June 18: Is President Bush Instigating Protests in Iran?

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, June 16, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appreciate those courageous souls that speak out for freedom in Iran (search). They need to know that America stands squarely by their side. And I would urge the Iranian administration to treat them with the utmost of respect.


BRIT HUME, HOST: Statements like that from President Bush have led the Iranian government to claim that the U.S. government is instigating the protest in that country in the past week. But the president's words might not be heard in Iran were it not for U.S.-based satellite TV stations -- there you see one now, that are heard and seen in that country even though they are illegal.

So, who are these broadcasters and what impact are they really having? For answers, we turn to Professor Rob Sobhani of Georgetown University.

Professor, welcome.


HUME: Who are these people and what are they doing and how many are there? And where are they getting their money? What's going on here?

SOBHANI: These are part of the broader Iranian dissident move, they're opponents of the Islamic government of Iran. Most of them fled after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

HUME: And where do they live?

SOBHANI: They live in Los Angeles. There are close to 500,000 Iranians living in Los Angeles County alone.

HUME: Five hundred thousand?

SOBHANI: Five hundred thousand in Los Angeles County alone, and in all of California, most likely around a million Iranians.

HUME: Well, how does that compare with the Iranians Diaspora around the world?

SOBHANI: It is the largest Iranian Diaspora (search) in the world here in the United States. Here in our area in the Washington area, we have approximately 200,000 Iranians.

HUME: Boy, I had no idea of that. Wow.

SOBHANI: And that's why the message is resonating inside the country because those youths inside the country have relatives here.

HUME: Now, the Iranian government is not hospitable to these broadcasts. They try -- and satellite TV is illegal, isn't it?

SOBHANI: Absolutely.

HUME: So how many people hear them?

SOBHANI: It's courageous. They get it. Approximately 10 to 15 million probably get it on a nightly basis. And then each program is probably taped. The video is then distributed; much like the Ayatollah Khomeini (search) did in '79 for his revolution.

HUME: Well, that was the audiocassettes.

SOBHANI: Audiocassettes, exactly. In this particular case, it's a videocassette and it is distributed. And that's where the students get most of their information and encouragement.

HUME: Now, Michael Ledeen was here the other day from the American Enterprise Institute, and he said that the words of encouragement from the president of the United States really matter, even mildly expressed like this. Is that true?

SOBHANI: Absolutely. If the president of the United States wanted to directly talk to the Iranian people, he could do it through these satellite television stations in Los Angeles. And it would have a huge impact.

HUME: How many of them are there, these stations?

SOBHANI: There are at least seven.

HUME: Really, seven?

SOBHANI: Seven. But of the top, you are looking at may be three to four that really matter, that people inside the country listen to.

HUME: Now, we're seeing some pictures of National Iranian TV, the studios there. It looks pretty...

SOBHANI: Pretty rudimentary.

HUME: It looks pretty...

SOBHANI: But professional. Absolutely.

HUME: Well, yes. But I've seen a lot of worse looking sets than that.

SOBHANI: And that gentleman just there, he is one of the most you know, well liked anchors. He's the Brit Hume of Iranian Satellite TV. Yes.

HUME: And he's -- what's that Iranian Satellite TV, is that the big of the one?

SOBHANI: That's one of the biggest ones. The biggest one is probably N.I.TV, which is run by a former...

HUME: What does that stand for?

SOBHANI: National Iranian Television. But once again...

HUME: Sounds the same.

SOBHANI: It's almost the same name, but the point being, they're probably the biggest. N.I. TV is probably the biggest one.

But the impact that they have is greater, as I said. They can take President Bush's message immediately translate it, get it into Iran and that has enormous impact.

HUME: Now, what kind of budget do these Iranian TV stations in the U.S. operate under?

SOBHANI: Well, unfortunately, they have to rely on their own resources; they have to rely on advertising revenues from you know, local vendors. And that's why Senator Brownback...

HUME: You mean, and that advertising appeals to the Iranian-Americans who watch those stations?

SOBHANI: Absolutely. Absolutely. The local car dealership...

HUME: Because they're not getting any advertising, any business from the people in Iran?

SOBHANI: No. No. There's no -- absolutely not. And they're not getting any advertising from Coca-Cola or Pepsi Cola, by the way either. What they're getting is the local advertising within their own local market.

HUME: So you're talking about car dealers, restaurants?

SOBHANI: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that's why Senator Sam Brownback legislation...

HUME: Now, he's the Republican Senator from Kansas, and he's introduced legislation to do what?

SOBHANI: To provide $50 million to boost the operations of these satellite television stations, because unlike Iraq, Iranian people do listen, do watch and are encouraged by this.

HUME: Well, would that not brand these forever as organs of the U.S. government and perhaps diminish their credibility with the Iranians or not?

SOBHANI: The Iranian government has always used the United States as a whipping tool. And so whether we do it or not, we're always going to be branded as the Great Satan. So, I think that Senator Brownback's legislation is absolutely timely. I think the president can really provide a lot of moral support by supporting Brownback's legislation.

HUME: Now, the $50 million is not a lot of money. I mean it's a lot of money in your standards and mine, but...

SOBHANI: Absolutely.

HUME: ... in the overall terms of the federal budget it is nothing. What is the situation with that bill?

SOBHANI: Well, I think if there were to be some encouragement from the Bush administration it could pass, because I think there is bipartisan sentiment on Capitol Hill, both Democrats and Republicans would support it. I think they're looking for the president and administration for a green light. And once they get that I think it will pass.

HUME: Now, how successful can the Iranian government be in jamming these broadcasts? I mean knowing first of all, they're illegal to start with, so it's not easy to get them, but what about jamming?

SOBHANI: Exactly. Well, obviously like the Soviet Union tried to do it, just like other dictatorships try tried to do it, they will try to jam as well. But these people are very entrepreneurial, they're very shrewd, they're very smart, I should say. And they find ways of getting that screen into the homes in Iran. And that's why the $50 million will also help a lot because it will prevent the jamming by the government.

HUME: You mean they can buy more sophisticated equipment?

SOBHANI: Equipment. Absolutely.

HUME: Now, it was mentioned in Jim Angle's report that the United States has been down this road of encouraging insurrection before. And then at times in the past, it's not meant that it was going to be there when things really happened and the crunch came and crackdown came. Is there a danger of that here in your judgment?

SOBHANI: I don't think so because what we're seeing in Iran is homegrown. What we're seeing in Iran is basically...

HUME: Well, it was in homegrown in Hungary, too and it was certainly homegrown in Iraq after the First Gulf War, too.

SOBHANI: Absolutely. But the difference is this; the people inside Iran do look to the United States for moral support. All they're asking for is moral clarity right now. Make sure we don't let them down. However, not military...

HUME: Well, let them down may mean not be there militarily, wouldn't it?

SOBHANI: Exactly. No. We don't need to intervene militarily. All they want is for example, just like we talked earlier, support Brownback's legislation. Make sure Europeans don't throw a lifeline to the Islamic government. Make sure that the president does talk to the Iranian people. Outline a vision for how he sees U.S.-Iran relations. That would go a long, long way within Iran.

The missing element in all of this is an opposition figure. Once an opposition figure emerges, then I think we will see an acceleration.

HUME: All right. Rob Sobhani, great to have you. Thanks for coming.

SOBHANI: Thanks a lot. Thank you.

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