Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – September 17, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the President’s progress report on the war in Iraq amid accusations that Iran continues to arm Iraqi insurgents; the long-awaited testimony before Congress by the top US military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker; the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks; ongoing efforts by the international community to make Iran comply with UN edicts on its nuclear program, with IAEA head Mohamed El-Baradei walking out of a meeting with European Union ambassadors; an exclusive interview with Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy to the United Nations on Iran’s role in Iraq and the likelihood of further Security Council sanctions; and a primer on human rights advocacy and the ongoing mistreatment of minorities in Iran, including Azeris, Bahais and religious moderates.
Persian News Network reported daily this past week on the string of strong criticisms lobbed by senior American officials against Iran, from President Bush to the testifying team of General David Petraeus, the commander of multinational forces in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the US envoy to Iraq. PNN reported live from the White House on President Bush’s televised address to the nation September 13, in which he singled out Iran and Syria for trying to undermine the Iraqi government. The President said Iran and Syria must end their subversive activities, and instead help stabilize Iraq. Those who seek peace, Mr. Bush said, should use their economic and diplomatic leverage to strengthen the central Iraqi government. News and Views September 14 again focused on the President’s address and his decision to start a limited troop reduction, as well as his attack on Iran and al-Qaeda for abetting instability and chaos in Iraq. The President said a free Iraq will defeat the destructive ambitions of Iran.
Both Late Edition and NewsTalk provided reaction to the President’s speech. On NewsTalk, political scientist Shayan Samii pointed out that the President did not use the word victory, acknowledging implicitly that victory is something that will have to be determined by the Iraqi people, and that a US military presence in Iraq will likely continue beyond Mr. Bush’s presidential term. Mr. Samii said it appeared the President wants to work with Democrats, including those who oppose his policies in Iraq. He noted that in their presentations to Congress earlier in the week, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker did not say what they were going to do about Iran and its provision of arms to Iraqi militants. He said the US military appears to want to keep the door open to talk with Iran – and is making efforts to get the Iraqi government to protect its own borders. News and Views also reported on the Pentagon’s plans to set up a base near the Iran-Iraq border in order to curb the smuggling of Iranian-made weapons into Iraq. On request of the US, Britain already has troops stationed near the border.
News and Views reported September 11 and 12 on the ongoing testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker before the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees. General Petraeus said the flow of Iranian weapons into Iraq has increased but that Iranian Quds force trainers had withdrawn. Of the weapons flow, General Petraeus said, “It appears that that is increasing and we do not see a sign of that abating,” citing increased attacks by one type of roadside bomb technology and rockets that US military officials link to Iran. Ambassador Crocker said Iran would be a winner if the United States abandons Iraq or drastically curtails US efforts in Iraq. “I am certain that abandoning or drastically curtailing our efforts will bring failure, and the consequences of such a failure must be clearly understood by us all.”
News and Views reported that both men placed blame directly at Iran’s feet. General Petraeus said, “It is increasingly apparent to both coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran, through the use of its Quds force, seeks to turn the Iraqi special groups into a Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.” Ambassador Crocker said Iran would undoubtedly be the winner if Iraq were to fall into chaos or civil war, “consolidating its influence over Iraqi resources and possibly territory. The Iranian president has already announced that Iran will fill any vacuum in Iraq. I have had some experience in the past, as I think you know, in negotiating with the Iranians. For a period after 9/11, there were UN-sponsored talks on Afghanistan that brought us together with the Iranians. And for a certain period, we had pretty good success in coming to some agreements on the formation of the Afghan interim government – on dealing with warlords, on some security-related issues and so forth. So I had that as perspective when I held my meetings with my Iranian counterpart in Iraq. And I found, really, a completely different atmosphere than that which I’d experienced in 2001, 2002. I laid out the concerns we had over Iranian activity that was damaging to Iraq’s security, but I found no readiness on the Iranian side to engage, seriously, on these issues. The impression I came out with after a couple of rounds is that the Iranians were interested simply in the appearance of discussions, of being seen to be at the table with the US as an arbiter of Iraq’s present and future, rather than actually doing serious business.”
General Petraeus continued his diatribe against Iran at a news conference at the National Press Club after testifying for two days before Congress. News and Views reported that General Petraeus said there is hard evidence of Iranian efforts to establish a permanent militia presence in Iraq, and that Iraqi leaders have addressed the issue in meetings in Tehran. General Petraeus said the capture of key insurgent operatives in mainly Shiite southern Iraq, including a senior official of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militia, resulted in irrefutable evidence of Iran’s efforts. “This is evidentiary,” General Petraeus said. “It is not just intelligence. It rises to the level of evidence, particularly what we captured when we got the hard drives of the computers from the individuals that we picked up.” The general says the evidence convinced Iraqi leaders, even though most of them are Shiite Muslims, that they should be concerned about Iran’s effort to establish a long-term armed presence in Iraq.
News and Views reported on the meeting by Congressional leaders with President Bush after the Petraeus/Crocker testimony, to discuss the pace and number of American troop withdrawal from Iraq. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the President’s plan is “an insult to the intelligence of the American people.” News and Views also covered Iran’s reaction to the Congressional testimony. Iranian officials dismissed the long-awaited progress report, saying it would not “save America from Iraq's swamp.”
News and Views also reported on the State Department briefing on September 11 when spokesman Sean McCormack responded to a reporter’s question about the new head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard reportedly saying Iran had identified American “soft spots” in Iraq and Afghanistan and would hit them in case of a US strike on Iran. Mr. McCormack said, “Well, [it is] hardly constructive rhetoric, is it? The Iranian Government’s official position is that they want to play a positive role in Iraq’s future and Afghanistan’s future. And certainly, that is what the United States and its allies are doing in both of those countries. I’m not sure if the quotes you just gave me represent official Iranian Government policy. If so, then it certainly would be quite a contradiction from the previously stated policy. As for these threats, you know, our military has made it very clear that they are going to act to protect our troops in Iraq as well as Afghanistan.”
News and Views September 11 featured Brookings Institution Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies Peter Rodman to discuss the Petraeus/Crocker report. Mr. Rodman, a former Undersecretary of Defense, said the Petraeus report has given the President extra time to keep US troops in Iraq until the end of his term. He said US policy toward Iraq should not be dictated by politics in Washington, but by commanders on the ground to make sure that moderate forces prevail in Iraq. He said one of the “dramatic parts of the testimony by Petraeus and Crocker was their claim that Iran was directly involved in the killing of US troops in Iraq. This will no doubt make the American public angry about the Iranian involvement. Iran is not a stabilizing force in Iraq. Just the opposite. They are destabilizing Iraq. The region as a whole is becoming concerned about Iran’s aid to extremist groups as well as over its nuclear program.”
Iraq’s former Minister of Environment, Mishkat Moumin, assessed the Petraeus/Crocker report on News and Views September 13. She said the central issue is enabling Iraqi police forces and the Iraqi army to do their jobs so that US troops can withdraw. “If American troops leave now,” she said, “it would create a power vacuum. This vacuum would be filled by either Shiite militias or Sunni insurgents.” In her view, if a civil war broke out between these two groups, then it would spill over to Iraq’s neighboring countries. “The key is to have security operations on a local level instead of a national level.” Ms. Moumin pointed to the success in al-Anbar province as evidence that tribal leaders should be given more authority to carry out security.
In addition to the President’s speech and the Petraeus/Crocker testimony, US officials were also focusing on the diplomatic front in the Middle East. News and Views reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be traveling to the Arab world this week, from September 18-20, to further discuss a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. News and Views also reported that Istanbul will be where the next Iraq conference will take place. All of Iraq’s neighbors are expected to attend the October meeting as are Secretary Rice and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
Late Edition had a live report from Ground Zero in New York while News and Views reported live from Arlington on the ceremony commemorating the victims of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there are servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan who are fighting against those who six years ago tried to change the course of freedom that exists here. But in this democracy, he said, there is a discussion on how, when and where to obliterate the enemy. Secretary of Defense Gates said that the 184 victims of the Pentagon attack were not only parents, sisters and brothers. They were American citizens and “we will defend America against the enemy wherever they may be.”
Roundtable with You looked at the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington with Behnam Nateghi, then a reporter for Radio Free Europe, Afshin Ellian, a law professor at Holland’s University of Leiden, and Vafa Mostaghim, a VOA correspondent reporting from the site of the twin towers in lower Manhattan. Both Mr. Nateghi and Mr. Mostaghim recalled how people reacted to the attacks, and how life has changed over the past six years. Mr. Ellian spoke of the solidarity Europeans still felt toward Americans in the fight against terrorism. He also described the activities of radical Muslims in Europe and the negative impact that has had on all Muslims – including the reluctance of European countries now to accept new refugees from Islamic countries. On News and Views, Yale University professor Ian Shapiro joined VOA live via remote from New Haven. A Sterling Professor of Political Science and Henry R. Luce Director of the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale, Mr. Shapiro discussed the war against terrorism the past six years. He said the 9/11 attacks changed the political and economic structure of the United States, making it possible for neoconservatives to take over the national security policy of the country, project American force in the Middle East and re-map the entire region. “I think the neoconservatives believed that if they toppled Saddam Hussein, they would be able to bring democracy to the entire region and reshape the Middle East according to their dreams. Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction were a pretext. The real aim was the transformation of the Middle East.” The Yale professor said he believes a policy of containment would have been a better response to the 9/11 attacks rather than the bid to transform the Middle East. Mr. Shapiro said he doesn’t share the administration’s analysis of Iran’s position in the region. He said while “Iran would like to make the American occupation of Iraq more costly for the United States, Iran as a major regional power has not attacked a neighboring country since the 18th century.”
NewsTalk September 11 looked at the anniversary of the attacks with Kayhan Deputy Editor Nasser Mohammadi in London and journalist Ahmad Rafat. Mr. Mohammadi said terrorism has been expanding since the Islamic revolution in Iran. Mr. Rafat said it is important to draw a distinction between resistance groups and terrorists. Terrorist groups, he said, do not have the support of a majority of the people. Resistance groups – such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban – have public support. He said 9/11 dramatically changed relations between the West and the Islamic world. In Europe, Mr. Rafat said, there are two different approaches to the Islamic world: 1) to have relations with resistance groups, but not terrorist organizations and 2) to fight Islamic radical groups. Mr. Rafat said Iran has supported a majority of radical Islamic groups, whether they are resistance or terrorist in nature, and that Iran’s Islamic revolution encouraged radical Islamic groups to challenge Western values and to fight for expansion of Islam in other countries.
Iran’s controversial nuclear program was front and center at a closed door, mid-week meeting of the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. News and Views interviewed the US ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, on efforts to confront Iran’s intransigence. He said, “Iran’s leaders have said that Iran’s nuclear file is closed. This is not so. Iran’s nuclear file remains open in Vienna and remains open in New York.” News and Views reported that Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, reaffirmed that Iran will not halt sensitive nuclear work, despite calls by the international community to do so. Separately, Iran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh spoke in Vienna after the IAEA meeting. He warned that more Security Council sanctions could jeopardize Tehran’s cooperation in resolving concerns about Iran’s past nuclear activities. The United States said it will host a meeting of Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in Washington on September 21. The US and its allies want the Security Council to impose a third set of sanctions on Iran for refusing to abide by UN resolutions demanding Iran stop enriching uranium.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy to the United Nations and formerly the US Ambassador to Iraq, was the featured guest on Roundtable with You September 15. Mr. Khalilzad expressed disappointment that despite US-Iranian talks in Baghdad, Tehran is still playing a largely negative role in Iraq. “When I was the US envoy to Baghdad, we did step up the pressure on these networks that imported Iranian arms into the country. We put in jail a number of Iranian agents who were involved in these networks. Some in Iraqi security forces had direct working relationship with Iran’s Quds forces. They number into the hundreds and most have been imprisoned. We have been able to gain a great deal of intelligence from these people. We hope that the Iranian government realizes that these activities are not in the interest of a secure and peaceful Iraq or that of the region.” He said Iraqi leaders are hesitant to confront Iran directly for its meddling in Iraqi affairs because they don’t want to jeopardize their long-standing relations with Iran or to exacerbate the situation further. On Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Ambassador Khalilzad said there will likely be additional UN Security Council sanctions unless Iran suspends its nuclear enrichment program. “The claim that Iranian leaders are making that world public opinion is with them is baseless. The fact is that people the world over are apprehensive about Tehran acquiring the capability to make nuclear weapons given the regime’s track record in supporting extremist groups and the kind of statements they have been making about other countries. Apart from Cuba and a few other countries, no one feels positively about Iran acquiring this capability.”
NewsTalk focused on the possibility of further sanctions against Iran because of its uranium enrichment program. Berlin-based freelance journalist Elahe Boghrat said Europe is consolidating its position against Iran. She noted that French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed the European Union begin sanctions before Security Council action, and that Mohamed El-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, walked out of an afternoon session of the IAEA meeting on September 11 to protest an EU speech critical of his deal for new inspections in Iran. The ambassador of Portugal, which is currently president of the EU, was reportedly hammering Iran for failing to suspend uranium enrichment “contrary to the decisions of the (UN) Security Council,” referring to three UN Security Council resolutions and two rounds of UN sanctions. News and Views quoted State Department spokesman Tom Casey as saying sanctions have been successful.
Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari was back at work in Washington September 10, after spending more than three months in solitary confinement in an Iranian prison on charges of espionage and trying to incite a velvet revolution. News and Views reported that Ms. Esfandiari told reporters she was determined to not let herself fall apart, and that she developed a routine to maintain mental and physical wellbeing despite solitary confinement. Ms. Esfandiari credited Lee Hamilton, head of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and the letter he wrote to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as the reason her release was secured. “For eight months I was denied my freedom to leave the country,” she said, “And to lose eight months of your life at any age, but more particularly when you are in your 60’s is a large loss.”
News and Views September 16 interviewed the brother of reformist cleric Hadi Ghabel in Iran by telephone. The Clergy Court arrested Mr. Ghabel in the holy city of Qum four days ago without stating any reason. Recently the cleric had been trying to invite people to participate in next year’s parliamentary elections, encouraging them to vote for reformist candidates. His brother, Ahmad Ghabel, told VOA Hadi is a moderate political activist. “What should we expect of their treatment of others when the regime behaves in such a harsh fashion toward moderates?” he asked rhetorically.
News and Views September 10 also interviewed Saeed Ghaseminejad, a convicted student activist, on the arrest of two Tehran University students sentenced to prison for their activism on campus. “Prison sentences with a suspension period are tricks to intimidate activists and control their activities,” he said.
News and Views September 15 focused on Bahai youth in Iran and the fact that the Iranian government does not allow them to gain admission to universities to pursue their studies. Two Tehran-based lawyers said the Iranian Constitution provided for equal treatment despite religious preferences, and that the treatment of Bahai young people opposed the Constitution. Three Bahai high school graduates, one from southern Iran, one from central Iran, and one from Tehran, also appeared on the program to say they were denied entrance to universities.
News and Views September 13 interviewed journalist Hazhir Palaschi, who works in the northwestern city of Zanjan. Mr. Palaschi talked about the dangers political activists face outside of Tehran, pointing to the arrest of five ethnic activists in Zanjan four months ago. Ethnic Azeris are Iran’s largest minority group, making up one-quarter of the country’s population. Mr. Palaschi said it is time for human rights groups to speak up on behalf of ethnics mistreated by the government, particularly Azeris.
Roundtable with You September 10 focused on human rights organizations that monitor and/or aid human rights victims in Iran and ways Iranians can get in touch with them in a conversation with Manouchehr Gandji, a former Minister of Education under the Shah and now a human rights activist. Mr. Gandji introduced viewers to the Council of Human Rights and how to contact the Council via e-mail. He described the role and authority of the UN Secretary-General, the International Criminal Court of Justice and various committees associated with the United Nations, along with contact information on all. He then introduced viewers to non-profit organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, saying these organizations are ready to voice victims’ complaints to governmental organizations and to launch campaigns on their behalf.
Roundtable with You September 12 featured author and researcher Iraj Mesdaghi, a former political prisoner in Iran, to discuss the latest news on jailed labor leader Mansour Osanlou and efforts to raise awareness of his case. Mr. Mesdaghi, who has become an expert on international labor movements, started the program by saying universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice. He traced the history of labor movements worldwide and talked about creation of the International Labor Organization in 1919. Mr. Mesdaghi said the ILO has provided nations with a meeting ground and has proven to be an instrument for cooperation and dialogue. He emphasized that the main function of the ILO and other labor organizations is to protect workers from exploitation and inhumane practices. He said Mr. Osanlou, head of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company – the transport workers’ trade union in Tehran – was imprisoned only because he made demands on behalf of his union, demands that were for nothing but the protection of internationally recognized rights. He encouraged Osanlou supporters need to mobilize public opinion against the illegal detention of transportation leaders in Iran.
The Chairman of Business and Economics at the American University of Paris, Shaheen Fatemi, talked about Iran’s economy on Roundtable with You September 13, giving every segment of the economy a poor grade. Unlike other oil producers, Iran – he said – spent oil revenue in its annual budget instead of investing it or setting it aside in a reserve fund. He said cheap imported commodities make it impossible for domestic products to compete with foreign-made goods, resulting in the closure of factories and serious unemployment. He said inflation in Iran has risen considerably in the past two years and foreign investment in the country last year totaled one billion dollars, compared to ten times that figure in Egypt and Turkey. Mr. Fatemi also criticized the Ahmadinejad regime’s interference in Central Bank affairs, saying it will lead to capital flight, inflation, economic stagnation and unemployment.
History Channel segments included a profile of actor Mickey Rooney, best known for the nine films he made with Judy Garland, his eight marriages and a 1983 Lifetime Achievement Oscar; a program on the evolution of television as an electronic miracle that opens up a window the world, bringing global events right into our living rooms; a program on the Tennessee Valley Authority, FDR’s greatest public works triumph that took a 40,000 square mile, disaster-prone river basin and turned it into a model of industrial progress; a program on the Statue of Liberty, the gift that started as an idea at a French dinner party that became the very symbol of the free world; and a program on the space shuttle, the successful saga of the dream of flight tempered by the physical and technological challenges faced by determined people whose reach exceeded their grasp.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring senior managing editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – addressed a charge of censorship against PNN. Mr. Mahmoudi looked at two types of censorship: one as an editorial mandate imposed by the government, the other as self-censorship, the practice of censoring one’s self out of fear of punishment by government officials. He said neither is practiced in the US, pointing out that freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by the Constitution. Mr. Mahmoudi said PNN does have guidelines and that there are certain prohibitions against insulting people or their religious beliefs and against the use of profanity. But Mr. Mahmoudi said this is not censorship, they are just civilized norms of discussion. He said freedom of speech does not allow for one to make slanderous or scurrilous remarks about others. “There is a difference between freedom of speech and anarchy,” he said. “For example, the Supreme Court ruled that one could not yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre.”
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.VOAPNN.com.