Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – September 4, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included President Bush and President Sarkozy both coming down hard in public comments on Iran; Iranian leaders throwing down the gauntlet in advance of this month’s UN Security Council meeting – telling the West Iran will not yield to pressure to stop its uranium enrichment program despite telling the IAEA it will be cooperative; the release of Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari from Iran; the Turkish parliament’s selection of an Islamist politician as the country’s new president; President Bush and his National Security team’s surprise Labor Day visit to al-Anbar province in advance of next week’s reports on the status of progress in Iraq; upheaval in domestic Pakistani politics; a visit to Tehran by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights; the sudden resignation of Iran’s Central Bank governor; a special Q&A with Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) and viewers in Iran; an interview with Parnaz Azima, the Radio Farda reporter trapped in Iran; and an interview with legendary Iranian-American fashion designer, Bijan.
PNN reported live on the surprise Labor Day visit to Iraq by President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Peter Pace and other senior military and national security officials. The visit comes before the administration is to present a report to Congress and the nation on progress on the ground in Iraq as calls mount for US troops to come home. It is exceptional for so many senior US civilian and military officials to converge anywhere in the world for meetings with foreign leaders. But with so much attention focused on next week's progress reports, senior officials say there was no better way to assess the situation than “to meet in person with the Iraqi officials and look the US commanders in the eye.” News & Views also reported live earlier in the week when President Bush gave a speech at the American Legion describing Iraq as the front line against Iran’s Shiite extremism and al-Qaeda’s Sunni extremism. Late Edition’s top story August 29 was President Bush ratcheting up his rhetoric against Tehran, accusing it of being engaged in “murderous activities” in neighboring Iraq and saying “I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront” such activities. News & Views quoted Major General Rick Lynch, commander of US forces in Iraq, as saying the scale of Iranian involvement is especially troubling because of the large number of Iranian-made weapons found since the start of the surge. A US surveillance drone spotted 46 rockets with Iranian-made timers lined up for an attack on a US operating base. He said there are 50 or so Iranian and Iraqi operatives working for Iran in his area, about 20 of which are actively being targeted.
On News & Views August 29, Hormoz Hekmat, the editor of Iran-nameh, a Persian scholarly journal, discussed President Bush's tough rhetoric on Iran and its implications for US foreign policy toward Tehran as Washington becomes, he says, “increasingly worried about Iran's determination to fill the power vacuum in Iraq after US troops begin to withdraw.” Mr. Hekmat said the president’s tough rhetoric reflects his frustration with inability to slow down Iran’s nuclear program and to stem the tide of violence in Iraq. “The goal seems to be preparing the American public with a harder line toward Iran.” The editor said critics who blame Mr. Bush for not making diplomatic overtures to Tehran are speaking too soon. “The fact of the matter,” Mr. Hekmat said, “is that Iran’s leaders never had any desire to thaw the frosty relations between Iran and the United States. It’s important to bear in mind that it is not just President Bush who is using a harsher tone toward Iran. President Sarkozy of France recently used equally tough language warning Iran to heed the international community with regard to its nuclear ambitions.”
On the heels of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s upbeat assessment of Iran’s cooperation with international inspectors, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran now has 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium for its nuclear progress. News & Views reported on both developments as the UN Security Council prepares to vote on possible new sanctions against Iran because of said nuclear program. The IAEA reported last week that it estimates Tehran has fewer than 2,000 centrifuges operating, and may have actually slowed its nuclear program. But in addition to President Ahmadinejad’s announcement Sunday, which appeared at odds with the UN nuclear watchdog, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also pledged that Iran would never yield to Western pressure over its nuclear program.
News & Views reported August 28 that the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar (R-IN), called on Russia to cooperate with Washington in dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat. Visiting Moscow with former Senator Sam Nunn (R-GA), Senator Lugar said the differences between US and Russian approaches have narrowed recently, adding that there are prospects for continued cooperation between Moscow and Washington within the UN Security Council. News & Views also reported that the head of the US delegation to the IAEA criticized last week’s deal between the UN agency and Iran. Gregory Schulte said the agreement does not allow for wider inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities.
News & Views reported August 28 that French President Sarkozy says France is determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, but held out the prospect of rewarding Tehran if it backs down. PNN’s Paris stringer reported August 28 on the French media’s reaction to President Sarkozy's tough comments.
John Calabrese, who serves as book review editor of The Middle East Journal, was on set August 30 to talk about expanding relations between Iran and China and implications for US policy as the UN Security Council looks to halt Iran's nuclear enrichment program through international sanctions. Appearing on News & Views, Mr. Calabrese said it will take time to figure out whether Iran’s strategy is to make it more difficult for the US to win tougher sanctions by driving a wedge between Washington and its European allies . . . or the beginning of a new chapter of cooperation with the IAEA.
PNN reported September 3 on Washington scholar Haleh Esfandiari, who was finally allowed to leave Tehran, ending an eight-month saga of imprisonment and virtual house arrest that heightened tense relations between the United States and Iran. Ms. Esfandiari flew to Austria, where she was to be met by her husband, Shaul Bakhash, a George Mason University historian. “I’m elated that Haleh has been freed to come back home,” Mr. Bakhash was quoted as saying in a telephone interview from Vienna before she arrived. He said his wife’s legal status remained unclear, saying “As far as I know, she was not told whether there are any conditions attached to her release.” Ms. Esfandiari directs Middle East programs at the Smithsonian’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
In an interview with News & Views August 27, Radio Farda reporter Parnaz Azima said she is facing a charge of acting against Iran’s national security by working for a US government broadcaster. She said a new count has been added to the list of charges against her: possessing a satellite dish. “My lawyer is working with authorities to facilitate my departure from Iran on a temporary basis [as a kind of furlough] so that I can tend to my personal affairs and then return to Iran.” Ms. Azima said she put the deed of her mother’s property as collateral so authorities would not consider her a flight risk. Authorities confiscated Ms. Azima’s passport earlier this year, just as they had with Ms. Esfandiari and two other Iranian-Americans.
Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) was a special guest on Roundtable with You August 28, answering questions from audience members both in and out of Iran, focusing on US foreign policy toward Iran and prospects for a rapprochement and/or military confrontation. Congressman expressed his appreciation for being invited to speak directly to the Iranian people on PNN. He said he had recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Iraq and had learned that elements of Iran’s security forces in Iraq are helping to promote violence and instability in that war-torn country. The congressman said the United States distinguishes between the Iranian government and the Iranian people, and cherishes the friendship the US has developed with the Iranian people. “I don’t believe it was the right policy to put Iran in the ‘axis of evil,’” he said in muted criticism of President Bush. “Later on, we collaborated with Iran on Afghanistan,” he went on, “but the US administration failed to continue the dialogue.” Congressman Moran emphasized that any negotiation with Iran must put the issue of human rights at the top of the discussion list. One caller asked the congressman who the United States would consider dealing with if negotiations were to be held with Iran. “I will speak with a person with the power to make decisions. That excludes Mr. Ahmadinejad. I will speak with a person who respects human rights for his own citizens.” Another caller – reflecting concern about the rumored possibility of a US attack on Iran – asked the congressman what he thought about increased disturbances along Iran’s borders. Congressman Moran said, “The United States respects the independence and integrity of Iran. In this, we all are united.”
PNN had extensive coverage of the Turkish parliament’s selection Abdullah Gul – an Islamist politician – as the country’s new president. PNN’s stringer in Ankara reported on the vote. Touraj Atabaki, an expert on Turkish affairs in Holland, provided an in-depth analysis, focusing on its implications on Turkish ties with Iran. Mr. Atabaki, who is a professor at Leiden University, told News & Views that Turkey has enormous symbolic significance given the country’s rigid secular system of government for the past 80 years. Mr. Atabaki pointed out that when President Gul was foreign minister of Turkey – from 2003 until last week – he was the face of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, working unflaggingly to persuade EU leaders that Turkey is implementing the democratic, economic and social reforms needed to qualify for membership in the bloc. The professor said Turkey’s secular parties should serve as a check on both the Islamist tendencies of President Gul’s AK Party and the military’s concerns about the influence of religion on government. Late Edition looked at the sense of unease that Mr. Gul’s wife created in the Turkish military during his campaign for office by observing the Muslim dress code for women. News & Views August 30 talked with VOA’s Turkish Service Chief, Taclan Suerdem, on Abdullah Gul's taking office. On August 31, News & Views reported that Turkish media say that President Gul has invited Iran’s president to visit Turkey.
News & Views reported August 30 on General Pervez Musharraf's rejection of pressure to step down as Pakistan's military chief as former prime minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto made plans to return home to run for Prime Minister despite the failure of a power-sharing deal the two rivals reportedly tried to broker. Late Edition September 1 looked at Pakistani politics as the return of Ms. Bhutto and of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif raises the possibility of a revival of the bitter political rivalry that clouded Pakistani politics in the 1990s . it was that rivalry that ultimately led to military rule. Mr. Sharif had opposed a power-sharing deal between Ms. Bhutto and Gen. Musharraf. News & Views quoted Mr. Sharif as saying, “If a deal is struck between Benazir Bhutto and Mr. Musharraf, it will not serve the cause of restoring democracy in Pakistan. It will only be strengthening the hands of a dictator.” He said the Charter of Democracy Ms. Bhutto signed with him [Mr. Sharif] clearly says “that there can’t be any negotiations or parleys with dictators.” The spokesman for Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, Farhatullah Babar, said “General Musharraf’s bid to seek re-election from the same parliament, either with uniform or without uniform, has no legs.” Pakistan’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the legality of General Musharraf’s dual role of president and army chief and to his re-election by the country’s existing legislature.
News& Views interviewed Iranian economist Hadi Zamani August 27 on the sudden resignation of Iran’s Central Bank governor and the announcement last week of a budget deficit despite record high oil revenues by the Iranian government. The London-based economist blamed the deficit on excessive spending by Iran’s “bloated government,” its “increasing inefficiency,” and an “out-of-control bureaucracy.” He said the easiest fix would be to shed payroll expenses, but said “this would be hugely difficult to pull off.” He said the other option would be shift funds from Iran’s development projects to meet current obligations, but said this could lead to a recession, exacerbating already high unemployment.
Roundtable with You hosted economist Ahmad Taghvaie August 29 to assess the success of privatization efforts in the Iranian economy. Mr. Taghvaie said most private industries in Iran today are under the control of relatives or close associates of ruling clergy, and are now either closed or in financial trouble. “Most private banks and factories were confiscated, with the owners either fleeing the country or being put to death. It is sad to say that one of the richest countries in the world has become backward.” Mr. Taghvaie said without foreign investment, and with the recent fall of Iran’s exchange and the defeat of the reformists, Iran’s future is grim.
News & Views interviewed Akbar Ganji, a well-known Iranian dissident who works as a journalist in New York City on August 29. He is trying to bring Iran’s human rights record before the United Nations: “I’ve outlined Iran’s numerous and widespread violations of human rights and had the letter signed by 200 of the most prominent intellectuals in the world, and we sent the statement to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. This letter, in effect is a worldwide condemnation of the Islamic Republic and its human rights record.”
News & Views interviewed Hossein Mahoutiha, spokesman for a Montreal-based Iranian human rights group on September 3, on the visit to Tehran by Louise Arbour, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights. Ms. Arbour is in Tehran to attend the Non-Aligned Conference, held September 2-3, at the invitation of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During her stay in Iran, Ms. Arbour also met with women, human rights activists, and human rights victims and their family members, in an effort to investigate increased pressures on these sectors. She did so in part, Mr. Mahoutiha said, to ensure the “Islamic Republic [could not] misinterpret her trip to Iran.”
News & Views talked with a member of the Islamic Association of Amirkabir University on September 2. He said nothing has changed since family members of jailed students visited with a spokesman of the Judiciary on behalf of their loved ones earlier this summer. “A month after the spokesman promised to investigate students’ allegations of torture,” Nariman Mostafavi said, “students are still being jailed. They are still under pressure.”
Roundtable with You August 30 opened its phone lines for a “voice of the people” program dedicated exclusively to viewer phone calls and e-mails. The prevailing sentiments expressed focused on the government’s corruption, its support for terrorism, and the plight of the Iranian people under the Ahmadinejad regime. One viewer called to say Iranian authorities who want to replace Justice officials are corrupt and want to do so only to enhance their own situations. From Mashad, a viewer named Karim said, “Most people live under the line of extreme poverty and are unable to provide the minimum needs of their family.” A viewer from Tehran named Arash said, “All international organizations should put Islamic authorities on a terrorist list and send them to international tribunals. This government is supporting terrorist organizations around the world and is the cause of instability in the region.” A viewer named Shahab called to express his happiness at the release of Haleh Esfandiari from Evin prison, saying he hoped she would soon be freed “from a bigger prison called the Islamic Republic.” Soraya sent an e-mail; she wanted to know “how long can we stay indifferent to the destruction of our ancient artifacts by Ahmadinejad?” From Shiraz, a viewer called Mehdi said the Revolutionary Guard maintains more than 100 enterprises – most focusing on the import-export business – worth over $12 billion dollars. Another viewer called Ramin said, “The Revolutionary Guard, as the Islamic ideological center, also controls all aspects of the Iranian economy. From Tehran, a viewer called Arman asked, “Are we so naïve as to believe the Iranian government is sincere in promising to abide by its promises to the International Atomic Energy Agency?”
Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles appeared on Roundtable with You September 2 to discuss Iranian-Israeli relations. The show began with a clip from a recent speech by President Bush in which he said Iran’s desire to acquire nuclear weapons “will endanger the Middle East with a nuclear holocaust.” Mr. Danoch said there is growing “concern about Iran inching toward building a nuclear bomb. This concern is not just limited to the Jewish community, but exists all over the United States. And I’d argue it’s worldwide. Several months ago, a survey was done in a number of European countries, and close to 80-90% of those who responded expressed their grave concern about Tehran acquiring the capability to develop a nuclear bomb.” The consul praised Israeli-Iranian relations prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution, adding that the issue today is “not hostility between Tehran and Tel Aviv. The fact is that Tehran has expressed its enmity to the free world and all its values.” Mr. Danoch said the Ahmadinejad government “has stepped up Iran’s support for terrorist groups by providing them with weapons and financial aid.” But he blamed the president alone for Iran’s isolation: “It’s Ahmadinejad’s irresponsible actions and words that have resulted in UN Security Council resolutions against Iran. Iranian taxpayers,” he concluded, “should think long and hard before letting their rulers use their money to go and buy rockets for Hamas and Hezbollah.” The interview was posted on the Israeli Foreign Ministry website with full attribution.
Roundtable with You hosted a discussion August 31 with author and historian Naser Engheta about the prominence of women in Iran before and after the Islamic revolution. Mr. Engheta said women have always played a powerful role in Iran’s government, even back to ancient periods when two women ruled during the (3rd-7th century) Sassanid dynasty. He said women’s advancement paused in the 19th century when Iran underwent a constitutional revolution. It was under the reign of Shah Reza Pahlavi, Mr. Engheta said, that women’s rights grew the most. “They got the power to vote, and they were elected to all positions. Iran’s clergy tried to stop these advances, and finally succeeded,” he said, “with Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. All hopes and dreams for gender equality were shattered. Islamic laws again replaced the justice system.” In today’s Iran, women must “wear chador, they are counted as half a man, and typically must use separate and inferior accommodations, including schools.” Mr. Engheta said women are the “greatest force against the clergy in Iran” – a direct result of their treatment and an indication that the time for Islamic law is “well over.” He said the campaign of collecting one million signatures demanding an end to discriminatory laws against women is a reflection of cultural resistance by Iranian women against the ruling clergy.
Legendary fashion designer Bijan Pakzad joined Roundtable with You on September 1. The Iranian-American, known simply as Bijan, was born in Tehran, but immigrated to the United States in 1973. He established his worldwide business in Beverly Hills in 1976 by designing wardrobes for men, and he says he currently has 36 presidents and monarchs who are his clients – including President Bush. As the couturier of choice among the affluent for some 25 years, Bijan’s boutique on Rodeo Drive has been described as “the most expensive store in the world.” “I came to the United States because I found Americans to be very big-hearted and welcoming to foreigners,” he told PNN’s audience. “What motivated me more than anything was a desire to bring credit and praise to the good name of Iran. I apologize to anyone who thinks I’m immodest,” he said, “but I’m number one in what I do. I have always tried to maintain a high quality and high level of standards in what I do because I felt the need to live up to what is expected from an Iranian who is an ambassador for his home country.”
This week’s History Channel segments included profiles of actor Humphrey Bogart, one of Hollywood’s greatest enigmas; actor and singer Dean Martin, best known for his comedic partnership with Jerry Lewis, as well as for his participation in the “Rat Pack;” Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady who involved herself in everything from newspaper columns to being US delegate to the United Nations; Clark Gable, the actor who reigned supreme in the royal world of Hollywood; and a program on the assembly line, one of the most important technological innovations of the 20th century.
Mehdi Kouhestaninejad, President of CUPE Local 3261 at the University of Toronto, e-mailed PNN to thank us for our reports earlier this month on worldwide labor demonstrations, including one in Toronto, in support of jailed Iranian labor leader Mansour Osanloo, head of the Syndicate of the Workers of Tehran and Suburb Bus Vahed Company. Mr. Kouhestaninejad wrote: “I just wanted to let you know that executive members of the Syndicate and Osanloo’s family thanked us for your program. They also made a lot of copies to distribute to the public. Thanks again.”
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 & 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 & 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.