Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – December 27, 2006 . . . Major stories this week included the United Nations Security Council unanimously approving sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program, an interview with Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, President Bush’s news conference, the detention of several Iranians in Baghdad suspected of inciting attacks in Iraq, reaction to Iranian elections, and an interview with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s continued insistence that the Holocaust is a myth.
The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution imposing sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program on December 23. The sanctions impose a ban on Iran's trade in sensitive nuclear materials and ballistic missiles. They also freeze the assets of key companies and people the U.N. considers affiliated with Iran's nuclear and missile programs. The sanctions are aimed at persuading Iran's leaders to halt the country's uranium enrichment program and return to nuclear negotiations. The resolution promises further non-military sanctions if Iran does not comply. From London, Kayhan journalist Nasser Mohammadi said the resolution further isolates the Iranian regime. Paris-based economist Fereydoon Khavand said the resolution will worsen the economic situation in Iran. Mr. Khavand claimed the move also paves the way for further measures against Iran in the future, including the use of military strikes. From Washington, lawyer Bahman Aghai Diba said countries that do not comply with international law act against their own interests. He said the people of Iran must ask themselves if they want to gain nuclear power at the cost of destroying their country. Political activist and leader of the opposition National Front of Iran told VOA from Tehran that the sanctions will have the worst possible effect on the Iranian people and the country’s economy. Iranian leaders condemned the resolution, and vowed to speed up uranium enrichment. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the Security Council of “being controlled by the United States, Britain and the Zionist regime, and that the Council will regret its action.” Israel, of course, is not a member of the Security Council. Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, said, “It is not at all surprising that a nation is being punished for exercising its inalienable rights.” Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said the sanctions will have no effect on Iran’s nuclear program, and that work was to begin December 24 to install 3,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges at a uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, in central Iran.
Burns on Iran
In an exclusive interview with VOA Persian, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said the U.N. sanctions were aimed at the Iranian government, not the Iranian people. He expressed disappointment that Iran’s government has refused to resume negotiations to resolve the nuclear stand-off. Mr. Burns repeated that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was willing to meet with her Iranian counterparts “anyplace, anytime and anywhere” if Iran would suspend its enrichment activity. The Undersecretary said the sanctions are aimed at Iran’s nuclear and missile program. He said it was regrettable that President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials distorted facts, adding that they weren’t being candid with the Iranian people on why the Security Council opposed Iran’s nuclear program. Iranians deserve to know, he said, that the United States is against the military use of nuclear technology, not against its peaceful use. He told VOA viewers that the United States, China, Russia and Europeans offered nuclear reactors to Iran to ensure its nuclear pursuits were peaceful, but that Iran turned down the offer. Mr. Burns expressed hope that Iran would emerge from this time of international isolation and thrive.
Appearing on Roundtable, the Undersecretary responded directly to viewers’ questions. Asked what evidence the U.S. government had that proved Iran’s nuclear program wasn’t peaceful, Mr. Burns said the international community agreed Iran’s nuclear program was a weapons program cloaked as a peaceful one. He cited the inability of IAEA inspectors to have unfettered access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and concealment of its nuclear program for 18 years as reasons why the international community has no confidence in the government’s pronouncements.
One e-mailer speculated that if the U.S. administration abandoned its economic sanctions against Iran’s oil and gas industries that Iran would suspend its nuclear enrichment. Mr. Burns responded that the United States, along with its partners, had offered Iran an incentives package earlier in the year predicated on the suspension of its enrichment program, but that the package had been rejected. He said Iranian leaders championing confrontation over compromise won the day. Several former political prisoners phoned in from Iran to ask how human rights ranked as a priority vis-à-vis nuclear issues. Mr. Burns assured viewers that Iran’s human rights record and support for international terrorism would remain first and foremost in the mind of U.S. policymakers regardless of the nuclear stand-off.
Asked whether military options were still being considered, Mr. Burns responded that a tougher Security Council resolution is in the offing in the next 60 days, urging Iran’s leadership to comply with the will of the international community.
President Bush / Iran
In a news conference December 20 – before the U.N. Security Council voted to place sanctions on Iran – President Bush said U.S. talks with Iran will take place when Iran suspends its [uranium] enrichment program. VOA Persian broadcast the President’s remarks directly to Iranian viewers, including his impassioned words to Iranian citizens: “The Iranian people can do better than be an isolated nation. This is a proud nation with a fantastic history and tradition. And yet they've got a leader who constantly sends messages to the world that Iran is out of step with the majority of thinkers; that Iran is willing to become isolated, to the detriment of the people. I mean, I was amazed that once again there was this conference about the Holocaust that heralded a really backward view of the history of the world. And all that said to me is that the leader in Iran is willing to say things that really hurt his country and further isolate the Iranian people. We're working hard to get a Security Council resolution.” The President then said he had a message for the Iranian people: “You can do better than to have somebody try to rewrite history. You can do better than somebody who hasn’t strengthened your economy. And you can do better than having somebody who’s trying to develop a nuclear weapon that the world believes you shouldn't have. There's a better way forward.”
The White House says the detention in Baghdad of several Iranians suspected of inciting attacks against Iraqi troops validates the U.S. claim of Iranian meddling in Iraq. A spokesman said December 25 that U.S. officials want to finish their investigation of the detained Iranians before characterizing their activities. Iraqi officials say President Jalal Talabani had invited two of the Iranians to Baghdad, and that he was unhappy American forces had detained them. The New York Times reported that at least four Iranians remain in U.S. custody, and that the U.S. says they are senior Iranian military officials. The United States has accused Iranian agents of stirring up sectarian violence in Iraq by arming and training Shi'ite militias. Tehran says it only has political and religious links with Iraqi Shi'ites.
Iraq Study Group / Talks with Iran and Syria
In an interview with The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on December 21, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she does not support a recommendation by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that the United States talk with Iran and Syria. She said both nations would try to exact a price in exchange for cooperating to stabilize Iraq. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an interview with CBS News, said he disagreed, that he thought the United States should open dialogue, even though he believes Syria’s and Iran’s involvement in Iraq is marginal. He acknowledged that talking with Iran is a challenge, that they’re acting very, very badly, and that there is hostility going back 27 years. “But at the same time,” he said, “I think that low-level conversations of the kind we had earlier might give us some channels of communication.”
Allies of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad failed to dominate December 15 elections for a powerful Iranian clerical body and local councils. Hassan Shariatmadari, Secretary General of the opposition Iranian National Republicans, told VOA from Germany that he welcomed the fact that moderate conservatives and reformers were able to take control of the Assembly of Experts. Mr. Shariatmadari called the election a sound defeat for policies of President Ahmadinejad. L.A.-based political researcher Ghafoor Mirzaie characterized the elections as a decisive test for the Ahmadinejad government, one that indicates the dilemma the regime now faces –a reduction of political tensions or an even harsher ideological hard line. Political consultant Bahman Aghai Diba, speaking from VOA studios in Washington, said the return of former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani at the top of the list of winners for the Assembly of Experts has special meaning; he said Mr. Rafsanjani has a chance to change the course of Iran’s history. From Paris, researcher Hossein Lajvardi painted a more pessimistic picture, saying Mr. Rafsanjani doesn’t hold enough power to effect any real change. Mr. Lajvardi said he has never seen such division and friction within Iran’s political system. Kayhan journalist Nasser Mohammadi, speaking from London, said Mr. Rafsanjani’s victory isn’t as important as the defeat of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s supporters. Mr. Mohammadi said Mr. Rafsanjani might have some power in the new Assembly, but the diminishing of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s base may lead to the gradual rejection of the President by Iran’s supreme leader.
A journal of the National Academy of Sciences reported that Iran is suffering a staggering decline in revenue from its oil exports, and if the trend continues income could virtually disappear by 2015. Economic geographer Roger Stern of Johns Hopkins University said Iran’s economic problems could make the country unstable and vulnerable, with its oil industry crippled. If the United States can “hold its breath” for a few years, Mr. Stern said, it may find Iran a much more conciliatory country. He said that is good reason to delay any instinct to take on Iran militarily. “What they are doing to themselves is much worse than anything we could do,” he said.
Ahmadinejad / Holocaust
VOA Persian interviewed Nobel Peace Prize laureate and renowned Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel on a wide range of human rights issues, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s insistence on the Holocaust being a myth and his comments on wiping Israel off the map. Mr. Wiesel described President Ahmadinejad as a fanatic, saying “fanatics never think. His comments are a disgrace to his nation and to his culture. For a man in his position to repeatedly deny the Holocaust, an event that everyone knows occurred, is pure nonsense.”
Speaking in Dubai on December 20, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said world leaders should be bolder in supporting moderates against forces of extremism in Iran and elsewhere. “We must recognise the strategic challenge the government of Iran poses,” he said, “not its people, possibly not all of its ruling elements, but those presently in charge of its policy. Iran wants to pin us back in Lebanon, in Iraq and in Palestine.” Iran Press Service journalist Safa Haeri told VOA from Cannes that Mr. Blair’s suggestion for an alliance of moderates is a warning to the Tehran regime. Iran formally complained about the Prime Minister’s comments on December 26 with a summons to the British Ambassador to appear at the Foreign Ministry, saying Mr. Blair was meddling in regional affairs.
In an interview with VOA Persian, Yonah Alexander, the Director of the International Center for Terrorism Studies, said moderates need to create a coalition to counter extremists in the Middle East, including Iran. “The first step,” he said, “would be to deal with moderate countries like Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, to decide on a common ground policy of the Arab League as a bridge to non-Arabs such as Iran. We also have to take Turkey and Israel into account. The evolution of this approach [would take time], one can’t expect immediate results. An Iran that regains some confidence in its own security and sovereignty might stop bullying other regional powers. But I am afraid that a nuclear Iran would trigger the proliferation of nuclear [weapons] in the Middle East. This is the big problem. This could even create a common ground between Israel and some of the Arab countries.”
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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 in October. 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.