Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – May 7, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included live coverage from Sharm El-Sheikh with exclusive interviews with the foreign ministers of Iraq, Britain and the European Union as well as an interview with the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of Iraq’s parliament; Republican candidates addressing how they would deal with Iran, if elected, during first GOP debate; a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing where US officials made clear they expect China to suspend investments in Iran’s oil and gas sectors; and the detention of a former official in Iran’s National Security Council and onetime member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team.
VOA Persian reported live from Sharm El-Sheikh May 3-5 with latest developments from the international conference aimed at stabilizing Iraq. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told VOA Persian that the participation of Iran and Syria at the conference was important in gaining security and stability in Iraq. Mr. Zebari called the Saudi decision to forgive 80% of Iraq’s debt a “constructive” act. The foreign minister also said, with regard to war reparations to Iran, that his government has asked all creditors and countries not to hold Iraq’s new government accountable for the misdeeds of the regime of Saddam Hussein.
In another exclusive interview, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki’s attack on the United States at the conference was not helpful. “We were there to be polite and constructive,” he said, “and any exception to this is regrettable.” Mr. Mottaki was harshly critical of the United States in both his final remarks to the conference delegates and at his news conference later. He said US policy in Iraq is unilateral and arrogant, adding that, “The United States must accept the responsibilities arising from the occupation of Iraq, and should not point fingers elsewhere.”
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told VOA Persian that Mr. Mottaki’s attack on the United States showed that the Iranian Foreign Minister “is more concerned about the past than thinking about the future, while the rest of us are concerned about Iraq’s future.” She described her one-on-one meeting with Mr. Mottaki as a time to explore the basis for better relations, which both countries agreed were possible. Ms. Beckett said better relations were a two-way street and that there had to be mutual interest and cooperation for any improvement.
Humam Hamoudi, Deputy Leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq – one of the country’s leading Shia parties – told VOA Persian that the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) will be expelled from Iraq soon “because they are terrorists.” The MEK is the largest and most militant group opposed to Iran’s Islamic regime.
Roundtable with You originated live from the Egyptian resort town on May 5 with guest Meir Javdanfar, an Israeli Middle East expert who was born and raised in Tehran. Mr. Javdanfar said having the United States sit down with the two major powers in the region – Iran and Syria – was a positive and major step forward. He added, however, that the final declaration was weak and didn’t go far enough in spelling out the kind of support that was being pledged to Iraq. Mr. Javdanfar said Iran’s vision for the future of Iraq may be at odds with what the United States wants to see. “Iran, first and foremost, wants a proxy government that takes its marching orders from Tehran. Iran would rather see chaos and instability than have a pro-Western government in Baghdad.” Mr. Javdanfar said he believes it is to Iran’s advantage to have US troops on the ground in Iraq because “if the US withdraws its troops, the civil strife in Iraq will spread to Iran. Iraq’s Sunnis have historically been hostile to Iran, and even more so now because they blame Iran for much of the chaos and instability we are witnessing in Iraq.” He speculated that it might be more useful for the United States to talk with Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, than with Foreign Minister Mottaki when it comes to Iran’s controversial nuclear program.
Political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh, who appeared on News & Views May 5 to discuss the Sharm El-Sheikh conference, said the conference was a big plus for Iraq and a negative for Iran. Mr. Nourizadeh criticized Mr. Mottaki for walking out of a dinner of diplomats where he was seated directly across from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on the pretext that the female violinist entertaining the gathering was dressed too revealingly. Mr. Nourizadeh said Mr. Mottaki’s behavior was uncivilized, and that Mr. Larijani should have attended the conference because he had authority whereas Mr. Mottaki does not.
Mehran Barati, an Iranian dissident who heads the opposition group Iranian Republican Union from Berlin, told NewsTalk May 4 that too much success cannot be expected from the conference, although on the whole, it appears to have addressed significant Iraqi issues so should be described as positive. He said one of the most important developments were the talks between the United States and Syria. Mr. Barati said little will be accomplished with regard to Iran’s nuclear program until the US and Iran talk, at a level much higher than Mr. Mottaki.
NewsTalk’s guest analyst May 5 said it is difficult for the United States, Europe and UN Security Council to know who to talk with when it comes to Iran. Los Angeles-based political analyst Shayan Samii said no one knows who to talk to in the government or if they can believe what they are told – at the ministerial level down to the expert level. He said there are different factions in the government, making it even more complex.
News & Views May 4 focused on the first debate between Republican presidential candidates the previous day at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. As expected, all but one of the ten contenders – Senator John McCain (R-AZ) – expressed support for President Bush and the war in Iraq. The candidates also were strongly critical of Iran and in what a number of analysts described as “saber rattling,” made clear that Islamic extremism, like that practice by the Iranian regime, is one of the biggest threats to world peace. Arizona Senator John McCain said, “Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. We all know that. Iran continues its efforts to build nuclear weapons. Iran is now exporting lethal IEDs and jihadists and suicide bombers into Iraq, killing American soldiers. The Iranians encouraged Hezbollah to attack Israel from Lebanon recently. Iran poses one of the greatest threats to the security of the world, and in the Middle East….At the end of the day we cannot allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. My greatest fear is the Iranians acquire a nuclear weapon and give it to a terrorist organization. And there is a real threat of them doing that.”
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, “The use of military force against Iran would be very dangerous. It would be very provocative. The only thing worse would be Iran being a nuclear power. It’s the worst nightmare of the Cold War; isn’t it? Nuclear weapons in the hands of an irrational person, an irrational force. Ahmadinejad is clearly irrational. He has to understand it’s not an option; he cannot have nuclear weapons. And he has to look at an American president and he has to see Ronald Reagan. Remember, they looked in Ronald Reagan’s eyes [back in 1981], and in two minutes, they released the hostages.”
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said, “With regards to Iraq, there are a lot of people that say, let’s just get out. I want to get our troops home as soon as I possibly can. But, at the same time, I recognize we don’t want to bring them out in such a precipitous way that we cause a circumstance that would require us to come back. Because if we leave in the wrong way, the Iranians could grab the Shia south, or Al Qaeda could play a dominant role among the Sunnis, or you could have the border with Turkey destabilized by the Kurds – and, as a result, you could have regional conflict develop.”
News & Views covered the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing May 2 where US officials made clear that the United States is expecting China to suspend investments in Iran’s oil and gas sectors. Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA) complained that he is “unnerved by China’s overtures to regimes that the United States views as repressive, globally dangerous, or sponsors of terror. Why is China furthering its ties with Iran, a country with nuclear ambitions and an unstable president who denies the Holocaust?” Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told the Committee that China could have a substantial impact on Iran’s nuclear activities. “We expect China,” he said, “to fully implement its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1747 to exercise restraint in the sale of heavy arms and missile technology to Iran.” The Deputy Secretary said the US also expects China to take other important steps, including “suspending investments in Iran’s oil and gas sectors.”
News & Views May 3 reported on the arrest of Mohammad Hossein Moussavian, a former official in Iran’s National Security Council and onetime member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team. Mr. Moussavian was detained in Tehran April 30 on security charges, but little else is known about the circumstances surrounding his arrest. London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said he understands Mr. Moussavian has been charged with espionage. The former diplomat was replaced following the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and has since been working as deputy head of Tehran-based think tank, the Center for Strategic Research. Mr. Nourizadeh reminded viewers that Mr. Moussavian called for renewed diplomacy in the nuclear standoff in with the West in January and said Iran has no choice other than to return to the negotiating table. He also said Iran should abide by the UN Security Council resolution calling on the regime to suspend its uranium enrichment.
Switzerland-based journalist Dariush Homayoun – a former Information Minister in pre-Revolution Iran – was the featured guest on Roundtable with You May 1, discussing Iranian opposition groups. Mr. Homayoun said one unique feature of the Iranian Revolution is that many who participated in the Revolution soon joined the ranks of its opposition. He said one of the best indicators of the effectiveness of the opposition in Iran is the amount of time and money the Islamic regime spends trying to undermine it. The former cabinet minister criticized some opposition groups, saying they have self-inflicted wounds. “Our fight with the Islamic Republic,” Mr. Homayoun said, “should be a principled one, not just a struggle for power.”
News & Views commemorated National Iranian Teachers Day by looking back to the 1961 teacher uprising in Iran and an interview taped with Mohammad Derakhshesh in 2004, one year before his death at the age of 88. In 1961, Mr. Derakhshesh led the first teachers strike in Iran’s modern history. After a teacher was killed while demonstrating, the strike spread to other sectors of the economy, and the government fell. Mr. Derakhshesh was thrown in jail, but released after three days. He was appointed minister of education in a new cabinet. He also was at the center of the Mehregan in Tehran, a political and cultural organization that attracted writers, poets and activists. He started a newspaper of the same name, which, as the official publication of the Iran Teachers Association (ITA), became an important voice of reform. In 1982, he incorporated ITA in Washington, and in 1992 he revived “Mehregan” as a magazine in exile
The program also reported on the hundreds of teachers who demonstrated in front of the Education Ministry in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan. A teacher a member of the Teachers Trade Union in Kurdistan, Peyman Nodinian, told News & Views that the teachers issued a 14 article resolution at the end of the rally, demanding the release of all arrested teachers and enforcement of the pay parity bill.
Roundtable with You focused on Iranian-Russian relations with Ali Geranmayeh, a Research Associate at the University of London’s Middle East Institute. Mr. Geranmayeh said trade is very important between the two countries, but said Russia does not view the Islamic republic as a strategic partner. He said the unpredictability of the regime and its policy objectives are hard to understand. “For Russia, it is hard to figure out what Tehran is after, particularly on the nuclear issue. Moscow doesn’t know whether the clerics want to build an atomic bomb or are just trying to acquire peaceful nuclear technology. In general Moscow is inclined to stay away from issues that might cause headaches for them in the long run.” Mr. Geranmayeh said Iran was hoping Russia might “bail it out in the UN Security Council,” but opposition from the international community has caused Moscow to “take notice and curtail its nuclear cooperation with Tehran accordingly.”
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History Channel programming opens VOA’s daily five-hour Persian-television block with news headlines followed by various History Channel programs, translated and narrated in Farsi, that illustrate the cultural fabric and political landscape of the United States. News and Views, which debuted in 2003, is an hour-long program featuring correspondent reports, interviews and the top news stories from Washington and around the world. News and Views is followed by Roundtable with You, Late Edition and NewsTalk, all one-hour shows that together constitute a five-hour daily block of Persian-language television broadcast by satellite to Iran. 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 2006, looks at major world events and issues of interest to young people. NewsTalk, which went on the air in October 2006, opens with a brief recap of the day’s top headlines followed by a panel of experts discussing the day's top news stories. NewsTalk features in-depth discussions of the issues of greatest concern to Iranians and closes with a segment on worldwide media coverage of Iran.
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.