Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – August 20, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included reports that the United States might categorize Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization and the possible repercussions of such a move; Iran’s president consolidates power at the country’s powerful oil ministry; the fate of two Iranian-Americans detained in Tehran under trumped up charges inches forward; Iran continues to pay only lip service to human rights concerns with the Foreign Minister appointing his wife to oversee a new human rights office; an interview with Bijan R. Kian of California, the first Iranian-American to serve on the board of directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States; an interview with Kurdish filmmaker Jalal Jonroy, who wrote, produced and directed David and Layla; and an interview with Christine Levinson, wife of the former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran nearly six months ago.
News & Views reported daily this week on the US government’s deliberations on designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group. Although the State Department and White House refused to comment while deliberations are ongoing, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said August 15 that Washington is continuing to “confront Iranian behavior across a variety of different fronts, on a number of different quote, unquote battlefields, if you will. We are confronting Iran’s behavior in arming and providing material support to those groups that are going after our troops. We confront them on the ground in Iraq.” US officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Administration may soon designate the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, under Executive Order 13224, which President Bush signed two weeks after 9-11. The officials said a decision is likely before next month’s General Assembly of the United Nations. If the United States declares the Guard a terrorist group, it would be the first time the United States has taken such action against the armed forces of a sovereign nation. Some US officials say there is still an internal debate whether to target the entire Iranian corps, or only its Quds wing (which US officials have linked to the growing flow of explosives, roadside bombs, rockets and other arms to Shiite militias in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan). Iran has been on the US State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since May 1984. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently warned her European counterparts that delay in efforts to win approval from the UN Security Council for further economic sanctions on Iran was living the administration with little choice but unilateral action.
Roundtable with You looked at the possibility of the US government placing Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on its state-sponsored terrorist list with Susanne Maloney, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Ms. Maloney said this wasn’t true yet, noting it was reported only as a possibility by the Washington Post and New York Times newspapers. However, she said it is a strong possibility that it will come to pass due to the expanded role of the Revolutionary Guard in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon – particularly to their role in the instability in Iraq and Lebanon. Ms. Maloney also said the Revolutionary Guard has played an important role in the debate over Iran’s nuclear program, including its refusal to comply with UN resolutions regarding the suspension of uranium enrichment. One caller from Shiraz raised an important question. “I am a 20-year-old who has been drafted to serve in the Revolutionary Guard. I want to continue my education in the United States, and now that dream might be impossible because the U.S. is going to call my part of the army a terrorist?” Ms. Maloney acknowledged the question is valid, but said it is premature as no determinations have yet been made.
NewsTalk on August 16 looked at the possibility of the Revolutionary Guard being labeled “terrorist.” Freelance journalist Elahe Boghrat said she believed recognizing the Guard as a terrorist organization “is the first step toward recognizing Iran’s government as terrorist. In fact, the decision-makers in Iran’s government are part of a domestic political-economic mafia.” Ms. Boghrat said she believed European governments would come to support the US position.
Speaking on NewsTalk August 18, political analyst Ali Afshari said the United States is confronting Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on several different fronts. He said the news that the United States might categorize the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist is “poisonous” for the Iranian government. Such a move, he said, would limit the Guard’s activities and would damage Iran’s economy. From Berlin, political analyst Mehran Barati concurred, adding that a declaration of terrorist against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard would give Israel and other nations a pretext for attacking Iran under the guise of protecting themselves. He noted that any Revolutionary Guard employee traveling to other countries could be presumed to be a terrorist and arrested as such.
Appearing on News & Views August 18, London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said comments like those made by the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard exacerbate the situation. The Commander-in-Chief of the Guard, Yahya Rahim Safavi, said Iranian missiles can hit US warships operating anywhere in the Persian Gulf and Oman Sea. Mr. Nourizadeh said Mr. Safavi’s remarks make the US case against Iran stronger. Speaking earlier in the week on NewsTalk (August 15), Mr. Nourizadeh said after the Islamic Revolution, the Islamic regime did not trust Iran’s army, and established its own army, called the Revolutionary Guard. He said the main mission of the Revolutionary Guard was to protect the regime from Iran’s army and anti-revolutionary groups. Their main mission is to kill anti-government individuals, he said, to destroy anti-regime organizations, and to help militants and underground terrorist organizations in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan.
Speaking on the same program, former government official and member of the Revolutionary Guard, Mohsen Sazgara, said the Guard’s duties today are very different from their original tasks. “The Revolutionary Guard originally had three missions: to defend Iran against foreign invasion, to protect the revolutionary Islamic Republic from coup attempts by Iran’s army, and to create a grassroots army much like the US National Guard. But since then, the Guard has undergone three fundamental changes. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Guard became much more like an army. It became a commercial entity to support its activities, it needed to make money. And then it became political, participating in Iranian politics. The Revolutionary Guard plays a vital role in Iran’s economy,” Mr. Sazara said, “And the United States categorizing it as a terrorist organization will have a real and negative impact on day-to-day life for Iranians.”
Mr. Sazgara appeared on a second PNN program this week. Persian News Network launched a new program August 17 with the debut of NewsTalk: Face to Face – a monthly feature focusing on a high-profile personality or newsmaker, the person’s background, and the story behind the headline. PNN put the inaugural spotlight on Mohsen Sazgara – one of the men at Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s side during the 1979 Revolution in Iran and, as previously mentioned, a founder of the Revolutionary Guard. Mr. Sazgara, who has since renounced the Islamic regime and fled the country, is a regular contributor to NewsTalk. “I had just begun my work as an activist when I first went to the United States as a university student. I went to the Illinois Institute of Technology, and got involved with Islamic groups in Chicago. We would organize demonstrations, and could mobilize thousands.” Mr. Sazgara ended up interrupting his studies to join Ayatollah Khomeini’s press team in Paris. “One of the best parts of it was working with the media. I was translating reporters’ questions and Khomeini’s answers. We also produced and copied Khomeini’s tapes and sent them to Iran. We wanted to create a people’s army, so we sent people to Lebanon for training.” Mr. Sazgara’s disenchantment with the Khomeini team was gradual. He espoused the same violence and religious fervor at the beginning, but came to dislike violence and politics when he was working with the Industry Ministry. Despite his relationship with Ayatollah Khomeini, Mr. Sazgara was detained twice for expressing his opposition to the revolution and its attendant violence.
Persian News Network had an exclusive interview with Christine Levinson, wife of the former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran nearly six months ago. Bob Levinson, a 28-year veteran of both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI, was visiting Kish Island, an Iranian resort and free-trade zone off the southern coast that does not require a visa to visit. Mrs. Levinson told PNN she is traveling to Iran soon to find her husband. “This is not political,” she told PNN. “I’m just a wife looking for her husband. There’s no reason for him to be missing. He should be home with us. He was doing an investigation for a couple of major corporations. The main focus was cigarette smuggling. He was also trying to find out if Dubai and that area were good investments for some clients. So he was just trying to do his job, which was mainly investigating cigarette smuggling.” Mrs. Levinson told viewers about the family’s website – www.helpboblevinson.com – and asked people to come forward with any information that could help find her husband.
Persian News Network reported on the power vacuum in Iran’s oil ministry following the August 12 resignation of Iranian oil minister Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh. His departure plunged the country’s oil industry into uncertainty, and analyst Mohsen Sazgara said whoever takes on the powerful oil portfolio will have problems, in part because of the overshadowing impact of US sanctions. Whatever challenges the old minister faced – including an increasingly corrupt bureaucracy – Mr. Sazgara says he will face worse circumstances in the weeks to come. Appearing on NewsTalk August 14, the deputy editor of London’s Kayhan newspaper, Nasser Mohammadi, said the change is intended to increase President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s power over the ministry He said the new minister will have two characteristics: he should be a relative or close friend of the president’s and the person should be a good follower. “Whoever fills the job needs to follow orders blindly,” Mr. Mohammadi said. “The President has been dismissing or destroying any individuals and organizations that are against him.”
News & Views reported August 14 that Tehran’s deputy prosecutor is saying the investigation into the cases of two Iranian-Americans accused of espionage is now completed. The prosecutor said results of the cases of Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh will not be announced until some additional work on the cases is done. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said “Ms. Esfandiari and Mr. Tajbakhsh are dedicated to promoting dialogue in some way between the United States and Iran, or at least, at the very least, promoting more freedom of expression within Iran itself.”
Roundtable with You looked at the mixed policies of Iran and Afghanistan with Aminollah Habibi, a London-based Afghan journalist. Mr. Habibi traced the links shared by the two countries in their common history and cultural values. He said they enjoy very cordial relations despite both having faced serious domestic crises and diplomatic isolation by the international community. Mr. Habibi pointed out that Pakistan has played a more pivotal role in Afghanistan than has Iran, and that elements of Pakistan’s security forces have financed Islamic extremists in Afghanistan.
Bijan R. Kian of California, the fifth member of the board of directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, is the first Iranian-American to serve in such a position. Mr. Kian, who was Roundtable with You’s guest on August 13, briefly discussed his responsibilities with the Bank, but talked more about being an Iranian-American in the United States. “Iranian-Americans are among the most successful immigrant communities in the country,” he said, “contributing in every field of knowledge, from medicine to engineering, teaching, space technology, etc. We have a young, clever, informed population, many of whom are under the age of 30. In Iran, after 28 years of constant lies and propaganda, there is only isolation, inflation and unemployment.” He compared today’s Islamic Republic with the last days of the former Soviet Union, saying it is clear why Islamic authorities are using all measures possible, including imprisonment and execution, to control the masses.
Roundtable with You featured Kurdish filmmaker Jalal Jonroy, who wrote, produced and directed David and Layla, an earnest, frequently funny comedy about stateless persons and the looming clichés that make Muslims and Jews so wary of each other. The film is on the unlikely romance between a quintessential Jewish New Yorker and a lovely Kurdish refugee. Mr. Jonroy, who is an Iraqi-born Kurd, said he wanted to the glory of his ancient culture to tell the world that Iran is not what Islamic authorities have presented the world. “Iran doesn’t deserve to be called the axis of evil,” he said. “I have tried, in David and Layla, to tell my audience that among people of faith – for Jews, Muslims, Christian, Bahai – we have many commonalities that we can rely on, the most important one being love.”
Roundtable with You August 17 examined domestic violence with Georgetown University sociology professor Mehrdad Mashayekhi. Mr. Mashayekhi said the culture of violence has a long history in Iran, with some tracing it to the time of the Mongol invasion, and others pointing to the Arab invasion of Iran. Mr. Mashayekhi said no matter which line one supports, it is clear that a new page of violence was introduced in Iran with the birth of the Islamic Republic nearly 30 years ago. He said Iranian intellectuals bear some responsibility for the flagrant violation of human rights in Iran today for remaining silent in the face of such serious transgressions, specifically singling out the execution of former government officials.
NewsTalk on August 14 looked at the surge in human rights violations in Iran, with all three guests agreeing that the regime’s aggressive oppression of human rights is to divert people’s attention from other problems. Los Angeles-based journalist Homa Sarshar said there is a shortage of information on recent executions in Tehran, saying it is not clear whether people were accused, investigated and executed by civil or Sharia law. She said Iran is trying, ostensibly, to show it has some respect for human rights by establishing an office for the protection of human rights. However, it is not independent of the government – it is part of the Foreign Ministry, and its head is the wife of Iran’s Foreign Minister. The Minister, Manuchehr Mottaki appointed his wife, pharmacist Tahereh Nazari, to the post of director general for human rights and women despite having no related experience.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring senior managing editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – focused on the controversy that erupted with a Roundtable with You broadcast from June 10. The show looked at lobbying in the United States and paid particular attention to a group called the National Iranian American Council. The group’s goals are strongly debated within the Iranian-American community and numerous viewers said they didn’t believe the group was fairly represented on the program, some going so far as to say they understood VOA was being sued for improper representation of the Council. Dr. Mahmoudi said that “there has been no legal action, nor are we expecting any. Moreover, complaints about featured guests on our programs and threats of legal action have never deterred VOA in the past, not will they deter us in the future…” Dr. Mahmoudi stood by the quality of Roundtable, and invited representatives of the Council to appear on PNN programming “at anytime.”
On another topic, a viewer wanted to know why PNN would allow a critic from Tehran to say negative things about the US on its programming. Dr. Mahmoudi said having a free and open discussion is at the core of PNN programming, and is the main difference between a democracy and a dictatorship. “We allow our audience members to express their own opinions. They have their own judgments and opinions on issues. We don’t tell people what to think.”
This week’s History Channel segments included a two-part profile on the tempestuous life and career of the man known and loved throughout the world as the Little Tramp—Charlie Chaplin, based on 22 candid interviews with family, close friends and never-before-seen home movies and letters; a synopsis on the USS Midway: The Magic Carrier that went on a 47-year-odyssey that began a week after the end of World War Two and ended with the liberation of Kuwait I 1991; a program on Nature Tech: Hurricanes, exploring how hurricanes start, how scientists track them and how if at all possible they can be stopped; and a profile of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the son of immigrant parents who was born in Harlem only to become the first black National Security Advisor and first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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.