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U.S.: Administration Considers Funding A Radio Service To Iraq

Washington, 5 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A White House official says the United States is considering funding a radio station to beam uncensored news and information into Iraq.

P.J. Crowley of the White House's National Security Council told RFE/RL this week (Tuesday) that setting up such a station, which has now assumed the working title "Radio Free Iraq," is under discussion. He said no final decision had been made.

Asked about the purpose of such an operation, Crowley said, "To convey to the Iraqi people that we are concerned about their welfare." He added, "Our quarrel is with the Iraqi government, not with the Iraqi people."

In the U.S. Congress, the House of Representatives Republican Policy executive committee recently discussed providing funds for such an operation. Under the proposal, a U.S. government-owned radio transmitter in Kuwait would be used for the broadcasts. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott also has in the past week repeatedly mentioned his support for such an operation.

Congressman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) says broadcasting has proved to be an effective and economic way of "promoting freedom" around the globe. "Since Iraq is a front-burner topic," Cox says, the Radio Free Iraq movement "has its own momentum."

Cox says there appears to be significant support from members of the House Appropriations Committee and the House International Relations Committee. Both panels play pivotal roles in signing off on a Radio Free Iraq.

Congressman Lee Hamilton of Indiana, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, says a number of ideas are being explored about ways to weaken Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"There is a long list of suggestions (such as) establishing Radio Free Iraq." Hamilton says in an article published last month in an American newspaper (The Washington Post). Other proposals, the congressman says, include securing an indictment against the Iraqi leader, extending the "no-fly" zone in Iraq and giving more support to Iraqi opposition leaders.

But Hamilton cautions that these measures may not be strong enough to get rid of the current Iraqi leadership.

"We should be realistic. If 500,000 ground troops did not unseat Saddam Hussein in 1991, it's unlikely that lesser steps can accomplish that goal," said Hamilton in referring to the U.S.-led military action against Iraq to liberate Kuwait.

Former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey told the U.S. Congress on Monday the United States should begin broadcasting into Iraq through Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Woolsey made the suggestion at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's panel on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. The subcommittee was convened to consider what the United States should do to put pressure on Saddam Hussein.

"I believe broadcasting into Iraq is an excellent idea," Woolsey told the senators.

Woolsey said former Polish President Lech Valesa and Czech President Vaclav Havel both stated that "Radio Free Europe was the single most important thing that the United States did during the Cold War" in weakening the Soviets' hold on Eastern Europe. Walesa and Havel were former activists jailed by the communists whose voices their governments had tried to silence.

Thomas Dine, president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said in response to Woolsey's statements that RFE/RL maintains the "highest professional standards" in its daily broadcasts of news and information to more than 20 countries. He said if called upon to broadcast to Iraq, RFE/RL "would be prepared to undertake the task based on these same standards."

Woolsey, in speaking to senators Monday, also endorsed the idea of the Iraqi National Congress, a group opposed to the Baghdad government, launching a separate broadcast operation into the Persian Gulf country.

"I think there is a role for both Radio Free Europe and for an Iraqi opposition radio broadcast that they themselves would do," he said.

Also testifying before the subcommittee was Ahmed Chalabi, president of the Iraqi National Congress.

Chalabi told the senators that the Iraqi people are "Saddam's first victims, driven into slavery and murdered by the hundreds of thousands."

He called U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's weapons inspection deal with Baghdad "an appeasement" that could result in "another slaughter."