Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC--November 6, 2006... Major stories covered this week by VOA's Persian Service include the death sentence of Iraq's former President Saddam Hussein, negotiations over Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs, U.S. naval exercises in the Persian Gulf, an interview with a senior State Department official on U.S.-Iranian relations, human rights in Iran and the anniversary of the Iranian hostage crisis.
Saddam Hussein Verdict and Events Inside Iraq
An Iraqi court has sentenced former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to death by hanging for crimes against humanity.
VOA carried the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq’s, Zalmay Khalilzad, comments on the verdict that said Saddam Hussein's conviction by an Iraqi court for crimes against humanity is an "important milestone" for the country. Khalilzad says in a statement released Sunday (11/5) that "closing the book" on Saddam gives Iraq an opportunity to unite and build a better future. He acknowledged that Iraq might face difficult times in the coming weeks, in a reference to fears the verdict will spark a sectarian backlash.
VOA reported on reaction from both Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Al-Maiki declared on Sunday (11/5) that the verdict was history's judgment on "a whole dark era". President Talabani said on Sunday (11/5) that former leader Saddam Hussein's trial was fair, but would not comment on the guilty verdict or death sentence for fear it could inflame tensions in his volatile nation.
Dr. Nasser Tahmassebi, a journalist and physician, told VOA that "the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran should consider the trial and verdict a lesson for history and evidence that almost all dictators are punished in the end and cannot continue with their ways for a very long time” VOA news analyst Alireza Nourizadeh added "the trial and verdict seem fair enough, despite the fact that the international community should wait for the result of the consideration of an appeal, which would probably be presented by Saddam’s lawyers."
Concerning the surge in violence during the month of October, VOA reported on Vice President Dick Cheney’s comments suggesting insurgents in Iraq have stepped up sectarian violence as a way of influencing how Americans vote in mid-term elections on November seventh. Cheney said the terrorists, who he called sophisticated in their use of the Internet and manipulation of public opinion, are trying to win the war on terror by demoralizing the U.S. public.
Roundtable hosted Mr. Mehrdad Khonsari a former diplomat during the Shah’s regime. He argued that any sanction against Islamic Republic of Iran would have serious consequences on Iranian economy and put Iran, further into international isolation. Mr. Khonsari believes discussion of the nuclear issue every day by Ahmadinejad has failed to solve any of current economic issues of the country. According to Khonsari, today’s greatest problems of Iran are inflation. Unemployment and addiction are the real concern of masses and not nuclear energy. Mr. Khonsari said, Iranian personal income today, is below what was thirty years ago.
U.S. Alleges Iranian, Syrian & Hezbollah meddling in Lebanese Affairs
VOA reported on the White House’s statement that there is "mounting evidence" that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are planning to topple the Lebanese government. The White House has warned those countries to stay away from the democratically elected Lebanese government. VOA quoted Tony Snow as saying "stability and success of the Lebanese government is a priority for the US administration as it will stand up to terrorism, in this case Hezbollah, and thus create different circumstances in the Middle East." Mr. Snow did not reveal any detail on the "evidence" due to diplomatic considerations. Hezbollah leader's recent threat addressed to the government in Beirut, is another U.S. concern.
VOA Persian television carried a State Department spokesperson saying "Syria is trying to turn back the clock to re-establish itself in Lebanon.” The White House, Secretary Rice and John Bolton have spoken out to let the accused know that the world is watching, reported VOA. Another U.S. concern is that elements is Lebanon, such as the president, are trying to hinder the formation of a criminal tribunal to try those involved in the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri. Syria and Hezbollah have rejected such accusations.
U.S. Military Maneuvers in the Persian Gulf
News Talk examined the recent naval interdiction exercises in the Persian Gulf. Mr. Reza Ghasemi, a former Iranian ambassador argued that the Islamic Regime feels threatened by the West but argued that in the case of a military attack it would be unlikely the that Regime would close the Straits of Hormuz as that would hurt them as well. Student political activist Amir Abbas Fakhraver suggested that the regime’s response to the maneuvers was “unwise” and that they are not prepared militarily to repel any attack. Fakhraver went on to say the regime was using the prospect of war to divert attention from the country’s domestic problems.
A Roundtable with You hosted Ambassador James Jeffrey, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. He spoke exclusively with host Ali Farhoodi on U.S.-Iranian relations and the democracy movement in Iran. Ambassador Jeffrey stressed three points when explaining U.S. policy towards Iran: cast light on human rights abuses by the regime, support dissidents against the regime and work through NGO’s and other organizations to promote freedom and democracy within Iran. Ambassador Jeffrey assured the audience that while the U.S. strongly supports the democratic movement in Iran, the U.S. would not “impose democracy from the back of a tank.”
North Korean Standoff
VOA carried President Bush’s statement on Wednesday (11/1) saying he is sending two senior U.S. State Department officials to the region to hammer out a strategy to restart the disarmament talks. South Korea's president says his country will maintain friendly relations with North Korea to ensure peace on the Korean peninsula, despite Pyongyang's nuclear test last month.
VOA reported on South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun’s comments Thursday (11/2) stressing the importance of maintaining working relations with the North to secure South Korea's freedom and stability.
The main U.S. envoy to South Korea said Thursday (11/2) that the US government would seek to resolve financial restrictions on North Korea that have been a stumbling block to nuclear disarmament talks, adding that America hoped to eventually normalize relations with Pyongyang. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow added, "We want to resolve these issues because we do want to have a normal relationship with North Korea."
VOA reported that the South Korean Foreign Minister has asked the United States and Japan to be ready to normalize their relations with North Korea. The State Department responded by saying "the most immediate issue, and the issue at the top of everybody's agenda, is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Ahmadinejad’s Call for an Increase in Iran’s Population
News Talk examined Ahmadinejad's statement urging an increase of Iran's population to 120 million. The National Endowment for Democracy’s Ali Afshari, chairman of the Iranian-American Republican Council Shayan Samii, and Dr. Hossein Lajvardi, sociologist and president of Paris-based Iranian Researchers' Association all agreed that Ahmedinejad’s comments stem from his ignorance of overpopulation and its impact on Iranian society. Dr. Lajvardi said that Iranians are already suffering as a result of population policies during the first decade of the Revolution. Mr. Afshari contradicted Ahmadinejad by suggesting that family planning must be seriously applied and implemented in Iran. Mr. Samii said that Ahmadinejad’s call for population increase is a means to divert attention from other pressing domestic issues.
Unrest in the Middle East
Israel's military says ground troops backed by helicopter gunships have killed at least nine Palestinian gunmen in a major operation in northern Gaza. VOA quoted Palestinian officials saying at least 40 people were wounded in the ensuing battles -- mostly gunmen but also several civilians.
VOA reported that the Hamas militant group says its fighters have killed one Israeli soldier and wounded several others. Israel has not commented on any casualties among its troops. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is condemning what he calls an Israeli "massacre" in Gaza, and urging the international community to stop the offensive and prevent deterioration in region.
Israeli cabinet ministers responsible for defense and security met today and decided to continue the current operations without ordering a major ground invasion of Gaza. In another development, the leader of the Islamic militant group Hezbollah says "serious negotiations" have begun with Israel over the fate of two captured Israeli soldiers.
U.S. Elections, the Iraq Factor and Iranians
On Wednesday(11/1), News Talk focused on the upcoming U.S. mid-term elections and their impact on Iranian-Americans, Iraq and Iran. Homa Sarshar, an independent journalist in Los Angeles said "Iranian participation in US elections can be effective. The younger generation of Iranian immigrants are getting prepared to be involved in American politics which is a good move. We try to encourage them. This is the practice of democracy."
Georgetown professor Rob Sobhani said the "election of an Iranian to the U.S. Congress, either Democrat or Republican, can contribute to solve many of Iran's problems. There are different reasons why Iranian have not yet been elected to the Congress, among them historical, cultural, lack of unity between Iranians in the US." Sobhani went on to say "many Iranians are not aware of their right to vote and its power."
On the issue of Iraq, Sobhani said "both parties want stability in Iraq, but their approaches are different. Members of both parties are patriotic. In this election, Iraq is the number one concern for voters, followed by immigration. Iraqi politicians want to take advantage of elections in US and talk like Democrats. Whatever the result of elections, it won't change US policy toward Iraq.
Both guests repeated that both the American people and the US government like Iranians, support them, and have respect for them. But the American government views the Islamic regime as a threat based on its support for terrorism, its nuclear program, and its systemic violation of human rights.
Dr. Sobhani suggested that even if Democrats take control of Congress, they will still pressure the administration for a tough line against the Islamic Republic.
December Assembly Elections in Iran
News Talk examined the upcoming elections for the Assembly of Experts, the governmental body in Iran charged with selecting and overseeing the performance of the Supreme Leader. Dr. Bahman Aghaee Diba, an international lawyer, questioned the independence of the body. "Some of the members of this body are appointed by Supreme Leader. How this body can control the Supreme Leader? Originally it was supposed even to change the Supreme Leader whenever it was necessary, but it has changed to be a rubber stamp for Supreme Leader. It has never criticized the Supreme Leader while society is full of problems, and different wrong doings by the regime." Dr. Noor Mohammad Agari, a writer living in Sweden went further saying "as long as the Islamic Regime is in power, there is no meaningful democratic discourse."
Hostage Crisis Anniversary
On Saturday, November 4, the 27th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, A Roundtable with You hosted Ambassador John Limbert, one of those held hostage and a fluent Farsi speaker. He was appreciative of many calls from Iran apologizing for the hostage taking but added, “I think more than those Muslim student who held us captive for 444 days we need to hear an apology from those who were in charge in Iran at that time. They failed to discharge their duties, which protection of foreign diplomats was one of them.”
Ambassador Limbert's wife appeared as well and added, “I don’t hold President Carter responsible for the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Mr. Carter is a humane person. He worked hard to secure the release of the hostages and ensure their safe return."
Women's Issues in the Islamic World
On Tuesday (10/31), Roundtable hosted Simin Behbehani, Iran’s most prominent female poet and a vocal advocate for women’s rights, who discussed the oppression of women in Iran. “Stoning women doesn't belong in today’s Iran. It’s something that belongs in the dark ages” Speaking of her own politics, Behbehani said, “I’m not involved in regime change or sedition. I just express my feelings with honesty. That’s the secret to my success.”
On Wednesday (11/1), Roundtable hosted Dr. Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet, Professor and Director, The Center for Middle East Studies, University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Kashani-Sabet discussed the controversy over the "hejab" or women's covering, mandated by Islamic law. She saw no contradiction in women’s freedom of choice in clothing in an Islamic society. She thought the two, that is to say Islam and women’s freedom of choice in clothing, can co-exist in the society. She claimed the banning of veil during 1930’s in Iran by Reza Shah while had a positive impact among some, created a negative reaction in religious communities. At the same time, she was critical of imposing the “hejab” by force after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The latter created similar deep resentment amongst the modern Iranian women.
Plight of the Kurdish
On Thursday (11/2), Roundtable hosted Mr. Reza Payami, filmmaker, photographer and investigator reporter along with Mr. Bahman Maalizadeh, founder and president of Norooz Foundation, both, recently traveled to “No Man’s land” (area between Iraq and Jordan and four hundred kilometer from Aman) to investigate the condition of Iranian Kurdish refugees living in the middle of nowhere between Iraq and Jordan. Both guests talked about their ordeal of how to get there from Jordan. Their findings along with pictures, films and interviews reveals the horrible condition of 194 Kurdish refugees that following the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the start of persecution of religious minorities, among thousands other Iranian Kurds were forced to leave Iran and took refugees into Iraq. They two also discussed the U.S. military's humanitarian efforts to aid the Kurds in No Man's Land.