Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – April 9, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included Iran’s release of 15 British marines and sailors after nearly two weeks of captivity; an exclusive interview with John Bolton, the former US Ambassador to the United Nations; the rise in power of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard; women’s rights in Iran; and an interview with Jimmy Delshad, Beverly Hills’ new Iranian-American mayor.
Iran’s seizure of 15 British marines and sailors on March 23 finally ended with their “pardon” and release by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
VOA Persian’s Roundtable with You April 5 focused on that day’s return to England of 15 British sailors and marines after nearly two weeks’ captivity in Iran. Mehrdad Khonsari, a former Iranian diplomat who is currently a senior research consultant to the London-based Center for Arab and Iranian Studies, told VOA’s viewers that Iran captured the sailors in the first place to divert attention from the impact of UN sanctions on Iran. Mr. Khonsari questioned President Ahmadinejad’s pardon of the sailors, asking, rhetorically, how someone can be pardoned before he or she is even convicted. Callers expressed their belief that pressure exerted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair combined with internal pressure by those opposed to Mr. Ahmadinejad forced Iran to release the Britons.
The assistant editor-in-chief of the London-based Keyhan newspaper, Nasser Mohammadi, told NewsTalk on April 7 that the British people found video of the captive sailors insulting and that the whole episode was very negative for Iran’s image abroad. Mr. Mohammadi said Iran believes there is a connection between the release of Iranian diplomat Jalal Sharafi from Iraq and the release of the British sailors. He said Tehran believes Britain also should assist in the release of five other Iranians detained in Iraq. Mr. Mohammadi said the incident will not help Iran advance its nuclear agenda; he said Iran must abide by the demands of UN resolutions before any negotiations on its nuclear program can begin.
Canadian-based political analyst Shayan Samii told NewsTalk that British dialogue with Iran helped secure the sailors’ release without incident. He said the release of Jalal Sharafi was already in the works and had no connection with the freeing of the British sailors.
From London, political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said the British people are angrier at Iran following the news conference of the sailors upon their release. He told News & Views April 7 he saw no connection between the release of Jalal Sharafi and the Britons except that the Britons’ captivity likely delayed Mr. Sharafi’s release instead of expediting it.
International law consultant Bahman Aghai Diba spoke with News & Views and said in the short term, the Islamic regime will use the seizure and release of the British sailors as a victory, but that in the long term, the incident damages Iranian credibility.
In an exclusive interview with VOA Persian, the former US representative to the United Nations, Ambassador John Bolton, said he believes the Tehran government was trying to project power throughout the Middle East, and that the “seizure of the British hostages was kind of a low-cost experiment for them unrelated on the surface to the nuclear weapons program but allowed them to test the British to see what kind of reaction they would get when they took these 15 hostages.” The incident “emboldened the regime in Tehran and convinced them they can continue to pursue their nuclear weapons [program] very aggressively and not face a strong response from Britain or the larger western world.” Mr. Bolton added that it was a “win-win” situation for Iran. “The government won by taking the service members hostage to begin with and won again by giving them back. . . I don’t think this government is ever going to voluntarily give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. For the United States to sit down with the government in Tehran before it suspends its uranium enrichment program would be a hopeless signal of weakness.”
Appearing on NewsTalk April 4, Iran Nameh editor Hormuz Hekmat said the crisis with Britain proves once again that “the regime in Tehran does whatever it wishes without reason” – although it has been condemned an “unprecedented three times by the UN Security Council within a few months.”
On April 4, political analyst Hassan Shariatmadari told NewsTalk that the seizure of the British sailors was an attempt and message in Iran that the Revolutionary Guards are in charge and exercise power. Mr. Shariatmadari said the main reason the Islamic regime has not developed relations with the United States is that it views the US as a rival for power in the region.
Renowned Iranian political scientist told News & Views April 7 from Tehran that what was important to Iran in this case was to turn it into an international issue, which it succeeded in doing with the UN Security Council for an early resolution of Iran’s detention of British sailors.
Roundtable with You April 4 opened lines to VOA Persian viewers’ comments on Iran’s seizure of the British sailors. The show received over 28 calls and e-mails, with viewers overwhelmingly denouncing their government’s taking the sailors hostage. Some expressed anger toward the appearance of the lone female. Many called the seizure inhumane. Some callers expressed concern the incident could spur an attack by a foreign power, with many believing the Iranian regime is taking a path that will eventually invite foreign invasion. These callers said they believe the ruling clergy believe war is the only way to mobilize nationalism and prolong t heir authoritarian rule over Iran.
Roundtable with You April 4 featured Shaheen Fatemi, Dean of Graduate Studies in Business and Economics at the American University of Paris. Mr. Fatemi said there has been a continuous pattern under Iran’s Islamic regime the past 28 years to use crises to perpetuate power.
On April 2, Roundtable with You featured the London-based journalist Alireza Nourizadeh, who said the 1979 capture of the American Embassy and the holding of 52 American diplomats for 444 days and the recent taking of 15 British sailors and marines are but two bookends of the irresponsible policies that are a hallmark of the Islamic regime. Mr. Nourizadeh said Iran is totally isolated at the United Nations, with “not even a single Muslim country voting in Iran’s favor.”
News & Views interviewed Parviz Radji, former Iranian Ambassador the Court of St. James on April 5. Mr. Radji described the release of the sailors as a victory for President Ahmadinejad, but not for Iran. He said it is very difficult to determine who is in control in Iran. “There is no coordinated foreign policy. It depends who you’re talking with. It has been said that the supreme leader is in charge of foreign policy. But at the same time, you see Rafsanjani, Larijani, Ahmadinejad – all are expressing their own views of foreign policy.
VOA Persian coverage of the British hostage crisis this week focused on news conferences in London where members of the freed naval personnel told the press they were blindfolded, aggressively interrogated and kept in solitary confinement and in Washington where National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the release of the hostages did not mean Iran was moving into line with the international community. VOA Persian covered Defense Secretary Robert Gates who said US authorities were examining “our procedures [to] make sure that we’re playing well within the baselines, just like the British were, and that our sailors are properly protected against any similar kind of activity.” VOA also covered the announcement of the release by President Ahmadinejad with reaction from Prime Minister Tony Blair. Earlier in the week, reports included coverage of Iran’s first vice president Parviz Davoudi, who said Britain should acknowledge their sailors were in Iranian waters, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who said he’d met with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and appealed that the hostage issue be resolved as soon as possible.
VOA Persian focused on Iran’s security apparatus on the April 7 broadcast of Roundtable with You. Kenneth Katzman, the program’s featured guest, is a Middle East specialist with the Congressional Research Service (two Persian Service staffers provided simultaneous translation). The author of The Warriors of Islam: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Mr. Katzman said Iran’s revolutionary guards have maintained their ideological purity and will continue to be the strongest force in safeguarding the revolution and its leaders. He added that the Revolutionary Guard Corps has greater power today than at any point since the revolution’s early days.
On April 2, NewsTalk focused on women’s rights in Iran. From Paris, author and journalist Shahla Shafigh talked about the broad discrimination that takes place under Islamic totalitarianism, with women taking a back seat whether or not they are Muslim. She said the most recent public example of discrimination against women in Iran was against the British sailor Faye Turney, the lone female of the group of captive Britons.
New York-based human rights activist Elahe Hicks told NewsTalk there is an atmosphere of fear in Iran. She said the regime tries to divert attention from Iran’s problems and avoids seeking solutions by doing things like capturing the British sailors.
From Washington, human rights activist Roya Tolouei talked about discrimination against women in Iranian prisons, saying sexual discrimination has become a norm under the Islamic regime.
On April 5, Late Edition interviewed Iranian-American actor Navid Nagahban who will be appearing in the upcoming Mike Nichols’ feature, Charlie Wilson’s War with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. Mr. Nagahban’s most recent film credits include Richard III with David Carradine and Broken with Heather Graham. He also has had guest starring roles on Without a Trace, Criminal Minds and The Closer.
Roundtable with You looked at the role of Iranian Television Network in the United States with featured guest Ali Limonadi, who founded IRTV in 1981. IRTV’s film library contains hundreds of now historic interviews, ranging from an interview with Shapour Bakhtiar, an Iranian politician who was the last prime minister under the Shah. Roundtable played an excerpt of the interview with Mr. Bakhtiar, who went into exile soon after the revolution and was assassinated in Paris in 1991; in the interview, he warned about Ayatollah Khomeini and the increasing dominance of clergy in Iranian society. Roundtable also played excerpts of interviews with former Iranian president Abolhassan Bani Sadr, who praised the Islamic revolution, and the late Nader Naderpour, one of Iran’s most beloved poets, who died in exile. Mr. Limonadi spoke of the role music has played in unifying the exile community.
The new mayor of Beverly Hills, Jimmy Delshad, was the featured guest on Roundtable with You April 8. Mr. Delshad, the first Iranian-born mayor of Beverly Hills, is a 66-year-old Jewish immigrant. He said while his job as major is first and foremost about doing the best job he possibly can for the residents of Beverly Hills, he also hopes his election will shift perceptions about Iranians in the United States. “I hope people will see a better side of Persians and understand that we are here to stay and contribute. We are not terrorists. We are scientists, politicians, artists, everyday people, and we are here to help America.” Mr. Delshad talked about an issue that unfolded after the city clerk decided to print the ballot in English and Farsi. Suddenly the city hall switchboard was clogged with irate residents complaining that the ballots were offensive and designed to create a rift within the community. Hundreds of voters swore they would not vote for Mr. Delshad and would do everything in their power to ensure that only “white Americans” would be elected. “I had no idea how ugly the issue was going to become,” Mr. Delshad told VOA. “It was an avalanche, and I was very, very worried.” Mr. Delshad worked hard to win over the community, adding that the brouhaha is one reason why many Iranian-Americans are reluctant to get actively involved in US politics despite their huge numbers and sizable financial resources. “I hope my election changes that,” he said.
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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.