Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – March 19, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the speedy resolution with new U.N. sanctions on Iran drafted by the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s likely travel to New York this week to address the Security Council before it votes on the sanctions; the State Department’s Annual Human Rights Report and updates on a number of ongoing human rights violations in Iran, particularly those involving women, teachers and Kurds; and interviews with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Brookings Senior Fellow Martin Indyk, actor/comedian Maz Jobrani, filmmakers Cyrus Kar and Jano Rosebiani, and poet and human rights activist Simin Behbahani.
VOA Persian reported live from the United Nations daily on the status of talks between the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany, who agreed March 15 on a package of new sanctions designed to compel Iran to halt its nuclear activities. The new sanctions would ban all Iranian arms exports and freeze the financial assets of 28 Iranian officials and institutions. The agreement, which singles out the Quds Force, marks the first time the Security Council has targeted individuals and institutions not directly involved in Iran’s most controversial nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says sanctions will not deter Iran from pursuing its nuclear program. He also says he wants to lead a delegation to the United Nations to address the 15-nation Council when the resolution is formally adopted. Ambassadors from the Council’s 10 non-permanent members are scheduled to hold a meeting on the draft resolution mid-week. VOA Persian covered State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who said March 16 that the U.S. will give expedited treatment to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s request for a visa. He said the final decision to grant the visa has not yet been made, but strongly indicated he and his entourage would be allowed in under terms of U.S. treaty obligations as the United Nations host country.
VOA Persian reported on the acting U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Alejandro Wolff, describing the possibility of an appearance by the Iranian leader as surprising. “I find it ironic that a person who is quoted today as saying that he tears up Security Council resolutions and has no respect for what the council does, is interested in coming to speak to the Council,” said Mr. Wolff. China’s representative, Ambassador Wang Guangya, said Beijing agrees with the draft not to punish Tehran, but to encourage Iran to come back to the negotiating table. Russia’s representative, Vitaly Churkin, said Moscow has signed on to the draft, but added that there is still time to change some of the resolution’s items before a vote.
Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing March 15 on the nomination of Zalmay Khalilzad – who is currently the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq – to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. VOA Persian reported on Ambassador Khalilzad’s testimony. Answering one senator’s question, Mr. Khalilzad said, “As you know, the President granted me the authority that I had in Afghanistan last year, which is to engage Iran in discussions bilaterally in the presence of perhaps Iraqis, if we thought it was going to be useful to advance the agenda for success in Iraq. And we are open-minded on that issue…I believe that a combination of pressure with regard to issues of concern, with an openness to engage, with the intent to change behavior, to affect behavior, is the right mix.” Ambassador Khalilzad is expected to be confirmed easily.
VOA Persian reported on reaction to the ongoing nuclear debate. A senior Iranian army commander, Major General Ataollah Salehi, warned the United States and other Western powers not to make any “stupid move” over Tehran’s nuclear program and said they would be surprised by the military response to any such action. The comments by the general, who is commander in chief of the regular army, were reported by newspapers on March 17 and were the latest in a series of defiant statements by Iran’s leadership as the U.N. readies new sanctions. He said Iran’s military was much stronger today than when Iran fought a war against Iraq in the 1980s. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said on March 14 that his country would respond militarily if attacked. U.S. officials have repeatedly said they have no plan to attack Iran.
Chatham House, a British foreign policy think-tank, released a report March 12 warning of “dire and widespread consequences” if Israel takes military action again Iran’s nuclear sites. According to the report, Iran may retaliate by firing ballistic missiles toward Tel Aviv and Haifa, causing considerable loss of life.
From Abu Dhabi, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said, “Any military strike against Tehran will have negative consequences on the region. He said the United States, which is at the forefront of international opposition to Iran’s nuclear program “acknowledges that the strategy of using dialogue and pressure is bearing fruit.”
In an interview with Britain’s Sky News, former IAEA chief Hans Blix was very critical of the British and U.S. governments. But he said the United States would be “more wary of heeding calls for another war. I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said, “if [there were] people in Washington who reason that way. But the atmosphere in Washington has changed a good deal. The American people are tired of military adventures.”
Iranian analysts and journalists say the speed with which the Security Council drafted a resolution shows its determination to make Iran stop its nuclear enrichment program. From Canada, political scientist Shayan Samii said freezing assets is huge, “particularly the Bank Sepah. It is very important because most government investment is done through this bank.” The assistant editor-in-chief of the London-based Keyhan newspaper, Nasser Mohammadi, said he doesn’t believe an appearance by President Ahmadinejad before the Council will affect members’ votes. That being the case, “what does he have to say? This is just a show on his part.” Also from London, analyst Alireza Nourizadeh had an answer to that question. “Mr. Ahmadinejad is only concerned about the impact of his speech in Iran, other Muslim countries and countries in the region. This trip is for his friends and family to visit New York.”
Human Rights / Iran
Poet and human rights activist Simin Behbahani was a featured guest on NewsTalk March 12. One of Iran’s most beloved poets – and a towering figure in the Iranian human rights and artistic communities – Ms. Behbahani said Iran’s regime is confused and does not know what to do with its problems. “Throughout Iran’s history, even when democracy had nothing to do with our system of government, officials claimed they served the people. That is not the case now. The Islamic regime is not responsive at all. Even if it must serve the people in some way to survive, it does nothing. The government needs the people’s support. They cannot continue this way.”
Roundtable with You focused on the State Department’s 2006 Annual Human Rights Report on March 14. Guest Parviz Dastmalchi, a noted Iranian human rights activist, noted that 40 pages of the report were devoted to the systematic violation of human rights in Iran. Mr. Dastmalchi said the report confirmed what human rights organizations have been saying all year: the systematic “closing of the press, the arrest and torture of [bloggers], writers, students, newspaper editors and human rights activists.” He cited discrimination against and suppression of women and ethnic and religious minorities, and pointed out that those who would criticize the United States as a human rights violator need to remember that “if a violation takes place in the United States, those who are responsible will be identified and justice will be done. In a [democratic] system of government, even the highest position in government cannot escape justice, while violators of the law in Iran are being rewarded with ministerial-level jobs.”
VOA Persian interviewed Erica Barks-Ruggles, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, on the State Department’s report. She said the United States believes Iran’s suppression of independent media is a concerted effort on the part of the regime to limit people’s access to information. She said the situation in Iran has worsened, with increased harassment of ethnic and religious minorities, students and women. Ms. Barks-Ruggles said the Department of State supports women’s demands for equal rights with men under the law and will continue to assist Iranian NGOs to expand their capacity and capability to make their voices heard within their own society. “Civil societies are an important component of every democracy because the government has to be accountable to the people, and it is the people who are the driving force behind progress in human rights and dignity.” She said the U.S. has established a fund – with several million dollars – to assist human rights activists and their families that are in distress.
Iranian authorities arrested up to 1,000 teachers in a brutal crackdown March 14, signaling their determination to break a pay revolt. Riot police beat demonstrators with batons as they tried to gather outside Iran's parliament and education ministry and herded them into police vans and buses before transporting them to detention centers across Tehran. Around 150 of those arrested in Wednesday's protest are still in custody, with the ringleaders believed to be in Evin prison. Others were released after signing a commitment not to participate in “illegal” demonstrations. Saeed Mohammadi, legal counsel of the Teachers Association of Tehran, told VOA Persian that Iranian officials had no comment on the incident, adding that he still did not know the status of those still detained. Hami Taghavi, spokesman of the Association, told VOA that the teachers were trying to gather in front of the parliament to issue a statement, and that security forces dispersed the group before that could even happen. “We will continue our fight. The regime cannot extinguish this fire,” he said.
Iranian authorities arrested 32 women activists earlier this month as they were demonstrating against sexual discrimination outside a Tehran courthouse. All but two of the women have been freed. But Nasrin Afsali, one of those freed, told VOA Persian that the two still incarcerated – lawyer Shadi Sadr and her client, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, Editor of Farzaneh Quarterly – don’t know when they will be released. She says the two women contacted their families from prison and notified them that a bail of 200 million toman (about $21,730) must be posted to secure their release. Ms. Afsali also said law enforcement officials have shut down NGOs affiliated with the two women. Analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said he believes the two women will be freed soon because of the broad international attention their detention has received.
Iran / Iraq
News & Views reported on Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al-Hashemi traveling to Tehran from Syria where he held talks with senior Syrian officials. In Iran, Mr. Al-Hashemi met with President Ahmadinejad March 13, on the second and last day of his visit, to discuss bilateral ties, regional issues and the war in Iraq. Iranian media quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying after the meeting that, “We are concerned about the current security situation in Iraq more than anybody else.”
VOA Persian’s U.N. correspondent interviewed Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who came to the U.N. Security Council last week with a mission: to win an extension of the United Nations mandate for the U.S.-led force in Iraq. He got that on Tuesday. The Security Council acknowledged the “serious security challenges” the new Iraqi government faces, but it stressed that the coalition force of some 140,000 U.S. troops, plus 20,000 from other countries, should stay only until Iraqis can maintain security themselves.
Iraq / Mujahaddin-e-Khalq
The Washington Post reported that Iraq is stepping up its efforts to oust members of the Mujahaddin-e-Khalq, an Iranian group designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization. VOA Persian talked about the MEK with Alireza Jafarzadeh, currently president of Strategic Policy Consulting and an analyst with Fox News, but formerly chief lobbyist in Washington for the MEK. He said Iran wants both the U.S. and the MEK out of Iraq, and that it hopes to influence events on the ground in Iraq by exerting control over Iraqi authorities. Mr. Jafarzadeh said Iraq’s efforts to expel the MEK are prompted by Iran, but he doesn’t believe they will be expelled because such an expulsion is not supported by the Geneva Convention.
Interview: Benazir Bhutto
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto spoke to VOA Persian about women and the role they typically play in Islamic societies. “Media is a powerful tool to educate and inform women. When I was president, I noticed that we have laws that people are not aware of. For example, women did not know there are laws against family violence. We instituted an information and propaganda program to inform women of their rights. But information is not enough. We need to find resolution for these problems. We need to have women involved in the justice system, because it is women who are familiar with the violence and crimes committed against them.
“Our battle is for values,” Ms. Bhutto continued. “Values like respect for every human being. We should not follow every aspect of the old traditions. This century should be about empowerment. We have powerful women who run countries. But it is very important that women support each other. Women should try harder, so our daughters will not face the same challenges that we did. I believe women leaders can make a better world.” Ms. Bhutto currently lives in exile in Dubai with her husband and children.
Wrapping up President’s Latin American Tour
VOA Persian continued traveling with the President as he wrapped up his good will tour of Latin America with stops in Guatemala and Mexico. Coverage included reports on Mr. Bush’s meeting in Guatemala City with President Oscar Berger and in Merida with Mexican President Filipe Calderon. Talks in both countries focused on immigration issues and making Latin America a priority of the Bush administration.
Cheney / AIPAC
Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at an AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington March 12, saying confronting Iran requires victory in Iraq. The Vice President warned of “chaos and mounting danger,” as well as a strengthened Iran and emboldened terrorists – in the case of an early American withdrawal from Iraq. “It is simply not consistent for anyone to demand aggressive action against the menace posed by the Iranian regime while at the same time acquiescing in a retreat from Iraq that would leave our worst enemies dramatically emboldened, and Israel's best friend, the United States, dangerously weakened.”
Interview: Martin Indyk
VOA Persian interviewed Mr. Indyk – director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel – about Iraq, Iran and the Arab-Israeli peace process. Ambassador Indyk said Iran is a great nation that can absorb the impact of U.N. sanctions. It is the international isolation the sanctions create, he added, that makes them so effective. “It is the stigma of sanctions, Ambassador Indyk said, that Iranians [officials and citizens] don’t want to be associated with.”
The state-run Russian company building Iran's nuclear power station says the launch date has been postponed because of Iran's payment delays. Officials at Atomstroyexport say it is impossible to launch the reactor in September. They added there will be no delivery of nuclear fuel this month as earlier agreed. Russia has accused Iran of missing payments on the nuclear plant. Iran has denied the claim. Iranian and Russian officials met in Moscow last week, but failed to solve their financial dispute. Russia's Interfax news agency quotes a Russian foreign ministry spokesman, Andre Krivtsov, as saying Moscow hopes the two countries will find a mutual solution to their funding problem.
Abduction vs. Defection
VOA Persian reported on the family of a former Iranian defense official denying he defected to the West. Speaking to state media in Tehran, Elham Asghari, the daughter of Ali Reza Asghari, accused Israel and the United States of abducting her father while he was on a trip to Turkey. Before retiring from the government, Mr. Asghari was a deputy defense minister and a commander in the elite Revolutionary Guards. Last week, an Arab newspaper, Al Sharq al Awsat, reported that Mr. Asghari is currently in northern Europe, being debriefed by American intelligence, before flying to the U.S. The Washington Post, citing a U.S. official, said Mr. Asghari is providing information on Lebanon's Hezbollah militia. Iran's official news agency (IRNA) quoted police chief Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam as saying it is possible that Mr. Asghari was kidnapped “because of his defense background.” Mr. Asghari has been missing since early February after checking into an Istanbul hotel. The Iranian police chief says that Mr. Asghari has been missing since the third day of his visit to Turkey and that police investigations show he did not leave Turkey and was not hospitalized.
Iranian Prison / German Released
Iran released German citizen Donald Kline March 13 after several months of bilateral talks with Germany. VOA Persian reported from Germany on the German Foreign Ministry’s announcement that Mr. Kline, who was arrested in December 2005 on charges of spying and entering Iranian waters illegally, spent two months in jail before being transferred to Tehran’s Evin prison. He was tried in court and sentenced to 17 months in prison. Upon his release, Mr. Kline went to the German Embassy in Tehran where he called his wife and the German Foreign Minister. Germany says Mr. Kline’s punishment was unfair and did not fit his crime. Mr. Kline’s early release was secured by Iran’s Judiciary Chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi.
Iranians in Hollywood
Maz Jobrani was the featured guest on Roundtable with You March 15. The Iranian-born entertainer is best known for his appearances on a wide range of primetime television programs, from “Law and Order” and “Curb your Enthusiasm” to “24”and “ER.” “It wasn’t until I was 26 when I decided to pursue acting professionally. Up until then, I had always done plays for fun,” he told Roundtable. Now 34, Mr. Jobrani is currently on a standup comedy tour called “The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour” and is a regular cast member on the new ABC comedy “The Knights of Prosperity.” “The creators were also head writers and executive producers on ‘The Late Show with David Letterman.’ They’ve created a show about six blue collar workers in New York who are down and out on their luck. They decide that in order to subsidize their dreams they will rob Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. It is kind of like a bumbling idiots Oceans 11. Imagine if a group of people decided to go for t heir dream and in order to achieve it, they decided to rob a famous person – except no one in the group has ever robbed anything and they’re total amateurs. That’s what makes it so very funny.”
Cyrus Kar grew up along the West Coast after emigrating from Iran as a child and served in the Navy for three years before earning a bachelor's degree from San Jose State University and a master's from Pepperdine. One of his most recent films is a historical documentary, Cyrus the Great, about the Persian king of the same name. He and his cameraman, Farshid Faraji traveled to Iran, Tajikistan, Turkey and Afghanistan and collected dozens of hours of film. Kar lacked critical footage of Babylon and entered Iraq only after securing appropriate permits and visas from the U.S. and Iraqi governments and from Kurdish authorities. He was temporarily detained by U.S. forces while in Iraq. Kar discussed the newly released 300 and the distortions of history depicted in the film. He said the movie is peppered with facts, but is a “desperate diatribe.”
A self-taught filmmaker, Jano Rosebiani was born and raised in the Kurdish town of Zakho in the southern region of Kurdistan. As a Kurd under Saddam Hussein’s rule, his future looked dim. In 1974, then a seventh grader, he and his family took to the mountains during the Kurdish mass uprising. Two years later he became a refugee in the United States. In 1995, Mr. Rosebiani made his first film, Dance of the Pendulum. Jiyan (meaning life) was his first Kurdish film shot in the US/UK protected region of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq in 2002. Jiyan depicts life in Halabja following Saddam’s chemical and biological attack causing thousands to lose their lives. Mr. Rosebiani says he always dreamt of going back to his country, and the fall of Saddam Hussein made his dream come true. Two of his latest films are documentaries depicting life in Iraq under Saddam Hussein: Saddam’s Mass Graves and Chemical Ali.
Edalat Omar Saleh is a young Iraqi Kurd. She has devoted much of her life to documenting Saddam Hussein’s crimes against humanity, collecting most documents after his fall in 2003. VOA Persian talked with Ms. Saleh in Erbil, and she said the reason the regime left so many historical documents behind is that no one imagined the regime would fall. Ms. Saleh was present through Saddam Hussein’s trial to document his atrocities.
Iran celebrates the new year on the first day of spring, March 21. Noruz has two dimensions, historical and mythical. Writer Reza Ghannadan talked with VOA Persian about the mythical dimension, which shows that Noruz goes back to a time in history known as Magic. According to Magic, December 24 has the longest night, and is the day when the sun marries the earth and makes her pregnant. Three months later, we see the result of this marriage in the form of blossoms.
Feedback on 300
A viewer from Tehran e-mailed Roundtable with You: “I would like to thank you for the wonderful show you had [last week] critiquing the movie 300. The important point about this and your other shows is that they are open tribunes and nothing is censored in them. I appreciate the fact that when the U.S. government or corporations are at fault, you don’t spare them from criticism. You even allow criticism of the highest-ranking officials in the U.S. government. I wish the state-run Iranian TV would take a page from your book. I’m grateful that you allow everyone to present their viewpoints and interpretation of events.”
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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.