Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – October 9, 2006 . . . Major stories this week included coverage of looming sanctions on Iran because of the regime’s continued non-compliance with UN resolutions regarding its nuclear energy program and evidence of increased political tensions within Iran -- between the government and student activists and between the government and clerics on the role of religion in politics.
Expansion of VOA Persian to a 4th Hour
News Talk, an hour-long discussion program, featuring a panel of experts examining the day’s top news stories, debuted on October 8 from 7:00-8:00 p.m. in Iran. “VOA serves as a lifeline between our audience in Iran and the outside world,” said VOA Director David Jackson. “In a country where news is strictly censored, VOA’s balanced and objective programming provides a vital service.” News Talk will open VOA’s four-hour Persian-language television block each day with a brief recap of top headlines. The body of the show will feature in-depth expert discussion on two different issues concerning Iranians. News Talk will close with a segment on worldwide media coverage of Iran. Host Jamshid Charlangi addressed the nuclear issue in Iran during News Talk’s first broadcast on October 8. Already immensely popular, VOA has the largest combined radio and television audience of all international broadcasters to Iran. One in four adult Iranians listens to or watches VOA programs at least once a week.
Fox News reporter Rudabeh “Rudi” Bakhtiar told VOA Persian that “where people get their news in Tehran depends entirely on where they live. If they live in upscale neighborhoods, they tune in to foreign broadcasts such as VOA, CNN and Fox via satellite. In more deprived parts of the city, newspapers are the main source of news.”
News Talk’s debut show October 8 featured a panel discussion on Iran’s nuclear problem. Guests included Hormoz Hekmat, managing editor of Iran Nameh, a quarterly journal of current scholarship on Iranian studies; US-based political analyst Babak Yektafar; former Information Minister and journalist Cyrus Amouzegar, now living in Paris; and Omid Nodoushani, professor, School of Business, Southern Connecticut State University. The guests summed up the current problem thusly: Iran has the right to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes, but this regime cannot and should not be trusted. All expressed strong dissatisfaction with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nuclear and political ambitions, but said his government has succeeded in selling the issue to the Iranian people as an issue of national pride. They said the West must be in sync with Russia and China if sanctions are to be effective. All seemed to wish sanctions would get rid of President Ahmadinejad in addition to the threat of Iran as a nuclear power.
VOA Persian reported on Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns October 8. Speaking from London, Mr. Burns said a UN Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran will be drafted in the coming week. The Undersecretary said he is confident the Security Council will pass a resolution because of Tehran’s refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. Foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany discussed possible non-military sanctions against Iran in a London meeting on October 6. After the meeting, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the next step, should Iran not produce a fully positive response, is action by the Security Council under Article 41 of Chapter 7. The US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said there has been no activity on this matter at the United Nations for the past few weeks and that he is waiting to be instructed to revive sanction talks.
VOA Persian covered the October 3 briefing held by State Department spokesman Tom Casey on Secretary Condoleezza Rice’s Middle East trip and status of ongoing talks on Iran’s nuclear energy program. He said the readout from talks between EU envoy Javier Solana and Iran’s top negotiator, Ali Larijani, is that there is still no Iranian decision to comply with the UN resolution requiring the suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities. He said he believed time had all but run out on the opportunity for Iran to act, and that the United States is going to be looking for sanctions as a next step unless Iran fully suspends in a verifiable way its uranium enrichment program.
European diplomats say there is no hope of renewing the Solana-Larijani talks because Mr. Larijani has told Mr. Solana he failed to convince hardliners in Tehran to even a limited freeze on uranium enrichment.
Iranian journalist Hossein Yazdi, editor of a Berlin daily, told VOA Persian that “The Germans are suspicious of Iran’s intentions to acquire nuclear technology. They fear that if Iran acquires atomic bombs,” he said, “then the Turks and Arabs will follow suit and the entire region might go nuclear.”
At a news conference in Ramallah October 3 with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that it is time for United Nations sanctions against Iran, and she called on the international community to “act accordingly.” Secretary Rice said there has been patience since the August 31st deadline and over 2 ½ years since the Paris agreement and yet there is no breakthrough.
In a far-reaching interview with VOA Persian, James Jeffrey, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, specializing in Iran, said the United States is looking for sanctions against Iran because of the threat the country poses to the United States, its neighbors, and the world community. Mr. Jeffrey said the United States is not going to guarantee the Iranian government’s security. He said this is a regime that is viewed as an international threat, and the best guarantee for Iran is to stop helping Hezbollah and Hamas, to not attack US troops in Iraq and to end its support for international terrorism. Mr. Jeffrey said Iran would not need any guarantees if it stopped doing these things.
VOA Persian covered the visit to Iran October 3 by the Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Igor Ivanov. He said he believes continued talks will lead to a resolution of the stalemate between the Security Council and Iran. France’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany are united in their message to Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.
Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, who appeared live in VOA Persian’s studio on October 2, talked about the recent release of a secret 18-year-old letter by Ayatollah Rohollah Khomeini letter discussing a ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq War. He said that release of the letter by former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani indicates there is a power struggle in Iran and two fundamentally different internal views on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He said the Islamic regime is looking for a confrontation, adding that a positive response to international demands to abandon uranium enrichment would lead to a domestic deadlock. Before the Islamic Revolution, Pahlavi said, the world community believed in Iran’s government and trusted his father, so questions about Iran’s ambitions were moot.
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation October 2, Iranian political dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar discussed the Khomeini letter, saying it had a particularly intriguing sentence that was edited out of the letter after five hours. The sentence said, “At the end of the year 1371 – 1992 according to the Western calendar – to succeed in war, [Iran] needs 350 troops, 250 tanks, 3000 bombs, 300 fighter planes, 300 helicopters and a considerable capacity to build laser and nuclear disciplines, a necessity in time of war. Mr. Fakhravar went on to say that Ayatollah Khomeni had given permission to build an atomic bomb. The reason, he said, the letter was not published 18 years ago was because the government knew the Iranian people did not agree with their leaders’ way of thinking. “I don’t know what the people of the world are waiting for,” Mr. Fakhravar concluded. “Are they waiting for [President] Ahmadinejad to get into a plane and fly into a tower to know that this is evil? We need to stop this from happening.”
Political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh talked with VOA Persian from London on the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq War and its coinciding with the release of the Khomeini letter. He characterized release of the letter as evidence of a new struggle that has developed within the Islamic Republic of Iran, particularly between former President Akbar Rafsanjani and Mohsen Rezai, former commander of the hardline Revolutionary Guard, both of whom have their own, conflicting ideas on how and when the war should have ended.
London-based journalist and author Massoud Behnoud also discussed the Khomeini letter with VOA Persian, saying that “nose-thumbing the West and intransigence by the leaders of the Islamic Republic have enormously damaged Iran and its national interests. Iran has stagnated while its neighbors have prospered. Oil pipelines taking oil to Europe from central Asia are bypassing Iran. At this pace,” he added, “in 20 years, Iran will be another Uganda.”
Clerics versus Regime
Revolutionary guards in Iran arrested a controversial Shi’ite cleric October 8 after clashing with his supporters outside his Tehran home. Authorities previously detained Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi for advocating the separation of religion and politics in the Islamic state. A crowd of about 200 people had gathered around Ayatollah Boroujerdi’s house Sunday to call for the release of the cleric’s jailed followers. Political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh told VOA Persian that Ayatollah Boroujerdi started a campaign 2 ½ months ago calling for the separation of religion and politics. He said what happens next to Ayatollah Boroujerdi depends on his fellow clerics.
Political activist Hassan Shariatmadari, whose father is the late Grand Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari (an influential Iranian cleric who was placed under house arrest in the 1980s), told VOA Persian from Hamburg that he is “sick and tired” of the blending religion and politics in Iran. He said the current Islamic regime limits the free expression of ideas and opposition by all citizens – including clerics. Mr. Shariatmadari said clerics face serious reprisal for any expression of dissent.
More on Pahlavi Interview
Pahlavi said Iran’s regime is the source of all problems in the region and that democracy is the answer to Iran’s problems. He said the West should be concerned about the nuclear issue, but that it also should pay attention to human rights abuses in Iran. He encouraged help for opponents of the Iranian government, and applauded those who distinguish between Iran’s government and Iran’s people. He said the Iranian people will need serious outside support as by themselves they can do little because of widespread oppression. Mr. Pahlavi also called on opponents of the regime to organize and develop better leadership in order to succeed in replacing Iran’s theocracy with democracy, be it a monarchy or a republic.
Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres told VOA Persian that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “thinks he can fix problems everywhere. He should take care of his own country first.” Scholar Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told VOA Persian “when Palestinians are coming to an agreement with Israel, Iran should stay out of it and not interfere.”
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation October 2, Iranian political dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar took issue with a recent poll which said 80% of Iranians disagree with US and Israeli policy in the Middle East. “This is a lie,” Mr. Abbas said. “Iran is not a free country. To stay alive, people don’t have the opportunity to be truthful. If someone called me and I didn’t know the person on the other end of the line, I would say what I was expected to say, that I am against America. It’s only smart to assume the party at the other end of the line is an intelligence operative for the Iranian government.”
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, an Iranian lawyer known for his defense of political prisoners, told VOA Persian via phone from Tehran that university committees and Iran’s Science Ministry have expelled students in Iran based on allegations of political activism. He said students should enjoy freedom of expression without having their rights taken away. Mr. Dadkhah said the expulsion violates Iranian law. One of the expelled students, student reformist leader Mahdi Aminizadeh, also appeared on VOA Persian. He said he was denied registration this semester and was told by the Information Ministry it was because of his alleged political activities.
Fox News reporter Rudi Bakhtiar told VOA Persian that she spoke with close to 40 students in Tehran to get their views on politics, and that the most reformist students support former President Mohammad Khatami.
California environmentalist – and Green party candidate for lieutenant governor in 1998 – Sarah Amir Ebrahimi told our audience from VOA’s Los Angeles studio that the degradation of the environment in Iran has been profound in recent years. “I was in Tehran for a few days last December,” she said, “and the radio kept announcing that children and older people should not go outside because of air pollution and smog. I came to live in Los Angeles in 1974, and the air quality has improved considerably since then. But in Iran, it’s deteriorated. In Tehran,” she continued, “there are more than two million cars that are 20 years old and Iranian officials do nothing to regulate their emissions.”
One of the most popular pop singers in Iran, Dariush Eghbali, told VOA Persian that his own problems with drug addition led him to begin an anti-drug campaign in Iran by launching a Web site to raise awareness at www.ayeneh.org. Appearing live in VOA’s Washington studio, Dariush said Iranian officials need to raise awareness among young people to let them know how drugs can ruin their lives. Dariush also promotes job creation to help fight relapse for those who have gone through rehab.
Playwright and Radio Farda reporter Firouzeh Khatibi visited VOA’s Los Angeles studio to discuss political satire in Iran and a commemoration of the work of her father, prominent journalist and writer, Parviz Khatibi. “The people of Iran,” she said, “have always used satire and humor as a way to express what’s on their mind. Satire has the ability to be a mirror for the people’s issues, enabling them to grasp in plain language what is going on around them.”
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News Talk, an hour-long program featuring a panel of experts discussing the day's top news stories, had its debut on October 8. News Talk opens VOA's daily four-hour Persian-language television block every day with a brief recap of the day's top headlines. It features in-depth discussions of the issues of greatest concern to Iranians and closes with a segment on worldwide media coverage of Iran. After News Talk comes News and Views, Roundtable with You, and Late Edition, all one-hour shows that constitute a four-hour daily block of Persian-language television broadcast by satellite to Iran. News and Views, which debuted in 2003, features correspondent reports, interviews, and the top news stories from Washington and around the world. Roundtable with You, which debuted on television in 1996, takes calls from viewers and features a wide variety of guests discussing issues ranging from popular culture to politics. Late Edition, a youth-oriented program which first aired in July, looks at major world events and issues of interest to young people.
VOA's Persian television shows complement VOA Persian's daily radio broadcasts and Radio Farda, a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, youth-oriented radio program that is a joint project of VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. VOA's Persian language Internet site is at www.VOANews.com/persian.