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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 December, 2003, 01:30 GMT
Washington tunes in to Iranian radio
BBC News Online's Rachel Clarke
By Rachel Clarke
BBC News Online in Washington

A conservative American think tank has joined up with an opposition Iranian radio station to broadcast into and out of Iran.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami
Callers said President Mohammed Khatami had made little difference
Usually, the American Enterprise Institute hosts forums with politicians, officials and analysts from the "inside the beltway" Washington community.

But for a one-off event, it invited ordinary Iranians to air their views to listeners in Washington and across their country through KRSI Radio Sedaye Iran - which broadcasts from Los Angeles on short wave and on the internet.

The station said there could be reprisals against people phoning in, so KRSI would call those who had previously got in touch - though they said they had not selected activists with any particular viewpoint.

The full names and other details were also withheld for security reasons according to the AEI, which is close to the Republican Party and Bush administration.

KRSI is one of a number of broadcasters which circumvent jamming by the Iranian authorities and transmit radio and television programmes into the Islamic Republic calling for change.

'Reforms dead'

All of those interviewed from Iran said they opposed both the mullahs and those portrayed as reformers, such as President Mohammad Khatami.

One woman who described herself as a housewife who had joined the activists said she saw no hope for reform by the regime.

A parade for Iran's first women police recruits in 25 years
Women are back in the police, but have few freedoms, opponents say
"We have given them a lot of chances, especially when Mr Khatami was being chosen.

We have given him six-and-a-half years but nothing has happened and we don't trust them any more," she said in comments translated from Farsi for the Washington audience.

A woman student said bluntly: "Reform in Iran is dead."

She said there were some "tricks" that could persuade some that there was some form of democracy in Iran but added she was not fooled: "Believing in reform is nonsense."

A poet called Mohammed said even those people who had pioneered promised reforms admitted that they had got nowhere.

"Because of the ideological framework, reforms are not possible in such a regime," he said.

Each caller said the situation seemed to be coming to a head. "The people of this country are ready to fight, to sacrifice their lives," said a university professor.

People or prince

But there was a range of answers when callers were asked who should lead a new Iran.

The housewife said "People can lead themselves", some called for the return of the son of the ousted shah and others said there should be a council of leaders or a referendum.

This election is nothing, all of the people have been through this - even our baker says no
Aresh
Mohammed the poet said: "The one person who can lead the country is Prince Reza."

All agreed that it should be the people of Iran who should decide.

"The people of Iran should choose if they want a king or a republic," said Saeed, who described himself as an activist in the south of Tehran.

But they also agreed that elections scheduled for early next year would do nothing to improve democracy and all the callers said they would stay away.

"This election is nothing. All of the people have been through this. Even our baker says no," said a man called Aresh who told listeners he had been jailed for activism.

Seeking support

Several asked for help from the United States, either directly in terms of funding of opposition movements such as KRSI or at the very least by not courting the government leaders.

Students protest in Tehran
Students have been at the forefront of pro-democracy protests
A disabled veteran of the Iran-Iraq War said: "I want the government of the United States to support Iran emotionally, that is all we expect."

A student who called herself Ms Nargess said it would be in the long-term interest of the US and European countries to support the opposition.

"The potential ally of the US is the people not the mullahs."

Washington's hawks and doves differ widely on ways to handle Iran, and it is impossible to tell if a broadcast heard by an invited group in a conference room in the US capital will do anything to change minds.

But as the special broadcast came to its scheduled end after two hours, radio host Saeed Farahani had a message for listeners at home and abroad: "I'm asking you all to resist."




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