Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – February 26, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included Iran’s defiance of a U.N. Security Council deadline to stop its uranium enrichment program; Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talking about US policy toward Iran; upcoming 5+1 U.N. Security Council talks on possible additional sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear activities; interviews with the Director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Henry Obering; former Defense Secretary William Cohen; AEI Resident Fellow Richard Perle; State Department official Alberto Fernandez; and Oscar nominee Kami Asgar; an update on the human rights situation in Iran; and ongoing oppression against Kurds with new charges leveled against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran Ignores Deadline
VOA Persian reported daily on the continuing stand-off Iran is having with the world community over its nuclear program. This week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed to pursue nuclear technology – a day after the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Iran has failed to stop enriching uranium as demanded by the U.N. Security Council. Mr. Ahmadinejad said February 23 that Iran must stand up to the world and not show weakness over its nuclear program. At a prayer meeting in Tehran February 23, former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had recently urged a more conciliatory stance toward the West in the dispute, appeared to back Mr. Ahmadinejad’s position.
The I.A.E.A. reported to the Security Council February 22 that Iran has expanded its uranium enrichment activity in direct defiance of the U.N., clearing the way for possible further sanctions against Iran. On December 23, the Security Council set a 60-day deadline for Iran to end the enrichment work.
Ali Granmayeh, a Research Associate at London University’s Middle East Institute, told VOA Persian that Iran has created regional tensions by insisting on uranium enrichment. He said Saudi Arabia’s and Kuwait’s rulers have both asked Iran to stop its enrichment program while Iran’s support for Hezbollah in Iran and for Shi’ites in Iraq also has caused concern by many Arab governments.
From Los Angeles, author, journalist and editor of quarterly magazine Rahavad, Ghafour Mirzaie, told Roundtable with You a story that described the internal situation in Iran vis-à-vis the nuclear stand-off. He said President Ahmadinejad told a large audience at a mosque that a teacher had called his office to notify him that a 16-year-old student, with the help of her brother, had discovered nuclear energy at home. Reaction, of course, Mr. Mirzaie reminded Roundtable viewers, was swift. Mr. Ahmadinejad asked the director of Iran’s Nuclear Agency to send a few of his top scientists to interview the student and verify her findings. They found that she had indeed discovered nuclear energy – with the purchase of just a few items from an open market. Mr. Mirzaie said fanaticism and ignorance in Iran feed on these kinds of stories.
The Carrot and the Stick
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney seemed to best illustrate the duality of the U.S. approach to Iran, one focusing on diplomacy, the other making it clear that military action is among options available to the United States. Secretary Rice again extended an olive branch to Iran on February 21, offering to talk anywhere, anyplace if Iran stops enriching uranium. From Berlin, the Secretary said the United States has no desire for confrontation with Iran. We can continue to try to reach those who are reasonable in Iran, she said, telling them that the course of Iran is destructive. At a news conference in Ottawa February 23, Ms. Rice said, “We've been very clear that we're on a diplomatic path, that we believe the diplomatic path can succeed if the international community stays unified. I believe that everybody understands the importance of continuing to show the Iranians that there is a both a Security Council track if they will not adhere to international standards, and a negotiated track if they will. I expect on that we're all on the same page.”
Vice President Dick Cheney says Washington wants to deal with Iran through diplomacy, but says “all options are still on the table” to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons. At a news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Sydney February 24, Mr. Cheney said the U.S. government has worked with Europeans and the United Nations to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program, and a peaceful diplomatic solution remains the preference. But he said it would be a serious mistake if Iran became a nuclear power, leaving open the possibility of military action.
U.S. / Iran
Iran's foreign minister played down the possibility of U.S. military action against its nuclear facilities, saying February 24 that the United States is in no position to impose another crisis on the region or its own citizens. His comments followed Vice President Cheney’s remarks about options for dealing with Iran's unwillingness to halt its nuclear activities. In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters he does not see the United States imposing another crisis on its taxpayers by starting another war in the Middle East, and should instead be thinking how to extricate itself from Iraq. At his weekend news conference in Sydney, Mr. Cheney said the United States is “deeply concerned” about Iran's activities, including its sponsorship of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group and inflammatory statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as its nuclear activities. Iran's foreign minister said negotiations, not threats, are the way to resolve the impasse.
The five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany are to meet in London today to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue and start work on a new resolution that would impose further sanctions on Iran. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the door for negotiations with Iran remains open. Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin says his country would prefer not to impose new sanctions. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is “deeply concerned” that the Iranian government did not meet the February 21 deadline. Iran’s Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. said February 23 that Iran has no intention of producing nuclear weapons: “Iran has clearly and continuously stressed that nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in its military doctrine.”
Israel Wants Tough Sanctions
Israel is calling for a tough international response to the I.A.E.A. report. A former Israeli ambassador to Washington, Danny Ayalon, said February 23 “that there is a price for them to pay if they continue in this path of belligerence, of intransigence. And if they do not comply, I think there is a path to continue and ratchet up the pressure, all the way if need be.” Israel has expressed growing alarm about Iran’s nuclear program for over a year since President Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe the Jewish state off the map. Senior officials have hinted that if the international community fails to act decisively, Israel might take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Russia / Missile Defense
American and Russian generals, diplomats and politicians are continuing an exchange of words over a U.S. proposal to deploy a new missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia is concerned the system would target it. America fears without it, the United States would be open to an emerging missile threat from Iran. The Director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, says it would take three-four years to build out any kind of capability, and that such a system would consist of 10 interceptor missiles in Europe, 40 in Alaska and four in California. Poland and the Czech Republic are situated directly along the shortest line between Iran and the United States. If Iran were to develop and fire an intercontinental missile at America, the two countries would be ideal locations for hitting the missile in mid-flight.
Interview: Lt. Gen. Henry Obering
In an interview with VOA Persian, Gen. Obering said locating 10 interceptors in a missile field in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic in no way threatens Russia’s ICBM fleet. He said Russia has thousands of warheads on hundreds of inter-continental ballistic missiles, and that 10 interceptors do nothing to threaten that equation. Gen. Obering also said even if the interceptors tried to target Russian ICBMs, they couldn’t catch the missiles in any case. In response to comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin that Iran poses no long-range threat today, Gen. Obering said, “That is correct. But that is not what we have to look at. We have to look at what is going to happen in the next three-four years, the next 10 years, because it takes time to build these defenses.”
Interview: William S. Cohen
In an interview with VOA Persian, former Defense Secretary William Cohen said the United Nations should take its commitment toward Iran seriously. Asked about Iran’s latest military maneuvers in the Persian and whether Iran poses a threat to U.S. forces in the region, Mr. Cohen said U.S. forces in the gulf are vulnerable. “Ships that pass from through the Persian Gulf are not immune from possible attacks. But I don’t think such an attack will actually happen. This move would be a catastrophic miscalculation on the part of Iran as it would be followed by a harsh response.” The former secretary said he thinks it is a mistake for Iran to interpret policy debate in the United States for weakness. “If Iran thinks it can exploit such debate, I say it may have an opposite effect, just like it did when Mr. Ahmadinejad tried to deny the Holocaust. He stood on the opposite side of the international community.”
Interview: Richard Perle
Richard Perle, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told VOA Persian that the most important issue in the Middle East today is Iraq, and he expressed hope that the U.S. government’s planned troop surge helps contain violence so that the elected government can better perform its responsibilities. He said he has no doubt Iranian intelligence is openly operating in southern Iraq in supplying insurgents with explosives and technology. Mr. Perle said Iran, in his view, is a threat to the region and to the international community because it is the principle supporter of terrorism today. He said Iran is a threat, and a nuclear, armed Iran is a more dangerous threat. He said dialogue may well be good, but that at the end of the day, a decision may have to be made to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. He said another approach would be to support regime change.
Interview: Alberto Fernandez
Alberto Fernandez is Director for Public Diplomacy of the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Asked about a recent BBC report citing the revelation of U.S. contingency plans to attack Iran, Mr. Fernandez told VOA Persian, “We’ve said it many times, and I will say it again: we do not want a confrontation with Iran. We respect Iran’s wish for obtaining atomic power for peaceful purposes. The way for diplomacy and negotiations is still open.”
Interview: Kami Asgar
Oscar nominee Kami Asgar appeared on Roundtable with You to discuss the 79th Academy Awards. Nominated for Sound Editing with Sean McCormack for his work on Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, Mr. Asgar said his father owned three movie theatres in Iran and the Markazi movie studio where he did voiceovers in Farsi on foreign films. He and his family left Iran in 1976 and came to the United States in 1979. His father continued to make films in Los Angeles, and asked Mr. Asgar to help put sound effects in the films. Mr. Asgar said that triggered his interest, leading him to attend film school, and later begin work with Sony studios. His first year there, he was nominated for an Emmy for his work on “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.” He and Sean McCormack have now worked on 65 television series and movies. Kami Asgar is the second Iranian-American to be nominated for an Oscar.
Parviz Dastmalchi escaped death one night in1992 when gunmen opened fire on a party of Iranians in a Berlin restaurant named Mykonos, killing four Kurdish leaders, including Mr. Sadeq Sharafkandi, the general secretary of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. Nasrin Ghassemloo is the widow of Abdul Rahman Ghassemloo, Mr. Sharafkandi’s predecessor. He was assassinated in Vienna in 1989. Agents of the Islamic Republic are believed responsible for both attacks. Mr. Dastmalchi and Ms. Ghassemloo appeared on Roundtable with You to talk about the assassinations and the lack of justice served in the cases. Mr. Dastmalchi told viewers that the prosecutor of the Ghassemloo killing told him that four people were on the assassination team – three people who carried out the murder of Mr. Ghassemloo and two associates, and a fourth team member: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who he said was then a member of the Revolutionary Guard in charge of assassinating political opponents. Mr. Dastmalchi said Mr. Ahmadinejad was in charge of supplying arms to carry out the killings. Mr. Dastmalchi said the witness who provided this information to the Austrian prosecutor was former Iranian President Abholhassan Bani Sadr.
Human Rights in Iran
Lily Mazahery is a Persian-American human rights attorney. Born in Tehran in 1972, she and her family have lived in Washington, D.C for more than 20 years. Appearing on Roundtable with You February 25, Ms. Mazahery said the Internet keeps her in direct contact with lawyers and others inside Iran, and that everyone in Iran can find their way to a computer or someone with access to a computer, facilitating e-mail communication. “The best way we can help is to let the whole world hear their stories. Unfortunately, lawyers in Iran don’t have any freedom and can’t talk much. But we can talk on their behalf. Take the case of Nazanin Fateh. She is awaiting execution in an Iranian prison for killing the man who tried to rape her. Before her lawyer sends documents to the court, he sends me everything. At first, we talked about the execution of adolescents and the sentencing of young people before they reach the legal age of 18. Iran was a signatory to the international child convention which prohibited such things.”
“In the case of Delara Darabi, she was convicted two years ago at the age of 17 for killing her father’s cousin. It turned out she was covering up for her boyfriend, who was responsible for the killing. But the jury and court had already made their decision, so they consider the matter over. We are collecting more documents and trying to schedule another court meeting. Ms. Darabi is left-handed. We can prove this. The killer was right-handed. We can prove this too. Now we have to persuade the court of the veracity of this new information.”
Another Persian-American attorney, Khalil Bahramian, also appeared on Roundtable with You. He told VOA that the Iranian government is trying to crush student protesters. He illustrated his point by providing an update on Ahmad Batebi. Iranian authorities imprisoned Mr. Batebi following student protests at Tehran University in July 1999. He was detained after his photograph appeared on the cover of The Economist magazine, and sentenced to death on charges relating to “endangering national security” following a closed-door trial by a Revolutionary Court. His death sentence was later commuted to a 15 year prison term by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. On appeal, it was further reduced to 10 years. He was temporarily released in 2005 to get married and re-arrested in 2006 when he failed to return to prison. Mr. Bahramian says Iranian officials have now arrested Mr. Batebi’s wife, Somaieh Bianat, ostensibly for forging legal documents. But Mr. Bahramian says the arrest is really to further pressure the already jailed Mr. Batebi, with authorities hoping he will die from one of his many hunger strikes.
Interview: Partow Nooriala
Iranian poet, writer and literary critic Partow Nooriala appeared on Roundtable with You to talk about her life after the Islamic Revolution. “The regime banned all of my work and there was no freedom of expression, so I moved to the United States in 1986 with my two children to start a new life in exile.” She said it is noteworthy that legal discrimination against women in Iran is being enforced in a society where over 60% of those being admitted to university are female. “It is generally believed,” she said, “that laws should promote social moderation by being one step head of cultural norms. But in Iran, the law lags behind cultural norms and women’s social position and status.”
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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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