Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – August 27, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included Iran warning the UN Security Council not to impose new sanctions because of its controversial nuclear program and the United States saying it plans to push for further sanctions no matter what Iran says; clashes between Iranian forces and Kurdish rebels in a remote area in northwestern Iran and across the border into two villages in Iraq; the release of Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison; an interview with Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Iran, on the demand by some Iranian hardliners that Britain give back its official residence in Tehran, the Gholhak gardens; prospects for academic exchanges between the US and Iran; release of the newest National Intelligence Estimate, which forecasts continued Iranian support for Shia militants in Iraq; reaction to last week’s news that the United States might classify Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group; the problems besetting Iran’s petroleum sector; and disagreements between Iranian exiles on how relations between Iran and the US should be conducted.
News & Views reported on Gregory Schulte – head of the US delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency – who criticized the deal Iran reached with the IAEA on a timetable for Tehran to answer questions about its controversial nuclear program. The senior US official said August 22 that the pact has “real limitations,” and “does not allow for wider inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities.” Mr. Schulte said Iran is “clearly trying to take attention” away from its efforts to acquire nuclear weapon capabilities. He said the deal will not prevent the UN Security Council from taking additional punitive measures against Iran. News & Views also reported on the timetable agreement, made by IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen and the leader of Iran’s delegation to the IAEA, Javad Vaeedi. The two men did not provide details, but the IAEA is due to present a report on Iran to the UN Security Council in September.
News & Views also reported on Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, warning the UN Security Council against imposing new sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program. Iranian state media quoted Mr. Larijani as saying new sanctions would be a “grave mistake” that would make any future cooperation with the IAEA “futile.” He spoke on August 20, the first day of talks in Tehran between senior officials from Iran and the IAEA. News & Views also reported on the interview Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns gave to Radio Free Europe. In the interview, Mr. Burns said it is unacceptable to suggest renewed Iranian willingness to work with the IAEA is grounds for a delay in the push for further sanctions. He said this is yet another delaying tactic, and that the US, France and Britain are strongly committed to tougher sanctions.
PNN programs reported in-depth on the clashes between Iranian forces and Kurdish rebels in a remote area in northwestern Iran and across the border into two villages in Iraq. Residents said farmland was damaged in the shelling in Penjwin, which is east of Sulaimaniya. Kurdish leaders also claimed two other villages in northeastern Iraq had been the target of Iranian shelling, prompting residents to flee their homes. PNN interviewed VOA correspondent Margaret Besheer, who just returned from three months in Irbil, live on News & Views to discuss the situation. PNN also interviewed Ayoub Abdullapoor, an Iranian Kurdish independent journalist in Sulaimaniya. News & Views talked with Radio Farda’s stringer in Turkey, Ali Javanmardi, to discuss reports that the Kurdish rebels are linked to Turkey’s separatist Kurdistan Workers Party. Jay Solomon, a Wall Street Journal reporter specializing in intelligence and global terrorism, will be joining PNN later today in our Washington studio to discuss this week’s clashes between Kurdish guerrillas and Iranian forces.
News & Views reported on the release of American-Iranian scholar Haleh Esfandiari from a Tehran prison. Ms. Esfandiari, the 67-year-old director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, had been jailed in Evin prison since early May after enduring months of intense interrogations. The program also reported on a judiciary source in Tehran telling Reuters that a second American-Iranian being detained, Kian Tajbakhsh might be released as well. An article on the opinion page of USA Today said the Iranian regime is using Ms. Esfandiari, Mr. Tajbakhsh and the two other dual nationals being detained as bargaining chips as it spars with the US over its nuclear program and Iraq. The article said the hardliners in Iran are desperate to win internal factional power struggles. Stating that the regime is insecure, the article suggested steady and concerted pressure be applied.
Haleh Esfandiari’s husband, Shaul Bakhash told Voice of America that he is delighted by his wife’s release. The spokesmen for the State Department and National Security Council (Gonzalo Gallegos and Gordon Johndroe) both said news of the release was encouraging. Apparently, Ms. Esfandiari has Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to thank for her release. Former Congressman Lee Hamilton, who heads the Wilson Center, said he sent a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei and that Iran’s top leader had promised implicitly to look into the case.
The Director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University, Abbas Milani, told Roundtable with You August 26 that the new wave of crackdowns on dissidents and intellectuals in Iran has been more widespread than has been reported. “The regime hopes to nip in the bud any attempt at forming an independent society, associations and labor unions – but their efforts will be for naught.” He dismissed comments by Haleh Esfandiari describing her treatment in solitary confinement as “wonderful,” saying he attaches “no significance to anything coming from someone who is making such statements standing next to the gate of Evin prison.” The Iranian regime, Mr. Milani added, “would like to restrict any contact between the academic community in Iran and outside. What Haleh Esfandiari has been accused of is what I, and many of my colleagues at Stanford and other US colleges, do on a regular basis as educators. Iran has announced that any professor leaving Iran to attend a conference overseas needs to get a permit from the Intelligence Ministry before taking his/her trip, which will have a chilling effect on these kinds of exchanges.”
Roundtable with You August 25 featured a phone interview with the former British ambassador to Tehran, Sir Richard Dalton. Commenting on a recent conference staged by hardliners in Iran demanding the return of Gholhak gardens, a 50-acre compound providing accommodation for British diplomats and their families, Sir Richard said it is just one more illustration of the hostility some members in the Iranian government feel toward Britain. Gholhak gardens, a compound in north Tehran’s up-market Shemiran district, was presented to Britain at the height of its imperial might by the Qajar monarchy in the 19th century. “I also suspect that there are elements in the Iranian government that are eying this property with greed so that they can use it for their own personal purposes,” he added.
News & Views reported on excerpts from the declassified summary of a National Intelligence Estimate released August 23 on the prospects for stability in Iraq. The report, which represents the collaborative judgment of all 16 US intelligence agencies, said “Over the next year, Tehran, concerned about a Sunni reemergence in Iraq and US efforts to limit Iranian influence, will continue to provide funding, weaponry and training to Iraqi Shia militants.”
Speaking from London on News & Views, political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh commented on the reaction from a top military official in Iran to last week’s news that the United States was considering classifying the elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group. Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, head of Iran’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Guards are “defenders of the nation and Washington has no right to call the protector of Iran’s national interests a terrorist organization. If the US goes ahead with this illogical and hasty plan,” he said, “every member of the Iranian nation will put the symbol of the Revolutionary Guards on their chest.” NewsTalk, another PNN program, looked at the same story with political scientist Fariborz Mokhtari. Mr. Mokhtari, a professor at the National Defense University, characterized the Revolutionary Guards as a mafia. He said the Guards’ political independence is more important than its economic and military independence. He said the Revolutionary Guards are trying to create a state within the state. As to being classified as a terrorist organization, Mr. Mokhtari was dismissive about the characterization, saying the Guards’ top leaders are corrupt and out to serve themselves. Speaking on the same program, London-based Nasser Mohammadi, deputy editor of Kayhan newspaper, agreed, saying the classification of the Revolutionary Guards is one thing. But “what is more important is their wealth.” He said the Guards’ leaders have grown rich as the group has extended its portfolio from military interests only to a huge role in Iran’s economy. “They have misused their power to take control of major areas of Iran’s economy, from the big contracts in the oil and gas industries to smuggling goods.” Mr. Mohammadi went so far as to say the Revolutionary Guards are running Iran and control the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iranians living outside of the country don’t necessarily agree on how best the United States should deal with Iran. A good example of the polarity of views was shared by two guests on Roundtable with You: Houshang Amirahmadi, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey and president of the Princeton-based American-Iranian Council, and Hassan Dai, an independent researcher based in Phoenix, Arizona. Both flung accusations at the other. Mr. Amirahmadi accused Hassan Dai of belonging to the Mujahedin Khalq, the largest and most militant group opposed to the Iranian regime; the United States added the group to its list of terrorist organizations 10 years ago. He said, “There are two camps now operating in Washington. One is pro-peace, which is where I belong. And Mr. Dai is squarely in the war camp.” Mr. Dai said he does not belong to Mujahedin Khalq, and accused Mr. Amirahmadi of trying to buy time for Tehran so the government can build its atomic weapons and crack down on dissent at home. Mr. Amirahmadi said he wanted normalized relations between the two countries because normalization of relations usually leads to democracy and greater respect for human rights. He said Iran and the US share many common interests, and those interests should be exploited to avoid the collision course the two countries appear to be on now. Mr. Dai said Tehran has retreated every time international pressure was brought to bear. “We should stop playing the game of good cleric/bad cleric. We should pull the rug out from underneath [the Ahmadinejad government].”
News & Views interviewed Amy Myers Jaffe, associate director of the energy program at Rice University in Houston, on the challenges currently facing Iran’s petroleum industry. Asked why the Iranian government hasn’t been able to ramp up production capacity as other OPEC countries have done, Ms. Jaffe said mismanagement and corruption have plagued Iran’s petroleum sector. “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to office while promising in his election campaign to root out endemic corruption and reverse that trend, but he has been unable to make a dent.” The problems have led the government to provide large and hugely expensive gasoline subsidies, while sanctions imposed by the UN because of Iran’s refusal to stop uranium enrichment have made it difficult if not impossible to attract foreign investors. She warned that the average Iranian needs to be forewarned that “in a few years, if Iran is unable to attract enough investment to its oil industry, the government will be importing petroleum products because the Iranian economy will be in such shambles and the demand for oil will be out of control.”
PNN recently broadcast a report on Iran’s National Federation kayaking team throwing one of its coaches off the team for taking three of his teenage athletes to the United States to train. The report generated a huge and positive response for the coach and his kayakers from viewers across Iran. PNN broadcast a profile of the coach and the three teens – all girls – whose positions on the team are also in jeopardy. These athletes’ pursuit of their dream while in the United States remains an inspiring one for dreamers everywhere. Chris Weigand, the American coach with whom the girls trained in Maryland, contacted PNN after the feature was broadcast. He said both he and Katayoun Ashraf, the Iranian coach kicked off the team, have been getting a lot of encouraging telephone calls and e-mail correspondence.
Roundtable with You revisited history, discussing events that led to the downfall of the Mohammed Mossadeq government in 1953 with two guests: Hamid Akbari, professor at Northeastern Illinois University, and Houshang Nahavandi, former chancellor at Tehran University and the chief of staff for Iranian Empress Farah Pahlavi. Speaking from Brussels, Mr. Nahavandi claimed the ouster was constitutional while Mr. Akbari, speaking from Chicago, said the Mossadeq government was brought down by a CIA-backed coup. Mr. Nahavandi said the Shah was well within his constitutional rights to oust Mossadeq when he refused to step aside, the Iranian Army intervened and installed another prime minister who had been appointed to the post by the monarch. Mr. Akbari said Iran’s constitution didn’t give the Shah authority to appoint and oust prime ministers. He said impartial historians have concluded the coup that brought the Shah to power was not a spontaneous mutiny by army officers, but a well-planned coup organized and sponsored by the CIA. Mr. Akbari said, “The Shah became a symbol of despotism, Khomeini came to symbolize theocracy, but Mossadeq will always remain a model for constitutional government.”
This week’s History Channel segments included programs on the Brooklyn Bridge, an engineering feat of almost miraculous proportions and a design of spectacular elegance, leading some to call it “the Eighth Wonder of the World;” the race by an already-famous Thomas Edison for central lighting in New York, without a light or an electrical system to run it; the 50-year-old Golden Gate Bridge, still regarded as one of the world’s great engineering marvels, taking 25 million man-hours and 80,000 miles of cable to complete; and profiles 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; and Clark Gable, the beloved actor known as “The King,” for in the royal world of classic Hollywood, he reigned supreme.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring senior managing editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – addressed criticism by ethnic minority groups in Iran. They say PNN’s programming ignores human rights violations and other issues of concern to them. Mr. Mahmoudi responded: “What we hear and read from phone calls and e-mails from inside Iran is that our audience is very appreciative of our efforts to discuss minority rights and human rights in general. There are a few activist individuals, however, who with little or no connection to the majority of Iran’s minority groups, self-appoint themselves as representative of this or that minority group. But they primarily are interested in appearing on one of our programs and to use VOA’s PNN for their own goals. If they don’t get to appear on our program, then PNN is accused of being negligent.”
PNN’s interview last week with Christine Levinson generated terrific coverage. CNN picked up the story from our broadcast, and the International Herald Tribune picked up an Associated Press story, running with this headline on August 20: “Wife of former FBI agent missing in Iran appeals for information about her husband over US radio.” The article, which sites VOA’s Persian service, reported how Ms. Levinson went directly to the Iranian people to appeal for information about her husband over the Voice of America. Mr. Levinson, now a private citizen, is believed to be detained in Iran, but his whereabouts have been unknown since he disappeared in Iran in early March.
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.