Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – December 17, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included interviews with Ambassador James Jeffrey, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, on US-Iran relations; with State Department Middle East spokesman David Foley on Iran’s nuclear program, sanctions, and Russia’s provision of nuclear fuel; with German parliamentarian Angelika Beer on the visit to Tehran by a European Parliament delegation; with William Wulf, leader of the US scientific team that visited Iran from October 13-22; with Edwin Lyman, an expert on nuclear weapons; with Georgia Institute of Technology professor John Garver on the impact of sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program; and with NIH Director Elias Zerhouni on world health issues; coverage of Secretary Rice’s news conference on US foreign policy achievements in 2007; on Russia delivering its first shipment of fuel to Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power station; on increased hostilities between Turkey and Kurds in northern Iraq; on the worsening political crisis in Lebanon; on President Bush’s planned trip to the Middle East early in January; donors pledging $7.4 billion to Palestine; the continuing crackdown in Iran on Internet users, students, gays, union leaders, minorities and women’s rights activists; and on Yalda celebrations.
In an interview broadcast December 19 on News and Views, Ambassador James Jeffrey, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, said “There is no change in the Bush administration’s policy vis-a-vis Iran following the NIE report. The report is confirmation that the current regime has been a danger and will remain a danger. It is an exact confirmation of what we have been afraid of for years: that Iran had a specific weaponization program. Also, Iranians should know,” he said, “what is going on in their own country and they didn’t know about this. There is still a danger that Iran eventually would choose to develop nuclear weapons. That is our concern and the concern of every nation in the region and every country on the UN Security Council. All options, including military, are on the table,” he continued, “but our goal is to continue to use other forms of pressure – economic and political – to get a change of position.”
David Foley, the State Department spokesman for Middle Eastern affairs, told News and Views December 20 that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany are finalizing the text of a resolution that can then be sent sometime in the next few weeks to the full Security Council for a vote. Mr. Foley said the Bush Administration backs Russia’s decision to supply Iran with its first consignment of nuclear fuel for a civilian power reactor. According to Mr. Foley, President Bush’s argument is that the consignment means Iran has no need to engage in the costly process of enriching its own uranium since it will have access to nuclear fuel from external sources. Mr. Foley cautioned that despite the NIE report released earlier this month, Iran can resume its weapons program at any time. He once again urged Iran’s leadership to accept the incentive package that is on the table and to return to negotiations.
PNN conducted a live interview December 17 with Angelika Beer, a senior European lawmaker and member of the German legislature, who led a delegation of European Parliament members to Iran (December 6-10). In addition to meeting with Iran’s foreign minister and other senior officials, Ms. Beer said the group also talked with women activists, bus drivers and religious minorities (Bahais). She said the European Union is in solidarity with the West and with Israel in fearing a nuclear Iran. Ms. Beer said the human rights situation in Iran has worsened. She also said the European Parliament is still hoping for a diplomatic resolution of the problems with Iran, adding, “We stand by civil society activists and we reiterate the European Parliament’s position on the Mujahedin Khalq as being a terrorist organization.”
News and Views December 21 reported live on the press conference Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held to highlight US foreign policy issues during the past year. In addition to talking about the Koreans, China and Taiwan, and Burma, Secretary Rice also touched on Iran: “With Syria and Iran, we remain open to better relations,” she said, “but they must choose cooperation, not confrontation, with the international community. We will continue in the meantime to step up the pressure behind our diplomacy. And on that effort, we have made progress this year with regards particularly to Iran. We have strengthened international cooperation to pressure Iran to give up its pursuit of a nuclear capability, including through a second UN Security Council sanctions resolution. We are now negotiating, and I believe that we will achieve next year, a third sanctions resolution. We have increased financial pressure against Iranian agencies, banks and front companies that abuse the international financial system, and we have targeted Iran’s provision of lethal support to extremists who attack US and coalition troops and innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
News and Views interviewed Edwin Lyman, an expert on nuclear weapons with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), live on set December 21. Mr. Lyman began by giving a brief description of the UCS, saying the organization is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. According to Mr. Lyman, mastering fuel cycle technology is the most crucial aspect of making a nuclear weapon – while making the bomb itself is not as challenging. “If you can make the fissile material for a bomb, then you’ve done the hard part,” he said. Or as he was quoted in Time Magazine (December 17) as saying, “If you can make fissile material, you can make a warhead.” All proliferation experts, he told PNN, are concerned about nuclear technology being misused for military purposes. For instance, he said, A.Q. Khan’s network [in Pakistan] was implicated in providing Libya the technology it needed to develop a weapons program which was later dismantled. Mr. Lyman said that Iran has not been able to apply sophisticated technology for its centrifuges. “It’s still very rudimentary. Iran claims it is planning to export nuclear fuel in the future, but at this point it doesn’t seem likely as they don’t have the capacity to generate enough for domestic consumption let alone to export.”
In a live interview with News and Views December 18, John Garver, professor of International Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said weak economic sanctions against Iran are not going to be efficient. But China and Russia, he predicted, will both come around on the sanctions issue. Mr. Garver said the West is very skeptical of Iran’s nuclear program, since a country with huge petroleum reserves does not need a nuclear program at such a high cost. “Iran’s economic rationale,” he said, “for pursuing this program is very weak and does not make sense. It is international pressure that led to the cessation of Iran’s weapons program.”
William Wulf, leader of the US scientific team that visited Iran from October 13-22 and the former president of the National Academy of Engineering, told Roundtable with You December 19 “that we have an historic opportunity to continue our work with Iranian colleagues on problems of global importance that will not only advance international science and engineering, but also build trust and respect for one another throughout our societies.” Mr. Wulf said his delegation was treated well, particularly by those under the age of 25 – which is, by some estimates – two-thirds of the country. He said some 1,800 students and faculty packed a conference room designed for 400 people to hear team member Joseph Taylor, a Nobel laureate in physics. “It was like he was a rock star,” Mr. Wulf said. He predicted US-Iran technology collaboration could extend beyond engineering, science and technology. “Our delegation enjoyed the respect and hospitality of Iranians from all walks of life. The discussion between the two groups was straightforward. We did not run into any obfuscation. Our interactions with other Iranians were equally positive.” Don’t forget, he said. “In spite of political differences, Iran and the United States have a history of academic cooperation. Over 60% of Sharif University of Technology’s faculty studied at American institutions.”
Late Edition December 19 looked again at the US scientific team’s trip to Iran from the perspective of three other team members: William Colglazier, Norman Neureiter and Glen Schweitzer. The trip was part of an Iranian-American partnership started in 1999 to promote collaboration between American and Iranian scientists in medicine, engineering and technology. The three spoke about their trip and their plans for the future of the partnership at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. “Iran has a very large science and technology infrastructure,” Late Edition reported them as saying. “It is, probably, the leading science and technology country of the Muslim world. This is a country where people value education and training. They have very good universities where admission is based on competitive exams. In fact, in the leading universities there are more women than men that actually do well on these exams. It’s certainly a crossroads in many ways of the Middle East. Many of the senior leaders of the universities were trained in the US and are quite eager for science and technology re-engagement with scientists in the United States.”
News and Views December 17 reported on Russia delivering its first shipment of fuel to Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power station. Russia’s foreign ministry said the fuel will be under the control and guarantees of the International Atomic Energy Agency for the whole time it is in Iranian territory. Tehran argues that nuclear work at Bushehr and elsewhere is strictly for civilian purposes, but the United States and its Western allies have accused Iran of using the program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. An Israeli delegation is in the United States in an effort to convince US officials that Iran is still developing nuclear weapons – despite the recent National Intelligence Estimate that said Tehran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Russia says Iran has signed a written agreement that the fuel will not be used for purposes other than civilian.
News and Views December 18 said President Bush voiced support for the Russian delivery of nuclear fuel to Iran for the Bushehr power plant, saying “Then the Iranians do not need to learn how to enrich [uranium].” Secretary Rice said Washington had been in contact with Moscow over the matter and that the US has supported the Bushehr project for the past couple of years because of guarantees Russia has put into effect for the non-diversion of the program. She said as long as enriched uranium is outsourced by Iran and is used for civilian purposes, Washington has no problem. Washington will continue, she said, to counter Iran’s negative influences. Later, Secretary Rice arrived in Kirkuk, Iraq, unannounced. She then went to Baghdad to press for national reconciliation. The Pentagon will be delivering a report to the Congress on the situation in Iraq, but Iran’s continued involvement in Iraqi violence is a matter of contention in the report.
News and Views December 17 invited London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh to review recent Iranian developments. He commented on Russia’s announcement that it would provide sufficient uranium to Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant in the next two months for it to start operations. Mr. Nourizadeh said there is no excuse for Iranian authorities not to stop enriching uranium and complying with international demands. He said, “There is no room for Ahmadinejad to call the NIE report a victory for Iran while pressure is mounting for Iran to stop uranium enrichment.” He commented on President Ahmadinejad’s news conference the previous day on the decline of the dollar, inflation and the economic problems facing the country. Mr. Nourizadeh discussed recent changes in Iran’s Interior Ministry, which is responsible for Iran’s forthcoming elections, and talked about the release of two union leaders. “Ebrahim Maddadi, Vice President of the Tehran Transportation Union, and Reza Dehghan, President of the Painters Union, were released after pressure from European labor unions and the international media.”
Energy analyst Bahman Diba told News and Views December 22 that following the release of the National Intelligence Estimate, US policy toward Iran will likely change – in part because of the upcoming presidential election. He said he doesn’t think additional sanctions will be imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council until Iran answers additional questions for the International Atomic Energy Agency, and “that could take as long as one-two months.” Turning to Iraq, Mr. Diba said Iran would like to benefit from a reduced US presence in Iraq. “But a reduction of forces,” he said, “does not mean a change in US control of Iraq.”
News and Views December 17 reported on increased hostilities between Turkey and Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. The Turkish military announced it bombarded the headquarters and other locations of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in and around the Qandil Mountains. Turkey says it has the right to use force to combat separatist rebels who shelter in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq and mount attacks in which they have killed dozens of Turkish troops in recent months. Casualty figures on both sides have been difficult to confirm as neither the Turkish government nor PKK allowed reporters into the area. Turkey claims it acted in cooperation with the United States.
News and Views December 19 talked with Touraj Atabaki, professor of Middle East history at Leiden University in the Netherlands, about the tensions between Turkey and the Kurds. “Washington is in an awkward position,” he said, “as the parties to this conflict are both its allies. And the Bush administration is feverishly working toward some sort of a deal so that the crisis doesn’t get out of hand.” Mr. Atabaki said the ruling party in Ankara is under intense pressure to bring PKK guerrilla warfare to an end. He said, “If the crisis is not resolved soon, there is a great danger of it spilling over and embroiling other countries, including Iran.” The Turkish parliament has authorized military incursions across the border into northern Iraq, but the government in Ankara does not wish to have a full-scale war with its Kurdish neighbors because it would complicate Turkey’s entry into the European Union.
News and Views December 18 interviewed Reza Moeni, a researcher with the Paris-based Reporters without Borders on a crackdown in Iran on Internet cafés. Mr. Moeni said police have closed down 24 Internet cafés and other coffee shops since December 9. Twenty-three people have been detained as a part of this broad crackdown for their so-called “immoral behavior.” This process, Mr. Moeni said, is another indication of severe repression of freedom of speech and limiting the access to internet in Iran.
News and Views reported on the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence accusing a group of detained leftist students – who were arrested during a student gathering earlier this month – of “acting against national security.” The deputy head of the Majlis National Security Committee met with the families of the detained students and said that “almost all of the detainees are students who have not committed any serious crime, but who have committed minor violations and will be punished lightly and accordingly.” The families, however, claim their loved ones are being physically and psychologically tortured while being held at Evin prison in Tehran.
Hossein Alizadeh is Communications Coordinator for the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. He appeared on Late Edition December 21 to talk about homosexuality in Iran. He said people in Iran don’t openly talk about their sexuality and receive little sex education in any case. “There’s a misconception about homosexuality in Iran, and people often refer to it as child abuse. The Islamic code doesn’t accommodate homosexuals in Iran, and if someone is convicted of being a homosexual, the punishment is execution.” Mr. Alizadeh also talked about the psychological impact of such exclusion in a society, saying it can lead to suicide. “All of these things are another example of human rights abuses by the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mr. Alizadeh said.
News and Views December 23 interviewed the Vice President of the International Federation of Human Rights, Abdol Karim Lahidji, about the deteriorating health of imprisoned trade union leader Mahmoud Salehi. Mr. Salehi, former head of the Bakers’ Association of Saghez, was reportedly admitted to the hospital, unconscious, on December 11after repeatedly collapsing in Sanandaj Central Prison during the previous week. Mr. Lahidji said the Islamic Republic of Iran arrests workers, students, journalists and women’s rights activists on unclear charges as well as violates their basic rights while in custody.
News and Views December 23 interviewed lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah who represents three students from Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran. Mr. Dadkhah said the three students – Majid Tavakoli, Ehsan Mansouri and Ahmad Ghassaban – have been cleared by a general court in the capital of charges of “insulting all that is sacred.” He said the judiciary, however, stressed that charges from another case, of agitating public opinion, remain open, and bail was set at 80 million tomans (about $80,000).
News and Views December 23 talked with Fakhteh Zamani, an activist for the Canada-based Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners about increased pressure from authorities. Ms. Zamani said many human rights defenders and their families in the Azerbaijan region of Iran have been summoned and/or arrested, while dozens of Azerbaijani political prisoners are still in custody on unclear charges. They are, she said, not allowed visits with lawyers or family members. She cited as an example the case of Abbas Lesani, an Azerbaijani political prisoner in Ardebil who is to receive 50 lashes before being transferred to a prison in Ahar. He is accused of nationalism, separatism and working against the regime. He says he is guilty only of supporting his people.
News and Views December 23 interviewed Manizhe Gazerani, the wife of Mohsen Hakimi, one of four union activists arrested just over a week ago in Tehran. Security forces arrested Mr. Hakimi, Ebrahim Gohari, Alireza Asgari and Hossein Gholami while their four families were gathered in a park in Tehran. Family members say their loved ones have been accused by the Revolutionary Court of “acting against national security.” Ms. Gazerani told PNN, “Pressure from the security forces is so high that any relationship between worker activists is suspect. My husband has been in prison for nine days and no one will tell me why he was arrested or what he has done.”
Had he been allowed to live, Ali Akbar Saeedi Sirjani would have turned 76-years-old on December 11. He died in captivity in 1992, after having been imprisoned because of his outspoken criticism of the Islamic regime. As a well-known poet, writer, critic and teacher, Mr. Saeedi Sirjani was referred to by his critics as “the home-made Salman Rushdie.” Members of the Iranian community in Los Angeles threw a birthday celebration at the UCLA Faculty Center, and PNN was there. Event co-organizer Sholeh Shams, owner of Rahavard Magazine, told PNN, “It was important to reminiscence about Saeedi Sirjani’s cultural, social and intellectual values as well as the political struggles for which he lost his life.” The PNN package was broadcast December 17. Two days later, Mrs. Sayeh Saeedi Sirjani e-mailed PNN with her thanks for our coverage, saying reaction to program in Iran was “significantly vast and impressive.”
News and Views December 19 reported on the White House announcement that President Bush will visit Israel and the West Bank next month as part of a nine-day Middle East tour in a follow-up to the Annapolis Conference. Mr. Bush’s trip to Israel and the West Bank, starting January 8, will be his first since taking office. He will then travel to Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, returning to Washington on January 16. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Mr. Bush’s visit is meant to encourage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks re-launched last month in Annapolis: “What the President’s role can be is to help encourage them, to help continue to push on those negotiations.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said, “We believe the ongoing establishment of [Israeli] settlements [is a] major impediment [to] the peace process.” Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu said, “If Israel stops its attacks and aggression and closure of the Palestinian lands, this would be exchanged with a Palestinian truce.”
News and Views December 20 interviewed Assistant Deputy Secretary of State for the Near East, Lawrence Butler, to look at progress made – or not made – in Iraq in 2007. Mr. Butler said there was concern at the beginning of the year about the surge and whether it would succeed because of the country’s extreme violence and high casualty rate. “But there were two high points in 2007: the smart application of military resources that purged insurgents from their hold-outs, and the fact that Iraqi politicians are now focused more on politics and governance instead of survival… As Ryan Crocker, the US Ambassador to Baghdad, testified to the Congress in September, there is a revolution going on in Iraq. Now they are trying to find a balance.” Mr. Butler said Iraqis do not want other countries to interfere in their affairs. “Iran has interests and influence all across Iraq,” he said, “and the Iraqis are not pleased with that because it has been deadly.” Mr. Butler said the US would like to see several things happen in 2008: “A finalization of the oil revenue distribution issue, debathification reform and a Kirkuk process that will now be under UN leadership and supervision.”
News and Views December 18 reported that world donors meeting in Paris have pledged $7.4 billion dollars to the Palestinians. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said, “The real winner is the Palestinian state.” The aid pledges surpass the $5.6 billion dollars that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had requested for the next three years. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad thanked the donors for their generosity. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had warned that the conference represented the Palestinian Authority’s last hope to avoid bankruptcy. The United States is pledging $555 million dollars for 2008, while the European Union is promising $650 million dollars for the same period. The militant Hamas group that controls the Gaza strip said it welcomes support for the Palestinian people, but it accused Mr. Abbas of accepting money tied to American and Israeli agendas. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert endorsed the international effort to bolster the Palestinian economy, but said he would not agree to steps that compromise Israel’s security. The donors have said Israel must ease checkpoints and other travel restrictions in the West Bank for the aid to be effective.
News and Views December 20 reported that despite peace talks, Palestinian medical officials said at least four gunmen were killed during an Israeli military operation in the central Gaza Strip Thursday. The Israeli military described the incident as “a routine operation against terrorist threats.” Israeli officials have rejected an offer by the Hamas militant group to discuss a ceasefire in Gaza, with cabinet minister Shaul Mofaz saying the government should consider talking with Hamas through a mediator at the same time Israel’s military should keep striking militants as long as they continue firing rockets from Gaza. And in a longstanding tradition, dozens of people came to the old city of Jerusalem Thursday to collect a free Christmas tree, provided by city authorities.
News and Views December 20 interviewed veteran Lebanese journalist Hesham Melham, Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya news channel, on the worsening political crisis in Lebanon. He said that both pro- and anti-Syrian groups agreed in principle earlier this month to elect General Michel Suleiman as their consensus candidate to succeed Emile Lahoud as president. Mr. Lahoud’s term expired November 23. Mr. Melham said the opposing camps might have found a loophole that would avoid the need to amend the constitution – which is needed for a senior public servant to run. But he said it is unclear if other obstacles have been cleared to ensure that the vote, which already has been delayed eight times, can proceed. The opposing camps have failed to reach a broad political deal despite intense French-led mediation. Mr. Melham said the Hezbollah-led opposition wants guarantees it will have veto power in the next cabinet, adding that Hezbollah doesn’t want to see a powerful president in Lebanon because it doesn’t want its position as a power-broker threatened.
News and Views December 19 covered an address made by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in which he said Afghanistan is not a hideout for terrorism, but a victim of it. He urged the US and its allies to target terrorists outside of Afghanistan, adding that militants are being trained in sanctuaries and centers outside the country. Mr. Karzai’s comments came as Admiral William Fallon, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, began a review of military strategies in the region to ensure that an increase in violence in Afghanistan does not threaten long-term process. More than 6,000 people have died so far this year, in violence related to a growing Taliban insurgency. President Karzai has reached out to Taliban leaders, asking those not involved with al-Qaeda to lay down their weapons and join the government.
News and Views December 23 reported on the visit to Afghanistan by Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, just one day after French and Australian leaders visited the country. The visits came after the US urged its NATO allies to provide more support to Afghanistan. After meeting in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai, Mr. Prodi was to travel to the western city of Herat where the majority of Italy’s more than two-thousand soldiers in Afghanistan are based. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on December both pledged long-term political, economic and military support for the war-torn country. Prime Minister Rudd announced plans to provide Afghanistan with nearly $95 million dollars in economic aid. Taliban militants have increased their attacks over the past two years, despite continued efforts by US and NATO forces to strengthen the government and end the insurgency.
Today’s Woman looked at higher education in Iran and the United States. Topics included classes offered in the US on the Internet, how “virtual” group projects work, the limitations of cyber classrooms – e.g., classes for theatre majors are limited for obvious reasons; how to go about getting admitted to college in the US (from taking SATs to applying to two-year colleges); a discussion on scholarships and how to find them; and the freedom to choose majors according to desire and aptitude. For Iran, topics included a read-out on the Konkoor (nationwide college admission test) and how 60% of participants are women; and how systemic restrictions based on ethnicity, social status and more, make the road to higher education more difficult.
Roundtable with You December 18 looked at world health with NIH Director, Dr. Elias Zerhouni. The Algerian-born physician heads the top US medical research agency with 18,000 employees and a budget exceeding $29 billion. “We are dedicated to improving the health of Americans by conducting and funding medical research at the National Institutes of Health,” he said. “The NIH investigates the causes, treatments and preventive strategies for both common and rare diseases, helping to lead the way toward important medical discoveries that improve people’s health and save lives.” Whether it’s to uncover new knowledge that will help prevent, detect, diagnose or treat a disease, from the common cold or the rarest genetic disorder, Dr. Zerhouni said, “To make change in science, we need to recognize first and foremost that no one knows the answer at the edge of science, and you have to be humble. The second is that no one knows the exact pathway or approach by which the next breakthrough is going to occur. You have to be flexible enough to allow a diversity of approaches.” Dr. Zerhouni invited the audience to explore the wealth of medical research on the NIH web site at www.nih.gov.
Discussion on Today’s Woman December 22 was devoted to eye disease and causes of blindness at different ages. Macular degeneration is a medical condition predominantly found in older adults in which the center of the inner lining of the eye – known as the macula area of the retina – suffers thinning, atrophy and in some cases, bleeding. This can result in loss of central vision, which can make it difficult to see fine details, to read or to recognize faces. Part of the discussion focused on trachoma, or infectious eye disease, which also is the leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide. Newly developed technologies were reviewed, including those used to treat eye disease and sight problems such as LASIK, which has become a multi-million dollar business in Iran.
PNN covered the Yalda celebration of the Iranian Student Group at UCLA on December 21, which marked the ancient Iranian custom of celebrating the winter solstice (or longest night of the year). Students played backgammon and cards, ate pomegranates, watermelon, nuts and pastries, and drank hot tea out of a Samovar – all part of the Yalda tradition. Yassi Chehroudi, president of the ISG said, “Tonight is the night that Iranian students get the chance to come here to enjoy themselves and to understand the cultural aspects of our Yalda celebration. Another UCLA student, Aida, who is the cultural chair of the ISG, said “Setting up these events – Shabeh Yalda, Norooz, Chaharshanbeh Souri, Sizdah Bedar, Mehregan – our goal is to get to know one another and to spread Iranian culture among not only Iranians, but non-Iranians as well.” Aida’s mother provided food and backgammon games for the event. “I feel very happy,” she said, “when I see Iranian youths gathering together, celebrating and experiencing the old traditions far from home.”
Today’s Woman December 21devoted itself to the traditions of Yalda in a discussion with Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, director of the Center for Iranian Studies at the University of Maryland. Mr. Hakkak looked into the background of Yalda in Iranian culture, the reasons why specific fresh fruits are served on Yalda and whether people can still afford fruits such as watermelons and pomegranates when they are priced so high this season. Mr. Hakkak said, “The word Yalda is derived from a Syriac term signifying ‘birth.’ Following the fall of the Sassanid Empire and the subsequent rise of Islam, the religious significance of the event was lost, and like all the other Zoroastrian festivals, Yalda became merely a social occasion when family and close friends would get together. Iranians still celebrate Yalda around the world, although Iranian authorities don’t include Yalda in the Persian calendar and they don’t encourage its celebration.
Today’s Woman December 19 focused on women sports in Iran, starting with women’s soccer and the Iranian national women’s team resuming training in preparation for the Asian Games. Panelists talked about the film Bend it like Beckham, which tells the story of an Indian woman soccer player in England. They also talked about parents, and their reaction to daughters who decide to participate in sports traditionally considered to be “male” sports. Discussion also touched on fencing, which has become more popular for women in Iran, with a review of the film Empire of Evil, which addresses women fencers and their problems, as well as an update on Montazeran, the only Iranian woman to have won a gold medal in fencing.
Roundtable with You December 21 interviewed Dariush Eghbali, a renowned Iranian singer, who is best known for his ballads and political songs, also is a social activist who directs a recovery center for substance abuse called the Ayeneh Foundation. “We have to understand the true meaning of democracy. No one has the right to abuse the law,” he said. “ Respect for the law is the most important duty and responsibility of a citizen.” Mr. Eghbali discussed his own past addiction problems, saying it is vital to acknowledge one’s mistakes if one wants to recover. Through his web site (www.ayeneh.org), Mr. Eghbali has created a vast recovery network, mostly with former addicts in 36 Iranian cities who combat addiction together. “This network has saved so many lives,” he said. “And it has created a harmony and solidarity among people. I do not belong to any political party and follow no particular ideology. I work for everyone and for all people who are in search of freedom and a better life. I look forward to seeing a free and democratic Iran, to the day when all people, regardless of their political views, work together harmoniously in a democratic state.”
Late Edition December 22 talked with Iranian-American playwright and director Zia Mojabi, best known for his films Dark World and Woman on Fire. He is currently working on a documentary that focuses on the life and times of Howard Conklin Baskerville, using Iran’s political scene as the backdrop. “Howard Baskerville was a very interesting person,” Mr. Mojabi said. “He traveled to Iran as an American Presbyterian missionary and teacher in the late 18th century. He arrived amidst a major political upheaval in Iran, the Constitutional Revolution, where the people were demanding freedom and liberty. He became a revolutionary commander in Tabriz and fought against the king’s army to break the siege of the city. He died in the battle and Iranian freedom fighters looked to him as a hero and martyr. His death had a huge impact among Iranians and they defeated the king’s army to end his dictatorship.” Mr. Mojabi interviewed a number of Howard Baskerville’s relatives in Nebraska and he collected some century-old footage to produce the documentary.
Today’s Woman December 20 was devoted to the portrait of women in Iran, with an opening discussion with dancer and artist Roya Moghadas. She spoke about her dancing experience and how she developed as a performer on stage, moving from ballet to classic Iranian dance. Unlike many Iranian parents, her parents supported her dancing despite all barriers against such endeavors, in part, she said because of her mother’s work as a violinist prior to the Islamic Revolution. Ms. Moghadas said dancing builds spiritual harmony and can help one relax. She encouraged women in Iran to “break the same barriers I broke, and express yourself as a dancer or a poet or an artist.” Ms. Moghadas also talked about her performances at charity shows, raising money, for instance, for victims of the Bam earthquake.
Today’s Woman December 19 looked at women in art in an interview with Shahla Arbabi, an Iranian artist now based in the US. Ms. Arbabi currently has an exhibit at the Arlington Center, near Washington, DC. She spoke about her background in art, starting with classical arts and changing her style to one that is more modern and abstract. Ms. Arbabi began painting at the age of nine and went on to study at Tehran’s School of Fine Arts from 1961 to 1965. She then spent four years at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome before returning home to teach art at the University of Tehran in the late ‘60s and early ’70s.
Late Edition December 23 looked at popular online video game sites with PNN web desk staffer Massud Alemi. He said the number of teens and young people who go online has increased by 24% in the last four years. A sizable portion of their time is spent playing games, whether alone or with others. He said two online game sites in Iran are www.gamesara.com, which claims to be the biggest portal for selling computer games, and www.yahoo.com, which is the most visited – and sophisticated – website in the world. He said Gamesara has official certification from the Iranian government, but in front of each item on the site, it says, “Sold Out.” He advised viewers not to trust a web site unless it has an “About Us” section.
Roundtable with You December 20 focused on Internet filtering – again, with PNN web specialist Massud Alemi, who answered viewers’ questions. Topics included the way data packets move from clients onto the Internet, software and hardware, and IP addressing (including the binary code). Mr. Alemi used a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate his answers. Viewers wanted to know about the security of e-mails and ways of circumventing filtering. Viewers were told that VOA is looking into using new technologies to improve current efforts at circumventing filtering.
Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about Iran’s human rights record and its being condemned for human rights violations by the United Nations; the inflation rate in Iran hitting 30 percent; economic reforms in Turkey beginning to bear fruit; Iraq’s Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani, refusing to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Baghdad because of his anger at the US for “cooperating” with Turkey in Iraqi-Turkish tensions; Syria’s opposition to the UN creating an international court to try suspects in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri; Arab concerns about Iranian meddling in Lebanese politics; the condemnation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments about the Holocaust by Abdullah Nasseri, the former director of IRNA [the Islamic Republic News Agency]; Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s trip to Qatar and his comments about Iran’s “overplaying its hand” in the region; the Paris donors conference and Palestine getting a pledge in excess of $7 billion dollars; whether increased Iranian-Turkish cooperation will impact US-Turkish relations; Russia delivering nuclear fuel to Iran; chances that the Arak reactor probably intends to produce plutonium; Russia asking Iran to suspend uranium enrichment; British forces leaving Basra; a threat on Pope Benedict’s life; differences between capital punishment in Iran and the US; Iran ranking second in the world in its number of executions and first in executing youths under the age of 18; an EU delegation’s report on Iran saying its Islamic leadership feels threatened by activists, making human rights violations worse now than they were two years ago; and the likelihood of women’s rights being further restricted in Iran.
This week’s History Channel segments included features on ancient Egypt, China and Greece as well as a profile of tennis legend Pete Sampras. The first feature looked at iconic structures such as the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, which push the architectural envelope, but whose roots go back over 5,000 years to ancient Egypt where the ingenuity of ancient Egyptian builders offers up some modern day answers to some very old mysteries. The second looked at modern ship building and how maritime expertise evolved from Greece where some of the field’s most ingenious devices were developed: how to pump water out of a ship’s hold and the principle of buoyancy. The third examined the personal weapon and how the ancient Chinese repeating crossbow was a clear precursor to the machine gun and how the Chinese invented weapons that rivaled the European cannon 1,000 years earlier. A fourth segment looked at modern medicine – including surgeries, amputations, prescription medicine, fertility and contraception and dream analysis – and how all of these things were actually introduced by the ancient Egyptians more than 5,000 years ago. And finally, the last segment profiled Pete Sampras, who became the youngest men’s tennis champion at the US Open at the age of 19 in 1990. Before retiring in 2002, Sampras would win 11 Grand Slams and be tied for the longest stint as the world’s #1 player.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – answered several viewers question, the first on why PNN allowed crank calls to go on the air. “This was unfortunate,” Mr. Mahmoudi said. “Those who called and used profane language were either ignorant or assigned to call and insult Iranian families. This problem has been solved and we now have a delay system in place to prevent such profanity from being broadcast.” Another viewer asked why PNN doesn’t televise any news from the Mojahedin Khalgh Organization. Mr. Mahmoudi said, “PNN doesn’t broadcast or not broadcast news based on people’s political affiliations.” He said, however, that the US government (State Department) acknowledges the organization is problematic (the State Department lists the MEK as a terrorist organization). “We will study this matter further,” he added. A third viewer said he understood that VOA/PNN doesn’t get involved in debates or discussions about people’s religious beliefs. “If that’s the case, then why do some of your journalists and experts speak about Mullahs in Iran in the same breath as human rights issues?” Mr. Mahmoudi said there is a difference between religious beliefs and those who commit atrocities against innocent people in the name of God. “Though PNN does not put itself in a position to discuss religious beliefs, our participants and/or our guests do talk about politicians and administrators in Iran – whether or not they wear a turban.
PNN’s question of the week was, “Is the administration of President Ahmadinejad responsible for the worsening housing crisis in Iran?
Out of 6, 503 respondents, 86% said yes, 11% said no, while 3% did not know.
A December 18 article at www.mianeh.net said satellite television in Iran is thriving, with at least one-third of all Iranians – at least 23 million people – able to watch satellite television, even though it has been outlawed the past 14 years. This figure, cited in the course of a speech to Muslim clerics, shows that satellite TV is reaching a far wider audience in Iran than was previously thought.” Author Hengameh Hosseinpour then writes, “Voice of America… has won its audience share because of its high-quality programming and because there is no alternative independent source of Persian-language TV news. Its directors claim it has ten million viewers daily. Even if this figure is exaggerated, there is little doubt that the Voice of America channel is one of the most important daily sources of news for millions of Iranians. The network’s emphasis on human rights, ethnic issues and the student movement, along with its criticism of the Iranian authorities, has made it especially popular among the more radical population groups such as student activists. ‘Nearly all my classmates follow the news on universities and students through Voice of America,’ Hossein, a civil engineering student at the University of Tehran, told Mianeh. Afsaneh, a female student from Hamedan University, in the northeast of Iran, said that while the news broadcast by the channel is biased, it has no competitors. The popularity of VOA is likely to have been one of the factors that prompted the BBC to launch its own Persian news channel.”
Editor’s Note: Correction
In our Highlights report for December 17-23, we reported that PNN’s stringer in Rome covered a conference on “Fighting for Democracy in the Islamic World.” We also said that one of the conference speakers, Amir Abbas Fakhravar, later talked about the conference on NewsTalk. In actuality, PNN contributor Ahmed Rafat, who is based in Rome, attended the conference and heard Mr. Fakhravar speak. Mr. Rafat was a panelist on NewsTalk several days later and mentioned attending the conference and hearing Mr. Fakhravar’s remarks.
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 PNN/VOA fan in Iran: “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thank you for VOA’s programs this year. Let’s [have more of the same] next year!”
From a young woman in Iran: “Hi! Would u put my email address on your proxy list! Thanx!”
From a viewer in Tehran: “Greetings to you all at Voice of America. I am happy I have the chance and opportunity to follow your programs, especially Today’s Woman and NewsTalk. Your programs contain the real meaning of democracy because people can express their different views. In Iran, we do not have a free media. We cannot express ourselves. The regime kills [its] opponents’ voices. Be assured that many people watch your program. If possible, please have more exile success stories on your programs. By doing this you will show that the regime has failed to create opportunities in our country for our scientists and researchers, so they had to leave the county. This brain drain encompasses many fields in our society, including cultural, economic, scientific, etc. Thank you.”
From another viewer in Tehran: “Please accept my warmest greetings. Thank you for your great program. I would say that in Tehran, almost everybody watches [Today’s Woman]. Sometimes, when people are not at home while you are on air, they ask a family member to record it so they can watch it later. Having said that, I have one complaint: Why did you not ask my question, which I sent to you 20 minutes after the program started?”
From a viewer in Masjed Suleiman, a city located in Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran: “The forgotten city of Masjed Suleiman is nowadays in a dire situation. Poverty, addiction and unemployment have torn my city. As the 100th anniversary of drilling the first oil well in the Middle East approaches, I wonder if the Islamic Republic authorities could contemplate a way to revive Masjed Suleiman.” [Editor’s Note: Iran’s first oil well was drilled in Masjed Suleiman in 1908. The oil-rich city thrived before the 1979 revolution, but the Iran-Iraq War deeply impacted the city, and the wounds of war never healed.]
From a woman in the northwestern city of Ardabil: “I would like to thank you for your news and reports last month on human rights and political prisoners in Azerbaijan province.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Hello to you all at Voice of America and specifically to you at Today’s Woman. In the program, you talk about women and their issues under totalitarian rule. In my point of view, under this type of rule, not only are women’s rights violated, but so are the rights of all of the people. We are living in a prison – a prison as big as the entire country.”
From a 19-year-old student in Iran: “I just want to say that I hope someday rationalism and democracy will replace backwardness in our country.”
From a viewer in Kermanshah province: “In the city of Gahvareh, a young man, who had a relationship with a girl, asks the girl’s family for their daughter’s hand. After he was rejected and the girl was married to another man, he distributed a video from his intimate moments with the girl. The girl’s family burned their daughter alive to ‘defend their honor.’ Many families show sympathy with this kind of punishment. Please analyze this kind of Middle Eastern barbarism and if you agree with me (that this is barbarism), condemn it.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Recently, the US government has changed its policy toward Iran and it seems the military option is no longer an option. The US government knows very well that the two rival groups in Iran are fighting each other in such a way that there is no need for any foreign intervention anymore. The two groups are tearing each other apart and soon will make history of themselves. [When that comes to pass], the Iranian people, as well as the international community, will be relieved and trouble free.”
From a viewer in Kurdistan: “I want to thank you for your good programs about Kazem Darabi. While the American and British soldiers are after the terrorists in the mountains and alleys of Iraq and Afghanistan, the German government has a terrorist at hand and releases him. I am really sorry for the German government.” [Editor’s Note: Darabi was convicted for his role in the 1992 murder in a Berlin restaurant of four Kurdish opposition leaders, including Sadegh Sharafkandi, General Secretary of the DPIK. Mr. Darabi arrived in Tehran December 11 after spending 15 years in a German prison.]
From a male viewer in Iran: “My family and I watch Today’s Woman every night. Please have a segment on the Bahai religion because in Iran there is a death penalty if you convert to Bahaism.”
From a viewer in Iran: “While most items in Iran have high prices, the high price of books – due to the high cost of paper – is a major problem for students. Some government officials who claim they are the defenders of culture and science, state that the percentage of book readers in Iran is low. There isn’t anyone to say to these officials that with low salaries and high prices, even for groceries, how can anyone expect people to afford books?”
From a male viewer in Iran: “[Former President] Ayatollah [Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani says the man with the best political reputation in the world is [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini, [the man who led Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and served as country’s Supreme Leader until his death 10 years later.] However, Mr. Rafsanjani ignores leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, [Mahatma] Gandhi and [former Iranian Prime Minister] Mohammed Mossadegh. These men weren’t out to better their own lives. Instead they tried to make better lives for the people of their nations. And they were always truthful. Mr. Rafsanjani calls someone who ignored economics and made empty promises as the man with the best reputation in politics? Those who ride a high horse should beware of taking a great fall.”
From Hossein Alizadeh, Communications Coordinator for the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission: “Thank you so very much for having me on the show [Late Edition, December 21]. It was a great program and you asked wonderful questions. I hope the segment creates more awareness in your audience about sexual rights. Have a wonderful new year and happy holidays.”
From Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Director, The Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, Center for Persian Studies, University of Maryland: “Thanks for hosting me on your show today [Today’s Woman, December 21]. I enjoyed being your guest and I loved the intimate, informal tone your program has established for itself.”
From a male viewer in Iran: “VOA had a good program about Iranian refugees and their problems in countries like Turkey. However, please picture two million people – mostly young people – who want to become refugees. They can provide a good work force for Europe, the USA and other countries, and it is cheaper to accommodate refugees than it is to pay for support carriers and battle ships in the Persian Gulf (or Arabian Gulf or Basra Gulf, depending on your point of view). Please find a way, because [with the cold war over], we need a new way for people to gain refuge in the free world.”
From another male viewer in Iran: “I think your programs are helpful and are well established among many Iranian families. VOA is seriously recognized now as an objective news-analysis media. Soon, along with Radio Farda, VOA will fill the vacuum of BBC radio, which has lost its previous status. As an Iranian who is familiar with domestic and foreign media, and is following Iranian and global political and cultural events on a daily basis, I give a very good rating to VOA, with its roundtable discussions, news and even history programs about influential people such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln...is effective in increasing the level of knowledge in your Farsi speaking audience.”
One young viewer in Iran wanted advice: “I went to the Embassy of France this morning and asked for an appointment, but was told to come back in two weeks. I don’t have a passport because I haven’t yet finished my [compulsory] military service – so I don’t have a passport and cannot request a visa. I don’t know how to leave the country. I don’t know what to do now.”
From a fan of Late Edition host Luna Shadzi: “What a great show you had tonight. It was so good that it made me e-mail you again and give you back the energy you gave me.”
From a young viewer in Iran: “Thanks to the Late Edition team, with a special thanks to Mrs. SHAD [anchor Luna Shadzi] and especially the excellent performance of [New York arts and entertainment correspondent] Behnam Nateghi.”