Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – February 5, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included increasingly strong comments by U.S. officials on Iran’s alleged support for insurgents in Iraq; developments in the ongoing stand-off on Iran’s nuclear program; interviews with House International Relations Chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA), NSC spokesman Gordon Johndroe, and Prince Reza Pahlavi; Congressional hearings touching on Iran with Admiral William Fallon, John Negroponte, Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright; and on the road in Irbil.
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
President Bush says if Iran escalates violence in Iraq, the United States will respond firmly – but that doesn’t mean “we’re going to invade Iran.” In an interview with National Public Radio January 29, President Bush said if Iran foments violence in Iraq, he will take action. “If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and, or, innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly,” said President Bush. He urged Tehran not to – in his words “sow discord and harm” in Iraq. “The message to the Iranian people,” the President said, “is that your government is going to cause you deprivation. In other words, you've got a chance to really flourish again as a great tradition [culture]. However, if your government continues to insist upon a nuclear weapon, there will be a lost opportunity for the Iranian people. They won't be able to realize their full potential.”
At a joint news conference with chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Robert Gates February 2 all but ruled out military strikes on Iran, saying, “we are not planning for a war with Iran.” Both Mr. Gates and General Peter Pace said there is growing evidence of Iranian involvement in insurgent attacks in Iraq.
The National Intelligence Estimate released February 2 said Iranian support for armed Shi'ite militias has clearly intensified the conflict in Iraq. But the NIE judges that internal sectarian animosities are fueling the violence and threatening stability more than the involvement of Iran and Syria.
U.S. media reports say the United States is investigating possible Iranian involvement in a recent attack that killed five American soldiers in Iraq's city of Karbala. But U.S. officials are downplaying the reports. At the State Department, a senior U.S. official said he does not know anything to substantiate the conclusion that Iran was involved, and called the idea a “supposition.” White House spokesman Tony Snow said he would not comment on what he called “speculation” about Iranian involvement in the attack in Karbala. The New York Times and CNN reported that the Defense Department is trying to determine whether Iranians or Iranian-trained operatives carried out the attack.
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a probable candidate for president in 2008, warned against drifting into hostilities with Iran without first pursuing diplomacy, citing the president's own Iraq Study Group’s recommendation for direct talks with Iran over Iraq. “You've got a policy that appears to be purposely somewhat ambiguous in terms of how the administration is going to pursue Iranians who are on Iraqi soil,” said Senator Obama. “This has led to grave concern on the part of many observers that we are stumbling into a more aggressive posture with respect to Iran.” The Bush administration has authorized U.S. forces to kill or capture Iranian agents who it says are plotting attacks in Iraq. Iran denies it is aiding the insurgents.
President Bush told the ABC News January 30 that the United States will take whatever action is necessary, but he emphasized that this does not mean he intends to invade Iran. “We're going to protect our troops. It's not tough talk to say that the commander-in-chief expects our troops to be protected. That's common sensical [sense] talk, it seems like to me. Some are trying to take my words and say: ‘Well, what he's really trying to do is go invade Iran.’ Nobody's talking about that.”
Burns / Iran
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns says U.S. forces have detained Iranians suspected of “giving very sophisticated explosive technology to Shi'ite insurgent groups” in Iraq. The U.S. diplomat made the remark in an interview with National Public Radio, which was broadcast February 1. Describing the situation as very serious, Mr. Burns said “the message from the United States is, Iran should cease and desist.” He said that for about two years the United States has been tracking Iranian involvement and has found increasing evidence of Iranian assistance to Shi'ite groups in southern Iraq. He added they now have begun operations “throughout the country,” including the Baghdad region.
Interview: NSC spokesman Gordon Johndroe
In an exclusive interview with VOA Persian, NSC spokesman Gordon Johndroe discussed President Bush’s warning to Iran not to meddle in the affairs of Iraq: “What we’ve seen is a shift on the ground in Iraq. That is troubling, in that Iranian government agents are providing supplies, training, that sort of thing, leading to IED attacks that are killing American troops and harming innocent Iraqi civilians as well. So what President Bush is doing, or saying, is that when we get information that our troops could be harmed by this, or Iraqi civilians could be harmed by this, we’re going to have to take action to protect our forces on the ground.”
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said February 3 that U.N. officials are free to inspect the country's nuclear sites under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran is a signatory to the treaty, but has restricted access to its atomic facilities in the past, including last month when it barred 38 U.N. inspectors from entering Iran. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) have the right to oppose the visit of certain inspectors. Another senior government official in Iran said February 3 that U.N. inspectors have set up cameras at an underground section of the Natanz complex, where Iran is increasing its uranium enrichment activities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said February 1 that he supports a proposal by the I.A.E.A. for the international community to hold off sanctions on Iran if the Tehran government suspends sensitive nuclear activities. Mr. Putin said the plan could help remove suspicions that Iran intends to create nuclear weapons. The head of the I.A.E.A., Mohamed El Baradei, has suggested that Iran halt its controversial uranium enrichment program while the West delays implementing United Nations-endorsed sanctions. Mehrdad Khonsari, a former Iranian diplomat now affiliated with the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, told VOA Persian that behind-the-scenes, Tehran wants access to nuclear weapons to guarantee its power on the world stage. He predicts further sanctions because Iran, he believes, will not comply with U.N. Security Council edicts.
When French President Jacques Chirac told reporters last Monday that he would not be overly worried if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon, he inadvertently said aloud what some policymakers and arms control experts have been whispering – that the world may have to learn to live with a nuclear Iran. Mr. Chirac quickly retracted his words, and Élysée Palace reaffirmed France’s commitment to preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state. But in veering from the prepared script and letting the veil of caution fall, he became he first Western leader to imply that containment of a nuclear Iran is preferable to other options, especially war. On January 29, President Chirac said that if Iran had one or two nuclear weapons, it would not pose a big danger, and that if Iran were to launch a nuclear weapons against a country like Israel, it would lead to the immediate destruction of Tehran. The next day, Mr. Chirac summoned the same journalists he’d spoken with the day before back to his office where he retracted many of his remarks. From Paris, journalist Safa Haeri told VOA Persian that despite Mr. Chirac’s comments, it is U.S. policy toward Iran that is still the focus of debate on Iran and in Iran – with Iranian officials concerned about a possible military attack on Iran and other Western officials wondering whether policy change in Iran will be changed to a policy of regime change. Also from Paris, writer and journalist Cyrus Amouzgar said President Chirac’s words have one basic message: Iran’s insistence on becoming a nuclear nation will come with a heavy cost.
Professor Sadegh Ziba Kalam from the Department of Political Science at Tehran University told VOA Persian that the intransigence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy has turned into a plus for the United States in that it has turned a number of countries into like-minded allies because of their alienation from Mr. Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ziba Kalam said even neutral countries are now aligning themselves with the United States because of President Ahmadinejad.
Interview: U.S. Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA)
Congressman Lantos discussed Iran’s nuclear program and international sanctions against Iran in an interview with VOA Persian, saying “We are taking a very clear position that given Iran’s headlong pursuit of a military nuclear program to fuel this by the injection of billions of dollars either from the European or Chinese sources is contrary to our national interest and to the stability or the region. Iran has lied about its nuclear program for 18 years and when it was caught, it has now attempted to delay action by the international community as manifested by the United Nations resolution to terminate this program. And we are determined to push this through to a very successful conclusion.” Congressman Lantos, who recently visited the region with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said, “there is great concern about the role Iran is playing. There is great anxiety about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and about the destabilizing impact Iran is having within Iraq. This was the highest priority with all of the government leaders with whom we had the opportunity of talking.”
Confirmation Hearing: Fallon
Admiral William J. Fallon – President Bush’s nominee to command U.S. forces in the Middle East – told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran is positioning its military to deny U.S. access to the Persian Gulf while acting as a “destabilizing” influence in the region. Admiral Fallon said he favors using what one senator (John Warner, R-VA) called “battleship diplomacy” to deter Iran. But the Admiral said Iran would stand to suffer from any interruption of commerce in the Gulf. “This is not a one-sided game or a one-sided situation,” he said. “Iran is, I believe, critically dependent on its exports of petroleum products for its economic vitality, and those exports, of course, go through the same Strait of Hormuz that they would potentially seek to deny us access to.”
Confirmation Hearing: Negroponte
The outgoing national intelligence director, John Negroponte, also remarked on Iran’s rising assertiveness at his separate hearing to be deputy secretary of state. “Iran has been emboldened in its behavior during the past couple of years and has played a more assertive role,” Mr. Negroponte said. He said that although the United States seeks to resolve issues with Iran peacefully, “we don’t believe that their behavior, such as supporting Shia extremists in Iraq, should go unchallenged. So it’s a balance, if you will, but if they feel that they can continue with this kind of activity with impunity, that will be harmful to the security of Iraq and to our interests in that country.” In response to a question from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), Mr. Negroponte said the Bush administration would not initiate high-level talks on Iraq with Syria or Iran. “The view at the moment is that we are reluctant to initiate a diplomatic dialogue with Iran until there has been some progress on this nuclear issue.”
Talks with Iran and Syria
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee January 31, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright urged the administration to engage Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria. Mr. Kissinger, who was secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations, proposed talking to Iran and Syria as part of a regional conference on Iraq. Mr. Kissinger said radical fundamentalism promoted by Iran is the biggest threat to the region. Although he said he believes Iran may have little incentive to help the United States solve the Iraq problem, he argued that Washington should seek to engage Tehran nonetheless.
The Bush administration has placed conditions on any talks with Iran and Syria. U.S. officials say Iran must halt its nuclear program, which the United States and its allies believe is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, before bilateral talks are possible with Tehran. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served under the Clinton administration, said, “We can talk to governments without endorsing them or overlooking past actions. Talking to governments about hard problems is why diplomacy matters,” she said.
Ali Afshari is a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. He told VOA Persian that those who support dialogue with Iran and Syria must understand the subject and nature of dialogue is important, not the holding of dialogue per se. Mr. Afshari said Iran wants to be the center of the Islamic world, and that its behavior is evidence of its desire for confrontation between Sunni and Shia, between Arabs and Iran.
Iran Human Rights
The U.S. State Department January 31 called on the Iranian government to cease what it said is the systematic repression of political dissidents and activists from ethnic and religious minorities. The comments came in response to reports of mistreatment of a jailed Azeri-Iranian prisoner, Abbas Lisani. The Bush administration has joined human rights groups in taking up the Lisani case, which it says is indicative of a broader pattern of repression by the Iranian government. Amnesty International says Mr. Lisani, a long-time activist for Iran's Azeri minority, is on a hunger strike in an Iranian prison to protest the refusal of authorities to grant him medical leave, and their harassment of his family for publicizing the case.
28 Years after the Islamic Revolution
A Roundtable with You began a special series on the 28th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and its impact on the country and on U.S.-Iranian relations. Over several weeks – culminating on the official day of the revolution, February 11 –Roundtable is examining the revolution’s history and its implications for the country’s politics, religion, culture and foreign policy. As part of the series, VOA Persian interviewed Prince Reza Pahlavi, former crown prince of Iran. “I am part of a lost generation,” Mr. Pahlavi said, “but what I see today is that my country is facing a dangerous situation: empty slogans, unemployment, inflation, suppression, violation of human rights, international isolation, support of terrorism . . . this is what characterizes the Islamic regime after 28 years. . . Our country is facing a real danger, and it is our duty to work to save our nation from this dangerous path. It is also out duty to work hard, to unite our efforts to build a united front, to change the regime and save our country.”
Stay out of Iran
Late Edition reported on Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) and a forum of experts she hosted on January 31 to discuss U.S. policy toward Iran: potential implications of pre-emptive war there, non-military alternatives to addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and engaging Iran in efforts to strengthen regional stability by ending sectarian violence in Iraq. She announced the introduction of her Iran Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 2007, which would pledge the U.S. “not to enter into a preemptive war against Iran in the absence of an imminent threat, and then only in accordance with international law and constitutional and statutory requirements for congressional authorization.”
Stop Arming Iran
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) says he will press on with legislation to permanently bar the Pentagon from selling leftover F-14 jet fighter parts despite the Defense Department's decision to pull them off the market while it considers national security concerns. The spares rank high on Iran's military shopping list. “The Pentagon is shutting the barn door for now when national security demands that we lock it,” Senator Wyden said. Iran is the only country trying to keep F-14s flyable. With little ability to produce parts on its own, Iran is aggressively pursuing several avenues to get hold of U.S. spares, including Pentagon surplus sales, federal law enforcement officials say.
On the Road in Irbil
The Iraqi city of Irbil was in the headlines three weeks ago as the site of a U.S. raid on an Iranian government office. VOA Persian went on the road to Irbil this past week and reported live on a wide range of issues with Kurdish regional government officials, from Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani and his deputy, Ezzat Ali Issa, to Interior Minister Karim Sanjari, Professor Nabil Al-Ethar, and Iranian opposition leader Mustafa Ejrat, who lives in exile in Iraq.
Evidence of Effectiveness
Roundtable dedicated a program to viewers, opening up phone lines and e-mails to viewer comments. We received a record number on both scores: over 300 e-mails – a typical show receives 40-60 e-mails – and over the course of the one hour show, our phone lines were continuously lit; we were able to take 25 calls. Many of the callers expressed disappointment with their government. One sample: a caller from the oil rich city of Abadan said, “I am tired of all the false promises for heaven after death. I want a life, liberty in the world I am living in now – not something imaginary promised by the clergy.”
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