Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – September 24, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s travel to the United States; France moving closer to Washington in its increasingly tough line against Iran; Israel declaring Gaza an “enemy entity” because of its Hamas leadership, as the United States tries to encourage Arab-Israeli peace; Senators on both sides of the aisle agreeing during debate on the Defense Authorization Act of 2008 that the Iraq war has strengthened Iran’s hand; the release of Radio Farda reporter Parnaz Azima from Iran; the15th anniversary of the Mykonos restaurant killing of five Kurdish Iranian activists; an interview with renowned Harvard professor Richard Frye and his being granted permission by Iran’s president to be buried in Isfahan upon his death;
On Thursday, September 27, Persian News Network will launch Today’s Woman, a one-hour daily television discussion program featuring influential women from around the world. The inaugural program will focus on the “One Million Signatures” campaign in Iran, a peaceful and civil effort to influence the country's parliament to reform laws discriminating against women. Today's Woman will feature a pool of participants discussing and debating a full spectrum of topics, including social, medical, human rights, legal, sports, and business. The show will include international call-ins, original reports, a male perspective, and profiles of women who make a difference. (This program expands PNN’s broadcasts to 7 ½ hours a day, seven days a week. VOA has the largest combined radio and television audience of all international broadcasters in Iran, with one in four adult Iranians tuning into a VOA show at least once a week. Programs are also streamed on our website, www.voapnn.com.)
Speaking on NewsTalk, Mehrdad Khonsari, a senior research consultant at London’s Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s travel to New York this week is basically for propaganda purposes. “As long as Iran continues to defy UN calls to halt its uranium enrichment program, rumors and the possibility of military attacks against Iran are more likely.” Mr. Ahmadinejad flew September 23 to New York, where he is scheduled to address a forum at Columbia University (9/24) and the UN General Assembly (9/25). Tensions are already high between Washington and Tehran over US accusations that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons and helping Shiite militias in Iraq at the expense of US troops. His trip generated controversy before his feet even touched the ground. New York police denied – and politicians condemned – his request to visit Ground Zero. Columbia University has resisted requests to cancel Mr. Ahmadinejad’s participation despite his views on the Holocaust, his call for the destruction of the state of Israel and his government’s alleged support of terrorism. London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh told News & Views that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s sole goal of speaking at Columbia is “Propaganda! He wants to impress critics of the United States. But everyone knows US policy toward Iran is not going to change under the Bush administration. The UN General Assembly is a favorite place for dictators to prove their prestige to their own people.” Speaking on NewsTalk, activist Ali Afshari said, “If Columbia allows Mr. Ahmadinejad to come and give a speech at their university, then Mr. Ahmadinejad should at the least allow Iranian students to give speeches at their own universities.”
Barbara Leaf, Director of the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs, was the featured guest on Roundtable with You September 23. She said President Ahmadinejad’s movements in New York are dictated by security issues and that he must stay within a 25 mile radius (of the United Nations). “As an American who was here on September 11, Ground Zero is almost a holy site for us and has been seared in our minds, and has a special place in our hearts. And for a head of state who has said these repugnant things about wiping another country off the map, denying the Holocaust and tainting Iran’s standing in the international community . . . for us Americans, it would be hard for us to allow such a thing to happen. He lacks the credibility and standing to do that.” One of the viewers who called in to the program described the United States as a beacon of freedom and wondered that such a beacon would roll out the red carpet for Mr. Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University. Ms. Leaf responded by saying, “We have obligations with the United Nations to allow heads of state to travel freely to our soil. I’m glad the caller recognized us as a beacon of freedom, but the question here is to ask, ‘Would Mr. Ahmadinejad allow his citizens to speak as freely in Iran as he is being allowed while he is here in the United States.’”
NewsTalk’s regular contributors, political scientist Shayan Samii and VOA Congressional correspondent Siamak Dehghanpour talked about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories September 18-20. Mr. Dehghanpour said the Secretary focused on advancing a two-state solution and learning more about the discussions that are going on in the bilateral channel between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Samii said her trip was meant to convince both sides to accept a draft peace agreement. Both guests stressed that Israel wants Saudi Arabia to participate in peace talks because it wants to use Saudi Arabia as the region’s policeman and also to use its influence against Iran. They also said all parties in the region feel more pressure: since Secretary Rice’s last trip to the Middle East, Israel has indicated it is open to talks with Syria, Israel has “secretly” attack Syria by air, and the probability of North Korea helping Syria with its nuclear program has grown higher – all of which make the region more fragile and peace even more critical.
News & Views reported that Secretary’s Rice’s trip came amid new Israeli-Palestinian tensions. After talks with Israeli officials, Secretary Rice said the United States agreed with Israel that the Gaza Strip is a “hostile entity” now that it is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. But Ms. Rice also said the United States will not abandon innocent Palestinians in Gaza. Earlier, Israel announced its decision to designate Gaza an “enemy entity,” paving the way for cuts in vital supplies to the impoverished Palestinian territory. Speaking after talks with Palestinian President Abbas, Secretary Rice said the peace conference to be held in the US in November must be “substantive” and advance the cause of Palestinian statehood. She said the Bush administration will work aggressively to ensure the conference’s success. The Secretary-General’s office at the United Nations commented on the “enemy entity” designation by saying, “Such a step would be contrary to Israel’s obligations toward the civilian population under international, humanitarian and human rights law.”
NewsTalk focused on French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his comments that France must prepare for the possibility of war against Iran because of its nuclear program. “We have to prepare for the worst, and the worse is war,” he said in an interview broadcast on French television and radio last weekend. “We must negotiate right to the end with Iran,” he said, but underlined that if Tehran possessed an atomic weapon, it would represent a “real danger for the whole world.” Political scientist Shayan Samii said Minister Kouchner’s comments were intended to encourage the European Union to support further sanctions against Iran and to warn French firms from bidding for tenders in the Islamic Republic. Speaking on News & Views, London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said the Iranian regime is always creating crises in a bid to divert people’s attention. “And they think war is just a bluff,” he said, “But Mr. Kouchner’s comments and other warnings are signs of reality.” Also speaking to News & Views from London, analyst Mehrdad Khonsari said, “Mr. Kouchner was making very serious points. He has been a longstanding critic of Iran, including its abuse of human rights.”
News &Views reported September 18 on additional reaction to Minister Kouchner’s remarks. Russia and China expressed concern about the possible use of force against Iran. Russia’s Foreign Minister said Moscow is opposed to any action outside the framework of the UN Security Council. China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing is opposed to the use of force in Iran’s nuclear issue. Iranian President Ahmadinejad dismissed Mr. Kouchner’s comments, saying his remarks were intended for the media and “should not be taken seriously.” The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El-Baradei called talk of war with Iran “hype,” and said he does not believe the international community has reached a point where it should be discussing attacking Iran. “We need always to remember that the use of force should only be resorted to when it is the only and last resort, when every other option has been exhausted.” White House spokesman Dana Perino said “no president should ever take any option off the table,” adding that “President Bush believes that our problems with Iran can be solved diplomatically.” Mr. Perino said the US is working through diplomatic channels to persuade Iran to comply with its obligations under the UN Security Council, and that the US and its allies will be urging the UN Security Council – and the General Assembly – this week to impose a third set of sanctions on Iran for refusing to stop enriching uranium. One of the more pacific views came from General John Abizaid, retired CENTCOM commander. News & Views reported that Gen. Abizaid spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies this past week and said every effort should be made to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but failing that, the world could live with a nuclear-armed Tehran. “There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran,” Gen. Abizaid said. “Let’s face it, we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we’ve lived with a nuclear China, and we’re living with (other) nuclear powers as well.” He stressed that he was expressing his personal opinion and that none of his remarks were based on his previous experience with US contingency plans for potential military action against Iran.
In Paris, News & Views interviewed Professor Olivier Roy, a Middle East expert and senior researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research, known by its French initials CNRS, a science and technology agency operating under the auspices of the ministry of research. Mr. Roy said he doesn’t think current UN sanctions against Iran are making Iran do anything it doesn’t want to do. “In addition,” he said, “there is fierce opposition from China and Russia in increasing the level of sanctions. They why Mr. Bernard Kouchner said even in the absence of UN action, the European Union should prepare its own sanctions against Iran.” Professor Roy then commented on a reported incursion into Syrian airspace by Israel that could lead to a serious ratcheting up of tension. He said, “Tel Aviv was trying to send a clear and strong message to Damascus not to ally itself with Tehran by supporting its proxy in Lebanon (Hezbollah) in case there is a military confrontation between the United States and Israel on the one hand, and Iran on the other.” Mr. Roy predicted increased tensions with Iran despite efforts by China and Russia to normalize relations.
News & Views reported September 21 that French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his nation does not want war with Iran. In a televised interview, Mr. Sarkozy said he would not have used the word “war” when discussing possible outcomes of the dispute between western nations and Iran regarding Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. His comments came just one day after French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the world needed to prepare for the worst if issues with Iran remain unresolved, adding that “the worst is war.” France has taken an increasingly tough line in the dispute about Iran’s nuclear program since Mr. Sarkozy took office four months ago.
Roundtable with You September 19 focused on Europe’s shifting relations with Iran with guest Shahriyar Ahi, an Iranian political commentator. Mr. Ahi said Germany under a conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel was more aligned with the United States in its policies toward Iran. Likewise, he said, France under a conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, also was closer to the thinking of the Bush administration. He also said that the French government’s directive forbidding new French investment in the Islamic Republic is a sign of Iran’s increasing isolation in international affairs.
PNN interviewed Alan Greche from Le Monde newspaper about French Foreign Minister Kouchner’s comments. “This is really not a new change in French diplomacy,” Mr. Greche said. “This move started two years ago and is emerging now as Washington and Paris get closer and closer in their views regarding Iran. There is a new generation of politicians in France – including Sarkozy – who want to distance themselves from the traditional Gaullist ideas and welcome rapprochement with the United States. There will be more cooperation between Paris and Washington and convergence of ideas regarding the Middle East and Iran.”
News & Views reported that in a series of domestic television interviews focusing on the deployment of US troops in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States will stick to diplomatic and economic pressure to force Iran to halt its nuclear drive. But Mr. Gates added that “all options are on the table.” Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman also stressed that the United States is determined to use diplomacy to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse.
News & Views said Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Democratic presidential candidate, sent a letter to President Bush expressing concern regarding the Administration’s handling of matters related to Iran. Senator Dodd requested that the President appoint an experienced diplomat as a special envoy to Iran: “I am extremely concerned that your administration’s failure to employ robust diplomacy in dealing with the challenges posed by Iran could lead us down the same disastrous and ill-conceived path that has produced a failed policy in Iraq, that has made us less secure….I don’t harbor any illusions about the Iranian leadership’s support for international terrorism or its quest to be a nuclear power, but I doubt that the increasingly bellicose public statements by US officials will cause Iran to alter its behavior.”
News & Views also reported on the Senate’s debate over the Defense Authorization Act of 2008, and comments from senators on both sides of the aisle on how Iran has been strengthened by the war in Iraq. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said, “The US strategy in Iraq should be to defeat Al Qaeda, to do everything we can to reverse the increasing influence of Iran in Iraq, and to achieve or move toward the goal of military security and a functioning government.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) said, “It is emboldening Iran, empowering Iran, empowering Hamas and empowering Hezbollah. The United States has lost leverage in the region…The fact is, Iran loves our being bogged down in Iraq. We need to get of Iraq in order to be stronger to deal with Iran, in order to deal with Hezbollah and Hamas, to regain our credibility in the region.” Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) said, “Our current approach in Iraq is actually working to Iran’s benefit. In the short run, they want us bogged down there so they can bleed us so we can’t serve as a credible deterrent to them. In the long run, they fear a sectarian civil war where the Shia would be on the losing side because they’re a minority in the Islamic world. So, by laying out a credible path for disengaging from Iraq, we take away what the Iranians like…Obviously you don’t take any options off the table. But I think we need to exhaust everything else first…They get most of their revenue from exporting oil. If we could get other nations to band together to perhaps take a look at that, we could bring them economically to their knees, which would be better than resorting to military action.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) said, “As a matter of fact, Iran is gaining strength right now on the current course. They’ve been a big beneficiary of this four-and-a-half year war. That’s what the current course has helped produce.” Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said a premature withdrawal of US troops from Iraq has consequences: “Start with Iran. Leaving a vacuum in Iraq for Iran to fill would have disastrous consequences for us. The ethnic cleansing that would probably occur if the Iraqi forces are not able to keep peace and stability – there would be blood on our hands.”
PNN interviewed Peter Bakvis, director of the Washington Office of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, on the group’s annual survey on human rights issues as they relate to labor unions. “In the case of Iran, attempts to establish independent trade unions are heavily repressed. When drivers from the Tehran Bus Company tried to organize, their meeting was attacked by hundreds of armed civilians. Privatization of state-owned enterprises has continued on a huge scale and the situation of trade union rights has, if anything, further deteriorated. Despite a ban on strikes, workers’ protests and other work stoppages are a daily occurrence through Iranian enterprises. They are often repressed. Most of these protests concern either low wages, non-payment of wages, lay-offs or factory closures. Iran is a member of the International Labor Organization and has to comply with international conventions that govern labor laws. These conventions give Iranian workers the right to form unions and collective bargaining.” Mr. Bakvis noted that labor leader Mansour Osanloo is still in jail after leading a transport strike by Tehran’s bus drivers. “We are working very hard to secure his release,” he said.
News & Views interviewed legal expert Mohammad Seyfzadeh, one of Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi's colleagues at the Center of Human Rights Defenders in Tehran, on the fate of two Iranian-Americans still imprisoned in Iran. After many months, Iran released scholar Haleh Esfandiari last month. Iran let Radio Farda reporter Parnaz Azima leave the country this week after having seized her passport in early 2007. But two other dual citizens, Kian Tajbakhsh and Ali Shakeri, are still in Tehran. Mr. Seyfzadeh, a legal expert, said, “If convicted, the imprisoned Kian Tajbakhsh and Ali Shakeri should be tried in an official court and with the presence of a jury.”
PNN interviewed Ali Nikounesbati, a student at Amir Kabir University who is spokesman of Tahkim Vahdat, the oldest and largest student organization in Iran. Mr. Nikounesbati, who has been arrested for his activities, said Tahkim Vahdat had released a statement protesting the layoffs of university professors and the continuing suspension of students. “We will continue protesting the unreasonable policies toward professors and students in the new year,” he told PNN.
News & Views reported on Congress bringing up new allegations that the Saudi monarchy has been soft in countering terrorism even as the Bush administration is moving ahead on a proposed multibillion dollar weapons sale to the Saudi Arabia. Voicing his reservations, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, said the White House has been unable to persuade Saudi rulers to stop the infiltration of insurgents into Iraq. He said the US also has failed to prod the Saudis to attend a proposed regional meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The United States is struggling to build an international coalition in favor of tougher sanctions to pressure Iran into abandoning its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But there is a limit to American patience, and it is only the failure of political means that would compel us to consider other options. But while we labor in the vineyards of diplomacy, the Saudis, who would be among those most threatened by a nuclear Iran, seem content to sit back, relax and wait for the vintage of either our success or failure. If we can’t get Saudi cooperation on the internal situation in Iraq, on stopping the flow of fighters and cutting off money going to insurgents there and to other terrorists around the world, then why should we believe that they see the war on terror as we do, and why sell them these weapons? If we can’t get the Saudis to step up, and forthrightly participate in a coalition of nations confronting Iran’s nuclear aspirations, then why should we believe that they see the Iranian threat as we do, and why sell them these weapons?
Fifteen years ago – on September 17, 1992 – three Kurdish Iranian dissidents and their translator were murdered at a Berlin restaurant. The widow of that translator, Nouri Dehkurdi, joined Roundtable with You on September 17, along with the fifth person sitting at that German restaurant table, Parviz Dastmalchi – who miraculously survived the attack that killed his colleagues from the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran. Mr. Dastmalchi talked about the incident in detail and described the 3 ½ year trial that concluded with a German judge saying some of Iran’s highest officials ordered the killing: Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Secret Service Chief Ali Fallahian, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati and Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
News & Views interviewed Harvard University’s Professor Richard Frye, a renowned American scholar, who sought – and was granted earlier this month – permission by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be buried in the city of Isfahan upon his death. “Why Isfahan?” he said. “Because I consider Isfahan central to Iranian culture and history. There are only two genuine and authentic civilizations in all of Asia, one is the Persian civilization and the other is the Chinese civilization. Many Americans think of Iran as a small country like Kosovo, but in reality this is a country with a long and proud history.” Asked how he would define Iran and Iranians to those Americans who have not had any exposure to the country and its culture, Mr. Frye said, “I would tell t hem that Iranians are not a bunch of Arab terrorists in the Middle East. Iranians were able to write a legal code more than two thousand years ago – not just for Iran but for the entire world. This, in my view, is very significant. Politics is unimportant to me. What matters is culture. Iran was able to turn Islam into a worldwide religion because when Islam emerged in the Arabian desert more than 13 centuries ago, it was only for Arabs. It’s really unfortunate that American colleges have endowed seats for Arabic studies, but not for Iranian studies. It’s a really a shame.”
History Channel segments included a profile of actor Raymond Burr, best known as the quintessential lawyer: television’s Perry Mason, whose name became synonymous with American jurisprudence; a profile of Suzanne Somers, who rose to stardom playing a ditzy blonde on the television sitcom, “Three’s Company”; a profile of Edgar Allan Poe, one of America’s most famous storytellers, a master of the macabre, and famed for such literary classics as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Raven”; a profile of Mickey Rooney, best known for the nine films he made with Judy Garland, his eight marriages and a 1983 Lifetime Achievement Oscar; and a profile of computers, and how they have revolutionized the way people calculate, communicate, work and live.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring senior managing editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – focused on psychological warfare in response to a viewer question, “Why does the Islamic Republic claim VOA Persian has begun such a war against Iran?” Mr. Mahmoudi defined psy ops as the attempt to weaken an enemy’s morale through propaganda. He said it is almost impossible to create propaganda today because of the multiplicity of electronic media, satellite television, the Internet, cell phones, etc. He said dictatorial regimes like the Islamic Republic are afraid of truth, and try to alter truth by spreading rumors and using Iran’s government-controlled media to accuse PNN programs of spreading propaganda. “No wonder,” he said, “that such an oppressive regime accuses us of psychological warfare.” They are afraid of the truth VOA broadcasts.
VOA has the largest combined radio and television audience of all international broadcasters in Iran, with one in four adult Iranians tuning into a VOA show at least once a week. Programs are also streamed on our website, www.voapnn.com. The first hour of Persian News Network’s daily 7 ½-hour Persian-television block opens 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 original 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. Our newest show, a one-hour daily discussion program featuring influential women from around the world, Today’s Woman, along with 30 minutes of 90-second newsbreaks interspersed in our seven hour television broadcasting block, brings our total hours on the air to 7 ½ daily.
Persian News Network’s 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.