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Persian tv weekly highlights 12/3


Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, D.C. – December 3, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included revival of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks at the Annapolis conference; reaction to the talks from Congress, Europe, Iran and others; interviews with Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), Middle East Institute scholars Allen Keiswetter and Paul Scham, journalist John Gregory Myre, Ambassador Philip Wilcox of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, Israeli analyst Amir Menashe and Jordanian journalist Salameh Nematt; last-ditch talks in London between Iran’s top nuclear negotiator and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana; Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf stepping down as head of the army after eight years of military rule; an interview with Richard Wike on a Pew survey of Muslim attitudes toward the US and vice versa; Iraq war funding; Turkish-Kurdish unrest; impending release of one of the killers of Kurdish opposition leaders in Berlin 15 years ago; an interview with Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’is to the UN; an interview with human rights activist Monireh Baradaran; and an interview with filmmaker Mohammad Farokhmanesh.

News and Views November 29 quoted President Bush as saying the United States will be actively engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He commented at the White House after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Secretary of State Rice announced that former NATO commander, retired Marine Corps General James Jones, will serve as the US special envoy to the region. One of his missions, she said, will be to help design a security concept “that can make [their] future one that is clearly one of better security and peace for both sides.” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is wrong on all counts when he says Syria should not have participated in the Annapolis conference. News and Views also reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency is close to finalizing the sealing of Russian uranium bound for Iran’s Bushehr power plant. Also in the news: Britain’s Foreign Office said UN sanctions against Iran are too weak, and urged both the United Nations and European Union to toughen the sanctions.

News and Views November 29 also reported on Congressional reaction to the Annapolis conference. Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a Democratic presidential hopeful and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed Israel and Palestine setting goals for a peace agreement. He said whether Annapolis is successful or not “will require the kind of sustained, continuous presidential leadership that this Administration has thus far shown little interest in or aptitude for. It is not enough to hold a conference, give a speech, and then hand the issue off to lower level officials. It will take day in, day out engagement, at the highest levels, starting with the President….We have seen what inattention brings: Hamas in control of Gaza, political turmoil in Lebanon, and the emboldening of extremists across the region. A failure to follow through after Annapolis will bring more of the same.” The Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos (D-CA), commended the administration for conducting a sober, serious and hopeful conference on Middle East peace and said one thing is absolutely clear: “There can be no peace without dialogue.” Both legislators praised the administration for inviting Syria to the conference, noting that “the only hope for peace with Syria is through dialogue, not isolation.” Rep. Lantos went one step further, adding that he hoped the administration “continues down this path – with Syria, with Iran and with others.” Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Middle East Subcommittee, put it this way: “Everybody at Annapolis has something in common. It’s not love of Israel or the Palestinians. It’s fear of Iran.”

In an interview with PNN’s congressional correspondent November 27, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) said Iran should be involved in the Middle East peace process. The congressman sent a joint letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), commending her for launching the Annapolis conference. “I believe Iran should be at the table,” he said. “[Iran has] done things to derail the peace process, and I believe they have to change their approach because the broad consensus is that there should be peace in the Middle East and there ought to be an accommodation agreed to between Arab states and Israel.” Congressman Boustany said the Iran-supported Hezbollah in Lebanon also faces some difficult decisions. “On the one hand, they want to position themselves as a resistance force, predominantly to Israel, and on the other hand, they want to see an independent sovereign Lebanese state. Those two goals are not necessarily consistent with each other at this stage. I do believe that Hezbollah needs to ultimately change its thinking and integrate into the Lebanese political process because a two state solution in Lebanon is not the answer….I personally, along with a number of other members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, feel that we should step up aid to [Palestinian] President Abbas and [Palestinian] Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. We feel that they are worthy partners and have demonstrated a willingness to try to do various projects that will assist the Palestinian people….I do believe a majority of the Palestinian people want economic opportunity, they want peace, and I do not believe that Hamas offers that type of vision. I think Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad offer a different sort of vision that does not provide hope and opportunity for Palestinian families….I believe this [Annapolis conference] is an opening to begin dialogue and hopefully, we will see positive things coming from the Middle East.”

News and Views reported on details of and reaction to the Annapolis conference. The Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the Islamic Republic of Iran had made it clear to its presumed allies to stay away from the conference and that Tehran was furious about the high level of participation of so many Arab nations. The newspaper said Mr. Olmert would try to use his one-on-one meeting with President Bush to persuade him to hasten the drive to stop Iran’s nuclear program. In response to reporters’ questions, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said his country was at the conference to attend to the Israeli-Palestinian problem and that Iran’s nuclear program was a priority for another day. The conference concluded with Israel and Palestine agreeing to hold talks every other week, while a steering committee will meet December 12 in a bid to reach a two-state settlement of the conflict by the end of 2008. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “In their negotiations, the parties will address all of the core issues, including borders and refugees, security, water settlements and Jerusalem.” Ms. Rice said all participants agreed that a battle is underway for the future of the Middle East between Islamic extremists and those want regional peace, and that failure is not an option. Spain’s Foreign Minister said the Annapolis conference differs from the Madrid conference of 1991: “In Madrid we didn't have all the Arab countries around the table and we did not even have the concept of a Palestinian state.” Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said we now need to hear from other Arab countries, to see what their positions are. France’s Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, said he was pleased that his generation will finally see what it has been waiting to see for such a long time – peace in the Middle East. Spokesmen for both Israel and Palestine said the next few weeks and months are crucial and that both sides need to work hard. Appearing on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Mr. Olmert said Israel is already taking steps toward fulfilling the roadmap to peace. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he believed Annapolis brought about two significant things: “First of all, negotiations are being opened with both sides saying that they want to get to a shared goal, and secondly, there is a timeline.”

News and Views November 28 interviewed journalist John Gregory Myre for his assessment of the Annapolis conference. Formerly with The New York Times in Jerusalem and Islamabad bureau chief for the Associated Press, Mr. Myre said he thinks Hamas will do everything possible to sabotage the peace talks. “But peace is achievable,” he said. “A lot of people on both sides think that not much has been achieved since 1993, but that perception isn’t correct.” He said there should be more significance attached to the economic viability of a Palestinian state. “It is critically important to create conditions for foreign investment in the occupied territories so that Palestinians can work and support their families. Unfortunately,” Mr. Myre concluded, “there is more talk about the final borders of a Palestinian state, but not enough on how to create jobs for the livelihood of the Palestinians.”

In advance of the Annapolis conference, News and Views interviewed Allen Keiswetter, a former US diplomat who is now an Adjunct Scholar at the Middle East Institute. Appearing live in studio, the veteran Arabist said, “Due to the current situation of the three leaders – [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert facing criticism at home, [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas facing problems from Hamas and [President] Bush being in his last term – achievements during the conference will be difficult, but results can be achieved. The US is committed [to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem] even though there are other concerns such as Iraq and Iran’s nuclear program. But this is a good opportunity for confidence building and to discuss differences. Syria’s presence is also important because of the geopolitics of that country in the Middle East.”

News and Views November 27 interviewed Ambassador Philip Wilcox, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a non-profit devoted to finding a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that brings peace and security to both peoples. Mr. Wilcox, a former US Consul General to Jerusalem, said the conference will not succeed if there is no follow-up by the US government. He said, “It is hard to conceive of the peace process as something lasting without unity on the Palestinian front, [and that unity means talking with Hamas] given that Hamas is a major player.” Mr. Wilcox said it would be a mistake to assume the conference is being held to counter Iran’s influence in the region. Like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, Iran’s nuclear weapons program is a threat to the region’s stability and security. But the key to success is whether the Bush administration’s commitment to the peace process is durable: “Whether it sticks to the process or not is an open question,” he said.

PNN interviewed Paul Scham, an Adjunct Scholar at the Middle East Institute and formerly a Research Associate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, about the Annapolis conference. He said, “Iran doesn’t understand the history that ties the Israeli people to the land. Arab countries are concerned about Iran’s role in the region. And participants from Arab countries in Annapolis proved that they do recognize the existence of Israel – and maybe it is time for Iran to do the same.” Mr. Scham also quoted recent surveys conducted in Israel and the Palestinian territories. “Sixty to seventy percent of moderate Israelis,” he said, “believe Israel can live peacefully next to a Palestinian state.”

Roundtable with You November 29 traced the history of the Arab-Israeli crisis, prior US attempts to bring peace to the region and Iran’s relationship to the problem. London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh analyzed Iran’s role in the region before the 1979 Islamic Revolution and how the Shah played a vital role with all of the concerned parties. Mr. Nourizadeh described the policy of the Islamic Republic toward Israel as “anti-Jewish.” He said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes in the destruction and elimination of the state of Israel. “The Islamic Republic of Iran for the past 29 years has supported terror and hate and instability in that part of world,” Mr. Nourizadeh said. He also said Syrian and Saudi participation in the Annapolis conference was the greatest disappointment for Mr. Ahmadinejad. “The participation of nearly 50 countries, among them 16 Arab states, was an expression of desire for peace and a rejection of extremism.” President Ahmadinejad, he said, told Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, his only ally in the Arab world, “not to fall into the trap set by Americans,” and in a conversation with the Saudi sovereign, King Abdullah, expressed his deep regret at Saudi participation in the summit.

Amir Menashe, a leading Israeli expert on Iran, appeared on Roundtable with You November 28 to talk about the Annapolis conference. Formerly head of Radio Israel’s Persian Service, Mr. Menashe said despite the Islamic Republic’s tireless efforts, the forces of reason and moderation succeeded as the main participants at the Annapolis conference. He said it is time for Iranian authorities to pay attention to the advancement of their own people and to leave the Palestinian people alone. “The Palestinians are quite capable of making their own decisions without advice from Iran’s Islamic mullahs,” Mr. Menashe said. “The Palestinians don’t need President Ahmadinejad to speak for them, not when their own president speaks like this: ‘The time has come for the cycle of blood, violence and occupation to come to an end. The time has come when both of us can look at the future with confidence and hope.’” Mr. Menashe also quoted President Bush, who said at the Annapolis conference, “The day is coming when the terrorists and extremists who threaten the Israeli and Palestinian people will be marginalized and eventually defeated.”

Jordanian journalist Salameh Nematt was the guest of Roundtable with You November 27, to talk about the Annapolis conference. He welcomed the presence of Syria and Saudi Arabia at the conference, calling it a victory for President Bush and the tireless efforts of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Mr. Nematt called the conference a defeat for the Islamic Republic and its policy in the region. Mr. Nematt said Iran, in this Arab-Israeli peace process, may lose its only friend in the Arab world: Syria. Despite all of Iran’s missives, Damascus actively participated in the conference. Mr. Nematt said the Annapolis conference could provide a full and comprehensive solution the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, with the two countries living side by side in peace. The key, he said, is Israel being able to distinguish between the moderate elements within the Palestinian Authority.

News and Views reported November 30 on the last-ditch talks held in London between Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, but hopes of a breakthrough appeared slim amid a growing threat of new sanctions. The Iranian delegation sought to put a positive spin on the talks, which came hours before a deadline for Mr. Solana to report back to major world powers. However, the meeting ended after five hours without any breakthroughs. Mr. Jalili called the discussions good and said both had agreed to arrange another meeting next month. Mr. Solana called the talks disappointing, saying he had expected more after five hours of discussion. The State Department said the US will push for a third round of sanctions in the absence of Iran’s cooperation with UN Security Council resolutions. The London talks were to be followed by a strategy session in Paris over the weekend by representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany to discuss a third round of sanctions against Iran.

News and Views December 1 interviewed political scientist Bahman Aghaii Diba on the London talks between Iran and the EU. Contrary to his previous reports, Mr. Aghaii Diba said, Javier Solana was very straightforward when he said the negotiations didn’t produce any results. “In fact,” he said, “Mr. Solana described the talks as fruitless.” Mr. Aghaii Diba went on to say that this is one of the results of the Islamic Republic’s replacing Ali Larijani with Saeed Jalili six weeks ago as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator. “Mr. Jalili is getting on-the-job training. He’s two years behind where Mr. Larijani would have been.” Mr. Aghaii Diba went on to say there are only two roads now for the Iranian regime to take: the road to war or the road to peace. He said those who are preparing for parliamentary elections in March are talking about these two roads, with Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former President Mohammad Khatami talking about peace, and Saeed Jalili and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talking about war.

News and Views November 30 interviewed Richard Wike, Senior Project Director for Pew Global Attitudes, on a new survey measuring attitudes about terrorism and examining the intersection between the Islamic faith and public policy in countries with significant Muslim populations. Mr. Wike began by saying that the Pew Global Attitudes Project is a series of worldwide public opinion surveys that encompasses a broad array of subjects ranging from people’s assessments of their own lives to their views about the current state of the world and important issues of the day. More than 150,000 interviews in 54 countries have been conducted as part of the project’s work. He said with regard to the attitudes of Westerners and Muslims toward each other, the results reveal a disturbingly high level of negativity on both sides, with Muslims and non-Muslims associating a wide array of negative characteristics on one another, although there is generally more antagonism in Muslim countries toward the West than vice versa. Beyond the immediate issue of Iran’s nuclear program, he said, there is widespread sentiment – especially in the West – that countries that do not have nuclear weapons should be prevented from developing them. “Foreigners have a much better perception of the United States as a country than its government and policies,” Mr. Wike concluded.

News and Views reported November 29 on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf beginning a new five-year term in office as a civilian president, one day after stepping down as army chief and ending a 46-year military career. In his inaugural address, the Pakistani leader said the return from exile of two former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, was “good” for political reconciliation. Mr. Musharraf also reaffirmed his promise to hold parliamentary elections. As he put it, “elections will be held in January come whatever may.” But he did not indicate when he might lift the state of emergency imposed on November third. On November 28, News and Views reported that President Musharraf formally relinquished his military post at a ceremony at army headquarters in Rawalpindi, and handed over command to his designated successor, General Ashfaq Kayani. Former prime minister and opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, welcomed President Musharraf’s retirement from the army. It was a key demand of all opposition parties, which have yet to decide whether to participate in parliamentary elections set for January eighth.

News and Views reported November 26 that former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was expected to file nomination papers in Pakistan later in the day so that he can take part in general elections set for early January. Mr. Sharif flew into Lahore Sunday from Saudi Arabia, where he spent the past seven years in exile. Speaking to a large and enthusiastic crowd at the airport, Mr. Sharif denounced the state of emergency decreed by President Pervez Musharraf as an obstacle to free elections. He said democracy must be restored, and called for reinstatement of Pakistan’s deposed Supreme Court justices. His rival in the days before General Musharraf seized power, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, also has filed her nomination papers for the election. Ms. Bhutto says she welcomes Mr. Sharif’s return. His Pakistan Muslim League and her Pakistan People’s Party are both part of an opposition coalition that is considering a boycott of the January elections if emergency rule is not lifted beforehand.

News and Views November 27 reported that around 90 people were killed and over 100 injured in sectarian clashes between rival Sunni and Shiite Muslims in a northwestern region of Pakistan in three days of fighting, which started on November 16. In the Swat valley, government troops battled Taliban fighters loyal to Maulana Fazlullah, leader of a banned Islamic fundamentalist group that wants to Islamic courts to enforce Sharia law in Pakistan. The army said 30 pro-Taliban fighters and two Pakistani soldiers died in the fighting. General Pervez Musharraf visited armed forces headquarters Tuesday where he met with senior commanders prior to his November 28 resignation.

News and Views also reported on the November 28 debate between Republican presidential contenders during which some of the most heated moments concerned illegal immigration and foreign policy. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani accused former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney of running a “sanctuary (governor’s) mansion” that employed illegal immigrants. Mr. Romney, who continues to do well in the early contest states of Iowa and New Hampshire, denied the charge. Some five thousand questions were submitted by You Tube video participants. CNN, which broadcast the debate, said it chose about 40 questions that best highlighted differences among the candidates.

News and Views November 30 reported that President Bush is pressuring lawmakers to pass his Iraq war funding request, while a senior Democrat – Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) – said a deal might be possible. During a visit to the Pentagon, Bush said delays in approving his $196 billion request for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars during the fiscal year that began October 1 would force cuts in military base operations across the United States. Also, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) called on President Bush to clarify the recently signed Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship between the Republic of Iraq and the USA to confirm that the US does not plan to place any permanent bases within Iraq and instead plans to begin the phased redeployment of U.S. troops. Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) stated unequivocally that he will move to impeach President Bush if he bombs Iran without Congressional approval. Presidential hopeful Senator Biden spoke in front of a crowd of approximately 100 at a Seacoast Media Group forum November 29, which focused on the Iraq War and foreign policy.

News and Views November 30 reported that Slovakian police seized radioactive material during a raid near the border with Hungary that they said contained uranium enriched enough to make a dirty bomb. Slovak police official Michal Kopcik said the seized material contained more than 480 grams of uranium, not the one kilogram that was originally reported and could “be used in different forms for various terrorist attacks.” Police said the suspects intended to sell the material, which they believe came from an unspecified former Soviet republic, for one million dollars. Corey Hinderstein, director of special projects at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based nuclear nonproliferation advocacy group, told AP Television that such highly enriched uranium is not particularly good material for a dirty bomb. “This material raises the flag with me, but a bomb that contained this material, although it would certainly cause fear and possibly panic, it would not pose a great risk to the population as far as radioactivity.”

News and Views December 2 reported on Turkish police using water cannons and tear gas to break up a pro-Kurdish meeting in Hâkkari, a town in the southwestern part of the country on Saturday. The people had been chanting for the release of jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan and shouted support for the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The meeting was being held as news spread of Turkish military action against Kurdish guerillas across the border in Iraq. Turkey says its military has inflicted significant losses in an attack on Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, and it warns that such attacks across the border may continue. The US military said it has no information about any ground incursion by Turkey. Reports from the Kurdish side of the border, from both the regional government in northern Iraq as well as the PKK rebel group, deny that any attack took place, either by ground troops, artillery or Turkish warplanes.

German-based political activist Hamid Nozari told PNN that Kazem Darabi will be released December 8 – after spending the past 15 years in prison for his role in the 1992 murder of Kurdish opposition leaders in Berlin’s Mykonos Restaurant. German prosecutors have said Mr. Darabi worked for years as the German-based link between Tehran and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Their indictment identified him as “an agent of the Iranian intelligence service and a member of the Revolutionary Guards.” The German prosecutors said Mr. Darabi’s job was to kill Kurdish leader Sadegh Sharafkandi as part of “a persecution strategy of the Iranian minister for intelligence and security against the Iranian opposition.”

Today’s Woman November 27 interviewed Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, about religious freedom in Iran, particularly for religious minorities, and how the experiences of those who are Jewish, Zoriastrian, Christian or Bahai compare to those of a Muslim. Ms. Ala’i reviewed reports about destruction of religious buildings belonging to the Bahai community in Iran and problems experienced in Egypt by followers of the Bahai faith. She also said two examples of the government’s campaign of persecution against Bahais in Iran can be seen in the harassment of children at school and in the difficulty of Bahais finding work. Ms. Ala’i also said human rights abuses have worsened under the Ahmadinejad regime, making it challenging to even practice the Bahai faith freely in Iran. She said of late, the Iranian government has destroyed Bahai cemeteries in different cities, including Yazd. Ms. Ala’i later e-mailed the host of Today’s Woman with this message: “I wanted to thank you and your colleagues for yesterday’s excellent program dedicated to the situation of religious minorities in Iran, with a special focus to that of the Baha’is and for having invited me to participate in it. Although I am sure that you are aware of the impact of programs such as yours, I fell I need to reiterate how important addressing such issues is, for the protection of the Iranian Baha’is as well as for the support they get from it. I wish you the best of success in your continued efforts and your work. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any help concerning events at the United Nations, and particularly in Geneva.”

NewsTalk interviewed human rights activist and author Monireh Baradaran November 30 on her book, The Plain Truth. Born in Tabriz, Ms. Baradaran and her family moved to Tehran after the death of her father. Not particularly political, she went to Tehran University to study sociology and worked as a librarian. But she began being active in protests, first against the Shah, later against the Islamic regime. She was jailed under the Shah, and jailed again, for nine years, as a political prisoner after the revolution. She said the Red Cross used to check prisons under the Shah, and said she was not tortured. But under the Islamic regime, things changed. Her brother was arrested and executed, and she was tortured. Other women students were beaten and raped. “The courts were unjust,” she said. “There was torture. There were executions. There was terror.” She said human rights abuses were pervasive enough when she was released from prison that she moved in 1991 to Germany, a place where she had the freedom to write a book about her time in prison “without the fear of being arrested, without censorship.” She said she hopes for an Iran that respects human rights, adding that if she had her own life to live over again, she would think through things more thoroughly before acting.

Today’s Woman November 25 focused exclusively on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. PNN reported from the United Nations, where an international conference was taking place on the subject. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Violence against women is always a violation of human rights; it is always a crime; and it is always unacceptable. Let us take this issue with the deadly seriousness that it deserves – not only on this International Day, but every day.” The conference wrapped with a statement on ways to prevent violence against women. Today’s Woman also looked at different types of violence against women, including honor killings, rape, prostitution, sex trafficking and female infanticide, and how many countries – including Iran – do not provide protection or shelter for women subjected to such violence.

Today’s Woman November 26 focused on Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and French writer and filmmaker Marguerite Duras, both of whom devoted their lives to feminism and whose work reflected women in some shape or fashion. The first part of the show was about Frida Kahlo’s paintings, how they were affected by her loneliness and her unique self-portraits, of which there were so many. (Today’s Woman included footage from the Kahlo exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.) The second part of the show focused on Marguerite Duras, the author of a great many novels, plays, movies, interviews and short narratives, including her best-selling, apparently autobiographical work L’Amont, which in 1984 was translated into English as The Lover. The show concluded with a discussion about both women expressing themselves not only through their work, but also in their public lives.

Late Edition interviewed producer and director Mohammad Farokhmanesh, co-founder and CEO of the Hamburg-based film production company, brave new work. Originally from Shiraz, Mr. Farokhmanesh has directed and produced several short films, documentaries and feature films, winning the First Appearance Award at the 2007 International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. Mr. Farokhmanesh talked about his latest documentary, Empire of Evil. “Iran,” he said, “is considered a dark country, and the world doesn’t know much about its people, who are the residents of the Empire of Evil. I follow two women, two men and a child in their daily lives. They all have different ideas, ideals, dreams and life styles. I tried to make an informative documentary about their daily lives.” Mr. Farokhmanesh said it wasn’t easy to produce Empire of Evil. “I had to deal with many issues and difficulties inside Iran to complete my project. My documentary describes the situation and life under the Islamic Republic of Iran. The images of contemporary Tehran provide nice intermezzos, from the people swarming Khomeini’s tomb to the masses shopping for that special pair of Gucci sunglasses.”

Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about the Annapolis conference; the notable presence of Syria and absence of Iran at the conference; Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah and its interference in Iraq affecting how it is viewed by Arab countries; French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Beijing and his success in selling Airbus planes and two nuclear plants to China; Iran’s failure – by just one vote – last week to stop a Canadian-sponsored UN resolution condemning Iran’s ongoing violation of human rights; expectations that the Islamic Republic of Iran will execute more than 80 young people in the coming days; how there is no redress of human rights violations, domestic violence, or wage and salary disputes in Iran; the 16-day international campaign against gender violence and how Iran’s Islamic regime all but legitimizes violence against women; and talks in London between Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Roundtable with You commemorated World AIDS Day with Dr. Kamiar Alaei, an Iranian physician who is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Albany School of Public Health, and Dr. Kaveh Khoshnood, an assistant professor in public health practice at Yale School of Public Health. Dr. Alaei and his brother Arash, also a physician, have revolutionized the way HIV/AIDS-infected people are treated in Iran. They now have clinics in nearly 70 Iranian cities and 57 prisons and are a World Health Organization model for the Muslim world. Dr. Khoshnood said, “AIDS is still one of the leading causes of death worldwide.” He noted that 90 percent of those infected with HIV or AIDS are found in developing countries, with more than two-thirds of that figure from sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Khoshnood said a WHO survey estimates 66,000 people are infected with AIDS in Iran. Dr. Alaei said 33 million today are living with HIV worldwide. Both he and Dr. Khoshnood answered viewer and listener questions, emphasizing means of prevention.

Today’s Woman November 28 focused on women leaders in today’s world, looking at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, her achievements as the President’s advisor and top diplomat, and her growing up in a segregated Alabama. Today’s Woman also looked at former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – and pointed out that Ms. Albright’s father was a professor of Secretary Rice’s when she was a student at the University of Denver. The second part of the show was devoted to three other women in the public eye: talk show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, actress and UN goodwill ambassador Nicole Kidman, and the late Princess Diana, whose achievements and popularity were reviewed and discussed.

Today’s Woman November 29 featured Los Angeles-based psychologist Homa Mahmoudi and a discussion on self-confidence in women. The first part of the discussion focused on how Iranian women are losing confidence because of familial and societal barriers. Dr. Mahmoudi said traditional families oppose their daughters working or getting educated. She said women should rely on their own abilities and understand their own value instead of depending on what others think. The second part of the discussion encouraged women to become independent, and how best to be a self-confident woman in Iranian society, one that discriminates against women and threatens the self-confidence a woman might develop. Dr. Mahmoudi said motherhood builds confidence in women, and can make them feel more powerful and independent.

Today’s Woman November 30 interviewed journalist and women’s activist Fariba Davoudi Mohajer again this week, this time on neighborhood watch programs. Unlike such programs in the US, when neighbors watch out for neighbors’ safety and security, neighborhood watch programs in Iran are when neighbors serve as watchdogs to bar women from going out in public. Ms. Davoudi Mohajer said when there are such limitations against women, they cannot progress. Today’s Woman compared the two countries’ neighborhood watch programs, how the US program is considered useful and is popular contrasted with the Iranian version, which “terrifies people, and forces them to live under threat of harassment or more. Female watchdogs are trained to crack down on women who not covered properly in public.

Cardiologist Arya Mani is on the Medical School faculty at Yale University. On December 1, he was a guest on Today’s Woman to talk about heart attacks and women. Because it was World AIDS Day, the show began with a brief discussion about how the world is coping with HIV/AIDS, but it then went on to heart disease, the number one killer of women worldwide. “With the breakthrough brought about by the Human Genome Project,” he said, “we are now in a unique position to dissect the genetic causes of cardiovascular diseases to better understand the pathways that lead to disease in humans. And this can allow us to try to find therapies tailored to specific genetic abnormalities.” By identifying the gene responsible for early heart attacks, Dr. Mani and his team are hoping that new drugs and better treatments are in store for their patients. Today’s Woman also talked about awareness of heart disease in the United States, talking about First Lady Laura Bush’s support for the True Heart campaign, as well as former President Clinton’s and CNN talk show host Larry King’s activities for heart disease.

Late Edition visited Nashville, Tennessee, last week along with its replica of the Parthenon. Parthenon director Wesley Paine told PNN that the Nashville Parthenon is a 1:1 replica of the destroyed original in Greece. Similar to the original, the replica took 10 years to build, from 1921-1931. The building houses an exhibit of modern American artists, mostly painters. The Parthenon’s masterpiece is an Athena, goddess of beauty and intelligence. This replica, scholars say, is a real size model and was built according to designs for the original. The original Parthenon was made of marble, but the one in Nashville is made from a mix of cements. The building was built in part to acknowledge Nashville’s nickname: the Athens of the South. Nashville’s Parthenon has been an income generator since it was first constructed, drawing some 120,000 visitors every year.

This week’s History Channel segments included a program on the 1848 Gold Rush, the largest migration of its kind in the history of the world when almost 90,000 people traveled thousands of miles to the then sparsely populated territory of California, driven by the prospect of instant and unimaginable wealth; a program on the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee when a school teacher charged with teaching evolution led to a legal brawl over the role of science and religion in government – a debate that still rages today; a profile of playwright Tennessee Williams, whose renowned work, including plays like A Streetcar Named Desire, were influenced by his dysfunctional family; a program on the letter scientist Albert Einstein wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 urging him to explore development of the atomic bomb, a message Einstein would later call the one great mistake of his life; and a profile of the Gestapo, the much-feared secret police under Germany’s Hitler, whose task was to protect the Reich and its rulers with limitless authority.

This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – answered a viewer’s question about how VOA/PNN can best utilize new and fast-changing technology. “Multiplicity of delivery – satellite, FM radio, the Internet, cellular phones – means audiences get provided with great choices. VOA was a radio broadcaster that added television and then the Internet. We at PNN are lucky to be able to utilize all three means for delivering our programs. Unfortunately, in Iran and other dictatorships, even though new technology is available, it remains subject to censorship. The good news is that residents of non-democratic societies can access the same information sources as citizens of the free world through satellite communication. VOA/PNN has a great responsibility: to deliver true and authentic information. We are very conscious of this responsibility.”

PNN’s question of the week was: Is the opposition of the IRI leaders to the recent US-sponsored Middle East Peace Conference in line with Iran’s national interests?

Out of 7,857 respondents, 81 % said yes, 16% said no, while 3% did not know.

PNN has inaugurated another new online feature. In addition to our blog and weekly poll, 10 Questions asks viewers to submit questions they’d like to ask the celebrity or significant personality of the week. PNN will cull through the submissions to select 10 questions for the celebrity. The questions and answers will be posted online for all to see. 10 Questions is being cross-promoted on Late Edition and in the coming weeks, PNN will establish a branded web page for this feature. Our first celebrity is pop singer Nooshafarin. A hugely popular actress and singer in Iran, Nooshafarin left Tehran in 1986, eventually ending up in southern California. She has a highly anticipated new album due to be released in March.

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The Persian News Network’s television programming complements our simulcast 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. 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.

PNN’s 7-hour program block opens with Today in Washington, a brief look at the latest news developments in Washington, as well as the content of PNN’s upcoming programs. Then we present cultural programming translated into Farsi from A&E Television Network’s The History Channel. We intersperse 30-minutes of news breaks throughout our original programming, which includes the following shows: Today’s Woman, PNN’s newest program, had its debut September 27, 2007. The one-hour program features influential women from around the world discussing a full spectrum of topics, including social, medical, human rights, legal, sports and business. News and Views, PNN’s existing flagship, is now 2 hours in length, and features live news coverage of the latest headlines from Washington, Iran and across the globe. Roundtable with You is a talk show with expert guests, featuring discussion of current events, politics, popular culture and global health. Viewers and listeners from Iran and around the world participate in the show via phone calls and e-mails.

Late Edition begins with a wrap up of the day’s news and a close look at the day’s top story. Targeted to a younger demographic, the show also features segments on health, technology, sports, entertainment and culture. NewsTalk is a new journalists’ roundtable discussion program that features a news update followed by an examination of the day’s top stories and an in-depth look at issues relating to Iran.

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VIEWER PERSPECTIVES

From a resident of Shirvan, in the northeastern province of Khorasan: “I visited the market yesterday and witnessed security agents storming the area, closing down music stores. Nearly 150 shops were shuttered. Where in the world do people lose their businesses like this? When I visit my parents, who are religious, I tell them that I’ve lost my faith. Our leaders are worse than the Moghul conquerors of Iran. Why can’t the people of Tehran go to the streets in the millions and rid us of this regime? We have lost our reputation in the world and now life is becoming unbearable at home.”

From a frustrated viewer in Iran: “Unfortunately, for about one month now, 3-4 times a week, [the government] sends strong noises on your channel, making it impossible to see or at least hear your programs. Is there any way to make your frequency stronger, or to help us in any other way? You should know that the interference always happens to coincide with important events.”

From a viewer in the southwestern city of Abadan: “Thank you for your good programs. Please talk about Iranian women after immigrating to Canada or the USA.”

From an Iranian-American academic living in Los Angeles: “I got a chance to watch Today’s Woman for the first time via the Internet over the Thanksgiving holiday. A friend sent me the link to the show with [journalist and women’s rights activist] Fariba Davodi Mohajer. It was very enlightening and well delivered. I became more curious and watched a few other shows in the archive. I had heard about the beginning of this new program, and was even invited to go to DC to participate during its inauguration, but was unable to do so due to work and the difficulty of flying long distance….I just wanted to congratulate you and your colleagues on this timely and important program and wish you all the best in promoting human/women's rights, justice and equality. I noticed that you are also trying to help with cultural exchanges, dialogue, and understanding between Iranians and Americans (including Iranian-Americans). With best wishes and khasteh nabashid!”

From a male viewer in Abadan: “Greetings to the wonderful and progressive women of the Today’s Woman program. Having such a great program does not leave any room for criticism. My wife and I watch your show every day. I have a question for your experts. What did American women do in the past that made it possible for them to have equal opportunities as men today? Why are today’s women in Iran being oppressed? Thank you.”

From a regular Roundtable with You viewer: “I would like to thank you for your good program on VOA. I wonder if you could invite Ahmad Zeidabadi to be a guest on Roundtable to hear his views on the controversy between Israel and Palestine. As you know, Mr. Zeidabadi is one of the best experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has published several articles on this subject in the Persian media, on the BBC, on www.roozonline.com as well as other Iranian papers and radio stations. Even his PhD dissertation was on the Israel-Palestine controversy. I believe his participation on your program could be really useful, especially with a renewed peace process.”

From a Persian Cultural Association worker in England: “It is good to see that you are respecting and valuing your audience’s views and responding to our e-mails. I hope we have not offended [you] by directly criticizing you. Please don’t take it personally as it was a general criticism about the technical side of your programs. Your programs are really good but they can still be improved. VOA is the priority Persian channel we watch as it is not a waste of time and we learn many new things from it. Here we try to inform each other about the difficult situation [in Iran] and the fact that Iran might become involved in a dangerous war. In order to avoid dictatorship and to ensure Iran’s future freedom, we need to educate ourselves and our children. An ignorant nation can become an easy target for those who don’t respect freedom and democracy. We are grateful for your hard work in organizing such free and open discussions that enlighten our minds. You at the VOA are the real friends of the Iranian nation as you provide honest and true information. I hope we always remain good friends.”

As an Iranian viewer who regularly follows VOA’s various radio and TV programs in Farsi, I am writing to thank you. I appreciate your constant efforts.”

I’m sending this e-mail in order to say that the font you use on your subtitles is an Arabic one while there are lots of beautiful Persian fonts. If you want me to send you some of them, simply send me a reply.”

From three friends in Tehran: “Even though we are men, we enjoy watching Today’s Woman and learn from it. We have a request. Could you please put your human rights news segment at the beginning of the show? We appreciate it when we see you start your programs with news about the oppressed and political prisoners. As you know, information and news about this subject does not exist in Iran.”

From a 51-year-old man in Iran: “Today’s Woman would be more interesting if you had a male who could challenge and argue with your host. If you defend women’s rights, and you say women should have equal inheritance rights as men, should men still pay property (or marriage portion, mehriyeh) and alimony (nafaghe) to women? We men will agree with full equality if everything is equally shared.”

From a viewer in Kermanshah: With my warmest greetings to you and all your colleagues at VOA. Please accept my sincerest regards. In my opinion, as well as those of my friends, you’ve the most popular programming beamed to Iran via satellite.”

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