Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – April 16, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included Iran’s announcement that it would begin industrial production of nuclear fuel; the impact of United Nations sanctions on Iran; reports that Iran is supporting both Shi’ite and Sunni insurgents in Iraq; an exclusive interview with former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers; the continuing crackdown on teachers and other repressive tactics; Iran’s seizure of the passport of a Radio Farda correspondent; and the status of Sivand dam construction and its impact on Persian archaeological sites.
Iran says it has enhanced its capability to enrich uranium. The April 9 announcement sparked quick condemnation from the United States and Europe. News & Views reported in great detail on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s announcement, which coincided with the first year anniversary of Iran’s first successful enrichment of uranium. Speaking at the Natanz nuclear facility in central Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad said Iran is capable of enriching uranium on an industrial level, adding that the world cannot stop Iran’s atomic drive. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called it a lost opportunity for Iran to halt its nuclear work and showed how justified the UN Security Council was to impose sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program. The European Commission criticized Iran and called for its full cooperation with the IAEA.
Speaking on NewsTalk April 14, assistant editor-in-chief of Keyhan newspaper in London, Nasser Mohammadi, said Iran’s claim about the increase in the number of centrifuges is just propaganda, or “a political bluff.” He said the claim creates a challenge for the UN Security Council. From Canada, political scientist Shayan Samii said Iran will have to expand on its announcement at the regional conference on Iraqi security scheduled for early next month – “but they have nothing to say,” he said, affirming suggestions that Iran may boycott the meeting.
Political analyst Bahman Aghai Diba told News & Views April 14 that the Iranian regime does not have the nuclear capability it claims. “But the political implications of their claim are very important. This situation shows Iran is paying no attention to UN sanctions and is not afraid of heightening tensions with the West.” Mr. Diba said he believes Iran will do anything it can do create at least one nuclear bomb, adding that UN sanctions are not yet tough enough to impact the Iranian regime’s behavior.
Elahe Boghrat, a freelance journalist in Berlin, told NewsTalk April 10 that President Ahmadinejad’s claim is a lie, one which could end up costing Iran a lot. “There is a direct relationship between people’s protests against the regime and the regime’s craziness and lust for nuclear power,” she said.
Roundtable with You focused on Iran’s nuclear program April 13 with political activist Mohsen Barghandan, formerly a reporter in Bushehr, site of the controversial nuclear power plant under construction in Iran. Mr. Barghandan reminded viewers of Bushehr’s history, with Iran signing an agreement with a German company in 1974 to build two nuclear reactors. At the time of the revolution five years later, 85% of the work in Bushehr was completed. Iran’s Islamic government abandoned the project, but decided in 1995 to continue the project with Russia. Mr. Barghandan covered the social and environmental aspects of the project, and he said Iran’s problem was not and is not nuclear energy but unemployment, drug addiction and other social ills.
UN sanctions are having an impact on Iran’s economy and Roundtable with You focused on the topic April 10-11 with guests Siamack Shojai, Dean of the School of Business at New Jersey’s Georgian Court University, and London-based economic analyst Hadi Zamani. Mr. Shojai said the economic costs of the Iranian regime’s behavior are double digit inflation, unemployment and international isolation. He noted that there is epidemic corruption in Iran, pointing to Mehdi Hashemi Rafsanjani, son of Iran’s former president, then director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and an influential figure in the country’s energy sector, as an example. News reports suggest Mr. Rafsanjani might have been involved in bribes allegedly paid by French oil giant Total for an Iranian gas contract 10 years ago.
Mr. Zamani said Iran is particularly vulnerable to UN sanctions because half its imports are from the West. Like Mr. Shojai, Mr. Zamani said corruption has become the norm in Iranian economic matters and financial dealings. “When there is no accountability, when there is one group of people holding power and there is no competition in the political arena, you inevitably end up with corruption at all levels.” Mr. Zamani said an embargo would force Iran to modify its national priorities and devote the bulk of its resources to preventing major social upheaval.
Manouchehr Sabetian, a physician and president of the Iranian PEN Association in exile, told Roundtable with You from London April 9 that UN sanctions have already caused considerable damage to Iran’s economy. He said “any miscalculation on the part of Tehran” could give the West the opportunity to destroy Iran’s infrastructure in less than 48 hours.
Some news reports say Iran could be supporting both Shi’ite and Sunni insurgents in Iraq. News & Views interviewed Babak Rahimi, professor of Islamic studies at the University of California, San Diego, on April 11. Mr. Rahimi said if it is true that Iran is supporting both Shi’ite and Sunni insurgents, it will have a big impact on US policy toward Iran. But he said there is not yet any documentary evidence to prove this support. He acknowledged Arab countries are concerned about Iranian influence in the region as well as the regime’s nuclear program, but said these countries also want to maintain good relations with Iran.
Speaking on News & Views April 14, London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said people who favor tension between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites are behind the Karbala explosion. Appearing on NewsTalk April 12, Mr. Nourizadeh claimed “Iran’s regime is helping both Sunnis and Shi’ite insurgents, and by this measure the Islamic republic has found a way to prevent stability in Iraq.” Another panelist on NewsTalk, political activist Ali Afshari, agreed with Mr. Nourizadeh, saying Iran uses any opportunity to damage Iraq’s stability. “They are helping both Shi’ites and Sunnis,” Mr. Afshari said, “This is a failed policy and will increase tensions between Iran and Iraq.” He pointed out that President Ahmadinejad tried to court Arab countries, but was rebuffed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who said Iran was creation regional tensions.
Both the Red Cross and the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told VOA Persian the US surge is helping improve security – but sectarian violence continued in Iraq, with a car bomb killing 40 people in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala on April 14, about 200 meters from the Imam Hussein shrine, one of the most sacred shrines of Shi’ite Islam. Two days earlier, a suicide bomber succeeded in infiltrating Iraq’s parliament, located in the ostensibly secure green zone in Baghdad.
In an exclusive interview, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers said, “US concerns are with the Iranian regime, not the Iranian people. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is in direct contact with the Supreme Leader and is an extremist force. There is strong evidence of government involvement in Iraq, in providing weapons used against coalition soldiers. Terrorist attacks have gone down 30-40% since the surge in US troops, but it is still too early to tell. Right now, the people of Iraq are hopeful that is a good sign. But Iraqi forces have to finish their training before things get better.”
News & Views interviewed Nada Doumani, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, who said Iraqi civilians are paying a high price because of the sectarian violence in their country. The Red Cross issued a report April 11 saying the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating in Iraq. She said the situation for civilians is ever-worsening, even though security in some places has improved as a result of stepped-up efforts by US-led multinational forces. But the overall picture, she said, has been steadily deteriorating.
Human rights activists say the Islamic regime is still depriving people of their human rights, from teachers to women to political prisoners. NewsTalk April 9 focused on the latest developments in human rights in Iran, with human rights activist Elahe Hicks saying the women’s movement in Iran has experienced some victories in recent months, causing authorities to react by implementing a new wave of restrictions on women. Roya Toloui, a prominent Iranian Kurdish journalist and human rights activist living in the US said organizations must be mindful to maintain pressure on the Iranian government. She said whenever the government is under pressure, it in turn exerts pressure on groups like women. Former student activist Manouchehr Mohammadi – now a Visiting Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy – beseeched the media to pay attention to the problems of political prisoners, saying, “When I was in prison, we decided to report the condition of political prisoners to world organizations. Political prisoners have no voice in Iran and cannot defend themselves. The media must help.” Mr. Mohammadi said the Iran’s Islamic regime does not define political crime – whoever is arrested is accused of threatening national security.
News & Views looked at the arrest April 7 of 47 members of the Teachers’ Trade Association from Hamadan province. According to Fakhreddin Heidarian, a political activist in Hamadan province and a featured guest on the program, the teachers were arrested as a pre-emptive action to block an upcoming demonstration. The detentions in Hamadan come one month after the arrest of nearly 1,000 teachers in Tehran and Kermanshah. Teachers are demanding pay increases and have threatened to hold a big rally outside the Iranian parliament in Tehran on May 8 if their demands are not met.
The Iranian government seized the passport of a Radio Farda correspondent, in Iran to visit a sick relative. A panel of guests on Newstalk April 15 focused on domestic policy under Iran’s Islamic regime, and used the passport seizure to exemplify the government’s confused domestic/foreign policy. Mehrdad Khonsari, a senior research consultant for the London-based Center for Arab and Iranian Studies, said authorities seized the passport of a journalist from Radio Farda – Parnaz Azima – to create a propaganda tool. He said authorities will return her passport and allow her to leave the country to show their decency: crisis created, crisis resolved. Paris-based journalist Cyrus Amouzgar said Ms. Azima had declined an offer from the Iranian government to spy for them. Mohsen Sazegara, Visiting Associate Professor at Yale University’s Center for International and Area Studies, said what happened to Ms. Azima is very normal in Iran, but since she has dual citizenship, the US government will help her leave Iran. “Imagine a regime,” he said, “which violates the basic rights of its own citizens. What can others expect?” He said the seizure of Ms. Azima’s passport is a message from the Iranian government to Voice of America and Radio Farda employees not to visit Iran.
Roundtable with You on April 12 focused on the Iranian government’s controversial decision to build a dam in Sivand to provide irrigation water for farmers in the parched south of the country. Guest Reza Ghanadan, retired professor of literature at Georgetown University, said the preservation of heritage and custom is a basic societal need, but that Iran’s Islamic regime is trying to destroy the past. Mr. Ghanadan said more than 100 of Iran's potentially most important but least examined archaeological sites, including fringes of Pasargard, the city built by King Cyrus the Great, will be flooded when the dam is constructed.
NewsTalk April 11 also focused on the Sivand dam and its environmental impact on Persian antiquities. Panelists included historian and Persian antiquities specialist Shokoh Mirzadegi, and architect and Sassanian expert Bahram Badiyi. Ms. Mirzadegi said the dam will ultimately drown the archeological sites of Pasargard and Persepolis, “one of the wonders of the ancient world and thus, a part of the cultural heritage of the human race.” Mr. Badiyi said that in addition to submerging ancient settlements, the dam will create changes in humidity, which will be the dam’s key threat.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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.