficiently taking account of U.S. government views.
“The heads of VOA think they need to protect themselves against Congress and he [Asgard] checked some of the right boxes,” Sadjadpour said.