Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – January 15, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included President Bush’s address outlining his new Iraq strategy, implications of that strategy for Iran, reaction to the President’s initiative from home and abroad, Defense Secretary Robert Gates talking about the U.S. buildup in the Gulf, the U.S. arrest of five Iranians in Iraq, Secretary Rice’s travel in the Mideast, the impact of U.N. sanctions on Iran, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
President Bush / Iraq Policy
VOA Persian Television broadcast President Bush’s January 11 address to the nation live to Iran with simultaneous translation in Farsi. President Bush talked about increasing the number of troops he needed in Iraq and directly blamed Iran for contributing to the violence in Iraq during his address: “Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today….The consequences of failure [in Iraq] are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons…. Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity – and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq…. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.”
Appearing on 60 Minutes January 14, President Bush again pointed to the Tehran government, saying failure in Iraq would empower Iran, which he said was a “significant threat to world peace.” He said U.S. forces would deal with any Iranians in Iraq that are found to be harming U.S. or Iraqi citizens.
Government officials in Iraq said they welcomed President Bush’s new strategy for their country. British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced support for President Bush’s plan to deploy more than 21,000 additional troops to Iraq. The new U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, said the United Nations backs any genuine efforts to improve security for ordinary Iraqis and to stabilize the country. Japan and Australia hailed President Bush’s new approach. On Capitol Hill, the President’s new Iraq strategy is facing scrutiny in both houses of Congress, where critics include members of his own Republican Party.
Iraq / Iranian Arrests
The Iraqi government called January 14 for the release of five Iranian officials accused by the U.S. military of being linked to an organization that provides weapons to Iraqi militants and supports violence against U.S. troops. The arrest of the Iranians by U.S. forces at a liaison office in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil last week exposed a growing rift between the United States and Iraq on how to deal with Iranian activity inside Iraq. Kurdish legislators condemned the raid as illegal. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari defended the detainees – members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' al-Quds Brigade – as long-serving officials who provide outreach to Iranians in Iraq. Speaking on Sunday morning talk shows, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said, “You have seen in the last couple of weeks that Iranians found doing things in Iraq have been picked up by Coalition forces. And I think you’re going to see more of that. We intend to deal with it by interdicting and disrupting activities in Iraq, sponsored by Iran, that are putting our troops and Iraqis at risk.”
A senior consultant at the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, Mehrdad Khonsari, told News Talk the arrests are a serious warning to the Iranian regime. Paris-based journalist Cyrus Amouzgar said the arrests re-affirmed President Bush’s tough talk from January 11. He said the lack of a strong response from Iran to President Bush’s remarks seemed to pave the way for Iran to change its aggressive behavior, and that it appears a growing number of politicians in Iran wouldn’t mind making President Ahmadinejad Iran’s sacrificial lamb.
U.S. Military / Gulf
Defense Secretary Robert Gates Monday said that new U.S. military moves in the Persian Gulf were prompted in part by signals from Iran that it sees the United States as vulnerable in Iraq. “The Iranians clearly believe that we are tied down in Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they are in a position to press us in many ways.” He described Tehran’s stance on Iraq as very negative, but said opportunities for engagement may arise when the Iranians are prepared to play a constructive role in dealing with security problems in Iraq. However, “they are doing nothing to be constructive in Iraq at this point,” he told a news conference in Brussels before flying to Kabul. The Pentagon decided last week to send a second aircraft carrier battle group and a Patriot anti-missile battalion to the Gulf area.
On a Sunday talk show, Vice President Dick Cheney cited concerns about growing Iranian strength among not just Israelis but also Sunni-ruled U.S. Arab allies in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Jordan: “The entire region is worried. The presence of the U.S. military out there ... is indicated as reassurance to our friends in the region that the United States is committed to their security.”
Kazem Alamdari is a sociology professor at California State University at Los Angeles. Appearing on Roundtable from Los Angeles, he said the political structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran is not constructed like a canopy, in which removal of the central pole causes its collapse. Rather, he said, it is built on many independent, rival, parallel columns of power that hold the system together. He said the differences and tensions between the ruling cliques are real, but serious enough to threaten the regime’s stability. Mr. Alamdari said in the absence of a viable opposition to the regime, the best hope for reform is a constitutional amendment that would limit the powers of the Supreme Leader, who until now has the last word on everything.
U.S. / Iran Relations
Iran was the subject not only in House and Senate hearings on President Bush’s military surge plan for Iraq, but in the first public session of the now Democrat-controlled House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The new chairman, Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), is one of the sharpest critics of Iran, based on what he calls its unrelenting pursuit of nuclear weapons, support of terrorism, and the Iranian president’s anti-Semitic statements and threats against Israel. However, Mr. Lantos says the Bush administration needs to pursue a dialogue with Iran “even as we deploy other diplomatic tools to achieve our goals of suspending and ultimately ending Iran’s nuclear program.” Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) pointed to Iran’s role in continuing violence in Iraq. Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering said though there is no assurance diplomacy can make a difference on the Iranian nuclear issue, it is preferable to military force. In separate testimony, former CIA Director James Woolsey reiterated his pessimism about chances for dialogue with Tehran. “I think the chance, quite frankly, of halting the Iranian regime’s nuclear weapons program is about as close to zero as matters come in international relations,” he said. Mr. Woolsey asserted that the only course that may be left is to pursue a policy of regime change, a step Congress has not taken. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeated the administration’s opposition to engaging Iran and Syria to help stop the violence in Iraq, which was recommended by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group in December. A new member of Congress, Joe Sestak (D-PA), told a news conference last Thursday that neither Iran nor Syria want to see Iraq spiral out of control, saying Iran and Syria would gain nothing from chaos in Iraq and that U.S. willingness to talk to regional powers would be a sign of strength, not weakness. Hooshang Hassan-Yari, department head of politics and economics at Canada’s Royal Military College, said bilateral talks between Iran and the United States can be mutually beneficial – Iran can help the United States reach its goal in Iraq while Washington can help Iran on a global level by reducing/eliminating tensions with Tehran.
Iran / Nukes
VOA Persian interviewed Henry Sokolski, Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a Washington-based nonprofit organization founded in l994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues for academics, policy makers, and the media. Mr. Sokolski said he believes Iran’s nuclear ambitions are not solely for energy – they are for a bomb. He also said he thinks the Iranian regime is wrong to think that nuclear energy is its right, especially as Iran has natural gas reserves. Natural gas, he added, is the ideal source of energy to produce electricity. Mr. Sokolski predicted Iran will lose its ability to use oil as leverage in its relations with the west as other ways of transporting oil from the region are developed.
Iran / Sanctions
Shaheen Fatemi, professor of economics at the American University of Paris, told VOA Persian that U.N. sanctions have already begun discouraging investment in Iran’s economy while on the political front, the sanctions are making Iran vulnerable and increasingly isolated. Despite increased oil prices, per capita income in Iran is only $2,770, on a par with Pakistan, Belarus and Albania. He said a lack of capital and foreign technology could stop oil production in Iran in less than 10 years. Mr. Fatemi also talked about Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey and the work he has been doing, going around the world and telling banks it’s not going to be good for their publicity if they get caught banking with Iran. He said with formal pressure and informal guidance, the United States is making it difficult for Iran to carry out ordinary import/export activities.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Liu Jianchao, says the United States should not interfere in China's relations with Iran. The comment came after the U.S. expressed concern about a Chinese oil company's plans to invest in an Iranian oil field, at a time when Tehran is defying the United Nations over Iran's nuclear program. Mr. Jianchao said China has every right to do business with Iran, and the U.S. has no right to comment on the two countries' dealings. Washington views the planned investment by a Chinese state-run oil company as sending the wrong signal to Tehran. The United States and the European Union believe Tehran is trying to produce nuclear weapons. They want to see other countries end big business deals with Iran, as a way of pressuring it to halt what Tehran insists is a program to develop nuclear energy.
VOA Persian interviewed Mohammad Ihsan, the Minister of Extra-Regional Affairs of Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Mr. Ihsan said that the Peshmerga, the term used by Kurds to refer to armed Kurdish fighters – the word literally means “those who face death” – should not join U.S. and Iraqi forces to fight against insurgents because 1) their first responsibility is to provide security for Kurdistan and 2) they don’t want to get involved in the middle of a Sunni-Shiite war.
Iran / Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia said January 15 that Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, delivered a letter to the Saudi King from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad, asking the kingdom to help ease tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States as Washington holds out the possibility of “engagement” with Tehran if it changes tack in Iraq. Iran would like Saudi Arabia to “help bring opinions together.” The letter came hours before Secretary Rice arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks expected to focus on Iraq and efforts to revive Israel-Palestinian peace talks.
Ahmadinejad / Latin America
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended the January 15 inauguration of Ecuador’s new president, Rafael Correa, as part of a swing through Latin America. Since taking office in 2005, Mr. Ahmadinejad has been seeking to build ties with like-minded leaders. He already has a strong relationship with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and has met with him and with Nicaragua’s new leader, Daniel Ortega, during this tour. All three Latin American leaders are strong critics of the United States. Iran expert Gary Sick questions the timing of the Iranian leader’s trip, saying he may be preoccupied with developments in Iranian politics. “It is a little bit ironic that Ahmadinejad would be making this trip to build bridges in Latin America at a time when his own support is waning in Iran,” he said. “His coalition lost rather badly in the last municipal election, and there are calls for his impeachment in the Majlis, the parliament.” Still, Mr. Sick noted that Iran’s president has used previous foreign trips to rally anti-U.S. sentiment and generate fresh support for himself at home, a technique that President Chavez also has used effectively in Venezuela. London-based journalist Alireza Nourizadeh said when a president of one country visits another, it is not a good sign for bilateral relations when he/she is not met by his/her counterpart. He said President Chavez did not meet President Ahmadinejad when he arrived in Venezuela. Mr. Nourizadeh also pointed out that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, in his first post-election interview, said he wants to have good relations with the United States. If that is the case, Mr. Nourizadeh said, then it’s not likely Nicaragua will rush to embrace Iran.
Programming January 15 explained the significance of MLK Day in the United States, talking about its place in American history, culture and race relations. Reports addressed about Mr. King’s accomplishments and his impact on the national character. Late Edition reported on some of the people who work to keep Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream alive 12 months a year.
Iranian Brain Drain
Elahe Hicks, a veteran human rights advocate, said the IMF estimates that the emigration of professionals, entrepreneurs from Iran since the 1979 revolution has been accompanied by a flight of capital of around $40 billion. Those left behind are left to struggle in a bid to change laws, many of which are manipulated by the government to restrict political activity. Student activist Amir Abbas Fakhravar said brain drain is continuing nearly three decades after the revolution, citing lack of opportunity, lack of security, closure of newspapers and student organizations, and official harassment. Researcher Alireza Namvar Haghighi blamed Iranian brain drain on Iran’s judicial system, political mismanagement, and government restrictions, particularly those on political opponents.
Mohammad Hafezi is a Ph.D. candidate in Physics at Harvard University. He conducted a recent study that shows the number of degrees granted to Iranian students in Canada is on the rise while it is decreasing in the United States. Appearing on Roundtable, Mr. Hafezi said the number of educated young Iranians trying to leave Iran appears to have increased in the 18 months since President Ahmadinejad took office, at least judging by numbers taking the International English Language Testing System exam. He said more Iranians aren’t studying in the United States because of restrictions on the issuance of U.S. visas to Iranians.
Blogger and human rights activist Kianoush Sanjari talked about his most recent arrest in Tehran with VOA Persian. “I was beaten and arrest during an event I attended. My captors seemed concerned about the content of my Web log.” Mr. Sanjari said the situation in Iran has been bad, but that “things have gotten much worse during Ahmadinejad’s presidency.”
Evidence of Effectiveness
The Vice President of Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group, Mohsen Moazami, appeared on Roundtable January 6 to talk about the role of the Internet in economic development. He had this to say: “I could have never imagined the scope and impact of the work you do. The response, FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD, has been overwhelming. I am humbled by you and your team’s efforts. I have even received flowers from Tehran (WOW!) Received notes from college professors who claim that this program was the talk amongst the professors next day at work!” Mr. Moazami also e-mailed a colleague at Google, Senior Vice President of Global Sales & Business Development, Omid Kordestani, saying, “I had my first interview with [VOA] and found them to be the utmost professionals with global respect and followers.” Note: many young Iranians take Cisco classes in Iran in order to become tech savvy. A number called Roundtable during Mr. Moazami’s appearance wanting to know if they could work for his company.
Just over one year ago, on January 3, 2006, 18-year-old Nazanin Fatehi was sentenced to death by the Iranian Courts for stabbing to death one of three men who attempted to rape her and her 16-year-old niece in a Tehran park. The injustice propelled Iranian-born singer Nazanin Afshin-jam (better known as the former Miss World Canada), to start a petition to help save her life. Judges ordered Ms. Fatehi removed from death row, and at her retrial last week, ordered Ms. Fatehi to pay “blood money” to the family of the man who was killed. Her lawyers are appealing the ruling, and she soon may be released on bail. VOA Persian frequently hosted Ms. Afshin-jam on Roundtable over the past year where she touted the petition and the plight of Ms. Fatehi. After her appearances, hits on Ms. Afshin-jam’s Web site jumped and she collected over 330,000 signatures on the petition (www.helpnazanin.com).
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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.