The White House confirms that President Obama will sign into
law Thursday sweeping new measures to impose unilateral penalties on companies
that contribute to broad swaths of Iran’s energy and banking sectors.
The signing will take place in the East Room of the White House, and will include "members of Congress, leaders of organizations that worked to pass the bill," and U.S. officials including U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, according to an adminstration official.
legislation, led by Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd, D-CT, and
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, was passed by the
House and Senate last week by votes of 408-8 and 99-0, respectively.
The administration has said repeatedly that implementing the
sanctions does not signal an end to its two-track policy of mixing engagement
and pressure. The White House hopes the measures will convince Iran to come
back to the negotiating table.
Meanwhile, Iran is planning
to meet again with Brazil and Turkey to follow up on the nuclear fuel-swap
deal the three countries announced just before the U.N. Security Council voted
to impose its own new sanctions on Tehran. The Obama administration has been
clear that it considers the Brazil-Turkey deal insufficient and inadequate in
dealing with international concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.
After months of gridlock, the Senate is finally set to
confirm all eight of President Obama's
nominees for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent agency that
oversees U.S. media efforts abroad, now that Sen. Tom Coburn has agreed to lift his holds on the nominees.
"We have eight great nominees and I'm looking forward to
working with them," Coburn told The Cable
in a brief interview. He said that Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, had agreed to hold a
hearing on international broadcasting after the nominees are seated, with
Coburn -- who is not on the committee -- as his invited guest.
So ends a long
period of uncertainty at the BBG, where only four out of the eight board
members held over from the Bush administration still remain. The full Senate could
confirm all eight nominees by Wednesday night by unanimous consent, according
to Senate sources.
When they take up their posts, the new board members will be
charged with invigorating an agency that has been widely criticized as
ineffective, while navigating the charged politics of oversight on Capitol
They'll have to contend first and foremost with Coburn, who
is on a one-man mission to reform -- or blow up -- the BBG, which was founded
in the 1990s to supervise the U.S. government's media organizations in the
post-Cold War era.
recently that the BBG, which gets more than $700 million of taxpayer
funding each year, is "the most worthless organization in the federal
government." He sent each board nominee a
list of 14 detailed questions, obtained by The Cable, to answer before he would remove his holds.
The first four questions concern the Persian News Network, a
subdivision of the Voice of America that broadcasts news and commentary into
Iran. Coburn has complained about the programming at PNN for a long time,
alleging that the channel has often broadcast messages that run counter to
American values and especially U.S. foreign-policy objectives.
In March, 70 members of Congress signed
a letter to President Obama saying, "We implore you to investigate the
anti-American rhetoric reported to be coming from Voice of America - Persian."
Critics also allege that PNN is staffed by journalists who
harbor anti-American biases. One piece of evidence often cited was this YouTube video made
in 2007 by two PNN employees, one of whom was dismissed and one of whom is
still on the job. The clip, a five-minute song accompanied by a mock newscast,
portrays "demoKracy" as little more than a rhetorical cloak for American
Last month, VOA management shook up the staffing of PNN by
removing Alex Belida as director of
PNN and firing PNN executive editor Hida
Fouladvand. The staff at PNN, who believe they are simply pursuing balanced
journalism whether or not it conforms with U.S. foreign-policy messaging, saw
the move as a carrot to Coburn in exchange for him letting the board members go
A spokesman for VOA rejected that explanation. "VOA Director
Dan Austin decided it was time to
make a change and continue the progress PNN has been making," he said. "Alex Belida, who served as PNN director
with distinction from September 2008, is now working with VOA's critical South
Asia division to improve that division's programming to Afghanistan and
As for the critics' complaints about the tone of PNN's
coverage, the spokesman said that VOA is "continuing efforts to improve the
quality of PNN's programming. We have in place our own regular internal
reviews to closely monitor programming."
Multiple insiders tell The
Cable that Coburn played no role in the changes at PNN. More likely, they
say, VOA was trying to head off the concerns about PNN before the new board
The entire affair speaks to what many observers see as a
confused and unresolved definition of the BBG's mission and role in U.S. public
diplomacy. The law calls for the BBG to be both a tool of American foreign
policy as well as an independent source of journalism -- which can lead to
editorial dilemmas in a region where U.S. policies remain deeply unpopular.
The new board, led by former Time magazine editor Walter Isaacson, will have to find
a way to address this inherent tension. Observers will also be looking to see whether
Isaacson exerts control over the organization, which is currently run mostly by
BBG Executive Director Jeff Trimble,
rather than the board, according to Hill sources, employees, and officials
The State Department plays a role in the management of the
BBG. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
is the ninth board member, but she is represented there by Under Secretary of
State for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale.
The Cable had
hoped to ask McHale how she views the overall direction of the BBG and its role
in the administration's overall public-diplomacy strategy, but she declined
several requests for an interview, citing a completely full schedule for the
entire month of June.
Trimble did not respond to a request for comment by