Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – July 2, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included fuel rationing in Iran accompanied by violent protests at Iranian gas stations; an interview with Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) on legislation he proposed seeking economic pressure against Iran by trying to reduce Tehran’s importation of gasoline; a joint hearing in the House of Representatives on the ongoing danger of Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan to nuclear proliferation, including Iran’s; US calling on Iran to release detained Iranian-American citizens; an exclusive interview with the US Ambassador the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad; an Amnesty International report calling on Iran to stop executing children under the age of 18 years old; and the House Foreign Affairs Committee voting 37 to 1 in favor of the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007.
Roundtable with You July 1 focused on the fuel rationing put into place by Iran this past week, fomenting widespread riots and unrest in Tehran, with outraged motorists setting fire to many fast stations and nearby businesses. Two guests – Mansour Kashfi and Hossein Ebne Youssef – have their own consulting companies in the field of petroleum and are considered experts on energy issues. Mr. Kashfi dismissed Iran’s official explanation that rationing is necessary to rein in runaway consumption by Iranian drivers. He said the real reason seems to be the government’s desire to store enough gasoline in case a third round of UN sanctions includes the sale of gasoline to Iran (40% of its gasoline is imported). Mr. Ebne Youssef said supplying an adequate amount of energy is a challenge for Iran as well as for other oil-producing countries. He also said Iran’s refining capacity has not kept up with consumption. Mr. Ebne Youssef said reducing Iran’s dependence on fossil fuels is good public policy and raising prices should be seen in that context. Both guests agreed that hiking gas prices will have an adverse effect on Iran’s inflation rate.
In a related development, leaders of a bipartisan House panel, seeking economic pressure against Iran, acted June 28 to try to reduce Tehran’s importation of gasoline. VOA Persian’s congressional correspondent reported on a bill introduced by Representatives Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Andrews (D-NJ) that coincided with angry protests in Tehran against fuel rationing. The two legislators set up a congressional group on Iran’s nuclear program two years ago. Under their new proposed legislation, any company that provides Iran with gasoline or helps it import gasoline after the end of the year could lose its access to US customers. “This is becoming the critical weakness of the Iranian government, meaning its dependence on gasoline,” Rep. Kirk said in a telephone interview with VOA. “The riots show the gasoline shortage is a growing danger to the Iranian regime and a diplomatic opportunity for Western countries to force Iran to adhere to international nuclear rules.
Ali Rashidi, a university professor and economist based in Tehran, told News & Views June 27 that a shortage of gas in Iran is not a new problem. He said Iran was supposed to have new refineries and investment in the petroleum industry, but that different factions in the government opposed such measures. It is this, he said, that is causing Iran to import gas. Mr. Rashidi said the solution is easy to identify: Iran needs to invest in public transportation and in the installation of new refineries.
News & Views reported on a joint hearing held June 27 by Gary Ackerman (D-NY), chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. Alleging that the nuclear proliferation network set up by Dr. A.Q. Khan of Pakistan is still active, the American lawmakers demanded direct access to Khan, believing that without h is cooperation, the clandestine operation cannot be eliminated completely. Rep. Ackerman said, “The administration can believe whatever convenient fiction it likes, but all these facts lead me to believe that the Khan network is more likely to be open under new management rather than out of business. Without question, Iran’s nuclear program is years ahead of where it would have been without his assistance.” Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow for non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the hearing that “Khan’s covert nuclear assistance to Iran allowed it to skip many steps in the development of uranium enrichment technologies that appear to be intended for nuclear weapons purposes, causing severe train on the global non-proliferation regime and an international crisis that potentially could escalate to armed conflict. Tehran, in particular,” Mr. Fitzpatrick continued, “has built a procurement structure that is equivalent to, if not larger than, A.Q. Khan’s global network, and Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapons capability ma prompt other states to acquire their own nuclear deterrent in turn. Future nuclear black market sources could conceivably emerge, for example, from Russia’s criminal networks, North Korea’s corrupt state apparatus, Pakistan’s jihadi sympathizers and/or Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.” David Albright, from the Institute for Science and International Security, told the hearing that “Iran continues to seek items illicitly overseas for its gas centrifuge program using trading companies or phony companies that arise from a long-standing, nationally directed smuggling operation.”
News & Views June 26 covered the House Foreign Affairs Committee voting 37 to 1 in favor of the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007. The bill now goes to the House floor for further debate and a final vote. The bill says Iran should be barred from entering the World Trade Organization until all issues related to its nuclear program are resolved. The United States, the bill says, should encourage foreign governments to direct state-owned entities to cease all investment in Iran’s energy sector and all exports of refined petroleum products to Iran. It also says the United States should prohibit all Iranian state banks from using the US banking system. Chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA) said the objective of this legislation is two-fold: “to prevent Iran from securing nuclear arms and the means to produce them. And to ensure that we achieve this all-important goal in a peaceful manner. My legislation will increase exponentially the economic pressure on Iran, and empower our diplomatic efforts by strengthening the Iran Sanctions Act.
News & Views reported on State Department spokesman Tom Casey calling again June 29 for Iran to release the Iranian-Americans it is holding at Evin prison or under house arrest. In an interview with WTOP, one of the detainees, Radio Farda reporter Parnaz Azima, criticized the administration’s democracy program for Iran, saying it has caused a government crackdown on dissidents and civic society figures. Mr. Casey said he was unfamiliar with the interview, but said the US government supports democratic change in Iran and other countries. “I would caution,” he added, “that interviews being given by an citizen who is under house arrest, under threat of prosecution, and unjustifiably being subject to harassment by authorities in Iran, may not be in a position speak as freely as they might want to.” Another US official, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Carpenter said, “Freedom always has its enemies, but freedom will always succeed. Iran’s crackdown on dissidents demonstrates the fact that this sordid regime has no self-confidence.
VOA Persian covered President Bush’s June 28 visit to the Washington Islamic Center on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. At a gathering and imams and religious leaders at the mosque, President Bush said, “The history of US cooperation with Muslim states goes back to 50 years ago. I have a decided to appoint a special envoy, for the first time, to take part in the Organization of Islamic Conference in order to listen to their concerns and to learn from them.
News & Views conducted an exclusive interview with the new US ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, on June 28. The ambassador said Iran has a dual policy with regard to US-Iran talks on security in Iraq. “On the one hand,” he said, “they ay they support Iraq’s elected government, and on the other, they support opponents of this same government.” He said the objective of the bilateral talks is to get Iran to stop supporting the government’s opponents. On Iran’s nuclear program, Ambassador Khalilzad said the fact that the IAEA has been invited to go to Tehran is a positive step. But he said the international community does not trust President Ahmadinejad to make peaceful use of nuclear technology. “If Iran does not comply with UN Security Council resolutions soon, discussions about further sanctions will begin.” Ambassador Khalilzad said further sanctions could hurt the Iranian people, but that the question to be asked is one for the Iranian regime: Why has it put the nation in this situation? The ambassador said the international community doesn’t trust Iran as a direct result of President Ahmadinejad’s words and actions: having mercenaries in neighboring countries, smuggling arms, kidnapping, and the rough treatment of scholars such as Haleh Esfandiari from the Wilson Center. Ambassador Khalilzad said the United States takes all of these actions, as well as developments in Iran’s nuclear program, very seriously.
VOA Persian covered the release of a report by Amnesty International June 27 in which the human rights group called on Iran to stop executing youth offenders and amend its laws to ban death sentences for children. Amnesty said Iran “stands virtually alone” in its record of youth executions. VOA reported that a spokesperson for the Iranian foreign minister denied all allegations in the report, adding that Amnesty International is biased. However, according to Amnesty, Iran has executed 11 people under 18 since 1990 and is the only country to have put children to death this year. The report also said others were either kept on death row until they had reached 18, or were convicted and sentenced after reaching that age. The rights group gave the names of the 71 child offenders it said are known to be facing the death penalty and warned the number could be higher, as many death penalty sentences in Iran go unreported.
VOA Persian interviewed student activist Arman Sedaghati, a student at Tehran’s Polytechnic University on June 26. Extremist forces attached and beat Mr. Sedaghati when he protested the detention of eight friends. He was told not to appear for his exams, but said classmates rebelled against this announcement, and university authorities permitted him to take exams in a separate room under the supervision of two Revolutionary Guards. Mr. Sedaghati said he took the exams, but that it is not easy for him to enter campus.
News & Views interviewed Nezam Omar, the Iraqi Kurdistan representative to Tehran on June 27. He said the main reason Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was visiting Iran was to visit with Ayatollah Hakim, who was in Iran for medical treatment. Mr. Omar said President Talabani conferred with Iranian officials on ways to bring stability to Iraq and ways to conduct further US/Iranian talks. He said these talks were productive and that he is sure the issue of the five Iranian officials arrested in Irbil was raised with the Iranian foreign minister. Mr. Omar said Iraq is redoubling efforts obtain Iran’s cooperation in pacifying Iraq. In response to a question about Iraqi Kurdistan/Iran relations, Mr. Omar said that, “Overall, we have solid relations with Tehran, and recently the Iraqi Kurdistan president visited Tehran to further strengthen those ties. In fact, I was recently appointed as a representative of Iraqi Kurdistan to advance our interests in Tehran.”
Roundtable with You June 30 focused on Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah with guest Salameh Nematt, an independent Arab journalist who until recently was the Washington bureau chief of Al Hayat International Arab Daily and the LBC, the Lebanon-based Arab satellite channel. “No one in the area has any illusion about the role that Iran plays, whether it is in Iraq, Lebanon or the occupied territories in Palestine. In Iraq,” Mr. Nematt said, “we have Iranian operatives being arrested and in Lebanon we have Lebanese groups carrying the picture of Iran’s supreme leader. There is no reason why in Lebanon we should have anyone expressing loyalty to the leader of a foreign nation unless these people or groups are agents of that government.” Mr. Nematt said Iran is not interested in seeking partners or allies in the region, but instead is trying to recruit “paid agents.” According to Mr. Nematt, these paid agents are sponsored and financed by Iran to carry out an agenda that has nothing to do with the national aspirations of the people of Lebanon, Iraq or Palestine. Mr. Nematt said Iran is eager to challenge US and moderate Arab states for supremacy in the Middle East, with the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein setting the stage for such a showdown. He said Iran is using Hamas in the occupied territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon as proxies – doing Iran’s bidding and undermining governments not friendly to them. Mr. Nematt claimed that “even Hamas and Hezbollah don’t deny receiving weapons and funding from Iran. They are not open about it,” he said, “but it’s implicit in what they say.”
News & Views interviewed Muhammad Sahimi, a member of the Chemical Engineering faculty at USC, on the status of his friend Ali Shakeri, a dual Iranian-American citizen detained in Iran while on a visit home to see his ailing mother. Mr. Sahimi said Mr. Shakeri’s family is deeply distressed about his situation, adding that it appears he has become a victim of factional fighting between rival groups within the Ahmadinejad regime. He said Iranian officials also have accused Mr. Shakeri – and others of those detained – of trying to instigate a velvet revolution with the assistance of a US democracy fund. He said Iranian officials are using this democracy fund as a pretext to forestall any kind of exchanges between US and Iranian citizens.
Roundtable with You on June 24 featured Reza Moeini, who runs the Iran Desk at Reporters without Borders, a Paris-based organization that monitors the violation of press freedoms around the world. Mr. Moeini said according to his research, 125 journalists are in jail right now all over the world, with 47 having been killed since the beginning of the year. He said the situation in Iran is unique in that Iran has several institutions dedicated to monitoring, intimidating and cracking down on the press. According to Reporters without Borders, the Iranian government has shut down nearly 200 newspapers in Iran over the past eight years. He added that the government does not want a dissenting view to be expressed through independent and free newspapers in Iran. “For instance,” he said, “four years ago as the nuclear controversy was heating up, a journalist suggested that with a free press, we could resolve the nuclear issue with the international community, but it’s obvious that the Iranian government does not want a resolution. Mr. Moeini said the government doesn’t want reporters to raise issues such as inflation, unemployment or other domestic problems that ordinary people have to grapple with on a daily basis.
VOA Persian covered a news conference at the National Press Club June 27 with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, Ann-Marie Slaughter. The two discussed the direction of US foreign policy in light of next year’s presidential election. Asked by VOA whether her previous statement on the involvement of the CIA in orchestrating the 1953 overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq was a mistake, Secretary Albright said it was indeed a mistake. She also said the government of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami --- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s predecessor – did not understand President Clinton’s and her messages to re-establish US-Iranian relations. According to Ms. Albright, the Iranian government should have stopped supporting terrorists, stopped pursuing nuclear weapons and helped the Middle East peace process for the United States to have taken a different path on re-establishing relations.
Late Edition covered a news conference held by the American Foreign Policy Council to promote a new book by Ilan Berman and Tom Ridge called “Taking on Tehran: Strategies for Confronting the Islamic Republic.” Mr. Ridge, formerly Homeland Security Advisor, said Iran poses threats not just to America, but to the entire world. He said Iran is “frankly out of step with the free world” and President Ahmadinejad is spreading tyranny and damaging his own country with his uncooperative behavior.” Mr. Ridge said economic pressure and diplomacy are the best ways to deal with Iran’s nuclear problem, but said military action should remain an option of last resort. Much like Mr. Ridge, Ilan Berman stressed the idea of opening a dialogue with Iran. He said the US needs to focus on internal conditions in Iran, that human rights shouldn’t be ignored just because Iran’s nuclear program grabs most of the world’s attention. He said Iran is a country built on fear, and the US needs to let the Iranian people know their human rights will not be ignored.
Roundtable with You June 28 focused on the anniversary of mass executions in Iranian prisons in 1988 with guest Iraj Mesdaghi, former political prisoner who spent 10 years in prison who is now living in Sweden as an author. The Iranian government summarily and extrajudicially executed thousands of political prisoners held in Iranian jails in 1988. The government has never acknowledged these executions, or provided any information as to how many prisoners were killed. The majority of those executed were serving prison sentences for their political activities after unfair trials in revolutionary courts. Mr. Mesdaghi described his long ordeal, from the time of captivity to the time of his conviction. He provided eye witness accounts of old and young during that time. “Many prisoners were never convicted. Some finished their prison terms and were ready to leave when they were executed. Ayatollah Khomeini, then the Supreme Leader ordered them all killed.” Mr. Mesdaghi described the names of prison guards and prosecutors, of those responsible for the crime of killing these political prisoners. “Ironically,” he concluded, “many of those executioners are now members of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Cabinet.”
Roundtable with You June 26 featured one of Iran’s greatest filmmakers, screenwriters and actors – Farzan Deljou. “I wrote ‘Yaran’ at a very young age,” he told VOA, “with a very low production budget, with barely enough money. I used to buy film and negative rolls one at a time. I took a year to make the film. It was shown in 1974 at Cinema Kapri in Tehran and was a big box office hit.” He went on to make numerous unforgettable films – such as ‘Shabe Ghariban,’ ‘Alafhaye Harz,’ and “Mahiha dar Khak Mimirand.’ I have touched many hearts, old and young, by speaking the language of the heart,” Mr. Deljou said. “But after the revolution of 1979, I left Iran because of the censorship imposed by the new Islamic regime. I moved to the United States to finish my unfinished dreams.” Late Edition covered the funeral of Mahasti, the acclaimed Iranian singer who died June 25 after a long battle with cancer in Santa Rosa, California. She had battled colon cancer, but was strong and hopeful in her last days as she had been all her life. She was 60 years old.
History Channel programming included five segments from the series “Where Did it Come From?” featuring a program on the origins of ancient weapons of mass destruction in Greece over 2000 years ago (with the ancient forerunner of the long-range missile called a ballista); another examined the world’s most technologically advanced football stadium in Wembley, England – when completed, the stadium will seat 90,000 people, with many of the same features of the famed Coliseum of ancient Rome; a third segment looked at the Greeks’ domination of ship building and at how their maritime expertise evolved over the millennia; a fourth segment traveled to the heart of the Roman Empire to examine that civilization’s remarkable civil engineering project that resulted in a 53,000 mile network of highways linking all parts of the Empire with the accompanying service stations, rest stops, road houses providing food and a place to sleep, to tunnels, speed bumps and travel guides. The week’s fifth segment focused on the New World’s first powerful metropolis, build by the Maya in the Yucatan and a Guatemala more than 2,000 years ago in some of the most inhospitable jungle imaginable.
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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.