Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – December 10, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the National Intelligence Estimate saying Iran suspended its nuclear program four years ago – a complete reversal of previous reports; international and Congressional reaction to the surprise revelation; interviews with the US envoy to the IAEA, Ambassador Gregory Schulte; Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA); State Department spokesman David Foley; Stanford University political scientist Abbas Milani; former CIA field office in the Middle East Robert Baer; Senior Research Fellow at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research Bruno Tertrais; American University foreign policy professor John Calabrese; Tehran University political science professor Sadegh Zibakalam; leading Iran analyst Valerie Lincy; Syracuse University professor Mehrzad Boroujerdi; Glasgow University Iran analyst Reza Taghizadeh; and on other topics, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) on his recent trip to Iraq; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Bahrain; an interview with Rafi Dajani, Executive Director of the American Task Force on Palestine, on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks; the rare visit to North Korea by the US’s top nuclear envoy Christopher Hill and his subsequent visit to Beijing; irregularities in Russian’s parliamentary elections; Venezuelans closing the door to President Hugo Chavez’s wish to stay in office indefinitely; demonstrations at Tehran University; the ongoing struggles of Iran’s labor movement; Internet filtering by Iranian authorities; and the increased popularity of blogs and text messaging in Iran.
Coming Up: Veteran diplomat Edward Djerejian will be a special guest on News and Views Friday, December 14, to talk about the Annapolis conference and what comes next in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Mr. Djerejian, who served as US ambassador to Israel and Syria, is now head of the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. Over the years, he has played key roles in the Arab-Israeli peace process, the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, successful efforts to end the civil war in Lebanon, the release of US hostages in Lebanon, and the establishment of security arrangements in the Persian Gulf.
NewsTalk interviewed State Department Middle East spokesman David Foley December 7 on US policy toward Iran. Mr. Foley said the National Intelligence Estimate is more interesting in its differences from the 2005 report than it is a surprise. “The 2007 report shows that Iran has had a nuclear weapons program and still, through enriching uranium, is trying to achieve it,” he said. “We think the reason Iran suspended its program in 2003 was because the country did not have the capability it needed. Iran also has ballistic missiles, which are very expensive. There is no reason for Iran to have them. We believe we should apply pressure until Iran responds to the world on this nuclear issue.” Mr. Foley said he believes US and European pressure probably caused Iran to suspend its program in 2003, but that things deteriorated after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005. That’s when, Mr. Foley said, “the uranium enrichment started. We tried to have talks with Iran, but Iran insisted on continuing enrichment and the sanctions followed. Economic sanctions are a diplomatic tool, and we are aware of the hardship they cause. But Iran is pursuing a nuclear program while trying to lie to the world. The IAEA report is proof of that. Iran is hiding the fact that it intends to have nuclear weapons. Therefore sanctions against Iran will continue. We believe this NIE report will strengthen the international community’s commitment to diplomacy regarding the Iranian issue. We will stand by our allies. If Iran suspends its uranium enrichment program, Secretary of State Rice will talk with them.” Mr. Foley again said the US is not trying to overthrow Iran’s leadership. “But we do want them to change their behavior.”
Roundtable with You December 8 looked at ramifications of the NIE report with Abbas Milani, research fellow and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution. He also is Director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University and a visiting professor in the University’s Department of Political Science. Mr. Milani says the NIE report has greatly diminished the chances of any military conflict with Iran over its nuclear program. He said a military confrontation with the United States or Israel would be a godsent gift for President Ahmadinejad. Mr. Milani said with his popularity plummeting and the economy in decline, only an American or Israeli attack on Iran can help Mr. Ahmadinejad and his radical allies consolidate power and save his presidency. The only solution to the “Iran problem,” he said, from the nuclear question to Iran’s regional support for Islamist groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is for the century old dream of democracy to become a reality. Mr. Milani said President Ahmadinejad is fully aware of this danger and has done everything he can to forestall democratic change, adding that his misguided policies have led Iran to the brink of economic catastrophe.
PNN interrupted its regular programming December 4 to broadcast President Bush’s news conference in which he discussed the NIE, saying he had not changed his assessment of Iran and noted, “What’s to say they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program?” News of the NIE’s findings broke at 12:15 pm on Monday, December 3, and PNN was on the air within 10 minutes with the story – more than half an hour before the Washington Post and other media. Although the report determined that Iran stopped seeking a nuclear bomb in 2003, Mr. Bush said Tehran’s secrecy shows it cannot be trusted. News and Views also carried the President’s comments in Omaha on Iran the next day.
News and Views December 9 focused on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his remarks Saturday to a global security conference in Bahrain. Mr. Gates said, “There can be little doubt that [Iran’s] destabilizing foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the United States, to the interests of every country in the Middle East, and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing.” The Secretary urged Gulf Arab states at the conference to support US-led efforts to pressure Iran into suspending uranium enrichment, saying the international community must intensify such efforts. “While we must keep all our options open, the United States and the international community must continue and intensify our economic, financial and diplomatic pressures on Iran to suspend enrichment.” Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, dismissed the Secretary’s remarks, saying he was interfering in the domestic affairs of regional countries. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki Saturday accused Washington of using espionage to compile a new intelligence report about Iran’s nuclear program. “The day the [NIE] was issued, the Foreign Ministry submitted a formal note of protest to the Swiss Embassy and demanded an explanation over espionage activities taking place.”
News and Views December 4 reported on the new National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran is less determined to produce nuclear weapons than previously believed in that it halted a secret program to develop nuclear weapons four years ago. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said the latest NIE suggests Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program in the second half of 2003, but that Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium could be used to develop a nuclear weapon sometime between 2010 and 2015. “On balance,” he said, “the estimate is good news. On the one hand, it confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it tells us that we have made some progress in trying to ensure that that does not happen.” News and Views reported that Iranian officials welcomed the report. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the parliamentary committee on national security and foreign affairs, said the NIE report proved the accuracy of statements by Iranian officials about the civilian – peaceful – nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel believes Iran is still trying to develop nuclear weapons and that his country will continue to work with Washington to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei said he was happy to see the report was consistent with IAEA findings, and expressed hope the report helps defuse current tensions between Tehran and Washington.
News and Views December 5 interviewed Ambassador Gregory Schulte, the US envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency about the NIE. From Vienna, he said it is important to remember the NIE report did say Iran was conducting a nuclear weapons program until 2003. “Our concern about Iran’s nuclear program was totally justified,” Mr. Schulte said. “Until Iran comes clean about its past and answers all the outstanding questions proactively, then Iran will remain a danger. We are pleased that the Iranian leadership has relented under international pressure and shelved the military part of their program,” the ambassador said. “But the fact that Iran is carrying on its enrichment, which is the integral part of making a bomb, remains worrisome to us,” he continued. The Ambassador said the US administration is carefully examining the report to see if Washington needs to recalibrate its policy toward Iran. “The international community has called on Iran to suspend its enrichment and until it does so, the Iranian nuclear program will remain a cause for concern…This is not a victory for Iran. This reconfirms the concern we have had over Iran’s nuclear program. The report states clearly that they had a military nuclear program. We have an offer on the table to come and negotiate. Iran is continuing to pursue a kind of nuclear technology that can only be used for non-peaceful purposes.”
Roundtable with You December 5 interviewed Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA), who serves on the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, on the “little bombshell” presented by the NIE’s findings. After playing the President’s remarks from Tuesday that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Roundtable’s host said the NIE raised two questions in particular. First, if Iran doesn’t have a military weapons program, why has it resisted international inspections? And second, why did the US allow this NIE to become public and at this time? Congressman Moran said, “Iran has a vested interest in convincing the world that it possesses a nuclear program, whether it does or doesn’t have such a program. It gives Iran a lever in manipulating events in the region. And for Iran, he said, the nuclear program is a trump card to be traded away, not a goal in and of itself.” As far as the US motive for making the report public at this time, Congressman Moran said, “Washington’s strategy has been to isolate Iran from the rest of the international community.” He suggested the best option now is to “sit and negotiate all issues without any precognition. Both sides know what to expect when they meet.”
News and Views December 5 reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would not directly comment on the Iranian president’s remarks about the NIE. But she did say the report is an indication of how democracy works, expressing hope that someday the Iranian people too will live in a democracy. She said continuation of enrichment still poses a danger and the world community must not back down, the UN Security Council should press Tehran to halt those activities that could lead to production of an atomic weapon. She has been in touch with her counterparts among the five permanent members of the Council and Germany to explain US strategy and the report. Tom Casey, deputy spokesman for the State Department amplified, “The NIE makes clear that this is a program that they could restart at any time.” Pascale Andreani, the spokeswoman for the French Foreign Ministry, says the latest report of the IAEA shows that Iran still hasn’t answered all the questions asked about its past and present activities. “Iran doesn't respect its international obligations,” she said, “so our position hasn’t changed. We must maintain pressure on Iran.” China wants consideration of the NIE in the UN Security Council’s next move. Russia’s Foreign Minister says Moscow hasn’t seen any evidence indicating Iran ever had a nuke program.
News and Views December 4 reported that Democrats in Congress welcomed the report, with some expressing hope the US would use the NIE as a reason to open diplomatic talks with Iran. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the NIE suggests there is time for a new policy toward Iran that deters it from restarting its nuclear program while also improving relations overall. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Democrats had requested the new Iran assessment “so that the administration could not rush this Congress and the country to another war based on flawed intelligence.” Senate Intelligence Committee chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said the report showed “a level of independence from political leadership that was lacking in the recent past.” Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, vowed to question intelligence officials closely about their classified sources. “Just two years ago, the intelligence community believed that Iran was determined to develop nuclear weapons,” Mr. Reyes said. Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph Biden, (D-DE) said, “This means that the international community has a significant window of opportunity in which to act to avoid the stark choice between going to war or accepting a nuclear Iran... The NIE makes clear that the right combination of pressure and positive incentives could prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program... We should communicate this in direct talks with Iran.”
News and Views December 8 interviewed Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an associate professor of political science at Syracuse University, on the impact of the NIE report on US-Iran relations. He speculated on the timing of the report’s release, saying the US intelligence community was anxious to make up for its botched intelligence estimate of Iraq and Baghdad’s WMD capabilities. On the other hand, he said, Congress has been putting pressure on US intelligence agencies to show more independence, and this was an opportunity for the analysts to demonstrate they can act independently of policymakers. Mr. Boroujerdi said the NIE has put Iran and its leaders in a stronger position to deal with international sanctions and that “additional sanctions have become increasingly unlikely.” That the United States and its intelligence agencies have put out a report that Iranian leaders have embraced will be awkward for them because they have always depicted the Bush administration as lying and bereft of any credibility, he said. “And with the threat of war now diminishing as result of this report, it will have the unintended consequence of dampening oil prices and this could present Tehran with financial difficulties,” he concluded.
The 2008 presidential candidates were also quick to draw conclusions about US policy based on the report. News and Views December 4 quoted Democratic candidate John Edwards as saying, “The new National Intelligence Estimate shows that George Bush and Dick Cheney’s rush to war with Iran is, in fact, a rush to war.” And on the other side of the aisle, Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani said, “For years now, the Islamic Republic of Iran has defied and played games with every international effort aimed at persuading the country to halt enrichment of uranium. Sanctions and other pressures must be continued and stepped up until Iran complies by halting enrichment activities in a verifiable way.”
News and Views December 5 reported on a host of other voices on the NIE: Robert Baer, former CIA field office in the Middle East, and now a columnist for www.time.com says the Bush administration is now convinced that Iran is “a bridge too far” and would upset the fragile balance in Lebanon and Iraq, places they consider “recent successes.” Newsweek correspondent Michael Hirsh reported that there has been zero change in the political atmosphere in Washington, but added that Defense Secretary Robert Gates knows the disadvantages of a strike on Iran. Bruno Tertrais, a Senior Research Fellow at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research said, “The paradox is that even though the report in fact vindicates international pressure on Iran because it said [international pressure] has had effects in the past, now the problem is that some countries in the UN Security Council say ‘well, we don’t want any more sanctions’ – so as a result of that, there is a real risk that the Iranians believe they have a free hand now.”
News and Views reported December 4 on press coverage of the NIE. The Washington Post wrote that the new National Intelligence Estimate is a blow to the Bush administration’s foreign policy. “President Bush got the world’s attention this fall,” the paper wrote, “when he warned that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to World War III. But his stark warning came at least a month or two after he had first been told about fresh indications that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons program. The new intelligence report not only undercuts the administration’s alarming rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear ambitions but could also throttle Bush’s effort to ratchet up international sanctions and take off the table the possibility of preemptive military action before the end of his presidency.” The New York Times wrote that with the new report, persuading the international community to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran will be harder and makes justifying a military strike on Tehran weaker. The Washington Times wrote that based on the report, Iran halted its activities to develop nuclear weapons in 2003. USA Today, quoting an Israeli intelligence officer, wrote “This report and its data are a matter of interpretation, and only a blind person can’t see that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb. They are threatening the whole world.” The International Atomic Energy Agency also weighed in, “No evidence has been found to indicate that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, therefore our reporting has been right.”
News and Views December 6 interviewed several regional experts live in studio. One, John Calabrese, teaches US Foreign Policy at American University and serves as book review editor of The Middle East Journal. He also wrote the book, Revolutionary Horizons: Regional Foreign Policy in post-Khomeini Iran. Mr. Calabrese said the new NEI provides a good opportunity for both countries to open dialogue on a wide range of issues. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said, “The US is still willing to talk with Iran if it stops enrichment. International pressure has been effective.” Switching gears to the revived Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, News and Views also interviewed Rafi Dajani, Executive Director of the American Task Force on Palestine. He said the role of the US in the peace process is crucial: “The administration is very much committed to making this work. And the internal problems facing the two leaders will not and should not be used as an excuse for not going forward with the process. The time is right for this to yield to results.”
News and Views December 4 interviewed David Foley, a State Department spokesman on Middle East issues. He said the NIE report reconfirms that Iran was actively involved in producing nuclear bombs and that it shelved its program in response to international pressure. The important point to keep in mind, Mr. Foley said, is that Iran was continuing to enrich uranium despite calls by the international community to suspend it. “This enrichment activity in and of itself is a threat to world peace given Iran’s history of concealment and secrecy,” he said. “Our offer of negotiation continues to be on the table and Iran would be wise to seriously consider our generous incentive package.” Commenting on EU talks with Iran, Mr. Foley said it would be inaccurate to suggest Washington does not support talks with Iran. “All Iran has to do is to comply with a simple request made by the international community: suspend its enrichment of uranium.”
News and Views December 4 talked with Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University, for Iranian reaction to the NIE report. He said it reconfirms what the leadership of the Islamic Republic and the International Atomic Energy Agency have been saying all along – that Iran does not have a covert nuclear weapons program right now. “They may have had a program a few years ago, up until 2003,” Mr. Zibakalam said. “But it is clear now that nothing improper is going on.” Mr. Zibakalam argued that continuing international sanctions against Iran would be unjustified because the NIE report clearly vindicates Iran, in that all of its nuclear activities are within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
News and Views reported December 3 –before the NIE was released – that China had reversed its position, saying it will support further financial and economic sanctions against Iran. A Western diplomat described this “change of heart” as the most significant outcome of last weekend’s meeting in Paris of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. News and Views also reported that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met December 2 in Israel with her South Korean counterpart, Song Min-soon. She urged Seoul to sever all economic ties with Iran. “When Europe takes steps against Iran, Iran turns to Asia,” she said. “We must not allow Iran to bypass significant activity from the international community by offering it alternatives in Asia.”
PNN was ahead of The New York Times on commentary from a leading Iran analyst. Two days before the report was released, PNN interviewed Valerie Lincy, editor and principal researcher of www.IranWatch.org, which is published by the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. The Wisconsin Project carries out research and public education designed to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction and is operated as a non-profit under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin. Ms. Lincy said the findings of the Wisconsin Project are similar to those of the US government. “Iran is close to building a bomb by 2009. So there is an urgency to stop the government from going further with its enrichment activities.” She repeated this in an op-ed column in The Times December 6. The NIE’s finding that Iran had halted its nuclear program in 2003 was indeed a surprise, she wrote with Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project. But the international community shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss Iran’s nuclear potential as a very dangerous threat, writing Iran is still free to “operate and add to its centrifuges at Natanz, accumulate a stockpile of low-enriched uranium customary for civilian use, and then have the ability to convert that uranium in a matter of months to weapons grade. This ‘breakout potential’ would create a nuclear threat that we and Iran’s neighbors will have to live with for years to come.”
News and Views December 6 interviewed Reza Taghizadeh, an analyst on Iran’s nuclear program who lectures at Glasgow University. Mr. Taghizadeh surmised that the motivation for the NIE being issued by the Bush administration at this time was either to reach a tacit understanding with Iran over the issue of stabilizing Iraq or it was aimed at China and Russia in order to gain their support for further punitive sanctions against Tehran for its continuing enrichment of uranium. However, Mr. Taghizadeh said he believes, “Moscow will harden its position in light of this NIE report and will make it harder for Washington to get its support in pushing for more sanctions against Tehran.” He said there are two basic schools of thought on Iran now. One is the White House’s position that toughening sanctions has succeeded in compelling Iran to change course and shelve its nuclear weapons program. The other is one shared by the Democratic leadership in the US Congress, who will argue for more flexibility and diplomacy in dealing with Iran.
Energy analyst Bahman Aghaii Diba told News and Views December 8 that the NIE doesn’t change anything when it comes to sanctions against Iran because the issue of uranium enrichment is still a problem, whether Iran’s nuclear program has been suspended or not. “Like the report on Iraq,” he said, “this [NIE] could have mistakes. The timing could be due to the upcoming presidential election. It clearly says that Iran had a nuclear weapons program up to 2003.”
News and Views December 3 reported on Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), recently returned from a trip to Iraq, who says the US is neglecting diplomatic efforts that might build on recent gains against insurgents in Iraq to help end the conflict. Senator Webb, who opposed the war, said the Bush administration has shown little interest in non-military attempts to engage Iraq’s neighbors and that the public debate in the US has been too narrowly focused on troop levels in Iraq when it should be broadened to encompass “a region in chaos, from Lebanon to Pakistan.” The senator said, “We need to get strong regional diplomatic agreement, and the US is the only country that can do that. This has been the missing piece all along…The deputy prime minister mentioned to me when I was there – he’s a Kurd – he basically said, this is in his words, ‘Every country in this region has a dog in this fight.’ And I said, That’s a lot of dogs…We saw last week the first step toward something of that sort with the Annapolis conference on the Palestinian-Israeli situation. That could have been done five years ago.”
News and Views reported daily on the rare visit to North Korea by the US’s top nuclear envoy, Christopher Hill, to monitor the disablement of its nuclear program and preview a promised declaration of all of Pyongyang’s nuclear activities. Mr. Hill told reporters in Pyongyang that he expects North Korea’s declaration to be comprehensive, and that the country must address US concerns about a possible secret uranium enrichment program that it has yet to publicly acknowledge. He said establishing complete diplomatic relations would come only after a complete denuclearization of the peninsula. Speaking with reporters again before leaving for Beijing, Mr. Hill said he was given a full tour of North Korea’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon and that he had good talks with senior officials during his three-day visit. Before briefing officials on his trip to North Korea, leader Kim Jon Il made public that he had received a personal letter from President Bush, delivered by Mr. Hill. The White House has not commented on the matter and no details about its contents were immediately available.
News and Views December 4 reported that Europe has joined the United States in urging Russia to probe numerous complaints of voting irregularities in the landslide victory of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia political party. United Russia won 64% of the parliamentary vote on December 2. The Communist Party ran a distant second with 12 percent, while two pro-Kremlin parties held seven and eight percent (respectively) – enough to win seats in the State Duma. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office said it was “neither a fair nor democratic election.” Mr. Putin brushed off the foreign assessments, saying the legitimacy of parliament “has without a doubt been increased” by the election results. The constitution bars Mr. Putin from running for a third straight term in Russia’s presidential election next March, but a United Russia-dominated parliament could back him as prime minister and allow him to head the next government under new election laws.
News and Views December 3 reported that Venezuelans have voted down proposed reforms that would have granted new, extensive powers to President Hugo Chavez, including the ability to run for re-election indefinitely. The country's electoral authority said 51 percent of voters said “no” to the proposed constitutional changes. The vote represented the first major electoral defeat for Mr. Chavez in his nine years in office.
Roundtable with You December 6 examined the struggles of Iran’s labor movement with Mehdi Kouhestaninejad, a national representative with the Canadian Labor Congress. Mr. Kouhestaninejad described the dreadful conditions experienced by average Iranian workers, who, for the most part, live below the poverty level. Those who speak out against these inhumane conditions find themselves intimidated by Islamic authorities, he said, with some even receiving long prison terms, which even further deteriorates the living conditions for that person’s family. Mr. Kouhestaninejad said it was in July when Mansour Osanloo, head of the bus workers’ union (Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company), was abducted in the middle of the day by security agents and taken to Evin prison. Reza Dehghan, a founding member of the Painters Union in Iran, was arrested just last month and taken to prison. Mahmoud Salehi, another leader of the bus workers’ union also is in prison. Mr. Kouhestaninejad said both Mr. Salehi and Mr. Osanloo are seriously ill and need urgent medical attention. “The struggle of the labor union in Iran is both economic and political,” he said. “It is the struggle for freedom and a better life.”
Roundtable with You December 4 examined Internet filtering in Iran with Ken Berman, Director of Information Technology at the International Broadcasting Bureau. A segment of President Bush’s remarks on Iran’s nuclear program following the release of the NIE was simultaneously translated. Mr. Bush said Iran’s nuclear program, “was a danger, is a danger and will be a danger.” The program then went into its coverage of Internet filtering, with Mr. Berman discussing ways of circumventing roadblocks on the information superhighway and responding to many calls from Iran. In one such Q&A, Mr. Berman defined how circumventors work, explaining that one doesn’t actually install the circumventor on the computer that is blocked from accessing Web sites. Rather, a friend outside Iran needs to install the circumventor on his computer and then send the viewer in Iran the URL used to access banned sites.
Late Edition December 8 looked at Internet filtering in Iran with Babak Namdar, a California-based technology analyst and an expert on secure communications. He is assistant director of foreign policy for Marze Por Gohar, an Iranian political party advocating a secular republic in Iran. Mr. Namdar said, “The Islamic regime has denied young Iranians the ability to speak freely and communicate with each other through the press, television, telephone and the Internet. There are a couple of million Web sites that are currently being filtered in Iran, including political, social, economic and human rights groups. Personal and group blogs also are filtered.” Mr. Namdar said computer experts try to fight Internet filtering and censorship in Iran by creating proxy Web sites with search functions. The proxies, he said, are updated constantly and can be e-mailed to users, to help them enter restricted pages.
Roundtable with You December 3 focused on the US presidential elections with VOA political correspondent Jim Malone. He explained how the American political process works, leading to the nomination of party candidates and the general election on the first Tuesday of November 2008. Mr. Malone talked about the positions taken by the leading Republican and Democratic candidates on the Iran nuclear issue and the possibility of war. PNN played comments by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Mr. Malone talked about Iowa as the true battleground in the presidential primaries, with many candidates having to make a decision about staying the course or leaving the race after the Iowa caucus, scheduled for January 3.
Late Edition reported December 3 on a panel discussion hosted by the Heritage Foundation on the “Sunni-Shia Conflict and the Future of Gulf Oil.” Keynote speaker Naser Al Belooshi, Ambassador of Bahrain, and moderator Ariel Cohen, a Senior Research Fellow at Heritage, stressed the importance of foreign investment in the region. They said impediments to such investment are the Sunni-Shia conflict and extremism, as well as the unwise policies of some politicians, like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who drive away investments. “Moderate voices should dominate those of extremists and radicals, or the people will suffer,” Mr. Cohen said.
Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about the National Intelligence Estimate; the failure of last week’s EU-Iranian nuclear talks; before the NIE report, Russia’s inability or unwillingness to prevent the UN Security Council from voting on a third round of sanctions against Iran; reduced oil production in Iran because at least $70 billion dollars is needed for infrastructure repair and reconstruction; Iran’s abuse of human rights, including its disregard for national heritage and its neglect of Iran’s infrastructure; its intentional destruction of the Ark Alishah in Tabriz and inaugurating the Sivand Dam, which could flood an ancient archeological site and could threaten the tomb of Cyrus the Great; France and Germany saying Iran’s nuclear program is still a danger; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressing a summit of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha; Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s scheduled visit to France next week for trade talks, including France’s provision of a nuclear reactor for water desalination to turn sea water into clean drinking water; and student protests at Amir Kabir University and Tehran University.
Today’s Woman December 2 featured Leili Pourzand, a lawyer and women’s studies expert based in Toronto, talking about the increasing popularity of web logs among women in Iran, who can use them to share insights, memoirs and other personal stories. Ms. Pourzand said blogs have helped the women’s movement in Iran by connecting women across the country from varying backgrounds. She said research shows 700,000 Iranians have blogs, the highest number of any country in the Middle East. “Blogging is simple. They’re free and they don’t require technical knowledge,” she said. Iran has barred women in public and filters the Internet, but the blogs still allow women to express their views and promote their ideas. For some women, she said, blogs are the only way they have a voice. There are so many bloggers, she said, that the government cannot control them. “I received a call one night at 2 am to alert me to the fact that 20 women activists had been arrested at a gathering.” Through blogs, she said, the news reached most parts of the world in record time. “Web logs have become one of the main sources of information on women’s issues in Iran,” Ms. Pourzand said.
Today’s Woman December 5 focused on the NIE and President Bush’s insistence that Iran is still a threat. It then went on to its scheduled topic of forced marriage in Iran and other countries, looking at what it is, how it happens, and what the law says about it in Iran. The show reported that forced marriage is imposed most often on young girls, and is most common in Iran and Afghanistan, although it’s not uncommon in Middle East, Africa and in Europe’s immigrant community. In conservative societies, not only girls, but also boys, are pressured to marry. Girls participate in forced marriage because of family pressures and the financial support it offers. Men choose younger wives because they can be controlled. The show reported that one consequence of forced marriage is self-burning or the burning of the husband. Today’s Woman said Iranian law should be amended to protect younger girls from forced marriages and women should be apprised of their rights, including the fact that they may resist forced marriage. One viewer in Tehran e-mailed the program saying mothers force their daughters into marriage if they haven’t gotten married by the age of 20.
Today’s Woman December 4 looked at the role of women leaders with guest Mahnaz Afkhami, president of Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP) and executive director of the Foundation for Iranian Studies. She is a leading proponent of women’s rights in the Islamic world, and has chaired the English department at the National University of Iran, founded the Association of Iranian University Women, and served as secretary general of the Women's Organization of Iran and minister of state for women’s affairs prior to the Islamic revolution. Ms. Afkhami said it is important that woman leaders should let others share in the making of decisions and respect other’s opinions. She said when society bars women from advancement and self-expression, she may not win public leadership but she can be a leader in her family’s domestic affairs. Ms. Afkhami said she sees women progressing in Iran despite restrictions.
Today’s Woman December 3 looked at women in art and poetry with award-winning poet and translator Sheema Kalbasi, author of two collections of poems, Echoes in Exile in English, and Sangsar (Stoning) in Persian. Ms. Kalbasi, who now lives in the United States, heads the writing department at Reel Content Productions, a film production company with an exclusive focus on human rights. She is one of the few literary figures to promote poets of Iranian heritage as well as international poets to English speaking audiences, but adds, “Poetry is not in demand in the US, so publishers are not interested in investing in an English version of Persian poetry.” She has translated the poetry of Iranian poet Jaleh Esfahani, and she spent some time discussing her work and life. Ms. Esfahani died just last month in London. Ms. Kalbasi also is director of Dialogue of Nations through Poetry in Translation, which is designed, she said, to connect international poets regardless of their locations. “I enjoy connecting with fellow women through their writings for women.”
Today’s Woman December 6 talked with San Francisco-based psychologist Farzaneh Sabetan about self-confidence and inferiority complexes. The discussion opened with how families can mistreat children – comparing them with other children or by saying the children have no worth. She said comments like these are humiliating and can destroy self-image and self-confidence. In Iran, she said, the self-confidence of girls who are discriminated against because of their gender will be challenged in the future. She said they will feel inferior to others and feel dependent on others for support. Dr. Sabetan said children should be given choices to decide and do what they think is right, and that this will help teach them how best to face reality and become self-confident.
Late Edition interviewed Cyrus Meshki, a well-known figure in the Iranian-American community of Southern California. He is a lawyer, author and founder both of Peyvand, a Persian magazine dedicated to law, literature and culture, and the Coalition of Iranian Entrepreneurs. Mr. Meshki told PNN he believes immigration creates its own legal problems and issues, and that immigrants seek lawyers familiar with their special needs. “After the revolution and departure of thousands of Iranians, many of them were contacting us with their immigration needs such as getting visas and green cards. After a while, their needs changed to creating and registering business corporations. Later, some faced business litigation and sometimes, unfortunately, family law issues or traffic accidents. Our law office helps Iranians resolve legal issues in all of those areas.”
PNN visited Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, to interview Michael Goldfarb, a professor of mechanical engineering who is building the next generation of prosthetic arms and legs. Unlike other products on the market, Mr. Goldfarb’s prosthetic legs and arms have many degrees of freedom, meaning a much more natural movement for the wearer. Mr. Goldfarb also has come up with a new way to power these prosthetics: liquid rocket propellant. This liquid converts to hot gas in the reaction chamber and expands 1000 fold. Two hundred milliliters of the liquid propellant produces 20 liters of gas, which is enough to power the new robotic hand for one full day. Several potential users, such as the US military, have shown interest in this project, which is partially funded by NIH.
Parisa Dezfoulian, a journalist and political analyst in Iran, said young Iranians are turning to texting – sending more than 20 million text messages every day, often transmitting messages that would meet with disapproval of authorities. In an article for the London-based Institute for War & Peace Reporting, Ms. Dezfoulian writes, “Using cell phones to send text messages has reached epidemic proportions in the country, creating an invisible but powerful social network that is all but invisible to the authorities. It’s become the preferred way to conduct political and cultural discourse, filling the gap left by the dearth of free and independent media. Political humor, much of it aimed at President Ahmadinejad, makes up a surprisingly large percentage of the conversations. One joke making the rounds this summer during the country’s gasoline shortage, read: ‘Ahmadinejad was asked what people without gasoline should ride on. He replied that they should ride on the 17 million who voted for him.’ The message was soon on blogs all across the country, and was even cited by the Voice of America’s Persian service.”
Today’s Woman December 7 interviewed Mansoor Moaddel, Professor of Sociology at East Michigan University, who recently conducted research in Iran and other countries in the Middle East on love marriages and arranged marriages, women obeying husbands, roles of men and women in general, leadership, decision-making, the following of religious practices (such as praying in the mosque) and the wearing of head scarves. Mr. Moaddel said he conducted the surveys for the World Values Organization in Iran, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. He said about 23 percent of the Iranians who participated in the survey said they never go to the mosque for prayer. About 44 percent of the Iranian women surveyed said they didn’t think wearing head scarves should be compulsory. He also said the number of women who believe in strong leadership by women has increased, correlating to the election of new women leaders around the world.
Today’s Woman December 8 focused on the flu – the influenza virus, the flu vaccine, bird flu and the 1918 flu pandemic. The program included US health officials warning of a new strain of virus, the adenovirus 14, which has struck four states. Another segment focused on the flu vaccine being safe for babies and toddlers. A third segment included an interview with Iranian-American scientist Michael Farzan, a professor at Harvard and one of the world’s leading virologists. He talked about his discovery that paves the way for containing the SARS virus and controlling the disease. In 2003, Dr. Farzan discovered a specific receptor on cells that opens the door to the SARS virus, allowing the virus to bind, enter and then replicate. Finding this receptor is a first major step in developing a vaccine and treatment for SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.
This week’s History Channel segments included a three-part series on the Gestapo, Hitler’s “sharpest sword” – the secret police force known for its brutality and ruthless efficiency in protecting the Reich and its rulers. How did a relatively small organization gain complete control, not only in Germany but throughout the occupied territories? And what was its true relationship to Hitler and the Nazi Party? Detailed research builds a new and chilling picture of one of the most terrifying groups in recent history – from its inception and operation, to its eventual downfall. Another segment focused on Shay’s Rebellion, also known as the First American Civil War. In the years following the Revolutionary War, America suffered a period of bitter economic depression and political turmoil. Many citizens who had risked their lives defeating the British were being forced off their farms and into debtors’ prisons because creditors were calling for hard cash rather than barter as a payment for goods. These citizens now felt betrayed by their own government and rebelled January 25, 1787, led by a man named Daniel Shays, a Massachusetts farmer. A last segment profiled George Washington, the larger than life icon who became America’s first president, but who was a soldier and warrior before he became the Father of His Country.
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 what impact the American presidential election will have on VOA. “I’ve talked about the VOA charter and its journalist code previously,” Mr. Mahmoudi responded. “VOA is not controlled or censored by the executive branch of the US government. For this reason, regardless of who occupies the White House, whether he or she is a Democrat or a Republican, VOA – and naturally, PNN – will operate according to its charter. The situation is, of course, different in non-democratic countries. Media in those societies are totally controlled by the party in power, and the media are in the service of the executive branch. Any change in the ruling party in non-democratic societies will result in policy changes of the controlled media.”
PNN’s question of the week was: Do you support former President Khatami, Shirin Ebadi and other individuals who call for direct talks with the United States? The first response PNN received was: “I do not agree that negotiations should be held between the US and this regime, because this regime is still in power.”
Out of 10,164 respondents, 59% said yes, 41 said no.
PNN has inaugurated another Internet-related program. In addition to our blog, weekly poll and new 10 Questions segment, Late Edition introduced a new feature December 9 called What’s Hot on the Internet?, in which PNN highlights web-based communities that are all “the buzz.” The focus might be on MySpace or Facebook, or it might be on www.orkut.com or www.NewPersia.com. It might be on www.Hi5.com, www.Yahoo360.com or www.gazzag.com.
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.
From a viewer in Iran: “The latest [NIE] report is a victory for the US and the west because it shows that Iran’s intentions were not peaceful. The west should celebrate this defeat and Iran should accept its failure.”
One viewer sent in a video of a protest held December 4 at Tehran University to mark Student Day in Iran. This “No War” photo is a still shot from that video:
Dec 9, Tehran University
Dec 9, Tehran University
An Iranian blogger in London commented on Congressman Jim Moran’s December 5 appearance on PNN: “As a further testimony to my previous post on how little intelligence US has about Iran, Congressman Moran appeared on a VOA Persian program yesterday. Jim Moran claimed the Iranian people had elected Ahmadi-Nejad in an orderly fair election and that Ahmadi-nejad won the election because his pledge in redistributing the wealth had appealed to the Iranian people!”
Another viewer sent PNN a video of agents of the Islamic regime arresting a woman because she is not dressed to their satisfaction. The video, shot on a mobile and posted on Google, see: here
And from a 25-year-old in Abadan: “An omnibus with painted windows was brought downtown, to the most crowded part of the city. Four corpulent women were there. Right in front of my eyes, their boss – a man with a trimmed beard – instructed those women to detain each and every girl with a ‘loose veil or scarf’ who passes by your way, whether her hair is seen or not. God knows how many times they filled the omnibus with girls and women, took them away, and came back to take away more girls… I was so upset, and regretted having been born in Iran. In times when nations around the world are moving forward, people in Iran are still bound to such infinitesimal issues as strands of women’s hair being seen by men on streets.”
One Iranian viewer wrote about proxies: “Thank you for your response to my email requesting a proxy address a month ago. The last link for a proxy that I received 23 November 2007 (www.gawharin.com) is not working any more and I haven’t received a replacement link. Please send me the latest proxy link so that I can see VOA’s Persian site. Thank you for your programs at VOA.”
Another viewer in Iran had a suggestion on how to bypass the filtering of web sites: “A VPN account is the best and easiest way to get rid of filtering, and here is how it could work. Instead of spending so much on creating websites and proxies, you could design a web site, and send free VPN accounts to people who request them, exclusively for your viewers inside Iran. I think this is a good way both for saving money and bypassing filters.” [Editor’s note: VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, a network that allows users to access their favorite programs and services much more securely and from home because the network is isolated from the public Internet.]
From a viewer in Saary, Iran: “Thank you for responding so quickly to my request to e-mail me News from VOA in Persian.” [Editor’s note: News from VOA is a condensed form of the daily news available on our web site and via e-mail.]
From a journalist in Tabriz on PNN: “The power of good journalism is like the light of one small candle. No matter how dark the world becomes, the darkness can never extinguish the light.”
From an Internet viewer in Tehran, upset that PNN was beset with some obscene calls during the past week: “First of all, before I forget, as a person who has read the first five volumes of The Diaries of Assadollah Alam, I absolutely enjoyed your program last night – Roundtable with You with Alinaghi Alikhani. The program was truly enjoyable. Please keep up the good work. The reason that I feel obliged to write you this short note is to express my dismay at the callers who throw profanity out on your program in an attempt to discourage and discredit you. They are failing. I think they are angry at your impact on Iranian society and by what you are achieving through your programs. [I think your obscene callers are] obviously paid agents of the Islamic Republic’smullahs… I believe the Islamic parasites struck tonight because of Dr. Alikhani’s talking about the book being censored in Iran… Anyway, I wanted you to know that there are many people in Iran and elsewhere who appreciate and value your efforts in making such good and interesting programs for the people of Iran.”
From Iranian-German director and producer Mohammad Farokhmanesh, a guest last week on Late Edition: “I thank you for giving me the opportunity to present my latest project “The Empire of Evil” on Late Edition. I have received many positive comments regarding my interview on your show. It was a very professional and unique Q&A segment and I really appreciate that.”
From a viewer in Iran: “I’m a high school student and I really enjoy Late Edition. This is my favorite TV show. I’d appreciate it if you would play more Persian music on Late Edition. It would be nice to have at least one or two Persian songs a week.”
From a viewer in Cypress: “You have a great show and we all follow your programs in Cypress. There is a small Persian community here, and VOA is the most reliable source of news for us. Late Edition has many fans in Cypress. Keep up the good work.”
From a viewer in Spain: “I live in Madrid and I’m one of your fans, and I appreciate your hard work. I have a suggestion for you. I think also talking about Spanish culture would be interesting for most of your audience. For instance, most people think everyone in Spain loves bull fighting. But the reality is that many people, especially young people in Spain, hate it. I think this would be a good story for Late Edition.”
From a viewer in Denmark: “I thank you for inviting successful Iranian artists on Late Edition. This is the best place to introduce young artists to the Persian community all around the world. My son is a music producer and composer in Denmark, and he would love to be on your show. He thinks Late Edition is a cool program.”
From an Iranian viewer named Reza: “I am a long-time viewer of your programs. Comparing your coverage of domestic Iranian news with coverage by other Iranian media (e.g. Radio Farda), I conclude that VOA has very little coverage of Iranian news.”
From a viewer in Shiraz: “Greetings to the head of VOA and all of you who strive to raise the awareness of us Iranians. I’m one of your most loyal viewers. The important point here is that by developing the right kind of programming, you are adding to the size of your audience on a daily basis. I dare to say that you’ve replaced the BBC in all Iranian households. I know for sure that you work hard to improve and enrich your programming. It is in this spirit that I make this suggestion: please have your producers sit down and watch what they produce at the end of the day so that they can improve upon the quality of their programs. Rest assured that most Iranians have chosen VOA instead of the shameful Islamic Republic television to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world, economically, politically and culturally. I hope you continue expanding your programs. Unfortunately some of the soundtracks you use in your shows are very dissonant. Please use music that is more agreeable to the ear.”
From a 25-year-old male in Tehran: “Greetings. I’d like you to forward this e-mail to Mr. Farhoodi and let him know that we love him dearly. We deeply respect his eloquence and sense of decorum. I hope he always remains in good health. This dastardly act of a caller using profanity to disrupt your show is doomed to failure. We all appreciate you and your cultivated mind. We hope to see your pleasant persona on TV every night. I call on VOA officials to take viewer e-mails for now and shy away from telephone calls.”
Viewers inside Iran and from other countries sent us e-mails during our live News and Views show on December 4, bringing to our attention that there was a problem with our audio. PNN notified technical support so the problem could be addressed immediately.
From a woman viewer in Tehran: “[NewTalk] was an excellent program December 4 with your three humanist, interesting guests.”
From a viewer in the United Kingdom: “I watch your programs via the Internet almost every day. They are excellent and your guests on Roundtable and NewsTalk are a pleasure to listen to. My only suggestion is that perhaps the presenters of the programs should not interrupt them so often!”
From a regular viewer of PNN programming: “I have recently noticed that you tend to select your guests mostly from eslah-talab [reformist] tendencies. This became so noticeable that I decided to write to you and let you know. Your previous method of inviting guests with a variety of political views was a lot more interesting and it allowed me as a viewer to get information from various sources. Also, isn’t that what a democratic media should be doing? What I really cannot understand is why would you be leaning so heavily on the eslah-talab crowd when you know that they had plenty of time to prove themselves but failed to do so and even admitted it themselves?! Please give a chance to a variety of political views.”
From another “regular” viewer of PNN programs: “I would love to see Mehra Maleki, contemporary Iranian historian, appear on your programs and to explain the Caspian Sea treaties, among other issues, that I see as vital for Iranian youth who are faced with censorship and who are eager viewers of VOA programs.” [Editor’s note: Ms. Maleki has been a guest on PNN programming several times.]
From a 15-year-old viewer in Karaj: “Shabahang (Late Edition) is one of the best VOA programs and you have many fans in Karaj. Please produce some packages about WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) on Shabahang. It’s a very popular sport in Iran. We love it.”
From an 18-year-old Iranian who lives in Qatar: “I love your program and I’m a big fan. Please play some Persian rap music on Shabahang. This is a very popular genre among Persian teenagers and they love to see Persian rap on your show.”
From a viewer in Tehran: “Thanks for your nice program. My suggestion is to invite well-known immigration lawyers on your show. We would like to have more information on immigration to the US, Canada and even Australia. I also thank you for your movie analysis and music reviews. This is a great segment. I follow this segment carefully and download your recommendations on my PC.”
From a young artist and singer in Iran: “I would like to ask you to talk about underground music in Iran more often on Shabahang. There are many artists like me who work underground in Iran. We criticize the Islamic Republic in our lyrics or music and we expect you to support our work. VOA is a powerful network and your support means a lot to us.”
From an Iranian viewer in Cypress: “Thanks for your program. Keep up the good work. We have opened an exhibition in Cypress about the Islamic Republic’s crimes against the Iranian people. We are making a petition and received more than 1500 signatures by last week. This is a very successful campaign in Cypress and it would be nice if you could cover it somehow. VOA is a popular TV network among Iranians and it would be great publicity for us.”
An Iranian viewer in Dubai wrote: “I think there are three kinds of viewers that make up your audience. One group is made up of people who oppose the Islamic regime in Iran, period, without any doubt. Another group is made up of people who support the regime and are watching VOA only to find mistakes in your work or to call and interfere with your programs. The last group is made up of people who have not yet made up their minds, they’re on the fence. In my opinion, you should target this third group. These people can be very crucial as most are inside the system, and they can reach people who don’t watch you.”