Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – May 12, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included continuing efforts to pressure Iran to comply with UN resolutions on its nuclear program; a devastating cyclone in Burma; the worst sectarian violence in Lebanon in nearly 20 years; Democratic presidential primaries in North Carolina and Indiana; ongoing violence in Baghdad; and US efforts to advance troubled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. News and Views had a series on Iran’s nuclear program, with interviews including Ambassador Greg Schulte, US Permanent Representative to the IAEA; Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative at the New America Foundation; Jackie Shire, Senior Analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security; and Scott Kemp, a physicist and political scientist whose research focuses on gas centrifuge proliferation. Other VOA interviews this week were conducted with Lebanese Culture Minister Tariq Metri on the deteriorating situation in Lebanon; with State Department Middle East spokesman David Foley on the visit to Iran by an Iraqi parliamentary delegation; with veteran diplomat James Dobbins on US-Iran relations; with actress Angelica Huston, Human Rights Action Center founder Jack Healey and Sweden’s UN Ambassador Anders Liden on emergency aid for Burma; with one of the world’s most successful and beloved insurance agents, Mehdi Fakharzadeh, a senior executive with MetLife; with filmmaker Rahman Milani on his debut feature, Seahorses; with Nasim Daneshvar, the chief editor of a new Toronto-based women’s magazine called Banou; with exiled Iranian filmmaker Basir Nasibi on the regime’s all-encompassing censorship of film; and with publisher and editor Farkhonde Hajizade on the Tehran International Book Fair.
News and Views May 7 reported that Burma has approved a United Nations aid flight to help victims of last Saturday’s devastating cyclone as supplies begin to trickle into the tightly-controlled country. Approval for the flight comes five days after Cyclone Nargis paved a path of death and destruction across the southern tip of the country, killing nearly 23,000 people and leaving more than 42,000 others missing. UN officials say the flight is expected to leave Italy today (Wednesday) with 25 tons of aid and officials from the world body's relief agency (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Military-ruled Burma has welcomed international relief efforts, but some aid workers are still waiting for visas to gain entry to the country and help provide humanitarian assistance. The UN World Food Program says as many as one million people may have been left homeless with some villages almost completely destroyed.
News and Views May 6 reported on the mushrooming death toll from May 3’s devastating cyclone in Burma. International agencies are sending emergency aid as the number of dead has reached more than 15,000 and is expected to rise further as information comes in from hard-to-reach areas. Another 30,000 people are reported missing. Officials say Cyclone Nargis has left hundreds of thousands homeless and has created a severe shortage of food and potable water. The first planeload of foreign aid arrived in Rangoon May 7 from Thailand. More is expected to follow. Reclusive Burma has shunned international aid in the past, but amid this disaster, the country has told foreign officials and aid organizations it will accept their help. Since the storm hit, prices of food and fuel have risen dramatically. Witnesses in Burma say anger is building among residents who are complaining about the country’s military rulers’ slow response to the disaster.
News and Views May 10 talked with Academy Award-winning actress Angelica Huston, who also is a human rights activist who has worked to help free Nobel laureate and Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. In an interview conducted at the United Nations, Ms. Huston said that the government of Burma should let international aid reach the people who need it. She said she has never met Aung Sun Suu Kyi, but feels a strong bond with her. [Editor’s Note: Ms. Suu Kyi is still under house arrest though the cyclone reportedly blew off the roof of her home.] Ms. Huston said she learned her moral code from her father, legendary film director John Huston, and got involved in human rights issues because of him and because of Jack Healey, founder of the Human Rights Action Center who was director of Amnesty International for 13 years. VOA/PNN also talked with Mr. Healey, who said the United Nations can do more. “The UN should be the voice of the hundreds of thousands of people in jeopardy in Burma. The world should put pressure on China as well, so the Burmese generals will let emergency aid reach the people.” Sweden’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Anders Liden, told VOA/PNN that the Burmese government is suspicious of the West. He said Burma’s leaders fear the West is after regime change, and that is why they are denying visas to aid workers. Ambassador Liden also said that, perhaps, they simply don’t know how to handle the situation.
News and Views May 10 interviewed Lebanese Culture Minister Tariq Metri on the deteriorating situation in Lebanon. He said he is worried the violence will turn into a civil war and that people will take to the streets, armed. Mr. Metri said he hopes this is not a coup by Hezbollah, but added that the way Hezbollah militants are taking up arms against Lebanese citizens is contrary to their pledge to use arms to defend Lebanon against Israel – not against the Lebanese people. Mr. Metro said, “Dialogue is the only way out of this deep, deep crisis, but there is no ongoing negotiation between the government and Hezbollah.” He said Prime Minister Fouad Siniora – who also is speaker of the Lebanese parliament and head of the Amal movement – cannot be an impartial mediator since Amal has participated in the violence. Sweden’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Anders Liden, who lived in Lebanon during the civil war, said Lebanon’s neighbors should stop their negative interference in Lebanon. He, too, expressed deep concern that the crisis might lead to another civil war. At least 29 people have been killed and scores wounded in gun battles since May 7 in the worst sectarian bloodshed since Lebanon’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990.
News and Views May 9 interviewed the former Washington bureau chief of Al Hayat newspaper, Salameh Nemat, a veteran Middle East watcher, on the Lebanese crisis. He said, “The situation is Lebanon is very explosive, and could lead to a full-scale civil war. Hezbollah has operated with impunity in trying to operate a parallel government with its own communication and intelligence service.” He said the takeover of west Beirut was a dramatic display of Hezbollah’s military might and capacity to impose its will against the government of pro-Western Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Mr. Nemat added that Iran has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a power base in Lebanon through its proxy: Hezbollah. He said Iran is anxious to extend its influence beyond Lebanon and become a major regional power. “Iran is now using the windfall from soaring oil revenues to buy more influence.” Mr. Nemat dismissed Tehran’s claims that Israel and the United States are to blame for the flare-up of violence in Lebanon. “How could Tehran make such a claim when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah himself called for undermining law and order?” He didn’t hold out much hope that the Arab League could do much, saying it has been ineffective in bringing peace and stability to Lebanon in the past.
News and Views May 11 reported that Lebanese security officials say heavy clashes erupted overnight in northern Lebanon between pro-government and anti-government forces, while the capital, Beirut, remained calm. Fighting in the port city of Tripoli was between Sunni supporters of the Western-backed government, and (Alawite) allies of the Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah. At least one person was killed, bringing Lebanon’s death toll in five days of clashes to 38. Meanwhile, security is tight in Beirut after Hezbollah fighters pulled back from areas they had seized, easing the worst sectarian violence to hit Lebanon since its 15-year civil war. The 22-member Arab League is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting in Cairo today on the Lebanese crisis. Speaking at a news conference in Tehran, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson accused Israel and United States of being behind the crisis in Lebanon, saying that they had applied all their efforts to incite discord among Lebanese parties.
News and Views May 6 interviewed Ambassador Greg Schulte, US Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, live from Vienna on the latest developments between the UN nuclear watchdog and Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Mr. Schulte said Iran does not need to enrich uranium. “Most countries that have nuclear power don’t enrich their own uranium. It doesn’t make sense. It is a shame that the leadership of Iran is acting with such a determination to defy the will of the international community and has decided to ramp up its uranium enrichment activity. This will definitely have a negative effect on foreign business willing to be trading partners with Iran and the people of Iran will pay a heavy price for the irresponsible behavior of their leaders.” Mr. Schulte said he could not disclose what was contained in the new package of incentives that was being offered to Iran, but noted that a very generous offer that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany made to Iran was rebuffed. This incentive package would have given Iran enough fuel for its reactors without giving it access to the technology to divert the nuclear fuel for military purposes. “It’s my sincere hope that the leadership of Iran thinks seriously about this offer because if it’s turned down again, it will face further isolation,” he added. He said the US will be looking for three things when the Director-General of the IAEA provides its report at the end of May. First is if “Iran has fully explained its past activities. There is real concern about what the IAEA experts have obtained.” Second, he said, is that “Iran has engaged in weaponization work. Is Iran ready to give the Agency full transparency into its current activities?” And third, “Has it fully and verifiably suspended uranium enrichment?” Mr. Schulte said this will allow for negotiations on the offer given to Iran by the UN Security Council and will allow the Security Council to suspend sanctions against Iran. “I hope Iran’s leaders will consider this offer,” Ambassador Schulte concluded.
News and Views May 9 interviewed two nuclear proliferation experts on Iran’s new generation of centrifuges. Jackie Shire, a Senior Analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security; said that Iran, according to the latest IAEA report, is operating 3,000 centrifuges. But she said, “We don’t know about their level of effectiveness and efficiency right now.” She said the IAEA can conduct snap inspections even without the additional protocol. “The IAEA can confirm that there has been no diversion to military uses from declared nuclear sites – but not from sites that have not been declared by Iranian officials.” She said, “The additional protocol is a very important tool in the toolbox that is available to the IAEA to make sure that Iran abides by its international obligations.” Scott Kemp, a physicist and political scientist whose research focuses on gas centrifuge proliferation, said the IAEA has been taking environmental samples to ensure that these machines are enriching uranium at a four percent level, which is required for nuclear energy, and not at the 90 percent level, which is what you need to build an atomic bomb. “The only way to make sure Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful,” he said, “is for Iran to conduct its activities with utmost transparency and abide by its international obligations.”
News and Views May 11 interviewed Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative at the New America Foundation about Iran showcasing its next-generation centrifuges during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Natanz, Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility. Mr. Lewis said that Iran has innovated quite a bit in producing a replica of P2 centrifuges. These new machines are called IR-2 and are designed to enrich uranium at a higher speed. Referring to the fact that Iran’s Defense and Intelligence Ministers accompanied the Iranian president to Natanz, he said, “I think this was bad public relations given that Iranian officials always insist on their program being of a peaceful nature. It runs contrary to their public diplomatic stand. Their presence has a lot to do with domestic politics in Iran. Iranian politicians want to associate themselves with this technology to bolster their positions.” Mr. Lewis said President Ahmadinejad’s predecessors’ visits to Natanz were low-key affairs. But he said Mr. Ahmadinejad wants to show the world that these new centrifuges are symbols of Iran’s power and modernity. Mr. Lewis added that Iran’s nuclear enrichment activity is closely watched by the IAEA through many cameras installed at the facility, but without the additional protocol that Iran has decided not to abide by, the IAEA does not have access to other areas where nuclear work can be conducted away from the prying eyes of IAEA inspectors.
News and Views May 8 reported on the arrival of Sung Kim, the State Department’s top Korea expert in Pyongyang for another round of talks aimed at convincing the isolated regime to fully declare is nuclear activities. He is hoping to resolve a dispute over Pyongyang’s failure to meet a December 31st deadline to reveal all of its nuclear activities under a six-nation agreement. Separately, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is on a tour of Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing to discuss bilateral and regional issues as well as the push to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. In Seoul, Mr. Negroponte told reporters that Mr. Kim’s visit is part of an ongoing process, linked to six-party talks on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
News and Views May 8 reported that Mohamed El-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, met in Brussels on May 7 with Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme. Mr. El-Baradei said he has a team in Iran to discuss Tehran’s alleged nuclear weaponization program. He said the more transparency on the part of Iran, the more assurance he will be able to give to the international community. US and European officials said senior envoys from five of the six nations bargaining with Iran over its disputed nuclear program – Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany – may try to get talks moving by making a special face-to-face appeal. The officials said only the United States would sit out the diplomatic trip. It was not clear whether the envoys would travel to Tehran or deliver the offer elsewhere. Diplomats have told The Associated Press that the Islamic republic sought direct contacts with at least some of the six world powers after years of inconclusive negotiations on the nuclear issue with their representative, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
News and Views May 6 interviewed the spokesman for the State Department’s Near East Bureau, David Foley, about an Iraqi parliamentary delegation’s visit to Iran. The delegation went to Tehran to present evidence of the West’s allegations that Iran is assisting Shi’ite extremists in Iraq. Afterward, delegates described the talks as positive, though Iran admitted to nothing. Mr. Foley said other delegates described the talks as successful while others called them only a beginning. “The Iraqi officials were surprised to see the evidence and information on Iran’s meddling, and now know better that [Iran is] arming those elements that are causing the deaths of the Iraqi people. The US army does not attack Iraqi people. The multinational force in Iraq fights the insurgents. It has been the Iranian government,” he asserted, “that has been controlling certain radical groups. And now we hear them saying the US is killing people.” Mr. Foley said this new comment is in contradiction with what Iran has previously said. “Iran must cease its nefarious support of the criminal groups and show that it can play a constructive role. It must stop supporting those who are attacking innocent people, not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan and elsewhere.” Mr. Foley said Iran needs to abide by what the EU, the West and the entire international community is asking of it – to comply with UN resolutions regarding its nuclear program.
News and Views May 5 reported that Iran has again ruled out halting its disputed nuclear activities, saying it will reject any incentives offered by world powers that violate the Islamic Republic's right to nuclear enrichment. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said that the Iranian government will not consider any proposals that would limit Tehran’s access to atomic technology. Mr. Hosseini’s remarks followed Friday’s announcement that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany had agreed to new incentives intended to persuade Iran to halt its enrichment programs as well as a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday that Iranian enrichment would have to be suspended during any talks.
News and Views May 6 reported that US and Russian officials say the two countries will sign a civilian nuclear cooperation pact in Moscow later in the day – the last full day of Vladimir Putin’s presidency. The agreement will allow the United States and Russia to widen cooperation in various areas, including a uranium bank and the storage of nuclear materials. The pact also calls for the two nations to work together on safe reactor technology.
Roundtable with You May 7 focused on the US presidential primaries in North Carolina and Indiana, which brought Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton further along in their marathon race for the Democratic nomination. VOA’s senior political correspondent Jim Malone, who is a veteran at covering US presidential races, explained why the race this year is unique and historical. He said the fact that a woman and a black man are competing for the highest position in the country – one of the most powerful in the world – gives the story an extra dimension. Roundtable also talked live with VOA/PNN correspondent Siamak Dehghanpour, who was in Indianapolis to provide coverage of the race. He talked about how North Carolina and Indiana became so important because of their spot on the primary calendar and provided demographics on the states’ urban and rural populations, and how this influenced the results. Senator Obama won North Carolina with a decisive victory while Senator Clinton won Indiana in a very close race. Mr. Dehghanpour also pointed out that while the media’s attention is on the Obama and Clinton campaigns, the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain is traveling and talking without the glare of 24/7 coverage.
VOA/PNN’s Congressional Correspondent Siamak Dehghanpour interviewed Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in Indiana on May 6. Mr. McAuliffe said, “We are going to win in Indiana tonight. Hillary was down by 15 points here. She worked this state day in and day out and got her message out. This is a very important state for us and I feel comfortable about it.” Mr. McAuliffe said neither Senator Obama nor Senator Clinton can win without the endorsement of superdelegates. He also said the votes from Michigan and Florida need to be counted – something Democratic Party leaders are still debating because of both states flouting the proscribed election calendar. Mr. McAuliffe said the superdelegates need to reflect on which candidate can beat Senator John McCain in the general election. He says that candidate is Hillary Clinton. “We have three [more] weeks of primaries and the [uncommitted] superdelegates will make up their mind within a week. This is very good for the Democrats. We are getting record voter turnouts. Indiana has not mattered in 40 years. [No matter who wins] we all will come together at the end.”
In his reports on Indiana, Mr. Dahghanpour talked with Daniel Parker, Chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party and a Clinton supporter: “This is the first time a lot of people in Indiana have actually seen presidential candidates. This is a good thing for democracy, for the state, and for the country….We need someone in the White House who is a fighter for working class folks. Cordelia Lewis Burks, Vice Chair of Indiana’s Democratic Party, is an Obama supporter: “If he has the most votes, the most delegates, and the most states it just stands to reason that he would be the nominee… Barack Obama has won states that the Democratic Party has not carried in years. Doesn’t that say something about his ability to win the general election? I think it does.” In his reports on North Carolina, Mr. Dahghanpour talked with Representative Melvin Watt, former Chairman of the Black Caucus, and a supporter of Senator Obama: “The nominee is going to be Barack Obama….I think this is going to be over well before the convention starts….White voters are concerned about same thing Blacks are…. Obama has made a commitment to put every state in play in November… North Carolina is a winnable state.”
News and Views May 8 reported that after a seven-year legal battle, Britain’s Court of Appeals has ruled that the British government was wrong to include an Iranian resistance group, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, on its list of banned terrorist groups. In a phone interview with VOA/PNN, Alireza Jafarzadeh, former spokesman of the National Iranian Resistance Council, hailed the decision and said it is significant because the British government has always been the prime mover behind the blacklisting of Mujahedeen Khalq in Europe. Mr. Jafarzadeh said this decision by the British court removes the basis for blacklisting the MEK in other European countries. He expressed hope that the ruling also will entice US officials to remove the MEK from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The program host noted that until now, American officials have not given any hint that such a move is in the offing, and that the MEK remains blacklisted in the United States.
VOA/PNN May 7 interviewed the spokeswoman of the World Food Program, Bettina Luescher, on the world’s current food crisis – a “silent tsunami” that has affected five continents, especially their poorest citizens. Ms. Luescher said the urgency for the United Nations is to prevent food rationing in countries that depend on food distribution by the UN. She said the usage of agricultural products such as corn for fuel “biofuel,” the rapid rise in gas and food prices, and climate change are a few of the elements that have led to this food crisis. The owner of Kalustyan’s specialty food store in Manhattan, which imports from more than 65 countries, told VOA/PNN that the price of rice and flour has almost tripled in the past six months. Aziz Othmani said that people are buying and consuming less and that his profit margin has declined. Ms. Luescher said that aside from the urgent need for $755 million, the UN recommends mid-term and long-term plans to prevent more people from suffering from hunger and starvation. She said the difference between Western countries and developing countries is that in the West there is a safety net that other countries don’t enjoy.
News and Views May 8 reported on the dramatically rising cost of food staples in Iran, with prices for rice leaping up. An Iranian economic journalist, who spoke on terms of anonymity, told VOA/PNN that the price of rice has almost tripled in the seven weeks since the Norooz holidays. She said a group in Yaft Abad, a locality in Tehran, has demonstrated against the price hikes.
Roundtable with You May 8 focused on the clash of cultures in Iran with historian and scholar of Persian culture, Nasser Engheta. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking in Shiraz, recently praised Shi’ite mausoleums in the city and the pre-Islamic archeological ruins, but stressed that it is in “the post-Islamic art in which the talent of Iranians blossom.” He also referred to Persepolis as a symbol of the “tyranny of dictators.” Mr. Engheta said the remarks triggered outrage amongst many Iranians and refreshed an old debate over the clash of cultures, which has been going on – off and on – since the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mr. Engheta said the “mistreatment of Persian culture didn’t work in the old days, and it cannot succeed today.” He said such an attitude only proves that Iran’s rulers lack a basic understanding of Iranian culture.
News and Views is moving from spot reporting to in-depth reporting in its “Inside Iran” segment, looking at Iran’s economy on Tuesdays, school education in Iran on Wednesdays, workers on Fridays and universities and students on Saturdays. The first segment, on Iran’s workers, ran May 1. The second, on Iran’s economy, ran May 5.
News and Views May 8 reported that the Iranian government is placing increasing pressure on ethnic minorities. The judiciary at a Revolutionary Court in Tehran charged nine civil and political activists from Azerbaijan with acting against national security. The trial was held May 6 behind closed doors, but the verdict and sentences have not yet made public.
Today’s Woman May 8 talked about what role women play in Iranian politics with one of the country’s most prominent campaigners for women’s rights, human rights activist Fariba Davoodi-Mohajer. She discussed the history of women in the Majlis, or parliament. The current Majlis has 13 women, while that number will be declining to eight from the past round of elections. Overall, she said, women activists in Iran did not endorse any particular candidates. “It is better for women activists to choose for themselves who they want to vote for or if they want to vote at all,” Ms. Davoodi-Mohajer said. “There are greater goals than who is elected to the Majlis, such as gender equality for the women’s movement in Iran. But both the quality and quantity of women in the Majlis is important because it’s important to have as many qualified women as possible involved in the process.” Ms. Davoodi-Mohajer also talked about her participation in a conference on human rights in Ukraine last month. She said more than 400 people attended the conference, where the overall theme focused on the best way to put democracy in action and empower women. Ms. Davoodi-Mohajer emphasized that “The women’s movement in Iran is not political; it is a humanitarian effort that seeks to provide gender equality.”
News and Views May 7 interviewed veteran diplomat James Dobbins, Director of the Rand Corporation’s International Security and Defense Policy Center, about US-Iran relations. He said both governments have created obstacles. Ambassador Dobbins said the United States ignored opportunities in both 2001 and 2003 to talk with a receptive Iran, and said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s aggressiveness toward the US is a big impediment. Mr. Dobbins said the major problem between the two countries is that neither one has spent much effort toward creating a constructive dialogue, adding that on this issue, he is more critical of the US government than he is of Iran.
News and Views May 5 reported that US forces in Iraq killed nine Shi’ite insurgents during battles in the Sadr City and Mansur districts of Baghdad late Sunday and early Monday. The clashes came hours after the wife of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani escaped unhurt from a roadside bomb attack that hit her motorcade in Baghdad. The motorcade was taking her to the city’s national theatre when the bomb went off in the capital’s Karrada district. In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Hosseini said Iran will not hold a fourth round of talks with the US on security in Iraq, as long as US forces continue to attack Shi’ite militias in Baghdad. Ryan Crocker, the US Ambassador to Iraq, and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, held three rounds of talks in Baghdad last year in the first direct diplomatic contacts between Washington and Tehran in nearly 30 years.
News and Views May 8 reported that the US military says a Kuwaiti man who carried out a recent suicide bombing in Iraq was a former detainee at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A military spokesman says Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi was one of three suicide bombers who struck the northern Iraqi city of Mosul last month. The attacks killed seven people. Iraqi medical officials say seven people have been killed in fresh clashes between Shi’ite fighters and US forces in Baghdad’s Shi’ite stronghold of Sadr City. At least 20 other people were wounded in the fighting. US and Iraqi forces have fought fierce battles in Sadr City against Shi’ite militiamen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for the past month.
News and Views May 7 focused on a number of international developments, beginning with travel by a top US diplomat, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, to South Korea, Japan and China to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program and other regional issues. The program also reported that in Vienna, IAEA Secretary-General Mohammad El-Baradei asked Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, John Rood, for Washington to show more sensitivity in dealing with Iran to compel compliance with UN resolutions. Mr. Rood made no commitment, but said he would bring the message back to Washington. In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that the incentive package for Iran is “very generous” and all 6 countries – the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany – weighed each word carefully. He encouraged Iranian leaders to make the package public so that the Iranian people will see that they are doing “all they can.”
News and Views May 5 reported on US efforts to advance troubled Mideast peace talks. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met earlier in the day in an effort to accelerate the peace talks, which have stalled on the divisive issues of settlements and roadblocks in the West Bank. The private talks followed a three-day visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during which she made critical remarks about the consequences of Israeli roadblocks in the West Bank. She pressed Israeli leaders to dismantle West Bank security checkpoints, saying they disrupt the life of Palestinians. Secretary Rice said, “President Bush believes strongly that the time has come for the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
Roundtable with You May 6 feature one of the most successful insurance agents in the world, Mehdi Fakharzadeh. The self-made millionaire is one of the world’s most successful life insurance agents of all time. He is the author of three books – including Nothing is Impossible (1978) and Everything is Possible (1998) – and he has been an active professional for over 50 years, many of them as the super-achiever at the MetLife Insurance Company in New York. Mr. Fakharzadeh came to the US from Iran with empty hands, but with a great deal of energy and drive. He said, “Over the years, I have compiled a collection of statements about success, and at the top of the list is this one from Sloan Wilson: ‘Success in almost any field depends more on energy and drive than it does on intelligence. This explains why we have so many stupid leaders.’ Another is from David Brinkley: ‘A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him. Mr. Fakharzadeh, who is now a young 87-years-old explained to VOA/PNN’s viewers that failure is only an excuse for not trying hard and not defining your goal clearly.
Late Edition May 10 interviewed Berlin-based filmmaker Rahman Milani. Produced, directed and written by Mr. Milani, Seahorses, is about human emotions and how one can approach traditional values and social norms in modern times. Mr. Milani said the movie is a tale of two families living in Germany. One story is about a girl being raised by an Iranian homosexual father who lives his German boyfriend. The other story is about a traditional and religious woman who tries to deal with her teenage daughter who has very different views about life. “In Iranian culture,” Mr. Milani said, “homosexuality has always been a sensitive issue and is widely considered a taboo. And as a homosexual, I decided to make a movie and talk about homosexual issues in a realistic way without being biased.” He explained that Seahorses analyzes the contradiction between tradition and modernism and shows how people from different generations and with different points of views can work out their differences. Variety describes Seahorses as a “delightful debut feature” and says that “Milani’s beautifully observed film never hits a false note in its interlocking web of evolving familial relationships.”
Late Edition May 11 focused on the 22nd Annual Washington, DC International Film Festival with Festival Director Tony Gittens, who also is Executive Director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. The Festival, which ran from April 24 – May 4, spotlighted New Latin American Cinema. But two Iranian movies were among the official selections: Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame by Hana Makhmalbaf and Unfinished Stories (Ravayat haye na tamam) by Pourya Azarbayjani. “This is an exciting year for the Festival,” said Mr. Gittens. “We have a large selection of DC premieres, international festival headliners and award winners plus a handful of Official Foreign Language Film Oscar Selections. In addition, we are offering a strand of films from Washington DC directors.” Since its inception in 1987, Filmfest DC has become one of Washington’s major cultural events, enhancing the profile of the nation’s capital both nationally and internationally. In the political arena, a special screening of The Bread Winner, a moving documentary about a 9-year-old Afghan boy was screen, followed by a panel moderated by director and producer Sonia Nassery Cole, Founder and President of the Afghanistan World Foundation.
Roundtable with You May 5 talked with Nasim Daneshvar, the chief editor of a new Toronto-based women’s magazine called Banou, which focuses on the connection between Iranian women outside of Iran with those living inside. The biweekly magazine was inaugurated just this month, and Ms. Daneshvar said one focus is global sisterhood, and the need for women in the free world to help those who are suffering in underdeveloped countries. She said that in most countries today – including Iran – women are still the most vulnerable part of society. Banou, she said, stands for a number of things. “Banou as the Mother who gives her life for her children, Banou as the wife who cares first for her husband, Banou as the forerunner in science and politics, and Banou as the warmth in every family.” Banou will fight for women’s legitimate rights, especially in societies with laws that are discriminatory against women.
News and Views May 6 interviewed Hungarian painter Gizella Varga Sinai, who has lived in Iran for 41 years and who is now an Iranian citizen. In addition to painting, Ms. Sinai also teaches, and she holds workshops for women and teens all over the world. She spoke about her most recent workshops, in France, and how participants’ experiences as immigrants colored their paintings, especially those using exotic Eastern motifs. Ms. Sinai said, “Even though we did not speak each others’ language, we were able to interact with feelings and signs – exactly how magic works.”
Roundtable with You May 9 focused on the increase in oil prices and its impact on Iran’s economy with Siamack Shojai, Dean of the School of Business at Central Connecticut State University. Iran’s Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari said in Tehran that the country’s oil export revenues for the Iranian solar year 1386 (21 March 2007 – 20 March 2008) reached a record $70 billion. Iran is producing 4.21 million barrels of crude oil per day, a record high since the 1979 revolution, and is exporting about 2.5 million barrels per day. Mr. Nozari said the average price of Iran’s heavy crude also hit a new record in February at $88.51 per barrel. With the expected rise in oil prices, Iran’s annual oil revenue is expected to reach close to $100 billion. Meanwhile, Razzaq Sadeghi, from the economic daily newspaper, Sarmayeh, announced that 50% percent of Iranians live under the poverty line, and that 15 million of them are in a hardship poverty situation. Mr. Shojai said it is simple to explain how a country whose revenues doubled in one year has 50% of its population living under the poverty line: incompetence, mismanagement and corruption. He said these are a reflection of an absence of democracy in a country where the government is not accountable to the people.
News and Views May 6 highlighted The Economist’s examination of some of the problems that are facing oil-rich Gulf nations as the region undergoes an economic transformation. Guest Bijan Bidabad, an economic consultant with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology in Iran, aid Iran’s economy is suffering from the sanctions imposed by the international community. Unlike the countries making up the Gulf Cooperation Council, Mr. Bidabad said the level of investment risk for Iran is so high that the already high unemployment rate in Iran will soon grow even higher. On May 5, News and Views investigated the housing crisis in Iran, comparing prices in Tehran with prices in Los Angeles with local real estate agents in each city. The average price for housing in Iran is higher than its US counterpart.
Late Edition May 8 interviewed Iranian writer and journalist Abbas Maroufi, who is based in Berlin, about the International Book Festival in Tehran. He said this has been a very unsuccessful book festival, adding that any publishers and writers have complained about the Islamic regime’s ban on such a wide variety of books. Mr. Maroufi said, “The list of prohibited books has grown. The Islamic regime now bans Persian classical literature, academic books, poetry books and famous world literature. This is a cultural tragedy.” He said there are no clear censorship rules. “The funny thing is when they ban books they’ve previously authorized for publication,” Mr. Maroufi said. “There is no freedom of expression in Iran. Writers and intellectuals are not allowed to publish their books or talk about their beliefs. This is a dictatorship.” Mr. Maroufi said on May 10, 1933, the Nazi regime did much the same thing when they organized a massive book burning in Berlin and other German cities. He said the Nazi regime tried to censor books and to destroy any ideas they considered un-German idea, “but they failed. And I assure you, the Islamic regime will fail to accomplish its dark mission, too.”
Late Edition May 9 interviewed Basir Nasibi, an Iranian filmmaker living in Frankfurt. Mr. Nasibi, who founded Cinema Azad – or Free Cinema – talked about the work of Iranian filmmakers living in exile. He said there are so many who live outside of Iran that they have produced more than 400 films, adding that the Iranian filmmakers are particularly active in Sweden, Germany and France. Mr. Nasibi criticized the Islamic regime’s censorship in Iran, saying as a dictatorship, Iranian filmmakers are not allowed to work there as free artists. “Films are subject to control at every level of production,” he said, “and a harsh rating system imposed by the government effectively determines the box office prospects of each film.” Mr. Nasibi said the government “holds a monopoly over film stock and equipment which further tightens the regime’s grip over film production. Iranian filmmakers have to follow revolutionary codes to produce their films. There are so many rules and limitations that it is ridiculous.” He continued, saying, “The Islamic regime has been trying to create an Islamic Cinema,” he said. “They believe this is a great medium to export their fundamental ideology to the world.” Mr. Nasibi said the Iranian government is trying to establish its own system of media like film, plays and TV programs. He said filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf is one of the principal people behind the Islamization of the media in Iran.
Late Edition May 6 interviewed Denver-based novelist and poet Shokooh Mirzadegi on Persian Gulf National Day, an effort by Iranian people worldwide to keep the gulf named Persian, not Arabian. Ms. Mirzadegi said that Google Earth recently changed “Persian Gulf” to “Arabian Gulf” on its software, and said a number of Arab countries supported the action as it was aligned with their own agendas. She said, “This is unlawful, irresponsible and a violation of all historical and international laws.” Ms. Mirzadegi said there were peaceful protests in Tehran, Tabriz and Mashed on Persian Gulf National Day, which was on April 29. She said it was a great illustration of Iranian solidarity to keep the rightful name of “Persian Gulf” on Google Earth and all geographical maps.
Late Edition May 7 talked with Iranian director and animation producer Masoud Raouf on his latest project, Waves of Birth, a five-minute animated short in which a man in a bottle symbolizes humanity’s last hope of surviving the devastating effects of war. Mr. Raouf, who lives in Montreal, talked about his early life as a painting student and activist in Iran. He said the Islamic regime sent him to prison for his political actions and that he was “lucky to be alive.” He escaped to Canada in 1988. “Animation is sort a soul therapy for me,” he said. “I can use my imagination to create a peaceful world.”
Today’s Woman May 5 focused on the Tehran International Book Fair with publisher and editor Farkhonde Hajizade, a member of Iran’s Women Publishers Organization. She said she is amazed her fellow publishers have kept quiet about the inconveniences Iran’s Culture Ministry creates for publishers. “If they are hoping for change, it’s not going to happen unless they raise their voice and speak up. If you talk about different issues using media outlets such as VOA or the BBC, it doesn’t mean that you are for or against a government. Unfortunately my co-workers are not demanding anything. That’s why when they request something it becomes political.” Ms. Hajizade said government agencies and university librarians both censor books, which affects sales. “The sales of books decrease when Iranian authorities make revisions,” she said. “However, when Iranian authorities prohibit books, the sales often go up.” With regard to the Tehran International Book Fair, she said it is good to have the exhibit but suggested a better location would better promote authors and book sales.
Today’s Woman May 5 also looked at child literacy by profiling a non-profit organization called First Book, whose mission is to give new books to children from low-income families at no cost. Last week, in Maryland, First Book distributed books to community leaders working with disadvantaged children. Getting new books into the hands of children helps fight illiteracy and poverty. Worldwide, 774 million adults – mostly women – are illiterate. There are72 million school-age children who do not attend school. First Book has distributed over 55 million books over the past 15 years. In her role as Senior Vice President at First Book, Vandna Wendy Bhagat manages the distribution of those books. She says parents play an important role in literacy. “With kids, they really look at their parents to see what they should and should not be doing, so it’s important for a mother to sit down with the child and read to them.” She said research shows that students who do more reading at home perform better academically. First Book wants to take its success overseas. “We would welcome the opportunity to have a country come to us and say we want to do this with you, let’s figure out the best way to reach the children here.” The UN estimates that nearly 132 million young people are still functionally illiterate. First Book hopes to reduce that number.
Today’s Woman May 6 talked with Los Angeles-based psychologist Danesh Foroughi about relationships and May-December romances. “True love means unconditional love,” Dr. Foroughi said. “Overall, when it comes to relationships, age in not necessarily the main factor for success compared to the personality and maturity of the individuals.” He acknowledged that society often questions a relationship when the woman is with a younger man but rarely asks why a man is with a younger woman. Dr. Foroughi said often, men who are in relationships with older women may not have gotten much attention from their mothers. He also said a younger man is more likely to be dependent and his love is frequently conditional. Dr. Foroughi said most women in a relationship with a younger man are coming from a past relationship where the husband/boyfriend was overbearing. He added that today, older women are more financial independent and feel more control in relationships with younger men since they are less constrained by financial concerns.
Today’s Woman May 10 opened with a discussion on the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer held in Washington, DC, on May 4. Panelists talked about advantages of the Walk’s fundraising success, the participants, and the impact of such a nationwide effort in combating breast cancer – the top-ranked disease killing women. Thanks to research efforts supported by efforts like the Avon Walk, the number of breast cancer survivors is increasing. The second part of the program focused on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), a medical treatment for surgically menopausal, perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. HRT controls the hormone balance in a woman’s body, providing short-term relief from menopausal symptoms. However, some research indicates there may be a link between patients who use HRT and the development of breast cancer. The third segment focused on insomnia, how the sleep disorder affects more women than men, and that in addition to hormone imbalance, stress and depression, sleeping problems also can be caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, drug additions and obesity.
Today’s Woman May 9 looked at government-sponsored restrictions on women traveling abroad with Karim Lahiji, a lawyer and Vice President of the International Federation of Human Rights. Mr. Lahiji discussed the current debate in Malaysia concerning the possible implementation of a law that would prohibit women from traveling abroad without the consent of their husbands or families. He said although gender equality is not an issue in France or most of Europe today, 40 years ago, women in France also faced great gender discrimination. Mr. Lahiji said in Iran, the Islamic regime does not allow women to travel abroad without permission from their husbands or fathers.
Today’s Woman May 7 talked with Toronto-based lawyer and women’s rights activist Lili Pourzand about political crimes. In a previously recorded interview, lawyer Nemat Ahmadi from Iran discussed a new bill presented to the Majlis concerning the definition of political crimes. Mr. Nemat stated that the bill is intended to give judges a guideline for convictions, but said it also mandates more severe punishments for political crimes. Ms. Pourzand said political crimes contradict international human rights standards that clearly declare freedom of speech and thought as universal rights. “The bill has some contradictions,” she said, “It says criticizing the government is legal but that any activity against the Islamic establishment is not. The most beneficial component of the bill is that it officially states that Iran does have political crime convictions. With this bill, Iran can no longer deny it has political prisoners to the international community.”
Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about the deteriorating situation in Lebanon and Iran’s support for Hezbollah; Iranian weapons in Iraq and the training of Iraqi militias by Hezbollah; Iran and Iraq’s bitter dispute over Iraq’s support of the UAE’s claim on three Iranian islands; new incentives from the P5+1 for Iran and its nuclear program; protests by teachers, workers and students in Iran during the past week; the Burmese junta’s resistance to emergency aid from the West; positions of US presidential hopefuls toward Iran; suspension of US-Iran security talks; post-Putin US-Russian relations; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice laying the groundwork for President Bush’s trip to the Middle East May 13-18; the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding; and the visit to Iraqi Kurdistan by a Russian delegation.
This week’s History Channel segments opened with a two-part profile of the Lindbergh family. The husband, Charles Lindbergh, was one of America’s greatest heroes who became one of its most reviled citizens. His wife, Anne Morrow, emerged as one of the most significant women writers in the US. The segments chronicled Charles’ epic flight to Paris in 1927, the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh’s first-born son, and Charles’ advocacy of American isolationism. Some believed him to be a Nazi sympathizer, which cost the family dearly, despite his record-setting achievements in the air. Another segment focused on rescue equipment, and how advances in rescue technology – from satellite locator beacons to faster and more powerful extrication tools – are responsible for saving thousands of lives each year. The week’s fourth segment profiled the New York Stock Exchange, considered the center of the American economy where nearly $90 million changes hands each minute. The fifth segment looked at the whys, what-ifs and what-nows of rebuilding New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in an attempt to illuminate what makes the city’s geography unique and so dangerous.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – addressed a question that often comes up, and that is how VOA can maintain its impartiality and independence while its budget is provided by the US government. Mr. Mahmoudi said, We have to understand the concept of government in this context. In many languages, including Persian, government means the executive branch. In most of the so called non-democratic systems, the executive branch controls and operates the country’s radio and television organizations. In the United States, the government has a much broader meaning, and encompasses the executive, judicial and legislative branches. Employees from all three branches – executive branch employees, Senators, Congressmen, Supreme Court Justices – are paid by taxpayer dollars through Congressional allocations. So, a Supreme Court Justice is paid by the government but not an employee of the executive branch of government. Hopefully, this helps clarifies people’s misconceptions about VOA employees.
To continue our discussion from last week, please allow me to go back to Edward R. Murrow’s historical television program about freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the US constitution. We at PNN/VOA are conscious of our Charter and the principles written in the VOA Journalistic Code. We have to maintain balance. If on a particular program a guest speaks about an issue – whether or not it is popular or aligned with the government’s policy – that guest’s views will be balanced by another guest or by the program’s anchor. Because we are paid by allocated government funds, as long as we observe our Charter and the Journalistic Code, we are not punished, as the case would be in a non-democratic system. We may make mistakes and it is up to us to correct those mistakes. Our programs may be criticized by members of the legislative or executive branches. It is up to us in this free country either to correct or to justify our actions. This is the way people and organizations conduct their business in a country where freedom of speech is respected and observed. It is the duty of the government in this society to protect our freedom of speech within the boundaries of freedom of expression.
Again, I hope this answers questions brought up by some of our audience members.
PNN’s question of the week was, “US and Iraqi officials talk about Iran’s negative influence in Iraq. Iran denies it. What do you think? Is Iran involved?” Out of 12,648 respondents, 70% said yes, 27% said no, while 2% said they did not have an opinion.
The Persian News Network’s television programming complements its radio broadcasts. VOA has the largest combined radio and television audience of all international broadcasters in Iran, with one in four Iranian households tuning into a VOA show at least once a week. Programs also are streamed on 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.
PNN INSIDER – VIEWER PERSPECTIVES
From a viewer in Iran: “I am an educated and religious woman who covers. I believe in religion in its truest sense – not in the way preached by the Islamic regime. There is no place for me in this society. I cannot be a director, minister or president. I want to let women ministers around the world know that in Iran there is no opportunity unless you support the government. Please be our voice throughout the world. We are tired of discriminatory attitudes toward women.”
From Mohammad, age 26, a viewer in Hamedan: “My cousin, who is only 11-years-old, has been forced to marry a man that is ten years older. I tried to prevent this from happening but could not. I want you [Today’s Woman] to ask Iranian families how they can justify the arranged marriage of an 11-year-old child. She should be playing with dolls – not cooking and raising kids.”
From a viewer in Tehran: “I enjoy watching Late Edition, but I missed you last week as the police in our zone in Tehran came to our homes and destroyed our satellite dishes. I hope by next week we can set up a new one so that I can watch you again.”
From a viewer in Shazand, in the western province of Markazi: “Iran is like a lion. Some people have sickened this lion. But the lion won’t die. Please send me a filter. Thank you VOA. Good luck!”
From a viewer in Tehran: “I regret to say that the government has decided to divide public parks according to gender, and to restrict some for females only. I fear of the day all of Tehran is divided on sexuality! Please discuss this topic on one of your Roundtable programs.
From a viewer in Karaj: “Until recently, the Islamic Regime attributed the explosion at the Hosseinieh mosque in Shiraz to an accidental burst of explosives which were stored in the building. However, today, May 8, 2008, the government announced that those involved in the terrorist act of bombing the Hosseinieh mosque were arrested in the northern part of Iran. This is another illustration of how the Iranian regime works.” From a viewer in Rasht: “The Supreme Leader of Iran says Cyrus and Dariush were tyrants in the history of Iran and the Arabs, who corrupted the Iranian culture, reflect the glory of Shiraz. Cyrus, who proclaimed the first human rights declaration, is cursing me for doing nothing in this regard.”
From Ibrahim Yazdi, Secretary-General of the Tehran-based Freedom Movement of Iran, in a note to Senator Hillary Clinton: “….As an Iranian, I have to ask you this question: if Israel attacks Iran and you are the President, what would your policy and position be then?
From a viewer in Tehran: “The presence of another American fleet in the Persian Gulf has alarmed this Regime. Also, this Regime is frightened of the people because of our bankrupted economy.”
From a viewer in Iran: “With regard to your poll, yes, the Islamic Republic interferes with the internal conflict in Iraq, and also provides weapons for this conflict.”
From a viewer in Iran: “I am very happy as an Iranian to watch a good Persian broadcasting network via satellite like yours. Your program is very useful. Thank you for your efforts. You augment the Iranian culture, but in you program, Today’s Woman, one of the co-hosts talks about all subjects. For example, she talks about medicine and cinema and politics and sociology, etc. I think that she should participate in certain programs, for example, programs on medicine, because she is a doctor. Is she expert in all fields? Is it possible? Unfortunately she talks about everything and is present on all of the Today’s Woman programs. Thank you for your attention to this matter.”
From a viewer in Tehran: “Thank you for your informative program. Today’s Woman is one of my favorites. However, sometimes, you interrupt your guests when they talk. For instance, [on your May 8th program], you didn’t let Mrs. [Fariba] Davoodi-Mohajer finish speaking. Please, let her complete her sentences! I may also suggest have fewer hosts! You have three co-hosts and only one guest! I think that’s why you sometimes change topics in the middle of a discussion. In general, I appreciate your effort to inform Iranians regarding women’s issues. Mrs. Davoodi-Mohajer speaks a little too fast. Please ask her to slow down a little bit!”
From a viewer in Shiraz: “I find it tiring to see some of your regular Roundtable with You contributors repeat the same remarks without making any fresh observations….The fact of the matter is that when there are more than a few scholars in the Persian community who almost certainly are capable of assessing the issues with much keener observations, why would VOA’s Persian News Network insist on having contributors who can be unimpressive, ineloquent and at times, even shallow in their observations?...A change in atmosphere would be welcome….However, one contributor I’d like to see more of is Bahram Moshiri….Members of the younger generation – like me – crave Mr. Moshiri’s illuminating remarks….VOA should recognize to what degree it is a source for education the people of Iran – especially in light of the fact that the regime in Iran actively distorts truth [at every opportunity].