Washington, D.C. – May 26, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included posturing by Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany in advance of today’s new report by the IAEA on Iran’s nuclear program; coverage from Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, of the World Economic Forum; the 60th anniversary of Israel; the US presidential primaries in Oregon and Kentucky; Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor; US efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks; election of a new president, finally, in Lebanon; religious intolerance in Iran; on Iran’s ongoing economic problems; on a new report on human rights violations in Iran issued by the Iranian Human Right’s Society; a series of interviews on the presidential primary in Oregon with Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Congressman David Wu (D-OR), Meredith Wood Smith, Chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Oregon, Frank Dixon, Vice Chair of the Democratic Party in Oregon, and Oregonian blogger Sara Gilbert; and interviews with Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James Jeffrey on US-Iran relations; with Mehdi Khalaji , a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute, on the inherent contradiction between official Islam in Iran and democracy; and with Minoo Akhtarzand, Director-General of Banverket, the Swedish Rail Administration.
Look ahead: Late Edition will broadcast from the newly opened Newseum on Thursday, May 29, in a live, interactive town hall on freedom of the press and media. The program will primarily feature Iranian and Iranian-American students in the United States and special guests by phone from inside Iran. Members of the audience will be invited to ask questions.
News and Views interviewed Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, live on set May 19. The Ambassador leads the Bureau’s Iran Policy Team. “We have had several rounds of talks on the subject of Iran with Iraqi officials in Baghdad,” Mr. Jeffrey said. “From time to time on various issues – counselor matters, incidents in the (Persian) Gulf – we have had exchanges with the Iranians through Swiss Embassy contacts in Tehran. We have an offer now on the table from the 5+1 [five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany]. But there are no secret channels of communication with Iran.” Ambassador Jeffrey said the US hopes to see more unofficial contacts between Americans and Iranians. “We have backed this with funding over the last three years, we have had a variety of groups from Iran come to the US – medical, educational – and we hope this continues. The only limitation is the readiness of the Iranian government to allow that.” The Ambassador said he wanted to repeat the Norooz message the President had given to the Iranian people. “We very much respect the Iranian people and we desire to live in peace with them and to have a very positive relationship. [However], universally, across the board, the governments of the region are very concerned about the behavior of the Iranian government and they feel that it is a risk to their security.” Mr. Jeffrey looked directly into the camera at the close of the interview and offered a powerful invocation to the Iranian people: the United States wants to live in peace with the Iranian people, but Iran's government it putting its people at risk.
News and Views May 20 reported Iran has agreed to a visit by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who will deliver a proposal for Tehran to stop enriching uranium. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told local news agencies that Tehran has accepted Javier Solana’s request for a visit. But he did not say when that visit would take place. The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, told a news conference in Jerusalem on Monday that “The threat that Iran poses is one that is posed not only to Israel and not only to this region, but to the world. It is a threat that has to be dealt with if we are serious about stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. That is a principle, a pillar of American foreign policy.” The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies has released a report saying Iran's disputed nuclear program has sent a wave of interest in atomic energy across the Middle East. While the flurry of interest in nuclear power is still tentative, the report said countries such as Saudi Arabia, Algeria or Egypt could soon feel the need to match Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
News and Views May 23 reported that the US Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Gregory Schulte, says Washington is looking for clear signs of improvement in the Iranian nuclear dossier in the IAEA’s upcoming report. Mr. Schulte said Washington is waiting to see if Iran is prepared to respond in full to the allegations of past weaponization studies, to implement the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol and to suspend uranium. In an interview with mwc.news (Media with Conscience @ www.mwcnews.net), former IAEA inspector Hans Blix said enrichment for a country has only two reactors is uncalled for. He said Iran’s enrichment facility that is under construction/completion should be inspected closely. Mr. Blix also proposed that Iran be given a guaranteed supply of enriched uranium. He said the Middle East – including Israel – should be free of enrichment activity, adding that with a comprehensive peace agreement in the region, Israel would not need to produce nuclear fuel either. Elements of the forthcoming IAEA report have leaked to the media: Iran has not suspended enrichment. Inspectors have seen the third generation of Iranian-made centrifuges. An IAEA spokesman in Vienna told VOA/PNN that he anticipated the report would be released on May 26.
News and Views May 20 reported that a senior member in the entourage of President Bush, who concluded a trip to Israel last week, had said in a closed meeting in Jerusalem that Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were of the opinion that military action against Iran was called for. The claim was very indirect: the Jerusalem Post was quoting Army Radio which was quoting a top official in Jerusalem who was quoting the aide to the US leader. The White House issued a statement saying the report was not worth the paper it was printed on. The White House Press Secretary said, “We, along with our international allies who want peace in the Middle East, remain opposed to Iran’s ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon. To that end, we are working to bring tough diplomatic and economic pressure on the Iranians to get them to change their behavior and to halt their uranium enrichment program. As the President has said, no president of the United States should ever take options off the table, but our preference and our actions for dealing with this matter remain through peaceful diplomatic means. Nothing has changed in that regard.”
NewsTalk anchor Jamshid Chalengi reported from the World Economic Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on President Bush’s May 18 speech before Arab leaders, in which the president said there are positive developments in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The US leader concentrated on peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the spread of democracy in the Middle East. Mr. Bush said he is trying to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians before the end of his term in January 2009. On the Islamic Republic of Iran, President Bush said the international community should not allow Iran to build nuclear weapons. He highlighted Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, his concern about terrorists’ access to nuclear arms and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interference in Lebanon. Mr. Chalengi also reported that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the Palestinians’ problem is the center of all unrest in the Middle East.
NewsTalk anchor Jamshid Chalengi reported from the World Economic Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on the May 19 address given by Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Saleh. He told the assembled leaders Iraq has achieved progress, but said the achievements are still very vulnerable. He acknowledged the Islamic Republic of Iran is a very important country in the Middle East, and that Iran can play a very important role the security of the region. Mr. Saleh said Iraq has many common interests with Iran, but added that Iran should respect Iraq’s sovereignty and should not interfere with Iraq’s internal affairs.
News and Views May 19 reported that President Bush, speaking at a World Economic Forum meeting in Egypt, says Israel must make tough sacrifices, and the Palestinians must fight terrorism, in order to reach a peace deal this year. Mr. Bush used his speech at the political and business forum to criticize Arab states for political repression of government critics and opponents. He urged Arab states to release what he called “prisoners of conscience” and open themselves up to political debate. But he also praised democratic reforms in countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Algeria, Morocco and Jordan. The gathering, which was opened by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, focused on rising food prices and peace prospects in the region. President Mubarak said in his speech that the Palestinian problem is the region’s chief issue. “The gap between the poor and the rich and the lack of democracy, as people seem to think, is not the main reason for an increase in terrorism. The main reason for the increase of terror is due to issues which were not resolved fairly for a long time and the Palestinian issue is the one of the main ones.”
News and Views May 19 reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to reporters en route back to Washington from the Middle East, where she accompanied President Bush on a five-day visit in the region. She said Mr. Bush did not really want to dwell on the last 60 years, but wanted to really talk about laying the foundation for the next 60 years. She said the Middle East could find itself in a very different situation with if regional powers support the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, particularly in providing financial and other support for the Palestinians, if they talk about the situation in Lebanon and how best to support Lebanon’s democratic government, and if they talk about Iraq. Ms. Rice said the perfect conditions for peace will never come. “I know how seriously they're negotiating. But they're not going to come out and talk in front of the cameras about what it is they’re doing. And if they did, the negotiations would be dead on that day. We’re five months after Annapolis. We are not at the end of the year. And the parties, five months before Annapolis, were not even willing to talk about the core issues.” On Iran, Secretary Rice the Islamic Republic is meddling in Iraqi affairs with Shi’ia splinter groups and in Lebanon with Hezbollah. “Iran has vulnerabilities,” she said, “because everybody in the region resents their efforts to aggressively interject themselves into Arab and Gulf affairs.” Ms. Rice also pointed out geographic vulnerabilities. She said Iran has a democratic Iraq with an American presence in the west, a democratic Afghanistan with an American and NATO presence in the east, and a strengthened strategic cooperation between America and its traditional allies in the south on the Gulf: Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.
News and Views May 25 reported that Lebanon’s parliament has elected the country’s new president, filling a post left vacant since November by a volatile political crisis. The election of the consensus candidate, army chief General Michel Suleiman, is part of an Arab-brokered deal to ease an 18-month-long political stalemate. Lebanon’s parliament had tried 19 times to elect a new head of state after pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud stepped down in November. But each vote was postponed by political bickering between Lebanon’s western-backed ruling coalition and pro-Syrian, Hezbollah-backed opposition. The disagreement over the composition of a new government spiraled into deadly street fighting earlier this month, when Hezbollah fighters took over parts of Beirut. Arab mediators helped the political rivals reach an agreement last week on the election of a new president, electoral law and unity government. The agreement gives the opposition veto power in the government and does not require Hezbollah fighters to disarm.
News and Views May 21 reported that Lebanon’s rival political factions have agreed on plans for a new president and unity government, breaking a volatile 18-month-long crisis. Representatives of the Hezbollah-led opposition and the pro-Western government signed the deal Wednesday in Doha, Qatar, after five days of negotiations. Officials say the deal will see parliament convene Sunday to elect army chief General Michel Suleiman as president. He will fill the post that has sat empty since November. The agreement calls for a new government with 30 ministers. The ruling party will be allocated 16 ministers; the opposition will have 11; and the president will assign three. The deal requires the government to use the 1960 electoral law to redefine voting districts throughout Lebanon. It also demands that all parties refrain from accusing each other of treason, and from using violence and weapons to achieve political goals. The deal gives the opposition the veto power it had long sought, but does not address the government’s demand for Hezbollah’s disarmament. The Arab League intervened in the political crisis last week, after Hezbollah fighters attacked government supporters in and around Beirut. At least 67 people were killed.
Roundtable with You May 20 focused on religious intolerance with historian Bahram Moshiri. The six leaders of Iran’s Bahai community who were arrested last week in Iran are now facing charges such as working against the national security. But the international Bahai community believes these charges are fabricated, and that the real reason for their prosecution is nothing but their religious beliefs. Mr. Moshiri, who is based in Los Angeles, talked about religious intolerance in the Islamic Republic as a serious breach of the principles of human rights. He pointed out the irony that over 2000 years ago, Cyrus the Great – the emperor of Old Persia – declared freedom of religion as one o the principles governing the Persian Empire. “And now the same country is moving backward regarding this essential human right. Mr. Moshiri said what “makes it worse in the case of the Islamic Republic is the hidden political agenda mixed in with the fanatic religious intolerance.”
Today’s Woman May 21 focused on the work of Reporters without Borders, in particular the attention it pays to women’s rights. The show displayed the organization’s URL – www.rsf-persan.org – and talked with Reza Moeein, who heads the division handling Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Mr. Moeein said, “Human rights are women’s rights. However, in the past three years, we have paid more attention to the status of women journalists.” Mr. Moeein has worked with Reporters without Borders for 13 years. He said the organization, which was founded in 1985, has the goal of preserving freedom of speech around the world. The organization does this by defending imprisoned reporters, combating censorship, providing financial assistance to journalists in difficult situations, and seeking to improve the safety of journalists. The Iran division of Reporters without Borders has been active for 10 years. When President Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University in September 2007, a representative of Reporters without Borders asked if the organization could open an office in Iran. President Ahmadinejad agreed, even though he acknowledged he wasn’t familiar with the group. Reporters without Borders has sent a formal request to Iran seeking permission to open an office, but Mr. Moeein says no answer has yet been received. He said journalists who want assistance from Reporters without Borders can take the first step online at the group’s website.
Late Edition May 21 reported on the announcement that Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, one of the nation’s most influential lawmakers, has a malignant brain tumor. Medical correspondent Vahid Behravan, a physician, explained that the senator suffered a seizure over the weekend and that his doctors stated he has a tumor in his left parietal lobe. Dr. Behravan said Senator Kennedy’s physicians said treatment, which usually entails combinations of radiation and chemotherapy, will be determined following more testing. Dr. Behravan talked about symptoms of brain tumors, how first reports said the Senator seemed to have suffered a stroke, and that the Senator’s tumor – a malignant glioma – was quite serious, with only 25%-30% of patients surviving more than two or three years after such a diagnosis.
News and Views covered the Democratic presidential primaries May 20 in Oregon and Kentucky and their aftermath daily. After handily winning Oregon, Senator Barack Obama addressed a crowd in Des Moines, Iowa, saying, “And tonight, Iowa, in the fullness of spring, with the help of those who stood up from Portland to Louisville, we have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people, and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for President of the United States of America.” Despite Senator Obama being all-but-unbeatable, Senator Hillary Clinton won a big victory in the day’s other primary, in Kentucky. Speaking at a victory party in Louisville, Senator Clinton said, “Tonight we’ve achieved an important victory. It’s not just Kentucky bluegrass that’s music to my ears; it’s the sound of your overwhelming vote of confidence even in the face of some pretty tough odds. Some have said your votes didn’t matter, that this campaign was over, that allowing everyone to vote and every vote to count would somehow be a mistake, but that didn’t stop you. You’ve never given up on me because you know I’ll never give up on you.” Senator Obama warned of a tough campaign ahead against the Republicans, turning his focus on the general election campaign by attacking the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain. The only primaries remaining are Puerto Rico, on June 1, followed two days later by South Dakota and Montana.
Meanwhile, presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain accused Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama of “inexperience and reckless judgment” for saying he would meet with the president of Iran without pre-set conditions. “These are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess,” Senator McCain said. At the heart of the dispute is Senator Obama’s assertion that, as president, he would meet with leaders of nations such as Iran, Cuba and Venezuela without preconditions. Senator Obama insists that direct engagement with the Soviets helped prevent nuclear war and, over time, helped to bring down the Berlin Wall. Senator McCain strongly disagrees with Senator Obama’s position; he argues such a meeting would lend international prestige to US foes. Senator Obama likened his willingness to meet with Iran’s president to that of former US presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan who met with the Soviet leadership for talks during the Cold War. Senator Obama said the Iranian threat has grown as a result of US policies in the Middle East. “The reason Iran is so much more powerful now than it was a few years ago is because of the Bush-McCain policy of fighting an endless war in Iraq and refusing to pursue direct diplomacy with Iran… they're the ones who have not dealt with Iran wisely… thanks to George Bush’s politics, Iran is now the greatest threat to the United States and Israel and the Middle East for a generation. And John McCain wants to double down on that failed policy.”
As part of its series on the US presidential election, Roundtable with You May 21 featured VOA/PNN political correspondent Siamak Dehghanpour, who reported live from Portland, Oregon. Mr. Dehghanpour talked about latest developments in the campaign, and talked about the series of exclusive interviews he conducted with Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Congressman David Wu (D-OR), Meredith Wood Smith, Chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Oregon, Frank Dixon, Vice Chair of the Democratic Party in Oregon, and Oregonian blogger Sara Gilbert.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a strong Obama supporter, predicted – correctly – that the Illinois senator would win Oregon despite its small number of African-Americans. “Oregon actually has a smaller minority population than Kentucky and you are going to see that he is going to win here across the board. He was in Iowa where he won and Iowa is a state that speaks to the middle-class heartland....I think that the positions articulated by Senator Obama in terms of being confident of talking to people we don’t like as part of negotiating, part of diplomacy, not talking out of fear, is part of America’s finest tradition. President Kennedy did it. President Nixon did it. President Regan did it. And President Obama will not be afraid to do it as well.”
Congressman David Wu (D-OR), who also was an early Obama supporter, said Senator Obama is a transformative candidate. “He is probably the only presidential candidate other than Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt who has spent a significant part of his youth outside of the United States. That helped Theodore Roosevelt to lead America’s role at the beginning of the 20th century, and in the 1940’s with Franklin Roosevelt, who brought the US out of isolation. Obama is really turning a page, both in terms of how he proposes to deal with the rest of the world and in terms of how the rest of the world sees America if he is elected president of the United States.”
Meredith Wood Smith, Chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Oregon, is one of the much-talked-about undecided superdelegates whose vote Senators Obama and Clinton are campaigning for so vigorously. “You take vote-by-mail and then you combine that with the uptake in voter registration,” she said, “and we have over 150,000 new registered democrats in the state of Oregon. And that’s a big increase.....We actually get to choose the next president of the US, and out of the primary comes 52 delegates. In other words, the vote will determine how those 52 delegates are proportioned out to Senator Clinton and Senator Obama.” Ms. Smith said Democrats will unite with the party has a nominee, whether the Democratic nominee is Senator Clinton or Senator Obama.
Frank Dixon, Vice Chair of the Democratic Party in Oregon, who also is an undecided superdelegate, said “Certainly, there is a time-period between tomorrow’s result and June 3 when we will still have people voting for the President and we will still have superdelegates making up their minds. If there is one thing I’ve learned in politics, it’s that it is very volatile and anything can happen. So you don’t presume a result just based on what you know today… If one candidate has more pledged delegates and one has more popular votes, whatever the mix is, both of those are points to consider. I think people are looking to see who will make the best president, the best Democratic nominee. There is just more than pledged delegates to consider but those are two major pieces… I would give great weight to what the voters of Oregon would have to say. I think it is important because we are elected as party officers of the voters of Oregon, so in some ways we want to reflect what their wishes are.”
Oregonian blogger Sara Gilbert is a Clinton supporter. “I really do believe that Clinton and Obama have a lot of similar characteristics that I would value and support in a president. So you have your general Democratic leanings, you know your liberal hope for change and your basic charisma and your ability to be elected. These things you have to have in order to beat the Republican contender. Clinton ironically has a better opportunity to beat McCain than Obama despite the fact that the Democratic Party as a whole has started to shift toward Obama. I'll support her even though it doesn’t look like she’ll get the nomination. I’m still going to work as hard as I can to fight those last few days. And I think there are some issues where I generally agree more with Hillary than Obama – mostly on health care, which is a huge concern for me and most of the moms I talk to.”
News and Views covered a day-long conference on Iran sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute May 19. As US policymakers and presidential candidates debate policy toward the Islamic Republic, AEI said it is worthwhile to assess and debate the extent to which human rights and democracy have deteriorated in Iran. One panelist was Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is the author or editor of 24 books and monographs, including Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos and Getting Ready for a Nuclear Ready Iran. Mr. Clawson said he is concerned by two characteristics of President Ahmadinejad: “his ignorance of the world (he sees the outside world as unrestrained by realities) and his arrogance (he claims Iran is the most powerful country in the world). Mr. Clawson said Mr. Ahmadinejad actually believes the clock is already ticking on the destruction of the West. AEI resident scholar Michel Rubin was another panelist. He said with oil at $130 per barrel, Iran is in a much better position to use its soft and hard power. Mr. Rubin added Iran is pursuing a strategic policy in which it sees itself not as a regional power, but as the leader of the Persian Gulf, greater Middle East and South Asia. Kenneth Katzman was another panelist. He is a specialist in Middle East affairs for the Congressional Research Service where he provides analysis on Persian Gulf political, military and diplomatic affairs. Mr. Katzman said Iran is sounding too much like the great white shark in the international waters of the Persian Gulf to the point that “this shark may bite!”
Late Edition’s “Youth Factor” May 25 reported on Iran’s recent crackdown on student activist Amir Yaghob Ali, a student at Allameh Tabataba’i University, to one year in prison for “acting against national security.” He was arrested in July 2007 for collecting signatures for the One Million Signatures Campaign in Tehran, but was released after a month. Authorities have also sentenced Ali Nikonesbati, head of public relations for the largest student group in Iran, Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat (the Office for the Consolidation of Unity) to five months in jail and ten lashes. Late Edition reported that the status of student activist Habib-Allah Latifi, who was arrested in Sanandaj eight months ago, is unclear as he has been imprisoned without charge, and that authorities have detained several student activists in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, hundreds of students at Kerman University have demonstrated to protest the food poisoning of 700 students. This was the second such incident students at Kerman have faced. At Lorestan University, over 1,000 students staged a demonstration to demand the dismissal of the University president and the head of a student dormitory following the death of a female student named Parvaneh Khalili. They also demanded to know more about the circumstances of her death. One positive development was the release of Heshmat Tabarzadi, secretary-general of the Iran Democratic Front. Mr. Tabarzadi, a well-known journalist, spent the past 10 years in prison. He had a major role in student demonstrations before being imprisoned.
News and Views May 25 interviewed Mehdi Khalaji , a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute, where his work focuses on the role of politics in contemporary Shiite clericalism in Iran and Iraq. The interview centered on what Mr. Khalaji has described as the inherent contradiction between official Islam in Iran and democracy. He said he believes recent disagreements between President Ahmadinejad and some of Iran’s ruling mullahs have been brewing since Mr. Ahmadinejad came to power. “Although he was a fundamentalist,” Mr. Khalaji said, “his religious claims were somehow threatening to mullahs and their authority because they considered themselves as the only interpreters of religious material.” Mr. Khalaji said in the Islamic Republic, the Supreme Leader, who is jurisprudence himself, controls religious seminaries. “In other words, there is no effective independent religious voice in Iran. It is important to note that the religious system has lost its legitimacy, especially for the younger generation. I believe the most important issue for Islamic countries is democracy not secularism and what is happening in Iran is a direct result of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution.”
News and Views May 24 looked at the use of temporary employment contracts in Iran with Tehran-based economist Fariborz Raisdana. Iranian workers believe that the temporary employment contracts have endangered their livelihoods. According to these workers, they have no job security, and because of this insecurity, they basically comply with any and all requests made by their employers, resulting in widespread exploitation. Mr. Raisdana said in countries that have economic growth, such temporary employment contracts would create employment. But he said in Iran, because of its economic crisis and because of rising unemployment, such contracts trigger lay-offs and firings of workers.
Roundtable with You May 19 focused on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s existence with Menasheh Amir, former chief of Radio Israel’s Persian Service. Mr. Amir, now a political analyst, explained the historical roots of Israel, the source of the Arab-Israeli conflicts, and how the picture has become more complex over time. He said the relatively sudden appearance of Iran as a player in the already complicated equation has all but sabotaged regional peace efforts and in fact, that Iran has become part of the conflict itself. Mr. Amir reminded the audience of the historical and cultural close ties between Iranians and the Jewish people, and used his own example – as an Iranian born and raised in Israel – to illustrate the emotional attachments of many Iranians for the Jewish nation. He said the truth is that there is no conflict between Israel and Iran. Mr. Amir said the problem is President Ahmadinejad and people of his ilk who don’t care about the Iranian people in their zeal to pursue “the grand illusion of ruling the world under one flag of their brand of Islam.”
News and Views May 22 reported that Israel’s foreign minister says Syria must cut ties with Iran and Arab militant groups if it wants peace with Israel. Foreign minister Tzipi Livni made the comments Thursday to reporters before a meeting with visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Israel and Syria announced Wednesday they have resumed peace talks through Turkish mediators after an eight-year freeze. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Israel has expressed a willingness to return the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau taken from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day war. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his government is prepared to make substantial concessions for peace with Syria, but he did not specify the nature of those concessions.
News and Views May 20 reported that Palestinian medical workers say two Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip have killed a 13-year-old boy and a Palestinian man. The medical workers say at least one other Palestinian was wounded in Tuesday’s attack near the territory’s border with Israel. The Israeli army says the first air strike was aimed at a group of people who had just launched a rocket toward Israel. The army says aircraft carried out the second strike on militants planting explosives near the fence Israel has erected along its Gaza border. Militants loyal to Hamas have been firing rockets into Israel since the radical group took power in Gaza last June. To try to stop the attacks, Israel has imposed a strict blockade on the region, depriving residents in the impoverished territory of fuel and supplies. Egypt has been trying to broker a truce between Israel and the Hamas leadership to end the attacks and the blockade. Israeli and Hamas officials met separately with Egyptian leaders in Egypt Monday. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said a truce could not be reached until Hamas releases a captured Israeli soldier Hamas has said the cease-fire and the soldier's release should remain separate issues.
Late Edition May 23 highlighted the Tiburon International Film Festival and interviewed the festival’s Founder and Executive Director, Saeed Shafa. Born in Iran, Mr. Shafa moved to the United States more than three decades ago to study film. He has been actively writing film criticism and articles on world cinema ever since. The Festival, located in the San Francisco area, is called the “Hollywood of the North” and has become known as a prestigious venue for independent filmmakers in its short history. Mr. Shafa believes film festivals were created as a platform for filmmakers to present their work which may not otherwise be recognized. “I’m here to promote global cinema and to support independent filmmakers,” he said. The 2008 Festival screened 225 films from 92 countries such as Brazil, France, Hungary, Japan, China and Iran. He said, “The Tiburon Festival seeks to provide a greater understanding of the world and its many cultures through the artistic medium of film, and through top quality films from around the world.”
Roundtable with You May 22 focused on Iranian theatre in exile with Sousan Farrokhnia, Director of the Saam Theatre Group in London. Ms. Farrokhnia was a stage artist in Iran before moving to France for her studies. She settled down in London when the Islamic Revolution took place in Iran. She said the goal of the Saam Theatre Group is “a dream to have a base, an inspiring environment for (Iranian) artists and drama lovers.” She talked about the hardships female artists face inside Iran, and the huge task of Iranian artists outside of Iran to keep the vital cultural heritage of Iranians alive. Ms. Farrokhnia said she deeply respects artists inside Iran and the daily challenges of overwhelming censorship they face.
Today’s Woman May 20 focused on human rights violations in Iran during the past year, based on a report released by the Iranian Human Right’s Society, which includes Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and other lawyers. The report says 108 students have been arrested in Iran over the past year; five have been expelled, university disciplinary commissions reprimanded 305 students; and 13 student organizations have been banned. Via phone, Iranian Human Right’s Society spokesperson Abdolfatah Soltani, said information for the report was collected from numerous resources including official documents and news sources. Mr. Soltani said the Society documents human rights violations at the beginning of each year, “And by the end of the year we release the report, which is distributed internationally and is available on the Internet.” The show noted a number of abuses that have taken place in Iran over the past few weeks. Two people of the Sufi faith have been arrested. Kurdish prisoner Mohammad Sedigh Kabovand had a heart attack in Tehran’s Evin Prison. The Iranian government has blocked 12 websites dealing with women’s rights, including Meydaan-e Zanan (Women’s Field), Kanoon Zanan Irani (Iranian Women’s Center) and the One Million Signature Campaign. Student activist and long-time political prisoner Amhad Batebi was acknowledged to be living abroad. And with regard to the recent imprisonment of six members of the Bahai faith, Iran’s government spokesman Gholan Hossein Elham said, “This (arrest) does not have to do with ideological issues or if you want to call it beliefs, which with we don’t approve.”
Roundtable with You May 23 looked at Iran and the Olympics with Paris-based veteran sports commentator Iraj Adibzadeh. He said Iran is not particularly well-prepared for the Games in Beijing, which are scheduled to take place from August 8-24. Mr. Adibzadeh noted the minimal presence of women on Iran’s team – so far, only two athletes – and said they will competing at a disadvantage since they must be covered from head to tie in deference to Islamic traditions. Mr. Adibzadeh quoted the Iranian rowing coach as saying the disadvantage puts the Iranian female athlete a full 11 seconds behind her opponent in a rowing match. He said it is part of the Islamic Republic’s policies to discourage Iranian women from participating in sporting events.
Today’s Woman May 18 profiled Minoo Akhtarzand, Director-General of Banverket, the Swedish Rail Administration which has overall responsibility for the rail transport system in Sweden. Ms. Akhtarzand, who moved to Sweden in 1974 to pursue college studies in engineering, ended up staying in Scandinavia after the Islamic Revolution. She said her father and later her husband played big roles in her success. She said, “In higher posts, it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or minority because there is always high competition. However, it is harder for women because it is easier for men to work with men.” Ms. Akhtarzand said “Success comes from teamwork. The person in the highest position must make sure there is no competition within the team, only competition with other teams.” She said people must believe in themselves. “They must know what they want, and go after what they want. If you want it badly enough, you will have it,” she said. “That goes for everyone – men and women.”
Late Edition May 25 broadcast an interview with legendary rock singer Patti Smith about a new documentary about her life and work made over 12 years called Patti Smith: The Dream of Life. Made by Steven Sebring, the film shows the 61-year-old artist as a pioneer of punk music. She said the film is about how she became a rock musician. “And how I used Patti Smith hates labels, but if you had to choose a phrase to describe the singer, poet, political activist and painter, it might be Renaissance woman. An intimate documentary about her life and work made over 12 years shows the 61-year-old artist veer from reflective commentator who ruminates on politics, family and death, to intense performer who sheds tears and spits with rage on stage. Made by Steven Sebring, the mostly black-and-white “Patti Smith: Dream of Life” gets unusually close to its subject. Experimental camera work and editing makes for a fittingly unconventional portrait of one of the pioneers of punk music. “It’s not a rock ‘n’ roll film, it’s not a concert film, it’s a humanistic film,” Smith told reporters on Saturday after the movie was screened at the Berlin Film Festival. my voice as an artist and citizen to express myself.” The Dream of Life has been screened at film festival around the world, from Berlin to Sundance. It was one of the highlighted films at Washington’s International Film Festival last month. During its interview with Ms. Smith, VOA/PNN played a song by Mohsen Namjoo, who The New York Times has described as the Bob Dylan of Iran, and asked her to commend on his music. She said, “He is an emotional singer, and he definitely plays rock and roll. I don’t understand why his music is underground in Iran. This singer has a lot of character that he portrays in his music. His energy is borderless.” Ms. Smith said she was excited that she was going to be able “to go to Iran with this interview. I want to say hello to the people of Iran. I promise you, when it is possible I will come to Iran and play for you. And I will play for free. Power to the people!”
VOA/PNN covered a new exhibition of the Iranian artist Ardeshir Mohasses that opened at the Asia Society Museum in New York City. Mr. Mohasses, a noted caricaturist, has lived in the United States since 1976. The 80-100 works on exhibit have never been seen in public before. Half are from a collection assembled by the Library of Congress and half are from private collections. This exhibit was curated by two renowned Iranian artists, Nikzad Nojumi, a close friend of Mr. Mohasses, and Shirin Neshat. Homa Gallery in Tehran last month showed the works of both Mr. Mohasses and Mr. Nojumi and it was shut down by the government. The hardline newspaper Keyhan called the work of the two men “anti-Islam.” Mr. Nojumi told VOA/PNN that the theme of the Mohasses show in New York is to illustrate the relationship between power and people in Iran. Former US Attorney-General Ramsey Clark, who helped Mr. Mohasses get his [permanent residency] green card, collects some of the caricaturist’s works and told VOA/PNN that he likes the humanity in Mr. Mohasses’ work and the fact that “it’s very Persian.” Peter Chelkowski, Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University, and a friend of Ardeshir Mohasses for some 30 years, calls the work avant-garde and yet deeply rooted in Persian traditions and history. The widow of stage director Elia Kazan, Frances Kazan, was at the exhibit where she saw Mr. Mohasses’ work for the first time. She told VOA/PNN she had no idea there were artists such as Mr. Mohasses in contemporary Iran. Melissa Chiu, Director of the Asia Society Museum, was recently in Iran to learn about Iranian modern art. She said she also hadn’t known of Mr. Mohasses’ work until Shirin Neshat showed her some samples of his work and proposed a show. Ms. Chiu said she was so impressed, she immediately accepted Ms. Neshat’s offer.
Late Edition May 24 interviewed Iranian singer / songwriter Hesam Faryad about the release of his fifth album, Ghazal. Born in 1980 in Tehran, Hesam grew up in Belgium and currently lives in Toronto, Canada. Hesam said he has been interested in music since he was six-years-old, which was when he started learning classical and traditional Persian music. He developed an interest in pop music, and now mixes traditional and pop music together. Hesam has worked with some of Iran’s greatest musicians and with string philharmonic orchestras in Brussels, Paris and Sofia. Hesam said he wants to return to Iran one day, when he will “perform as a free artist in a democratic country….I want to sing for my beloved country and be a responsible artist for my people.
Today’s Woman May 19 looked at art and Persian carpets, women in Persian art and journalist Cokie Roberts. Segment one highlighted lectures given at the Bowers Museum in Los Angeles sponsored by the Persian Art Society. Society member Mariam Molvei said the event included lectures on the historical and artistic significance of Persian carpets. Persian visual art is not realistic, but is idealistic and symbolic. Because there are pre-existing rules that govern Persian visual art, craftsmanship and professionalism is valued more than creativity. Some argue that traditional restrictions should be broken because we are now living in contemporary times. Segment two looked at the presence and history of women in Persian art, acknowledging that women have been more prevalent in folklore art rather than formal art positions. The presence of women in art is important because it is a means for expressing women issues and projecting a feminine perspective. Fatemeh Habibi Zad is Iran’s first female storyteller. She says that there has never been a female storyteller who has performed before large audiences of people, but that this is changing as storytelling contests are being held to encourage other women to take up the art form and preserve this traditional skill for the enjoyment of future generations. The last segment profiled political journalist Cokie Roberts, and her newest book, Ladies of Liberty. The book highlights the work of influential women, mostly wives of politicians who helped shape US history.
Today’s Woman May 23 focused on feminism and why women’s issues are important. Panelists talked about a number of questions, from the definition of feminist and accomplishments of the women’s movement to who were and are the major women activists. A contributor on the Iranian online publication www.feministschool.com states that gender inequality is just as bad for males as it is for females. The mission of Today’s Woman is to promote gender equality, not female domination. In most democratic nations, gender equality is more prevalent. In a recent speech given in Maryland, Iranian women’s right activist Shirin Ebadi said, “Just because a woman doesn’t want her husband to get a second wife doesn’t mean the national security of Iran will be in jeopardy.”
Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about President Bush’s remarks at the World Economic Forum meeting in Egypt; meetings in Qatar – apparently successful, at least in the short-term – to resolve Lebanon’s political stalemate; incentives offered to Iran by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany – known as P5+1; the IAEA visit to Iran; Iran’s economic problems; the refusal of Iran’s Central Bank to cut interest rates as dictated by President Ahmadinejad; labor protests at the Haft Tapeh sugar cane factory; new allegations against recently arrested Bahai leaders in Iran; ongoing arrests of and oppression against Dervishes; a statement issued by the Office of Strengthening Unity on student reforms; indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel, and the de-orbiting of Syria from Iran; comments on Iran from Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which he said “Iran is jeopardizing peace in Iraq”; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi characterizing Iran as a “threat to the region”; Iran’s increasing isolation from the rest of the world; short-term and long-term effects of sanctions on Iran’s economy; President Ahmadinejad’s economic policy; and the decree issued by Grand Ayatollah Montazeri declaring Bahais as rightful citizens of Iran.
This week’s History Channel segments included a profile of Neil Simon, the most commercially successful playwright in Broadway history. Simon went from writing for Sid Caesar’s classic television program, Your Show of Shows, to write hit after hit, including Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers and Promises, Promises. He wrote five films for his second wife, actress Marsha Mason – including The Goodbye Girl and Chapter Two – and he started being recognized as a serious playwright with his trilogy of semi-autobiographical plays: Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound. His 1991 play Lost in Yonkers earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The next segments were a two-part profile of legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, whose songs became anthems of the protest movement of the sixties. His defiant individualism and enigmatic charisma made him a hero to young people, and by age 25, his place as a cultural icon of the 20th century was already secure. Two of his more famous songs are hummed along to by most English-speaking people: Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They are a-Changin’. Segment four profiled Georgia O’Keefe, who is considered one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. Her work was devoted to creating imagery that expressed what she called “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.” Ms. O’Keefe’s images include abstractions, large-scale depictions of flowers, leaves, rocks, shells, and bones, as well as unusual shapes and colors found in the architecture and landscapes of northern New Mexico. Segment five was the story of the “Queen of the Nile” – otherwise known as Cleopatra – whose lust for power and romance changed the ancient world. The segment traces her rise to power in Egypt, her scandalous affair with Roman conqueror Julius Caesar and her marriage to Marc Anthony, which ended in military disaster and suicide for both.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – said e-mails received by VOA/PNN can generally be categorized as compliments, comments on the anchors, technical problems and complaints, requests for changes in the schedule and misunderstandings. There is one additional category that Mr. Mahmoudi said deserves being addressed, and that is when people call news programs propaganda. He said the purpose of any communication is to establish a relationship and understanding between the source (sender) and the receiver (audience). “We admit that there is never a one-to-one relationship here. What causes the receiver to misunderstand and/or not understand the message of the source is due to many factors which we will call noise. Noise may be technical – due to poor transmission or poor reception. But the most important factor in any communication is psychological noise. By this I mean the predisposition, beliefs, language and a whole host of elements that may cause the receiver (audience) to perceive the content of the message (program) in a completely different way than that intended by the sender. If all messages were received free from these kinds of noise, we would have a better world and fewer misunderstandings between nations.
We at VOA/PNN do our best to avoid these misunderstandings, but we are not always successful. The audience (receiver), because of the psychological noises mentioned above, may miss the purpose of the message, or may agree or disagree with the understood message. The broadcast message, regardless of the source, may be agreeable to the audience, may be partially agreeable, or it may be totally disagreeable. What one agrees with is not seen as controversial. But if one watches and/or listens to a news report with his/her political and psychological predispositions in place, one can surely miss the point.
One aspect of our mission is to create understanding between the source and the receiver. In order to be an impartial judge we have to develop the habit of listening without prejudice and preconceptions. This will to a great extent reduce misunderstandings. A good listener will increase his level of tolerance. An increase in the threshold of tolerance may guarantee a much better understanding of other people, other cultures and those who do not share our political views and social values.
We do not advocate that our audience accepts and shares all of our values. But we like our audience to give us a chance – to hear us and to not read anything beyond what we present. In such an atmosphere, concepts and definitions such as freedom of speech. human rights principles and the free flow of information, etc. will be understood free of prejudice. A definition may not be acceptable to another person, but understanding the meaning of a given definition though not acceptable will open the door for intellectual discourse. This is the key to better communication between nations. This conversation will be continued.
The fourth week of Late Edition’s Book Club highlighted two books: Benazir Bhutto: Daughter of Destiny and Audition. Daughter of Destiny is Benazir Bhutto’s memoir, in which she talks about her late father, her marriage, her own political visions, and the lack of democracy and human rights under the regime of General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. The second book, Audition, is by veteran journalist Barbara Walters. She talks about her career and her personal life, including the revelation that she had an affair with an African-American senator. She explains why she picked Audition as the title of her book: “I’ve been auditioning my whole life. As a child, because we kept moving, I was auditioning to make friends. In my career, I felt that up until two minutes ago, I was auditioning. And I’m auditioning with this book. I think I’ve finally finished.”
PNN’s question of the week was, “ Do you think that active high level diplomacy in the Middle East by US officials will advance the cause of freedom and democracy in the region?” Out of 8291 respondents, 44% said yes, 52% said no, while 4% said they did not have an opinion.
The Persian News Network’s television programming complements its radio broadcasts. VOA has the largest combined radio and television audience of all international broadcasters in Iran, with one in four Iranian households tuning into a VOA show at least once a week. Programs also are streamed on www.voapnn.com.
PNN’s 7-hour program block opens with Today in Washington, a brief look at the latest news developments in Washington, as well as the content of PNN’s upcoming programs. Then we present cultural programming translated into Farsi from A&E Television Network’s The History Channel. We intersperse 30-minutes of news breaks throughout our original programming, which includes the following shows: Today’s Woman, PNN’s newest program, had its debut September 27, 2007. The one-hour program features influential women from around the world discussing a full spectrum of topics, including social, medical, human rights, legal, sports and business. News and Views, PNN’s existing flagship, is now 2 hours in length, and features live news coverage of the latest headlines from Washington, Iran and across the globe. Roundtable with You is a talk show with expert guests, featuring discussion of current events, politics, popular culture and global health. Viewers and listeners from Iran and around the world participate in the show via phone calls and e-mails.
Late Edition begins with a wrap up of the day’s news and a close look at the day’s top story. Targeted to a younger demographic, the show also features segments on health, technology, sports, entertainment and culture. NewsTalk is a new journalists’ roundtable discussion program that features a news update followed by an examination of the day’s top stories and an in-depth look at issues relating to Iran.
PNN INSIDER – VIEWER PERSPECTIVES
From a viewer in Mashad: “A hungry person cannot have religious faith. A young person, with so many desires, but unemployed, cannot resist drugs and corruption. I am sure that those selfish officials who have control of the country cannot survive for a long time.”
From a viewer in Yazd, addressing President Ahmadinejad: “We now see the results of your promise to bring oil revenue to our dining room table. We now don’t even have drinking water in Yazd City. We cannot find rice and other staples in the market. And when we do, the price is sky high. Should we come to your neighborhood to drink water and get rice?”
From a viewer in Tehran: “[Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei has once more divided Iranian society into “us” and “others,” discriminating amongst the people of Iran. With such a leader, the Iranian nation will never have justice….Amnesty International’s latest report about the torture of prisoners in Turkmen Sahra [in northeastern Iran] proves that the Islamic Republic of Iran violates all human rights standards and rules. How can a regime which doesn’t care about the basic rights of its people obtain nuclear power?”
From a viewer in Tehran: “I am so happy to hear that Amhad Batebi, a longtime prisoner of the Islamic regime of Iran, has managed to escape Iran, and is now free. Hopefully, he will land in a western country safely. Also, I have to express regret and disappointment over the filtering of several websites covering the Iranian women’s movement. Thank you to the News and Views staff for paying attention to the viewpoints of your audience. We are happy to see our views appear in the ‘Your Voice’ segment.” [Editor’s Note: Mr. Batebi’s photo appeared on the cover of The Economist as an icon of the 1999 student reform movement. He received a 10 year prison sentence for “creating unrest.”]
From a viewer in the western city of Kermanshah: “I am writing to let you know that here in Kermanshah, people view VOA news and other programs very enthusiastically. Thank you.”
From a viewer in Iran: “I have a question for President Ahmadinejad. He has said Israel is ‘dead.’ So . . . has Iran, in 30 years as the Islamic Republic, made even half of the advancements made by Israel?”
From a viewer in Iran: “A government which does not believe even in its own legitimacy should not be expected to do any renovations or reconstruction. Islamic government officials have looted the country’s reserves over the last 30 years, and now have started to ruin the country’s cultural and historical monuments. They even sell our water – which is scarce in Iran – to Arabs for a low price.”
From a viewer in Iran: “I have made suggestions about the timing of your programs several times. Because of the time difference between Iran and the US, I suggest you move the second hour of News and Views to the end of your daily program schedule. That way, Late Edition would run one hour earlier, and we also would have time to see NewsTalk. [This would help] because we need to go to work early in the morning; and we are not able to see the repeated programs during the day. Thanks.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Thanks for your good shows. I am a young Iranian Kurd.” From a viewer in Hamadan (about 400 kilometers southwest of Tehran): “Greetings. [Have you noticed that ] the Iranian media always compares Iran with the West in terms of social security, racial discrimination, divorce rates, et cetera? The media never compares Iran with the West in terms of social welfare, the rights of women, democracy, addiction, inflation and the like.”
From a viewer in Iran: “I would appreciate your experts talking about marriages between young Iranian women and older men, what the reasons and motivations are behind such marriages, and most importantly, how to get out from one of these relationships if you are leading such an unhappy life.”
From a viewer in Mashad: “Hello and thank you for Today’s Woman.” From an Iranian viewer in Norway: “Thank you for Today’s Woman. I’m one of your regular VOA viewers, particularly this program. Please look at this article regarding circumcision of women in Kurdistan: http://www.autnews.info/archives/1387,02,0009369. It would make for a good show. You are the voice of today’s women in Iran.
From a viewer in Iran: “With all the obstacles and barriers in our society, Iranian women are still working and are motivated to establish their rights. We men have to support them and do our best let them achieve equality. Please produce a program about women police officers in the United States, because women police officers in Iran solely give women a hard time.”
From a 16-year-old viewer in Iran whose “English is, of course, nearly perfect from repeated viewings of the DVDs of Gossip Girl, The OC and High School Musical”: “My five sisters and I are devoted fans of our BFFs [Editor’s note: best friends forever in teenspeak] Hamideh, Leili, Elham, Mahmonir and Shideh….the daily discussion of women’s empowerment around the globe often leads to fascinating dinner table conversation with our beloved father – a generous, but sometimes old-fashioned man who is pushed to exasperation by the challenging ideas we gleam from your broadcast. (He also hates our blue jeans!) Please do not change one thing on your show.”
From a viewer in Iran: “I think Today’s Woman would be a better show if you made it a roundtable and we could call in and participate in your discussion.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Thank you for your appealing and educational program. I’m educated in women’s studies, and one of the biggest issues confronting gender equality is the small number of women demanding their rights.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Women in Iran aren’t aware of their rights because they’re used to traditional ways. Men are intimidated by women’s equality because they are not entirely sure of what it entails.” Several viewers wrote about the censorship of books imposed by Iran’s Department of religion and the Ministry of Guidance.
From a viewer in Iran: “There are very few writers who have been able to obtain licenses to publish their books.”
From another viewer in Iran: At this year’s Tehran International Book Fair, some 300 titles which had been licensed and legally published were recalled – by the same government authorities who claim to support freedom of speech.” And from yet another viewer from Iran: “Our country, a land of glorious civilization, is now controlled by some people who are against our ancient culture; and to damage such a culture they recall even those books they themselves have allowed to be published.”