Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – July 30, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included a second round of talks between the US and Iran in Baghdad; a bipartisan Congressional group calling on the World Bank to end disbursements to Iran, including an exclusive interview with Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL); an exclusive interview in Vienna with the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ernst Petrič, who said he is optimistic about the latest round of negotiations with Iran; an interview with Cristina Gallach, spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana on accelerated cooperation from Iran with the IAEA; an interview with Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution; an interview with Reza Taghizadeh, a professor at Scotland’s Aberdeen University, on Iran’s bid to stave off further UN sanctions in its talks with the US and EU; an interview with celebrated Iranian human rights activist Simine Behbahani; commentary on Turkish elections;
News & Views reported on the talks held in Baghdad July 24 between US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi, and quoted Mr. Crocker as saying (in a teleconference with reporters in Washington), “One of the issues we discussed was the formation of a security subcommittee that would address at a expert or technical level, some issues relating to security, be that support for violent militias, al-Qaeda or border security.” Mr. Crocker said, “We made the point that agreement on principle is important – the principle that both Iran and the United States support a democratic and stable Iraq. News & Views reported that State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described the talks as a way “to create the conditions in which the reasonable people within the Iranian leadership will see it in their interest to change their behavior.” Earlier, at his July 23 briefing, PNN covered Mr. McCormack as saying Ambassador Crocker would again demand that Iran stop supporting Shi’ite militias in Iraq. He said such support has risen since the US and Iran held a first round of talks on the issue in May. Iran has denied supplying weapons and training to Shi’ite militias in Iraq. Ambassador Crocker said this disagreement caused some “heated exchanges,” but added that “no progress can be made unless Iran changes its behavior in Iraq.” Appearing on NewsTalk July 27, Mehrdad Khansari, a senior consultant at London’s Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, said dialogue of any nature is good, but he held out little hope for agreement because US and Iran positions on Iraq are at such odds. He said the main reason Iran was sitting at the table was a sign of the financial pressure the Iranian regime is under.
News & Views interviewed Richard Schmierer, head of the Iraq Desk at the State Department, on last week’s decision in Baghdad to form a subcommittee with Iran to help bring stability to Iraq. Mr. Schmierer said Iran’s “actions in Iraq have not yet matched their words,” adding that the Bush administration has information and evidence pointing to Iran’s unhelpful role – particularly in fueling violence in Iraq by arming and training Shi’ite militias – and that this new subcommittee would perhaps look in that.
PNN interviewed Suzanne Maloney, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, on US-Iranian talks vis-à-vis Iraqi stability. Ms. Maloney said last week’s talks in Baghdad could serve as a starting point for applying more pressure on Iran and its nuclear program down the road. However, she said the United States wants to keep the subcommittee’s work on Iraq on a separate track from Iran’s nuclear program, despite Iran’s desire to discuss a range of issues with the United States as a higher level. Ms. Maloney said the US appreciates the significant role that Iran could play in Iraq through economic assistance and trade, including a one billion dollar loan Iran plans for Baghdad. She said not all interactions between Iran and Iraq are problematic, adding that it is quite natural for two neighboring countries to have solid relations. Ms. Maloney said Washington’s concern is primarily about Iran’s support for Shi’ite militias in Iraq.
News & Views reported on a group of bipartisan House foreign assistance leaders calling on new World Bank President Robert Zoellick to use his influence with the Board of Directors to immediately end Bank disbursements to Iran. In a letter to Mr. Zoellick, Representatives Mark Kirk (R-IL), Steven Rothman (D-NJ) and Rob Andrews (D-NJ) wrote that in their view, “it would be consistent if, as the Security Council condemns the actions of President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, the World Bank would suspend funding for his government.” Bank records show $220 million in disbursements to Iran during FY 2007 which ended June 30. Project forecasts indicate $870 million remain in the pipeline through 2010. “As Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization moves toward its announced goal of operating 50,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges in Natanz,” the congressional letter continued, “the World Bank is funding nine government projects in Iran totaling $1.355 billion – one of which operates in Isfahan, the headquarters of Iran’s nuclear program.”
In an exclusive interview with Persian News Network, Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) said, “We are concerned that the policies of the various United Nations agencies are not coordinated. While the UN Security Council has been sanctioning Iran, the World Bank has been providing credit the government of Iran. We think that the international community should speak with one unified voice on Iran….A country like Iran has made more money off of oil than ever before. And you do have to ask the question, why is it that a country making more money off of oil than ever before needs assistance from the World Bank? We are simply saying that we should make US taxpayer dollars abide with the established policy of the United Nations Security Council. If Russia, China and Europe all vote to sanction Iran in New York City, then why should the World Bank in Washington, DC, give them credit?”
In an exclusive interview with Persian News Network, IAEA Director General Ernst Petrič said July 27 from Vienna that he is optimistic about the latest round of negotiations between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran. He said it is possible that some critics are correct when they say Iran is yet again employing delaying tactics. But Mr. Petrič said the most recent contacts between the IAEA and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, have started a process that “may lead to a diplomatic solution clarifying all of the outstanding issues with Iran, which in turn would enable Iran to enjoy all the benefits of the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Commenting on Mr. Larijani’s statement about Iran’s resolve to continue uranium enrichment despite UN resolutions calling for a suspension, Mr. Petrič expressed surprise, saying such a statement at this juncture is “unnecessary.” He said no one is challenging Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, but said Iran should cooperate with the UN Security Council. Then, Mr. Petrič had a message for PNN’s audience: “We want Iran as a friend. We want to have Iran as a partner in the use of atomic energy. To have this partnership, Iran should help us clarify all the outstanding issues which would prove that the Iranian nuclear program is peaceful.”
PNN reported from Vienna for News & Views that following his meetings with the IAEA, Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani flew to Moscow to encourage Russia to oppose future UN Security Council sanctions on Iran and to convince Russia to complete work on the Bushehr reactor. According to the reactor’s contractor, Iran has not paid its bills and the project will not be operational for another 18 months. Mr. Larijani also discussed the possibility of a joint venture on Russian territory to enrich uranium in his talks with Russian officials.
In an interview with News & Views, Reza Taghizadeh a professor at Scotland’s Aberdeen University and an expert on Iran, said a combination of political and technical factors is contributing to the delays in building the Bushehr nuclear plant. He said as Iran’s controversial nuclear program has come under increasing international scrutiny, politics has gained an increasingly important role in the matter. “I doubt very much if this nuclear plant is ready to get off the ground so long as Iran’s nuclear stand-off continues,” he told the Persian News Network. Mr. Taghizadeh said Iran is proceeding on three different tracks in its talks with the United States and the European Union in a bid to stave off further UN sanctions: one is Iran’s talks with Ambassador Crocker in Baghdad, second is delegation of Iran’s nuclear issue to the IAEA, and third is talks between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. As for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s comments about not ruling out a military option against Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, Mr. Taghizadeh said Britain’s position is no more belligerent now than it was two years ago, in keeping with the Labor Party’s foreign policy toward Iran.
Cristina Gallach, spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, told Persian News Network in a telephone interview July 26 that the European Union welcomes Iran’s accelerated cooperation with the IAEA. Ms. Gallach said this new cooperation follows Mr. Solana’s meeting several weeks ago in Portugal with Ali Larijani. Ms. Gallach said the EU wants to see a transparent relationship between the IAEA and Iran, and is hopeful Iran’s fundamental cooperation will continue. She said the EU favors a double-tracked policy by the UN Security Council toward Iran: one of sanctions and dialogue. “Mr. Solana is always keeping the lines of communication open with Mr. Larijani. But at the same time,” she said, “it is important that Iran follows UN resolutions and fulfills its obligations.” In a related story, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he believes UN sanctions against Iran are beginning “to bite,” adding that more sanctions will be added if Iran continues its unacceptable uranium enrichment program.
Persian News Network’s congressional correspondent reported for News & Views July 25 on the legislation introduced by Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) to prevent the Bush administration from launching a war against Iran without prior Congressional authorization. “My purpose in introducing this legislation,” Mr. Udall said, “is to reassert Congress’s constitutional responsibility and to remind the Bush administration of the important role Congress plays when it comes to matters of war and peace. PNN’s congressional correspondent also reported on the House of Representatives voting overwhelmingly to bar permanent US military bases in Iraq. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), who wrote the bill, said it made clear the United States did not intend to keep an “open ended” presence in Iraq and had no designs on Iraq’s oil riches.
One of the most celebrated human rights activists in Iran, Simin Behbahani, was the guest on Roundtable with You July 25, discussing a wide range of topics, from Iran’s government to its economy. Speaking via phone from Tehran, she said pre- and post-Revolution norms were so different that it created a culture of duality: having one type of character outside of the home, and another inside. Ms. Behbahani said the duality has created a conflict in Iran’s youth, making them rebellious, and resulting in less strict interpretations of Islamic values, or hijab. She said the government executed people in public, including women, to force citizens to adhere to the rules. “When the government forces certain rules and values on a people that are supposed to be there by law, that shows the weakening of the government because society isn’t following those laws by nature. They are forced to follow the laws. That is why there are so many TV broadcasts of executions, police, and threats.” Ms. Behbahani said the biggest problem the Islamic Republic faces is Iran’s young people and how to control them. “Iran cannot keep its people under a cover or shield,” she said. “The government has made everything from digital cameras to fax machines a crime, but it hasn’t stopped people from getting them.”
Persian News Network covered elections in Turkey that swept the ruling AKP Islamist-rooted party to victory in parliamentary elections July 22. PNN quoted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as pledging to safeguard modern Turkey’s secularist traditions while noting that no party in more than 50 years has managed to stay in power as a governing power while increasing their votes in second-term elections. Turkish Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said the spectacular success of last week’s elections shows the trust and rise in confidence by Turks in their government. On July 23, Roundtable with You focused on the elections with Shaheen Fatemi, Dean of the Graduate School of Business at the American University of Paris, and Ali Javanmardi, an Iranian journalist based in Ankara. Mr. Javanmardi said Prime Minister Erdogan and his AKP Party dramatically increased average personal income, increased security and established peace with the Kurds. He said the military and secularists fear Mr. Erdogan and parliament will select a strong Muslim for the Turkish presidency. Even though the position is largely ceremonial, the president appoints the head of the armed forces, which have traditionally acted as the guardian of secular government in Turkey. Mr. Fatemi said if the presidential nominee has a strong Islamic tendency, he will likely not gain a required two-third’s majority support in parliament.
Ali Dizaei, Deputy Superintendent of the London Police, talked with News & Views July 27 about British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s call for new terrorism laws as well as recent terrorist scares in London and Glasgow. He said current laws give police only 28 days to gather information on people who are charged with terrorism; the new law would give police twice as much time – 56 days – which would be extremely helpful. Mr. Dizaei said police examine, study and analyze findings to put the accused on trial, all while trying to protect people’s civil rights.
Roundtable with You on July 27 explored the 1988 anniversary of the massacre of thousands of MEK and Communist political opponents of Ayatollah Khomeini with former political prisoner Iraj Mesdaghi. Mr. Mesdaghi, who spent 10 years in Evin and Gohardasht prisons, said inmates, particularly Marxists, had summary trials lasting only a few minutes before being executed. In many cases, he said, the inmate and his family were executed, with children as young as 14-years of age being hanged. Mr. Mesdaghi said the main reason for this inhumane behavior was for the Khomeini regime to create an atmosphere of fear following the Iran-Iraq War: “The war was just concluded and the Islamic Republic could not defeat the much inferior army of Saddam Hussein.” The war left more than two million Iranians disabled and fatalities in the hundreds of thousands. Mr. Mesdaghi said he believes it was the interference of clergy in military tactics and planning that led to such horrendous casualties. “Khomeini was looking for a scapegoat, and found that eliminating and silencing the opposition was just the ticket, with the added bonus that it created fear.”
PNN focused on the city of Chicago in a series of features, from a visit to Millennium Park to an extended visit to the Museum of Science and Industry – focusing on a collaborative exhibit between the Museum the television series, CSI; an exhibit on genetics and decoding life; and another exhibit on the architectural challenges of cities in the future (global warming, overpopulation, air pollution and traffic). PNN also toured the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, including its collection of thousands of ancient tablets on loan from Iran since 1936 for decoding, an exhibit on artifacts from the ancient Iranian city of Rayy, and an interview with the leading scientist on prehistoric Iran (dating back to 4,000-5,000 years ago).
This week’s History Channel segments included a program on offshore drilling as one of mankind’s greatest technological feats; a profile of actor Kirk Douglas, tracing his life and career from an impoverished childhood in upstate New York to success and stardom in Hollywood; a program on the mastery by ancient China of the complicated principles of fluid and aerodynamics as evidenced in the kites they flew, the boats they sailed and the children’s toys they made; an examination of the deadly 2004 tsunami that devastated much of northern Indonesia, Thailand in the east, Sri Lanka, India and the coast of Africa to the west, killing more than 200,000 people in 14 countries; and a profile of scientist Albert Einstein and the history of his theory of relativity which earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.
Persian News Network’s “On the Record” is a once-a-week program featuring an ombudsman, Kambiz Mahmoudi, who also serves as PNN’s senior managing editor. This week, Mr. Mahmoudi explained PNN’s independence from the executive branch, the separation of powers, and how PNN receives its funding from Congress. He went on to explain that according to VOA’s charter, PNN is obligated to present the policy views of the US government “There is a difference between presenting the views of the US government and advocating or propagandizing on behalf of those views. For that reason, guests appearing on PNN programs express their views.
PNN’s Late Edition celebrated its first year on the air July 24. Several retrospective pieces highlighted some of the year’s best shows, including the Human Body exhibit in Rosslyn, Virginia; a profile and interview with Iranian poet and satirist Hadi Khorsandi; an exhibit at National Geographic headquarters of the work of renowned French-Iranian photojournalist Reza Deghati. In a country where two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30, Late Edition caters to this demographic with a blend of hard international news, arts and culture reviews, sports, and music videos. The program stands out for its innovative production style, employing the use of hand-held cameras in studio and a “sky cam” to achieve a contemporary look and feel.
History Channel programming opens PNN’s daily six-hour Persian-television block with news headlines followed by various History Channel programs, translated and narrated into Farsi, that illustrate the cultural fabric and political landscape of the United States. News and Views, which debuted in 2003, is now a two 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.
Persian News Network’s six hours of television programming complements the network’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. PNN’s Internet site is at www.VOANews.com/persian.