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Last Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006, 05:30 GMT 06:30 UK
Iran exiles struggle for US influence
By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, Washington

Ahmad Baharloo is being dubbed the Iranian Larry King, after the veteran CNN interviewer.

Iranian technicians explains a piece of equipment to a clergyman during an exhibition of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization at the Qom University
The US is worried about Iran's nuclear programme
Roundtable With You, Mr Baharloo's snappily-titled weekly television programme in Farsi on Voice of America, will soon be

broadcast six times a week - beamed directly into Iran.

The Bush administration is spending millions of dollars on direct broadcasts into Iran - a clear effort to help foment political change, all funded by the American taxpayer.

Mr Baharloo insists that his programme will not be viewed as US propaganda and that there will be no editorial interference.

But he adds that he sees his purpose as "nullifying" the disinformation coming out of Tehran.

Unsurprisingly there are mixed views as to whether this will work. The fact that it's the VOA taking the lead will raise suspicions - not everyone sees the Voice of America as an impartial voice.

'Don't repeat mistakes'

Mohsen Sazegara returned to Tehran on the same plane as Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 to help usher in the Islamic revolution.

He was a founder of the Revolutionary Guard and became a senior minister.

Ahmed Chalabi
Ahmed Chalabi urged US action against Saddam Hussein
But he fell out with the country's leaders by campaigning for reform. He is now an exile lecturing at Yale.

His advice to Washington is: "Don't interfere."

By all means, he says, press for democracy and freedom - but don't make the mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan.

He says it would be best to let the Iranian opposition groups in the country take the lead.

This time, he believes, there should be no attempt to create an opposition in exile, no figurehead like Ahmed Chalabi - the Iraqi opposition leader close to US Defense Department who many believe misled US officials on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"Leave these affairs to the Iranian people," Mr Sazegara advises.

Warning of danger

Yet various siren voices are appealing to Washington to help trigger regime change.

One group in particular claims to deserve special attention for uncovering Iran's clandestine nuclear programme and bringing it to the attention of the US.

Demonstration in support of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran, 1979
Former allies of Khomeini warn US action could backfire
Alireza Jafarzadeh was the spokesman of the National Council of Resistance of Iran until its Washington office was forced to close.

It is linked to the Mujahedin e-Khalq.

The US State Department lists the MEK as a terrorist group - in its annual report on terrorism the department says "the MEK advocates the violent overthrow of the Iranian regime".

Mr Jafarzadeh is now an Iranian expert offering his views to Fox News, among others.

He believes that the US must change its policy on the MEK if it is to change Tehran.

He describes Iran as a "five-headed dragon" that needs to be slain - listing Iran's support for terrorist groups, its interference in Iraq, its antagonism towards Israel and Middle East peace talks, the suppression of the Iranian people and the nuclear threat.

Cold War model

And then there are the calls for recognition from the monarch in hiding.

At a secret address in Virginia, the son of the former shah - Reza Pahlavi - still keeps in touch by phone and the internet with his supporters in Iran.

Reza Pahlavi
The US has not embraced the son of the late shah
He also believes he has a role to play in bringing about change - but through non-violent means.

The US administration, though, is keeping its distance. Few see him as a figurehead to lead a new revolution.

Instead the US is trying to engage the Iranian people through its direct broadcasts - but influential exiles remain sceptical of the US policy as a whole.

Abbas Milani is an Iranian academic now based at Stanford University who has been advising "very senior figures" in the Bush administration.

He would like to see Washington talking openly and frankly to the leadership in Tehran.

He says such a policy worked when President Reagan talked to Moscow during the cold war.

Sanctions, he fears, are already hurting the Iranian people - he says the current US embargo has been a "disaster".

He also fears that targeted military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities could set the reform movement back decades.

The real worry among many Iranian exiles is that the current US policy could backfire - and end up empowering the ayatollahs.





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