Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – November 20, 2006 . . . Major stories this week included our exclusive interview with journalist Ted Koppel on his rare and extensive access in Iran for his documentary, Iran – The Most Dangerous Nation; a one-on-one interview with former CIA Director James Woolsey; General John Abizaid’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee and his speech at Harvard University, both citing Iran as pivotal to the successful end of war in Iraq; and the possibility of bilateral talks between the US and Iran for the first time in nearly three decades.
In the midst of the international crisis over Iran's nuclear program, journalist Ted Koppel spent a rare three weeks speaking with people around that country. In his documentary, Iran – The Most Dangerous Nation, Mr. Koppel reports on how Iranians view the policies of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and what lies at the root of 27 years of deep-rooted distrust between Iran and the United States. In an exclusive interview with VOA Persian, Mr. Koppel suggested a resumption of diplomatic relations would be good for both countries. He also talked about the huge generation gap in Iran between the aging clerics who control the social and moral direction of the country and the bulk of the country – 70% of Iran’s population is younger than 30-years-old. Mr. Koppel noted the harsh rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his determination to pursue nuclear technology. The Koppel team was the last group of journalists allowed into the country before Iran stopped granting journalist visas.
VOA Persian interviewed former CIA Director James Woolsey at the American Foreign Policy Council, where he participated in a briefing, “Understanding the Iranian Threat.” Mr. Woolsey said he didn’t think talks with Iran on Iraq or the nuclear issue would be prudent even if they resulted in some sort of agreement. “I think the Iranian government would lie and continue to destabilize Iraq and would continue to work hard on nuclear weapons…. I think the most important thing on helping the Iranian people is to bring about a regime change.” Mr. Woolsey said the United States should effect regime change by exerting all the pressure it can, “peacefully, of course.” The former CIA chief said he did not believe China or Russia would be of any substantive help on Iran because “Russia makes too much money selling weapons and nuclear technology, such as the Bushehr reactor, and China is too pleased with its oil deals with Iran.”
US / Iran
In a speech at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, the top US military commander for the Middle East said finding a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and containing Iran are key to bringing stability to the Middle East. General John Abizaid said the United States must confront Islamic extremism, or face the prospect of World War III. He repeated his conviction that US forces must stay in Iraq to help defeat the insurgency and quell sectarian violence that is plaguing the country. During his appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Abizaid rejected the idea of setting a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq. He told lawmakers he was optimistic the country could be stabilized, despite mounting violence.
The State Department’s senior coordinator for Iraq, David Satterfield, told the same Senate Committee that the United States is ready to begin talks with Iran about its activities in Iraq. “We are prepared,” he said, “in principle, for a direct dialogue with Iran. The timing of that dialogue is one that we are considering.” CIA Director Michael Hayden told the Committee he was not opposed to such talks. “If our dialogue with [Iran and Syria] could convince them to do more, that their interests are not served by a fracturing of Iraq, then I would say that might be useful.”
Despite calls by the United Nations to curtail Iran’s nuclear activities, President Ahmadinejad said on Thursday Iran was about to take the “final step” in its nuclear program. He did not elaborate, but said Iran would celebrate its “right to nuclear technology” by March.
IAEA Director-General Mohamed El-Baradei circulated his latest report on Iran to the IAEA Board of Governors which is scheduled to consider the implementation of safeguards in Iran at meetings beginning November 23 in Vienna. The report is expected to address whether Iran has established full and sustained suspension of all activities mentioned in UN Resolution 1696. Iran responded to the IAEA report, saying its nuclear program is for energy not weapons, but a senior UN official said Iran’s response was too late to be considered at the Vienna meeting.
London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh talked with VOA about the visit to Moscow by Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. Mr. Larijani visited with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss, among other things, Iran’s nuclear program and looming sanctions by the UN Security Council. Mr. Larijani said sanctions would not promote a political solution to the nuclear dispute. Mr. Nourizadeh said the meeting was not successful because Mr. Larijani – the representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – made the trip instead of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s representative.
European nations have filed a draft resolution including sanctions at the Security Council, but Russia has called for changes to the motion, such as removing all references to a nuclear power plant that Moscow is helping to build. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his government will work with Iran to restart six-party talks on Iran's nuclear program. Mr. Lavrov said Russian officials plan in the coming days to contact other nations to discuss ways of renewing the stalled talks.
US / Middle East
On Iraq . . . A Visiting Fellow at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University and a Distinguished Scholar at Center for Strategic and International Studies, Shireen Hunter, discussed the Iraq Study Group and options available to the United States in Iraq following mid-term elections. She said one option is to ask Iran for help in calming insurgent forces in Iraq, but added that some caution against this option because it would likely require a guarantee from the West to foreswear regime change. She said others argue that more Sunni countries should be involved to bring about compromise by Iraq’s Sunni population. Still others, Hunter said, believe international troops should be brought in.
On Israel . . . VOA Persian reported on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s visit to Washington, including the intense focus on Iran during official meetings. After meeting with the Prime Minister, President Bush said the world must speak with one voice about Iran's nuclear ambitions and that Tehran should realize its continued defiance will lead to sanctions.
On Syria . . . Hassan Massali, a veteran Iranian political activist, told VOA that Syria is trying to improve relations with the United States, and that its dependency on Iran is beginning to lessen. He said the US government should encourage this development.
Human Rights / Students
UCLA’s acting chancellor said the university will meet student demands for an independent probe of a campus police officer's use of a Taser gun on an Iranian-American student. Student speakers at a news conference and subsequent rally Friday said the use of a stun gun on Mostafa Tabatabainejad, which was captured by another student's digital camera, sent a chill across the University of California, Los Angeles, campus. London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh told VOA the incident was regrettable, but that campus and other officials were responding appropriately. He said Iran’s government is taking undue advantage of the trouble to deflect domestic attention from its routine mistreatment of students at home.
Roundtable examined the human rights of young people in Iran and their struggle against a regime that forbids them from a western lifestyle. The November 14 program showed how they cope through underground networks. Iranian student activist Manouchehr Mohammadi, who was imprisoned for seven years in Iran for his efforts opposing the Iranian regime (and whose brother recently died in prison as a result of a hunger strike and suspected torture) held a news conference at Freedom House. Mr. Mohammadi said he opposed bilateral talks between the United States and Iran because “the Iranian government cannot be trusted.”
Internet / Censorship in Iran
News Talk examined Iran’s crackdown on Internet access and its implications for freedom of expression and an open political dialogue. DC-based political researcher Cyrus Saify said the government is threatened by the increasing number of Internet users, projected to reach 25 million by 2009. Shayan Samii, Chairman of the Los Angeles-based Iranian-American Republican Council, pointed out that one way the Iranian government hopes to control access is by decreasing speed of Internet connections and filtering websites. From Paris, Reporters without Borders representative Reza Moeini said Iran is on his organization’s list of 13 Internet enemies. He said the free world must act unanimously against restriction of Internet use in other countries. However, Toronto-based writer/cartoonist Nikahang Kousar added that the government is not totally unified on the current crackdown because some Iranian officials want a thriving Internet for economic gain.
Iran / Economic Challenges
London-based economist Hadi Zamani described President Ahmadinejad’s economic policies as backward, saying they are a repetition of failed old policies of the first few years of the Islamic Revolution. Mr. Zamani said government control of the economy has increased over the past year, with political and ideological loyalists replacing economists and specialists. He added that Iranian cooperation and dialogue on Iraq could ease the UN sanction process, the only hope for an improved economy in Iran. London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh commented on a news conference held by President Ahmadinejad. He said the president exaggerated foreign investment in Iran last year at $2 billion when in fact the figure is closer to $30 million. Mr. Nourizadeh said the president’s figures on inflation and unemployment were unrealistic and that nobody knows how many Iranians have lost their lifesavings because the Iranian stock exchange has crashed so many times under the Ahmadinejad administration.
News Talk examined Argentina’s arrest warrant for seven Iranian leaders, including former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, over the 1994 Jewish Center bombings in Buenos Aires. Guests included historian Ladan Boroumand, president of the Boroumand Foundation for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights in Iran; Roya Toloui, a champion of the rights of Iran’s Kurdish minority; and researcher and human rights activist Parviz Dastmalchi. Mr. Boroumand said the Argentine prosecutor called the 1994 attack a crime against humanity, elevating its impact on civil society. He also credited victim rights organizations in Argentina with playing an important role in securing the arrest warrant. Ms. Toloui compared the attack in Buenos Aires to political assassinations carried out and covered up in Kurdistan by the Islamic regime. Mr. Dastmalchi focused on the role played by Iranian diplomatic missions in fomenting political violence. He also claimed the Islamic regime rewards those who help assassinate political dissidents.
Camila Batmanghelidjh talked with VOA Persian about Kids Company, the non-profit organization she founded 10 years ago to provide emotional, practical and educational support to profoundly vulnerable young people. Named the United Kingdom’s 2006 Woman of the Year, Ms. Batmanghelidjh discussed her own troubled childhood, and how she went from growing up in one of the wealthiest families in Iran to having her father killed by the Islamic regime and her sister commit suicide. Becoming destitute as a result of her father’s murder gave Ms. Batmanghelidjh the impetus to start the children’s charity, which helps some 6,000 children a year in 25 inner city London schools.
Hall of Reflections
Artist Taraneh Hemami wanted to capture the stories of Iranian immigrants and the start of their new lives in the United States. The result of her efforts was Hall of Reflections, in which she put the faces and stories of immigrants on pieces of glass, built to look like talareh ayneh, a design popular in Iranian buildings that utilizes thousands of little pieces of mirror. “The last time I traveled to Iran, which was too long ago,” she told VOA. “I traveled around the country and visited a lot of mosques and historical buildings. And every time there was a talareh ayneh in one of the buildings, I was just dazzled by its mystery and beauty.”
Iranian Pop Music
Award-winning singer/guitarist Shadmehr Aghili immigrated to Toronto in 2002, frustrated at having the government place limitations on his music for several years. Wildly popular in Iran, Mr. Aghili came to VOA’s studio in Washington before his first ever concert date in the United States at the Warner Theatre on November 17.
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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. News Talk is followed by 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.