Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – February 12, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included ongoing debate on the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program; evidence of Iranian armaments in the hands of Iraqi insurgents; the 28th anniversary of the revolution in Iran; a rare interview with Iran’s most prominent dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri; and a series of interviews with U.S. legislators – Senator Richard Lugar and Representatives Mark Kirk and John Boozman.
VOA Persian continued to cover the ongoing standoff with Iran over its nuclear program. State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said February 9 that Iran is finding itself further isolated as international supporters for its nuclear program are reduced to “a gang of four” – Cuba, Venezuela, Syria and Belarus. Speaking to reporters in Buenos Aires, Mr. Burns said, “Iran is digging a hole deeper and deeper for itself” in the international dispute over its atomic energy program. Iran seems to be determined to further its isolation internationally on this issue of nuclear weapons.” Mr. Burns said a diplomatic resolution could overcome the impasse between global powers and Tehran over its nuclear ambitions.
The International Atomic Energy Agency suspended nearly half of its technical aid projects to Iran last week in a bid to comply with U.N. sanctions placed on Tehran because of its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. Iran’s Nuclear Agency announced February 10 that the I.A.E.A. can now fully supervise activities at its nuclear facility in Natanz as the U.N. agency has installed surveillance cameras at the plant.
Meanwhile, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, traveled to Germany over the weekend for meetings with German and European Union officials, the first such meeting since talks collapsed in September. Mr. Larijani said Iran was willing to return to formal discussions and said his country had “no intention of aggression against any country,” adding that Iran “posed no threat to Israel” despite past vows from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel “off the map.”
In Tehran, Mr. Ahmadinejad also said Iran was willing to resume negotiations, although both he and Mr. Larijani rejected a condition for talks set by the U.N. Security Council – that Iran first suspend its uranium enrichment program. “We are prepared for dialogue,” the president said, “but won’t suspend our activities.” American and European officials in Munich expressed doubt about Iran’s sincerity. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt told reporters that “offering to negotiate but saying suspension’s off the table raises a real question about [Iran’s] sincerity.”
Another Iranian envoy, Ali Akbar Velayati, traveled to Moscow February 8 for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin expressed hope for a negotiated solution to the standoff.
The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to convene later this month to judge Iranian compliance with a unanimous December resolution giving Iran until February 21 to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activities.
Defense Department on Iran
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said February 9 that serial numbers and other markings on bombs suggest that Iran is linked to deadly explosives used by Iraqi militants. Mr. Gates told reporters in Seville, Spain, that markings on explosives provide “pretty good” evidence that Iranians are supplying either weapons or technology for Iraqi extremists. The Secretary also insisted the United States is not planning military action against Iran. “I don’t know how many times the President, Secretary Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran.”
The Washington Post February 12 quoted senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad as saying “Iran is a significant contributor to attacks on coalition forces, and also supports violence against the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi people.” The officials displayed mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades and a powerful cylindrical bomb capable of lasting through an armored Humvee that they said were manufactured in Iran and supplied to Shiite militias in Iraq for attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops. The Post quoted an official at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad as saying the U.S. accusations are “fabricated” and “baseless.”
Khamenei: “If Attacked, Iran Will Respond”
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said February 8 that if attacked by the United States, Iran will respond by striking U.S. interests all over the world. Speaking to Iranian air force commanders, Iran’s supreme leader said “the enemy knows well that the Iranian nation will give a comprehensive response to any aggression.” Mr. Khamenei spoke on the second and final day of war games carried out by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman. The Guard says it has successfully tested a new Russian-built air defense system and also missiles that one commander said are capable of sinking “big ships.”
Iran in Iraq
Iranian officials are blaming the U.S. military for playing a role in the kidnapping of a top Iranian diplomat in Baghdad, but American officials in Iraq insist U.S. forces were not involved. A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry says Iraqis bearing military identification snatched Jalal Sharafi, a top secretary at the Iranian Embassy, while he drove through central Baghdad February 4. The spokesman said Iran holds the United States responsible for the safety of its diplomat. A spokesman for the U.S. military said the incident is under investigation.
Interview: Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri
Once the heir apparent to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Montazeri fell from grace in 1988 just before the revolutionary leader’s death, for criticizing human rights abuses by the regime. Mr. Montazeri was swiftly replaced as successor to Ayatollah Khomeini by the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But he remained in the post of grand ayatollah, with a large following among the Iranian faithful and responsibility to interpret the rulings of the supreme leader. In 1997, Mr. Montazeri was placed under house arrest in the holy city of Qom for questioning the unaccountable rule of the supreme leader.
Known as Iran’s most prominent prisoner or conscience, Ayatollah Montazeri talked with VOA Persian via fax and through his son, Ahmad. He warned that the “small group of people running Iran is giving Islam a bad name . . . putting people in jail, denying their rights, giving false statistics on problems such as poverty and unemployment.” On Iran’s nuclear program, Ayatollah Montazeri said the Iranian regime “is not qualified and should stop provoking other countries.” On the sectarian violence in Iraq, he said “all groups, religions . . . should live side by side, including all minorities who should be free citizens. He denied an “absolute” velayat-e-faqih (guardianship of the clergy) – a direct challenge to the authority of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Interview with Mark Kirk (R-IL)
Congressman Kirk, who discussed U.S.-Iran relations, spoke directly with VOA Persian’s Iranian audience on Roundtable’s live viewer call-in segment. Mr. Kirk has called for legislation asking the United Nations to open a war crimes investigation on Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Representative Kirk, a Naval Reserve intelligence officer, said a military strike in Iran is not a good option because the nuclear structure there is too wide. Instead, Mr. Kirk recommended a gasoline quarantine because Iran depends on foreign sources for 60 percent of its oil supply. “We have the creative intellect here to force the international community to be effective without bombing anyone.”
Interview with John Boozman (R-AR)
Congressman Boozman, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, discussed U.S.-Iranian relations, Iran’s nuclear program, and the possibility of a military strike against Iran. Like Rep. Kirk, Mr. Boozman appeared on Roundtable and spoke directly with VOA Persian’s viewers, taking their questions regarding U.S. policy. He told viewers one of the most active and trusted members of his district is an Iranian-American who serves on the city council. Mr. Boozman said the United States makes a distinction between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people, and said the government’s actions are of deep concern, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks on Israel, his denial of the Holocaust, Iran’s support for terrorism, for insurgents in Iraq, for Hezbollah in Lebanon . . . that these are points of tension that cannot be ignored. Mr. Boozman also said nuclear energy is the U.S. cannot trust the regime in Tehran to develop nuclear weapons, saying it could transfer the technology to terrorist organizations and create an arms race in the region. In response to a viewer’s question, the congressman said the United States had no plans to attack Iran and that it hoped diplomacy would resolve tensions. That said, he said military options are always on the table.
Interview with Richard Lugar (R-IN)
Senator Lugar, ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told VOA Persian that the people of Iran should not be concerned by rumors of a possible U.S. military attack on Iran or Iranian nuclear sites. Senator Lugar said he thinks diplomacy, backed by economic sanctions, will eventually restore relations despite today’s tensions, which are precipitated by two specific things: Iran’s provision of military assistance to Iraqi insurgents and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Senator said the U.S. has no plans for regime change in Iran.
Europe / Iran
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on a Middle East tour, urged Iranian leaders to return to negotiations on the country’s nuclear program. Ms. Merkel was speaking to reporters after meeting in Kuwait with Prime Minister Nasser al-Sabah. In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told lawmakers that although all options are on the table, no one is planning military action against Tehran.
Revolution’s 28th Anniversary: Religion, Politics, Women
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke to tens of thousands of Iranians at a rally Sunday celebrating the 28th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. His speech fell short of an expected announcement that Iran has started installing thousands of centrifuges for enriching uranium. Instead, he told the crowds that Iran will announce “great achievements” by April 9.
Others in Iran looked to the past in talking about the revolution. Hossein Ladjvardi is president of the Paris-based Association of Iranian Researchers. In a wide-ranging interview on the Iranian identity, Mr. Ladjvardi said before 1979, Iran was a pluralistic society, with people of different faiths living amongst each other for centuries in harmony. This pluralism was a part of the Iranian identity. But Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini changed that, he said, by formalizing Islam is Iran’s religion. Mr. Ladjvardi said Islamists have tried to eliminate the Iranian identity and replace it with Islamic values, with the end result being 15 million people hungry, high unemployment and high inflation, and suppression of religious and ethnic minorities.
Abbas Milani is Director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. He also is co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution. Appearing on Roundtable, Mr. Milani reviewed Iran’s diplomacy over the past three decades, saying Iran’s foreign policy is a reflection of the kind of government that rules inside Iran. “The Islamic Republic established its rule of terror from the early days of coming to power, and in its foreign policy and international relations set out to create crises.” Mr. Milani said Iran’s good name has become synonymous with terrorism and violence, starting with the take-over of the U.S. Embassy in 1979, to the Iran-Iraq War, to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah and the recent conference in Tehran on the Holocaust being a myth.
Mehrangiz Kar, a prominent attorney and human rights activist who is now a fellow at Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, said the first victims of the Islamic Revolution were Iranian women who lot the very little they had achieved under the Shah’s regime. She said after the revolution, women judges were summarily dismissed. Women had to cover themselves. Laws that supported women’s rights within the household were abolished. In a court of law, it now takes two women to equal the voice of one man. Stoning was re-introduced as punishment.
Profile of Baluchestan
Roundtable with You focused on the economic and social conditions in Sistan and Baluchestan, Iran’s largest province yet its most underdeveloped. Located in southeastern Iran bordering Afghanistan and Iran, its capital city, Zahedan, has a population of nearly one-half million. Abdolsatar Doshoki is general secretary of the United Front of Baluchestan. He said a majority of the indigenous people of Baluchestan are Sunnis, but are not allowed to teach or learn their own dialect in schools, making them discriminated against for religious and cultural reasons. Mr. Doshoki said the Iranian government recently sent a delegation of Shiite mullahs to the province in order to proselytize the ethnic Baluchis. Journalist Mahmoud Brahouinejad echoed the views of Mr. Doshoki, adding that ethnic Baluchis are rarely given a say in how their province is run because the local government is controlled by Shiites appointed by Tehran – the local leaders are not accountable to their constituents.
Pakistan / Iran
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met February 5 in Iran with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. VOA Persian interviewed Mushahid Hussain, Secretary General of the Pakistan Muslim League and Chairman of Pakistan’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Hussain said the main purpose of General Musharraf’s Middle East tour – he also visited Turkey – is to contribute to efforts to bring peace to the region. Mr. Hussain said it is part of consultations with like-minded Muslim countries where Pakistan wants to address problems affecting the Muslim world. President Musharraf has been promoting the idea of a forum of Muslim nations to give them a role in trying to resolve the conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
Freedom of the Press
Freelance journalist Taghi Rahmani told VOA Persian that being under house arrest in Tehran is not comparable to the severe violation of human rights suffered by so many Iranians. Speaking from the Iranian capital, Mr. Rahmani said Iran’s parliament had ignored questions about his arrest. Mr. Rahmani was prevented from leaving Iran several weeks ago as he prepared to travel to Denmark to receive a prize awarded by the local section of the freedom of expression organization, PEN International. Authorities also seized his passport. Mr. Rahmani has worked for several Iranian publications, which has brought him into frequent conflict with the regime. Between 1981 and 2005, he was sentenced to a total of 5,000 days in prison for articles he had written.
VOA Persian is scheduled to interview National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley this week on newest developments in U.S.-Iranian relations.
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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.
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