Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – January 22, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included intensified concern in Congress about U.S. policy toward Iran, despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte both emphasizing diplomacy over military options; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad possibly losing favor with Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei because of his aggressive nuclear stance; the continuing plight of Iranian Kurdish refugees because of the violence in Iraq; and exclusive interviews with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen. Claire MsCaskill (D-MO).
State of the Union
The President is expected to use Tuesday's State of the Union address to, among other things, stress the need to back moderates in the Middle East in what he says is a decisive ideological struggle against radical Islam. VOA Persian Television plans to broadcast the SOU live with simultaneous translation in Farsi.
Congress / Iran
VOA Persian has been covering daily the concerns from members of Congress, which intensified after President Bush’s speech last week in which he said U.S troops will be moving to interrupt support from Iran and Syria for insurgents in Iraq. Although the administration has downplayed suggestions the U.S. would take military action against Iran or Syria, concern about a possible escalation across Iraq's borders with Iran and Syria is shared by Republicans as well as Democrats. On January 18, a group of House lawmakers introduced legislation designed to force the president to obtain specific approval from Congress before any such move could be taken. Walter Jones (R-NC), the most outspoken anti-war Republican in the House, had this to say: “If the president is contemplating committing our blood and treasure in another war, then he and his administration must come to Congress and make their case. The Congress answers to the American people and must justify why it would be in our national security interests to engage militarily with Iran.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) appeared at the National Press Club January 19, challenging the President on his policies in Iraq while claiming victory on the domestic front after the first two weeks of a Democrat-controlled Congress. Senator Reid criticized President Bush’s position against talking with Iran and Syria about the situation in Iraq. “The Iranians and Syrians have played a de-stabilizing role in Iraq, but that doesn't mean we can't communicate with them as part of a regional framework,” he said.
Members of Congress who favor outreach to Iran express frustration, meanwhile, with the Iranian government's refusal to allow them to travel there for discussions. Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says he is ready to lead a congressional delegation to Tehran, if only Iran would approve visas: “The Iranian authorities in Tehran have denied visas to members of Congress, who have sought to visit there, for a conversation.” Mr. Lantos says Iranian authorities bear what he called a very heavy share of the responsibility in preventing a dialogue with members of Congress.
Iran Working Group
The bipartisan House Iran Working Group held its first meeting in the new Congress January 18. Tom Friedman, author and New York Times columnist, told the group the U.S. needs to consider carefully what its objectives are regarding Iran. “What is our objective, regime change or change of behavior? We really do have to make up our mind on that,” said Tom Friedman. “If it is truly regime change, then is moving another aircraft carrier in[to] the Gulf, is that going to do it? What are the tools, if that is our goal, do we have the tools to achieve that? And do we have the allies to achieve that, and I don't think we do.” Two lawmakers on the House Iran Working Group – Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Steve Israel (D-NY) – recently met with Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations.
Gates / Iran
Speaking in Bahrain January 18, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said U.S. difficulties in Iraq have given Iran, what he called, a tactical opportunity in the short term, but added there are many alternatives to military conflict: “Nobody wants another conflict in this region,” said Secretary Gates. “My view is that there are many courses of action available that do not involve an open conflict with Iran. There is no need for that.” At the same time, Mr. Gates said Gulf states have made clear their hope that the U.S. will take steps to contain Iranian ambitions. His additional comment that Iran has been emboldened by events in Iraq was echoed by other U.S. officials testifying before the House Intelligence Committee.
Negroponte / Iran
Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, says Iran is looking at the region in what he called a much more assertive way: “They have been providing, through their intelligence services, lethal assistance to some of the extremist Shia groups in Iraq, which is a factor contributing to the instability,” he said. The Bush administration has never taken the military option off the table when it comes to the impasse with Tehran over Iranian nuclear ambitions, while emphasizing its commitment to a diplomatic solution.
Ros-Lehtinen Interview: Interpol / Argentina
VOA Persian Television interviewed Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She and Committee Chairman Tom Lantos wrote a letter to Ronald Noble, the head of Interpol, urging the international security agency to enforce arrest warrants issued by Argentina for several top Iranian officials implicated in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. “And now we have the folks who we think were behind this bombing,” Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said. “It implicates people at the highest level of enemies of the United States, enemies of the Argentinean people, enemies of peace and stability and democracy. And now that we’re at the cusp of victory, Interpol begins to investigate some of the procedures and really is not helpful in bringing these horrible criminals to justice.”
Asked about having a direct dialogue with Iran, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said, “I am not in favor of having talks with a government that says, ‘Death to Israel.’ I think it is naïve and disingenuous to say that if we only talk to Ahmadinejad, that somehow we can have a resolution to all the problems in the Middle East. He is in fact part of the problem; he will not be the solution.”
Reed Interview: Kurds
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Armed Services Committee. In an exclusive interview with VOA Persian, Senator Reed spoke against the Kurdish make-up of two of the three Iraqi army brigades due to be sent to Baghdad under President Bush’s new strategic plan. “You are going to inject another ethnic dimension into violence in Baghdad,” Senator Reed said. “At this point, it has been principally a Sunni-Shiite struggle. Most of the units have been units that been localized – their families are there and it provides a different dynamic.” Former U.S. Ambassador Peter W. Galbraith told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee January 18 that Kurdish fighters “are ultimately loyal not to the national chain of command, but to their political party leaders,” in this case, to their regional government.
MsCaskill Interview: Surge and Dialogue
Senator Claire MsCaskill (D-MO), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, gave VOA Persian an exclusive interview. She said, “I think the question is at what point will the Iraqi government get serious about doing what it must do to govern that country. Is it while we are continuing to give them all the treasure and lives of our country? Or will it be when they realize that time has run out? Defense Secretary Robert Gates was part of the Baker-Hamilton Study Group that said regional diplomacy, including direct talks with Iran and Syria, is important. So I sense his discomfort that he recommended direct talks with Iran and Syria and now finds himself working for a president who refuses to talk with Iran and Syria.
Iran Complains to United Nations
Iran has sent an official letter of complaint to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding action against the United States for its recent arrest of five Iranians in Iraq. The Iranian letter strongly condemns the January 11 raid by U.S. forces on an Iranian office in the northern city of Irbil as an “illegal, flagrant violation of the basic principles of international law and diplomatic conventions.” Iran's ambassador to Iraq told reporters January 18 that Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, told him the five Iranians will be released soon. Iraqi and U.S. officials have not confirmed that the Iranians are to be released.
Jordan / Iran / Nukes
In an interview with Israel's Haaretz newspaper January 19, King Abdullah said Jordan wants nuclear power for peaceful purposes and has been discussing plans with the West. In response to a question about Iran's nuclear program, King Abdullah said that Jordan had previously advocated a nuclear-free Middle East, but he said “the rules have changed” throughout the region. The United States and its Western allies say Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charges.
But two hard-line newspapers in Iran, including one owned by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stay out of all matters nuclear. The New York Times reported January 19 that it was the first sign that Mr. Ahmadinejad has lost any degree of Ayatollah’s Khamenei’s confidence, a potentially damaging development for a president who has rallied his nation and defined his administration by declaring nuclear power Iran’s “inalienable right.”
Diplomats say Iran is ready to begin installing 3,000 centrifuges to produce enriched uranium after completing work at an underground facility. Media reports quoting diplomatic sources said January 18 that preparations are being made to install the centrifuges at Iran's plant in Natanz to produce nuclear fuel. The reports say the revelation is based on findings by U.N. nuclear agency inspectors who visited Natanz this week. In Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again lashed out at domestic critics of his policies in the international standoff on Iran's nuclear program. He vowed to press ahead with Tehran's nuclear program.
Diplomats in Vienna told reporters January 17 that the International Atomic Energy Agency has suspended some technical aid to Iran to comply with Security Council sanctions on Tehran's nuclear program. They said aid has been suspended to civilian projects that use sensitive nuclear material or where the aid could be diverted to weapons programs. The U.N. Security Council passed sanctions against Iran in December, barring trade in sensitive missile and nuclear technology and materials.
VOA Persian also reported on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who met with President Bush January 16. Iran and its nuclear ambitions were included in their discussions. Elaborating later in the day on his talks with the President, Mr. Ban told a group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that he has asked the international community to prevent the Iranian government from acquiring any further nuclear technology.
Military Equipment / Iran
In an exclusive report, the Associated Press says missile components and high-technology parts for fighter jets and helicopters have been among the material that has ended up in countries that are not supposed to receive such things. The AP reports that the Defense Department sold fighter jet parts to a broker secretly working for Iran even after the U.S. Customs Service had intercepted that same equipment on its way to Iran from a previous sale to another broker. Those parts were for F-14 Tomcat fighters, and according to the AP story, Iran is the only country that still flies those jets.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has confirmed that Russia has sold new anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. Mr. Ivanov told reporters in Moscow January 16 that Russia has supplied the TOR-M1 air defense missiles, in keeping with a contract between the two countries. Mr. Ivanov did not specify how many missiles have been sent, but a Russian defense ministry official said not all the systems have been delivered. In Washington, a U.S. official called the sale regrettable. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried told VOA that this is not the time for business as usual with Iran, because of what he called Tehran's nuclear weapons program.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the violence in Iraq, including Iranian Kurds. The al-Karama refugee camp, located along the Iraqi-Jordanian border, is home to nearly 200 such refugees, and has been for almost two years. The group arrived at al-Karama after fleeing al-Tash refugee camp in Iraq’s Anbar province following clashes between insurgents and U.S. forces. VOA Persian producer Reza Allahyari recently traveled to the makeshift camp where he produced a documentary profiling these Kurds, who left Anbar province with hopes of finding a better life, only to be stopped just a few hundred meters short of their goal, denied entrance to Jordan. A UNHCR official in Amman, Walpurga Englbrecht, told VOA that it is “very difficult for the UNHCR to actually provide effective protection and assistance to the Kurdish refugees where they are currently, in the no man’s land.” Larry Bartlett, who works with the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, says the U.S. is aware of this group and is working to resolve their plight. In the meantime, the only help the refugees receive is the occasional liter or two of water from sympathetic truck drivers passing by.
Roundtable focused on Kurdish refugees with Iranian journalist Faramarz Khodayari, who recently reported from Turkey on Iranian refugees, whose situation seems to mirror that of their countrymen at al-Karama. Kurdish refugees flooded the program with calls. “Our condition is hell,” said one. “But we came from a bigger hell,” said another, “and we live in the hope of having a better life.” “I pray my children have a better life than I do,” said yet another caller.
Iran / Journalists
Human Rights Watch recently honored Omid Memarian, an Iranian human rights activist who has creatively used the internet to press for a more open and democratic political regime in Iran, with it highest honor, the Human Rights Watch Defender Award. Appearing on Roundtable January 21, Mr. Memarian talked about what he described as President Ahmadinejad’s tenuous hold on power in the face of mounting criticism of his government. As reported in the New York Times, Mr. Memarian said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has reportedly given members of parliament a green light to criticize the president’s performance. Coupled with Iran’s deteriorating economy, Mr. Memarian said these developments could push Mr. Ahmadinejad’s opponents to replace him.
Late Edition profiled the International Center for Journalists’ new online program for Iranian journalists. The Farsi language website is designed to connect journalists with one another and to provide training opportunities. VOA Persian interviewed Fariba Amini, IJNet’s Associate Editor.
Iranian writer Kazem Kardavani, Secretary of the Iranian Writers Organization (PEN), appeared on Roundtable from Berlin, to discuss the state of Iranian universities since the 1979 revolution. He said the number of teaching staff has declined from 16,000 to less than nine thousand, with many colleges and institutions closed. Those that re-opened, he said, required students and faculty alike to have knowledge of theology and family connections to clergymen. Academic achievements and grades were relegated to the back seat. The number of institutions of higher learning is actually higher now than before the revolution. But Mr. Kardavani says such facilities are poor and the faculties are ill-equipped to teach at such levels. Further, graduates cannot find work and the number of unemployed with college educations is at an all-time high.
Roundtable took a break from the rising political tensions between the United States and Iran to focus on wrestling mats in the southern Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. Sports analyst Ali Sarshar discussed the participation of 20 American wrestlers in the two-day Persian Gulf Cup, also called the Takhti Cup, and its implications for U.S. public diplomacy. Coloradan Mo Lawal beat Amir Abbas Moradi of Iran to win the gold for freestyle wrestling in the 211.5 pound class. After the victory, he began shaking his shoulders and moving to the beat of traditional Iranian music being performed in the hall. The crowd cheered, and Lawal responded by going up to the stands and handing out American flags. Some spectators kissed him on the cheeks and forehead in a display of affection.
Women / Iran
Nayereh Tohidi is Chair of the Women’s Studies Department at California State University Northridge. Appearing on Roundtable, she said male domination in Iran is multi-layered, deep-rooted and complex, something that will not change just because of a change in government. However, she said the state plays a critical role in affecting women’s status with society. Ms. Tohidi said women in Iran are the beneficiaries of women’s movements in other countries and than Iranian women have resolved not to take a passive approach that relies on the promises of others. She pointed to the “One Million Signatures” campaign – designed to help reform discriminatory laws in Iran – as an example of different groups joining together in a common cause.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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.