Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – May 21, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included coverage of the joint news conference held by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair; the US and Iran schedule bilateral talks at the ambassadorial level in Baghdad, with mixed reports on whether discussions will focus exclusively on violence in Iraq; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s official visit to the UAE; status of Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, detained on bogus charges at Tehran’s Evin prison; Iran’s nuclear program reportedly more advanced than experts previously thought; and an interview with Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) on a new bill that advocates undercutting Iran’s finances as an approach to undermine its nuclear program.
News & Views covered the joint news conference held May 17 by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was making his last official visit to Washington last week before stepping down in June. The president said he and Mr. Blair talked about Iran: “We fully recognize that the Iranians must not have a nuclear weapon. And therefore it’s important to continue to work in the international arena, to speak with one voice. And if we’re unable to make progress with the Iranians, we want to work together to implement new sanctions through the United Nations, to continue to make it clear that Iran with a nuclear weapon is not in the interests of peace in the world.”
News & Views reported on US-Iran talks scheduled for May 28th in Baghdad, with State Department spokesman Sean McCormack saying the United States will press Iran for action to back up its professed interest in a stable, secure and prosperous Iraqi neighbor. In his daily press briefing May 17, Mr. McCormack said, “We are asking [Iranian authorities] to follow their rhetoric with action. We would hope that they would take specific steps to help insure Iraq’s greater stability and security. We obviously have concerns about Iranian support for these EFD [explosive formed device] networks, their support for militias which are stoking sectarian violence. So certainly those will be issues at the top of our agenda.” US military officials believe the explosives originate in Iran, and that Iranian agents may be training Iraqi insurgents in their use. News & Views also reported that Iran’s Foreign Minister says the United States must admit the failure of its policies in Iraq and quit interfering in Iranian domestic affairs if the US wants the Baghdad talks to be useful and move forward. Speaking from Islamabad, Manouchehr Mottaki said “nothing but Iraq” is on the agenda.
Contrary to the official reports from both the US and Iran, NewsTalk’s guests May 18 said they believe the bilateral talks also will include discussions on Iran’s nuclear program. Hormoz Hekmat, chief editor of the publication Iran Nameh (a quarterly journal of current scholarship on Iranian studies), said Russia – a member of the UN Security Council and reluctant supporter of sanctions against Iran – is leaning on both Iran and the US to try to resolve the dispute over Iran’s enrichment of uranium. Mehran Barati, a professor at Berlin University and head of the dissident group, the Iranian Republican Union, said Russia is using Iran’s nuclear program as a bargaining chip with the United States. Mr. Barati said Iran needs to say what it wants and what it’s willing to give. He said now is a good time for Iran to offer a proposal that will allay western fears that it wants to manufacture nuclear weapons. Until then, Mr. Hekmat added, the UN sanctions will stand.
News & Views interviewed former CIA analyst Paul Pillar, who is now on the faculty of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, on May 15. He said the Iranian regime does not speak with one voice and that he does not believe President Ahmadinejad is the main player in many issues, including Iran’s nuclear portfolio. Rather, he said, the main decision maker is Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mr. Pillar said he supports the coalition forces’ conclusion that Iran is arming certain groups in Iraq. But he said the action is not intended to foment violence so much as to increase Tehran’s clout on both the regional and international stages. Mr. Pillar says expectations should be calibrated for only modest success at best from the talks.
Fresh from their reporting on the USS Nimitz, two VOA Persian correspondents reported live for News & Views from Dubai on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit, the first to the United Arab Emirates by an Iranian head of state. Regional security, trade and a long-standing territorial dispute were discussed, while energy and Islamic issues were also on the agenda. Despite the tensions between the two nations, the UAE is Iran’s largest trading partner and they both reportedly want to keep it that way. UAE President Sheikh Khalifa in Zayed al-Nahayan said his country wants the “elimination of the causes of tension in the Middle East.” The UAE is trying to strike a balance in its relations with Iran and the US: Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit came one day after a trip by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Lawyer Mohammad Seifzadeh joined News & Views on May 17 to discuss the case of his client, Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American scholar detained more than a week at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Neither he nor his co-counsel, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, has been allowed to meet with Ms. Esfandiari. Drewery Dyke, an Iran expert with Amnesty International, told News & Views that Amnesty has written letters and e-mails appealing for the unconditional release of Ms. Esfandiari. He said Amnesty considers her a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for her peaceful activities, including her academic work at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Amnesty International fears that she is at risk of torture or ill-treatment, he said, including a prolonged period of solitary confinement, in order to place pressure on her to “confess” to the allegations against her. “The detention of women, workers, teachers and students shows that the Iranian government does not follow international standards. And in a society where there is no rule of law, there is the danger of a breach in human rights.”
In an interview with News & Views May 17, former UN nuclear inspector David Albright said International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have concluded that Iran has apparently “mastered” enrichment technology sooner than expected. “Despite UN Security Council resolutions,” Mr. Albright said, “Iran is still procuring centrifuges from suppliers overseas and now is also able to manufacture most parts itself.” Mr. Albright, who is currently president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said Iran is installing centrifuges every one or two weeks and could have 3,000 centrifuges to produce uranium by June. However, he also said Iran does not realize the enrichment process is a very complex one, adding that it could encounter problems at any point. Mr. Albright said the international community should focus on preventing industrial-scale production of uranium in Iran instead of insisting on suspension. “I would bet that Iran intends to leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty within the next couple of years. A US military attack on Iran would expedite that exit.”
US lawmakers are advocating undercutting Iran’s finances as an approach to undermine its nuclear program. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) told News & Views in an exclusive interview that the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007 would protect fund managers and state pension programs from shareholder lawsuits if they divest stakes in energy companies that do business with Iran. Along with Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Mr. Frank introduced the bill May 16 in a bid to require the US government to publish a list of companies that have invested more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector. The legislators say the bill “empowers Americans to apply economic pressure on the Iranian regime.”
The House of Representatives took steps May 18 to make it harder for Iran to acquire parts for its aging F-14 fighter jets. VOA Persian’s congressional correspondent reported the House voted to ban the Pentagon from selling leftover spares from its retired Tomcat fleet to anyone but museums. Originally a separate measure called the “Stop Arming Iran Act,” the ban was added to the bill that funds the military in the next fiscal year. The Senate has yet to vote on the bill.
VOA Persian also reported in detail on the bipartisan agreement reached May 18 by leading senators to strengthen US borders and grant lawful status to millions of illegal immigrants. The compromise over immigration reform – something over which US lawmakers strongly disagree – was reached after marathon talks. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has set aside next week for Senate debate. If the measure survives what is certain to be a searing Senate battle, it will be up against long odds in the House.
VOA Persian correspondents took advantage of being in Dubai to report on the life of Iranians in the rich and prosperous UAE city: some 400,000 Iranians live there, making up 8-10% of the city’s population. They reported that Dubai is a bridge between Iran and the West for Iranians. Some are businessmen or educated white collar workers seeking employment. Others are tourists, with Dubai either their destination or a hub to other parts of the world. And there are young people – students who want to attend college in Dubai or others who just want to live their lives freely in a more open society. Iranians interviewed by VOA Persian were hesitant to talk on camera. One young Iranian said the UAE is very advanced and a good place to explore new ideas. A young divorcee is a computer specialist. She told VOA she can work in Dubai whereas she can’t work at home in Iran. “In Iran, men and women work in separate areas and women cannot speak with men. This is not the case in the UAE. If anything, women get preferential treatment.” The young woman said the security and freedom she finds in Dubai are “a blessing,” in large part because they are not available to women in Iran. “You can even buy a book freely in Iran. In Dubai, you can live by yourself, drive by yourself, and buy whatever you want.” Another computer specialist, this one a man, told VOA Persian there are all sorts of options available in Dubai. “You can go to a mosque if you want. Or you can go to a disco. No one bothers you whatever it is you choose.”
Late Edition interviewed Hassan Sharafi, Deputy Secretary of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) on increased violence – including suicide bombings – in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Mr. Sharafi said May 15 that he thinks Iran is behind the bombings and that the attacks are a way for Iran to flex its muscles following a visit to Iran by Massoud Barzani, president of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region. He said Iran wants to show it is capable of creating problems for Kurdistan. “Such actions,” Mr. Sharafi added, “are done to threaten the West and America, and show that the Islamic regime of Iran will do what it wants.” Mr. Sharafi said Iranian Kurds are outraged by the attacks in Iraq and stand ready to help Iraqi Kurds in any way that they can.
Noted Iranian poet Mehrangiz Rassapour was the featured guest on Roundtable with You, where she recited several of her poems – all of which deal with the suppression of women in Iran. Ms. Rassapour, who also is editor-in-chief of the literary publication Vazeh, appeared on the May 16 program: “My weapon is my pen, and I use it to tell dictators that human beings are equal. There is no distinction between men and women.” Commenting on the recent crackdown on women in the streets of Tehran, Shiraz and Sanandaj, Ms. Rassapour said there are two kinds of women: those who surrender and those who fight for their rightful place in society.
CNN contacted VOA’s Public Affairs office to request video aired recently by VOA Persian Television of a woman being arrested in Iran for breaking the Islamic dress code. VOA typically provides 45 seconds of video in response to these kinds of requests.
VOA Persian interviewed author Marina Nemat in Los Angeles about her memoir, Prisoner of Tehran, an extraordinary story of survival and how she found inner peace through the written word. She talked about her harrowing experience as a young Iranian girl during the first months after the Islamic revolution when she was locked up in Evin prison, tortured and sentenced to death. A devout Christian, she was deemed “a danger to Islamic society” for demanding that government propaganda be kept out of the classroom. “Ali, one of my interrogators, intervened moments before my execution,” Ms. Nemat said, “having used family connections to reduce my sentence to life in prison.” Ali forced Ms. Neman to marry him and to convert to Islam by threatening to harm her family. Months later, he was gunned down by his own subordinates in front of his parents’ home. His family fought for her release after his death, winning her freedom six months later. “After I was released from Evin prison, I was still a prisoner of my own fears of the Islamic regime,” she said. “But then I decided to overcome this situation, and to write my memoirs. I believe if we don’t hide from the past, we can build a better future.”
Nazanin Afshin-Jam – Miss Canada 2003 and runner-up in that year’s Miss World contest – appeared on Roundtable with You May 15 to discuss her new international campaign to stop child execution in Iran. “According to the United Nations,” she said, “a child is a person under the age of 18. Despite the fact the government of Iran has signed international covenants that forbid them to execute minors, they continue to do so.” Ms. Afshin-Jam said, “Amnesty International has documented 21 executions of child offenders in Iran since 1990. There are at least 32 minors on death row right now. Our Stop Child Executions Campaign was created to raise awareness of this issue, and more importantly, to put an end to one of the most heinous manifestations of the death penalty: its use against children.”
History Channel programming included profiles of American military leader General Douglas MacArthur, the “Father of Modern Science” Sir Isaac Newton and explorer Christopher Columbus as well as programs on the outrageous and wonderfully creative gadgets of James Bond and the history of the telephone, from Alexander Graham Bell’s crude “liquid transmitter” to today’s high-speed wireless networks. deter Iran’s regional ambitions. He said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been meeting monthly with her counterparts from the GCC states, Jordan and Egypt to discuss Iran’s controversial nuclear program since September. (The Gulf Cooperation Council includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.)
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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.