Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – February 19, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included U.S. officials denying reports that the United States plans to attack Iran because of its complicity in providing materiel to insurgents in Iraq; continuing debate over Iran’s nuclear program as the International Atomic Energy Agency prepares a status report for the U.N. Security Council; Iranian war games; violence in Baluchistan; a visit to Tehran by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; and interviews with Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Farah Pahlavi, former Queen of Iran.
U.S. / Iran
Top U.S. officials say the United States has no plans to attack Iran. President Bush, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and White House spokesman Tony Snow – all made statements in the past week during news conferences, television appearances or public appearances unequivocally denying rumors that military action was in the works. Despite the assurances, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said February 15 that President Bush lacks the authority to invade Iran without specific approval from Congress, a fresh challenge to the commander-in-chief on the eve of a symbolic vote critical of his troop buildup in Iraq. Rep. Pelosi noted that President Bush consistently says he supports a diplomatic resolution to differences with Iran and she “takes him at his word.”
VOA Persian covered President Bush’s February 14 news conference in which he said he was convinced al-Quds, an elite Iranian military unit with government ties, is putting weapons in the hands of Iraqi insurgents. But Mr. Bush said no matter what role the top echelons of the Iranian government have played in the weapons transfers, there is ample cause for concern.
In a news conference with General Pace, Secretary Gates said, “We are not – for the umpteenth time – not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran. We are not planning a war with Iran. What we are trying to do is – inside Iraq – disrupt the networks that put these weapons in the hands of those who kill our troops. . .We know that the Quds force is involved. We know that the Quds force is a paramilitary arm of the IRGC. So, we assume that the leadership of the IRGC knows about this. Whether or not more senior political leaders in Iran know about it, we don't know. And frankly, for me, either way it's a worry. Either they do know, and have approved it, or they don't know and the IRGC may be acting on their own, in Iraq.”
General Pace told VOA he was not aware of the briefing by U.S. military officials in Baghdad last weekend, and that he could not, from his own knowledge, repeat the assertion made there that the elite Quds brigade of Iran's Republican Guard force is providing bomb-making kits to Iraqi Shiite insurgents. He said it is important to distinguish between intelligence assessments and facts. “We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se [specifically], knows about this. It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved. . . Whether or not more senior political leaders in Iran know about it, we do not know. And frankly, for me, either way it is a worry.”
Senator McConnell put it this way: “You are talking about Iranians inside Iraq trying to hurt American soldiers. Of course we are going to deal with them. [But] that is an entirely different issue from whether anybody is even suggesting the notion of going to war with Iran.”
Speaking at the Brookings Institution, Undersecretary Burns said, “I would say that next to the challenge that we have in front of us in Iraq, nothing is more important to the United States in the years ahead than to deal with this challenge which is multifaceted from the Iranian government. That challenge is an Iran that most of the world believes is trying to achieve a nuclear weapons capability, an Iran that continues to be in many respects the central banker of most of the Middle East terrorist groups, of Hezbollah and Hamas, of Palestinian and Islamic Jihad, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, just to name four terrorist groups.”
On a February 18 talk show, Tony Snow reiterated, “We are not planning to go across the border [into Iran]. But the president also is not going to rule out any alternatives. But for those who think we are beating the war drums, no [no plans to invade Iran].”
VOA Persian programming covered some aspect of the ongoing dispute over Iran’s nuclear program on a daily basis. Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh says Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani and IAEA chief Mohamed El-Baradei will meet in Vienna February 20. If it takes place, it will come one day ahead of a U.N. Security Council deadline – February 21 – for Iran to stop enriching uranium or face possible further sanctions. The IAEA is expected to issue a report later this week confirming that Iran has defied a Security Council order to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said February 17 that Iran’s nuclear program is necessary because its vast oil and gas reserves cannot last forever. Iran's state-run television quoted Ayatollah Khamenei as saying nations must have alternate energy sources to avoid being at the mercy of domineering countries. He lashed out at critics of Iran's nuclear program, calling them narrow-minded.
U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said in Washington at the Brookings Institution on February 14 that he does not expect Mr. El-Baradei's report to find Tehran in compliance, adding that the United States and other Security Council members may have to consider further penalties against the Islamic Republic. “Those of us in the Security Council will have to entertain the possibility of a second Security Council resolution that will gradually increase the pressure on Iran, but always leaving this exit door for the Iranians, that the offer remains on the table that we do want to negotiate with you. And all of us believe, including the United States, that a negotiated solution is possible.”
Testifying before Congress February 16, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tied possible talks with Iran to the U.N.'s demands that Tehran suspend its nuclear program. “I want to renew the request to Iran: Suspend your enrichment and reprocessing activities as is required by the resolutions and I'll meet anywhere, any time, anyplace with my counterparts to talk about any issue that Iran wishes to talk about.”
Interview: Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA)
VOA Persian conducted an exclusive interview with Congressman Sherman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. Mr. Sherman said he things USG broadcasting – to Iran and to the rest of the Muslim world – is one of the best investments the United States can make. He said there are two things the U.S. can do to influence Iran. “When the government of Iran has a policy that endangers Americans, government-to-government we can try to limit Iran economically in response to that. We want a government that cares about the people of Shiraz and Isfahan and Tehran, not a government that dreams of destroying Israel with nuclear weapons. The second thing we can do is to make sure that a thousand different viewpoints get through to the people of Iran. If this government falls or is changed, it will happen when millions of Iranians demand a change.” The congressman also said the Iranian people need assurance that their country can use nuclear energy to fuel electricity, whether their government is popular or not in Washington, and that this can be accomplished by the creation of an International Nuclear Fuel Bank, something proposed in legislation by Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA) earlier this month so that any country seeking to develop peaceful nuclear power-producing capability can do so without having to enrich uranium.
Iran War Games
Iran’s state media says Iran's Revolutionary Guards carried out missile tests as they began three days of war games February 19. The exercise covers 16 of Iran's 30 provinces, and involves 20 brigades of the elite guards – an independent wing of Iran's armed forces, controlled directly by the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Two weeks ago, Iran conducted two days of war games and tested new Russian-built air defenses. Iran says the exercises are to improve its defense capabilities.
Syria / Iran
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited Iran over the weekend to meet with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and top officials. Iran's state-owned media reported the leaders were expected to discuss instability in Iraq, the crisis in Lebanon and ways to strengthen bilateral ties. Syria is a firm supporter of Iran's nuclear program, which the United States says is aimed at building atomic weapons. Iran says the program is solely for peaceful purposes.
Al-Sadr in Iran?
Aides to radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr deny reports by U.S. officials that the Shi’ite leader fled to Iran two-three weeks ago. Sadr aides say he is still in Iraq, in the city of Najaf, but that he has reduced public appearances for security reasons. U.S. officials say Sadr left by car for Tehran as U.S. and Iraqi troops started a new crackdown on militias and insurgents.
Iranian police exchanged gunfire with militants near a school in the southeastern province of Baluchistan February 16, cordoning off the neighborhood in the city of Zahedan where the incident took place. On February 14, a car bomb blast in the same city killed 11 Iranian Revolutionary Guards. A Sunni Muslim group, Jundallah, which is reportedly linked to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for that attack. Sistan-Baluchistan province borders Pakistan and Afghanistan. Iran has accused the United States of backing militants in the sensitive border area to destabilize the country. VOA Persian dedicated an hour of Newstalk to the unrest in Baluchistan. From Paris, writer and journalist Cyrus Amouzgar said the violence illustrates the central government’s incompetence in providing security for the Iranian people. He also pointed out that the attackers did not target innocent people – they targeted government forces. Reza Hossein Bor, a specialist on ethnic minorities in Iran, told VOA from London that the Iranian regime has killed Baluchis for years, primarily because they are Sunnis. Journalist Mohsen Sazgara, now a visiting researcher at Harvard University, said when the government doesn’t honor people’s rights, different reactions – including violence – should be expected. He said national security is best achieved when people are empowered.
Interview: Empress Farah Pahlavi
The former Queen of Iran appeared live on Roundtable with You from Paris to reflect on the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which toppled the regime of her husband, and the role the royal family has played in Iran. Empress Farah talked about Iran that enjoyed wide respect in the international community during her husband’s reign compared with the country’s current isolation in the world. She insisted that people should not dwell on the past and refused to give direct answers to such questions, saying “what if’s will get us nowhere. We should be forward-looking and think of ways to rid Iran of its current plight.”
Interview: Mahshid Amir-Shahi
Born into a well-to-do family from Qazvin, Mahshid Amir-Shahi attended secondary school and college in England (including an M.A. from Oxford). But once back in Iran, she embarked on a career of writing stories and producing translations, among them E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. In self-exile since the early days of the Islamic Revolution, Ms. Amir-Shahi has since published a wide variety of books, from an autobiographical narrative to collections of short stories. On Roundtable, Ms. Amir-Shahi said intellectuals in Iran blindly believed in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s promises of democracy, personal freedoms and enhancing women’s rights. She said they wanted, at the time, to write and speak against the Shah’s regime without having a clear understanding of what an Islamic government would truly entail. Ms. Amir-Shahi said the intellectuals were wrong: Ayatollah Khomeini’s legacy is like a venom that is debilitating Iranian society. She added that the best antidote is to not give up the struggle for a brighter future.
Computer engineer and Web specialist Sam Ghandchi told VOA Persian that the Iranian government’s filtering is so extensive today that it is filtering over 10 million Web sites. “The Islamic Republic is working around the clock to filter the latest public proxy sites as soon as they are announced, thus blocking the main alternate route of Iranian Web users to access the Internet freely.” Mr. Ghandchi suggested the best new way to combat filtering is to join more port-agile Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks. He said such networks can help create an alternative infrastructure to access the Internet by popularizing a new file sharing scheme for Internet users. Mr. Ghandchi said most P2P protocols are open source and that they can provide encrypted solutions for the point of entry to the network as needed.
What VOA Persian Viewers Have to Say
Roundtable dedicated a show to viewers and their opinions of the Revolution’s achievements – or lack thereof – generating a high volume of calls, most highly critical of the Islamic regime. One caller from Rasht said he anticipates a dark future for his children because of the abundance of cheap drugs in Iran. Another viewer recalled the take-over of the American Embassy in 1979 and how it has led to the eventual isolation of Iran in the world community. A caller questioned his government’s support of Hezbollah and Hamas when 15 million Iranians live in poverty. A journalist called in citing brain drain in Iran, saying 150,000 Iranians – artisans and college graduates – left the country last year to find jobs.
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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.