Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – October 30, 2006 . . . Major stories this week included the continuing showdown between Iran and the UN Security Council over Tehran’s nuclear program, Iran reportedly increasing its nuclear capability in the face of looming sanctions and international naval exercises in the Persian Gulf.
A state-run newspaper, the Iran Daily, says Iran has officially confirmed that it has stepped up uranium enrichment by injecting gas into a second network of centrifuges. Asked about the reported expansion, President Bush said the United States must double its efforts to work with the international community to persuade Tehran that there is only further isolation from the world if it continues its nuclear program. “It is unacceptable to the United States and it is unacceptable to the nations we are working with at the United Nations,” Mr. Bush said.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States is confident the UN Security Council will approve a resolution imposing sanctions on Iran for refusing to stop enriching uranium and returning to negotiations over its nuclear program. Mr. McCormack said he does not believe Russian objections to a draft resolution will be a serious obstacle to efforts to secure the Council’s approval of the sanctions. Russia is currently building Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant under a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
VOA Persian also covered Secretary Rice’s speech at the Heritage Foundation, in which she urged the Security Council to impose sanctions immediately. She said the Tehran government must be held accountable for its defiance regarding the nation’s nuclear program. Secretary Rice said Iran is closely watching the world’s reaction to North Korea’s recent nuclear test, and said weapons programs in both countries will never bring them prestige or more security. The Secretary of State also met last week with the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El-Baradei. Mr. El-Baradei said the jury is still out on Iran. He said Iran is clearly in violation of international nuclear safeguards and has not thoroughly reported its nuclear activities to the IAEA as required. But Mr. El-Baradei said, “We have not seen Iran developing the industrial capacity which enables them to have the required material to develop a weapon.”
Political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh told VOA Persian that Iran needs to be aware that, like North Korea, it may face severe sanctions if the international community is unified in believing it is a danger to the world. He said if China can come down against North Korea, then Iran could face its closest allies on the other side of the fence.
Political science professor Jalil Roshandel, Director of Security Studies at East Carolina University, talked with VOA Persian about the effect UN sanctions would have on the Iranian people and a possible interest in direct bilateral talks between Iran and the United States. Mr. Roshandel said US elections – next week’s and 2008’s presidential campaign – pique interest in such talks as does the failure of sanctions to influence the North Korean government’s development of nuclear weapons. He said the Iranian government parallels North Korea in its lack of concern about the impact of sanctions on its people. Mr. Roshandel said the North Korean people have suffered and the Iranian people would suffer, but the governments don’t care. He said Iraq’s problems, with its majority Shi’ite population, also gives Iran a bigger role in the region, as does its relationship with and support of Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of which make possible talks an appealing option.
Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisen says Iran is concerned about the reports Iran is expanding its enrichment program. Ms. Eisen said Israel fears that time is running out on efforts to stop the Islamic regime from building a nuclear bomb. “It is inconceivable,” she said, “that a country that calls for the destruction of another country should also try to achieve nuclear capability.” Israel believes the international community is moving too slowly.
The Managing Director of Bioconversion Technologies in England, Namdar Baghaei-Yazdi, told Roundtable from VOA’s London studios that nuclear energy can only provide Iran with limited energy. “Does it make sense for the Iranian government to invest vast sums of money on nuclear energy when it can only get – at most – 10% of its electricity needs met this way? When, at the same time, the country sits on top of an ocean of oil and natural gas reserves? If Iran doesn’t employ its oil and gas resources to generate electricity, it will face a serious energy crisis in the next five to 10 years.”
The Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, Robert Joseph, said October 27 that the United States will participate in international naval exercises in the Persian Gulf, near Iran, to practice stopping shipments of nuclear materials. He said the exercises will begin today (October 30) and will also involve vessels from France, Italy, Australia, Britain and Bahrain.
Northeastern University economics professor Kamran Dadkhah told VOA Persian that inflation in Iran is soaring. Because of the value of oil, he said, Iran’s economic situation should have improved, but due to poor economic policies over three decades, especially in the past year, Iran is in bad economic shape. Mr. Dadkhah said Iran’s official inflation rate is 10-11%, but that in reality, it is more than double that figure, somewhere between 26-30%. He said the government also underreports unemployment at 10%, when in real terms it is two-three times higher. Costs of everyday products are exorbitant, he said, and Iran has a huge budget deficit despite staggering oil income. Mr. Dadkhah said one reason for this is that Iran has failed to invest oil earnings in manufacturing or other sectors.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s spiritual leader, gave a speech at Eid al-Fitr prayers marking the end of Ramadan. Ohio Wesleyan sociology professor Ali Akbar Mahdi said the speech didn’t cover any new ground, but that the Ayatollah’s tone was defensive and defiant.
Coverage of Iran by Foreign Journalists
Sky News producer Siamak Zand, who helped arrange for 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace to interview Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad in August, told VOA Persian that at age 88, Mr. Wallace was not up to the job. Mr. Zand said human rights abuses are seen one way overseas and another way inside Iran. He said there are shortcomings in Iran, but to the extent reported abroad. Mr. Zand said foreign reporters can roam around Iran freely, with unfettered access to anyone and anyplace. KRSI news commentator Siavash Azari strongly disagreed. The Los Angeles-based radio personality responded, “Are we exaggerating the extent of human rights abuses in Iran? What about executions? What about the brutal murder of [Iranian-Canadian photojournalist] Zahra Kazemi [in 2003]? How can we say there is a free press in Iran when many journalists are languishing in jail?” Iran-based journalist Peyman Pakmehr, who publishes www.tabriznews.com said “Crackdowns on the press are intensifying and are becoming more systemic. Intimidation is becoming more and more common. I’m familiar with the situation in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, and I can tell you that the foreign press has done an inadequate job covering ethnic tensions in these areas.
Guive Mirfendereski, a corporate and international lawyer in private practice in Newton, Massachusetts, joined Roundtable to discuss Argentina’s accusation that Iran was behind the 1994 terrorist attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Mr. Mirfendereski said despite an indictment against him in Argentina, former Iranian President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani will still be able to travel abroad. He said Mr. Rafsanjani will evade arrest so long as he travels on a diplomatic passport.
Attorney Nazanin Nasri, based in Washington, DC, appeared on Roundtable to talk about emigrating to America, the green card lottery and student visas. She said in the wake of 9/11, “the chances of getting a tourist visa to the United States are nil if you’re a young, single Iranian.” Ms. Nasri said Iranians with family or business ties back home can obtain visas as can investors who create jobs in the United States.
And VOA Persian took a detailed look at:
… the proliferation of small arms, with a flourishing black market and prolonged warfare creating the devastating byproduct of child soldiers. Small arms kill 300,000 people each year, and a UN group will meet next month in a bid to curtail the illegal flow of arms…the International Crisis Group’s new initiative to restart the Arab-Israeli peace process, with former US Ambassador to the United Nations, Thomas Pickering, saying there is now a time and opportunity coming out of the recent Lebanon-Israel conflict…the United States finding the UN Human Rights Council disappointing so far, with State Department official Mark Lagon saying the Council’s record is wildly biased and focuses too much attention on Israel at the expense of countries with serious problems…at the big impact Internet technologies are having on the US campaign season, using the Virginia Senate race as an example…at the wooing of religious voters in the United States by conservative and progressive groups.
Author Maryam Tabibzadeh talked about Persian Dreams, her recently published first novel in English. She said she hopes her book, which takes readers through 100 years of history, custom and traditions of Iran, will help second and third generations of Iranians living in exile gain a better understanding of their homeland. One of her main characters, Nosha, is strong and ambitious, the daughter who refuses to accept the second-class citizenship that her country has traditionally forced upon females. Ms. Tabibzadeh said she selected Nosha as “a symbol of this generation of Iranian women, who struggle for equality, freedom and democracy as they wage war against backwardness in Iran.” Roundtable viewers called in from Iran and around Europe to participate in the program.
Singer Mina Rezvani appeared on Roundtable to talk about women and the arts in exile. She said the Islamic revolution in Iran has placed severe restrictions on women, and that she hopes such barriers are removed in the near future so Iranian women can achieve their full potential. Ms. Rezvani says living in exile has permitted her to use her singing to convey that message, as well as allowing her to devote time and energy to raising money for earthquake victims in Bam, whose residents are still suffering three years after the temblor.
What Viewers Think
Roundtable turned the table on its viewers and listeners, calling people who had expressed interest in appearing on the show via e-mail. A viewer in Tehran complained that Iranians had no access to foreign reporters. A listener from London had some suggestions on how to improve programming. Another viewer from Tehran said insufficient attention was paid to ethnic minorities in Iran. An audience member from Germany said Iranians who don’t like the Tehran regime must take it upon themselves to do something about it.
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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.