Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – June 2, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included the International Atomic Energy Agency releasing its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program and the country’s compliance with UN resolutions; intensified fighting in northern Iraq between Kurdish rebels and Iranian security forces; the ongoing presidential campaign in the United States; the international conference in Stockholm to rebuild Iraq; VOA/PNN conducted interviews with Gregory Schulte, the US Ambassador to the IAEA, on the IAEA’s newest report on Iran just hours after its release; with former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski on US policy toward Iran and its nuclear program; with lawyer Mehrangiz Kar on Amnesty International’s latest report on Iran; with Erik Ullenhag, leader of the Liberal Party in Sweden’s parliament, on Europe and human rights in Iran; with journalist Erfan Qaneifard who has written a biography of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani; with sociologist Mohammad Borghei on the nomination of Ali Larijani as Speaker of Iran’s Parliament; with Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books; and with Tehran-based lawyer Nasrin Sotudeh, author Shahla Shafiq and political sociologist Azadeh Kian-thiebaut on women’s rights activists and the women's movement in Iran. PNN broke new ground with its first ever-live broadcast from Washington’s newly-opened Newseum.
Hours after the IAEA released its report on Iran’s nuclear program May 26, NewsTalk featured an exclusive live interview with the US Ambassador to the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, Gregory Schulte. Ambassador Schulte told show host Siamak Deghanpour how much Iran needs to explain and how little it has done thus far in disclosing details of its nuclear activities. He said the report was a strong indictment of Iran’s defiance of the international community’s efforts to get answers about troubling parts of its nuclear program. “This report is the end of discussions and efforts for negotiations with Iran. The new report indicates that Iran has not cooperated with the IAEA inspectors.” Last month, IAEA chief Mohamed El-Baradei sounded optimistic when announcing Iran’s willingness to review the intelligence gathered by the agency only weeks after having said the door was closed on any attempt to look into its alleged nuclear arms programs. Describing Tehran’s apparent change of heart as a “positive step,” Mr. El-Baradei said he hoped the IAEA would be in a position to get an explanation and clarification from Iran about the allegations by the end of May. Mr. Schulte told PNN that “the IAEA is not in that position and Mr. El-Baradei’s optimism was unfortunately, not realistic.”
Intelligence sources say Iran has begun experimenting with a new, more efficient type of uranium-enriching centrifuge at its main nuclear plant in Natanz. And on April 8, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran was working to install 6,000 more centrifuges in Natanz, but Mr. Schulte told VOA/PNN that Tehran’s progress in enrichment may be less advanced than officials claim, saying “the report noted Iran now had only 3,500 centrifuges and the few advanced machines actually running were only in a testing phase. Iran is having technical difficulties.” Ambassador Schulte said the United States wants to see readiness on Tehran’s part to implement the Additional Protocol, the crucial part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that gives IAEA inspectors the right to carry out unannounced checks at nuclear sites, emphasizing that “Iran has shown no readiness.” In response to questions from Iranians who posted their comments online, Mr. Schulte – who has his own blog in Farsi – said, “It is in everyone's interest and particularly Iran's, in order to come out of isolation, to negotiate and get the issue resolved peacefully… the negotiation table is ready and there is an empty chair for [Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr] Mottaki at the table and Secretary Rice is ready to begin the discussions.”
News and Views May 29 reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iran has a lot of explaining to do about the IAEA’s latest report, which essentially says Tehran is not cooperating on some very important “dark” questions. Speaking to reporters en route to Stockholm, Ms. Rice said she wondered how they are going to answer this charge. At the same time, she said the US will pursue the same two-track policy of sanctions and incentives. Meanwhile, US intelligence officials said they believe there are at least three more nuclear facilities in Syria, in addition to the one Israel bombed last September. CIA director, Michael Hayden, says US knowledge of Syria’s nuclear activities has deepened since the Israeli attack.
News and Views May 28 interviewed Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser in the Carter administration, who co-wrote an opinion column in The Washington Post the previous day. In the column, Mr. Brzezinski wrote, “Current policy toward the regime in Tehran will almost certainly result in an Iran with nuclear weapons. The seemingly clever combination of the use of ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots,’ including the frequent official hints of an American military option ‘remaining on the table,’ intensifies Iran’s desire to have its own nuclear arsenal. Mr. Brzezinski, who is now an advisor Senator Barack Obama, told VOA/PNN he believed another approach is needed to address Iran’s nuclear issues, one that would involve not only dialogue, but would also accommodate both Iran’s and the US’s security concerns. Mr. Brzezinski also discussed the war on terror, the spread of democracy in the Middle East and the reasons behind his support for Senator Obama.
PNN broke new ground on May 29 with its first ever-live broadcast from Washington’s newly-opened Newseum. Before a live audience, the special broadcast of Late Edition featured a tour of the Newseum with well-known Iranian war photographer Reza Deghati and conversations with former prisoner and journalist Arash Sigarchi, Elnaz Ansari (a journalist inside Iran), student leaders and former political prisoners inside and outside of Iran. The anchors explained the First Amendment to the US Constitution which protects the right to freedom of expression without government interference as well as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. The Newseum’s main theme is freedom of expression, thus making it a symbolic place to discuss the issue. The program also featured freedom of expression through music with interviews with some cutting edge musicians who are trying to break free of political repression in Iran. Members of the audience asked questions of the guests, and were entertained by a live performance.
Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi was the guest on NewsTalk’s Face-to-Face May 30, opening a window into his private life for VOA/PNN viewers that was unprecedented in its personal revelations. Pahlavi talked about his life before the revolution and how he and his family have coped with the Islamic Revolution of 1979 with the exile and uncertainty that followed. He said that it was at elementary school when he it dawned on him that he was being treated differently from his classmates because of his status as crown prince of Iran. “At times, however, they were stricter with me just to demonstrate that there was no favoritism involved,” he said. As the country was going through upheaval, he was sent to the United States to get training as a pilot. Asked whether he learned of Western media reports about political repression under his father and that Iran was depicted negatively because of its human rights records, he said, “I have no recollection of discussing Iran’s current events with my father when I was in Iran,” he said. “After we started a new life in exile, occasionally we spoke about the causes of the revolution and what the shortcomings were of my father’s rule that led the people to rise up against him.” The Crown Prince said he was in touch with his siblings in Iran while living in the United States and they reported to him what was going on Iran and the level of unrest that was developing in the country. “I traveled a great deal in order to be exposed to other cultures as part of my preparation to lead the country,” he said. Mr. Pahlavi said he left Iran with two suitcases, and that one of his greatest regrets was having to leave behind to many personal mementos such as photo albums and scrapbooks. “We took life on a day-to-day basis and never thought about whether we could go back to the country or not,” he said. “While in exile,” he concluded, “we were shocked to hear of the summary executions of former officials who served the country. We could understand political differences the [Islamic Republic] had with my father, but we couldn’t digest the level of savagery. It was totally incomprehensible to us.
News and Views May 28-30 reported from Stockholm on the international conference to rebuild Iraq with VOA/PNN correspondent Nazzy Beglari, who said participants at the end of the conference approved the Stockholm Statement, affirming countries’ support of the Iraqi government’s efforts. Iraq’s plea for debt relief – made before nearly 500 delegates at this UN conference to assess Iraq’s reconstruction – was echoed at the highest diplomatic levels including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. However, though he received strong US and EU support, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki did not walk away with any firm new commitments for debt relief or investment. On the security front, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran was interested in playing a major role in the reconstruction of Iraq, noting that Iraq’s “occupiers” had only made the situation there worse. Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said he was concerned about what he characterized as Iran’s interference in Iraq. Ms. Beglari reported there were no plans for any bilateral meetings for the US and Iran, despite both Mr. Mottaki and Secretary Rice in attendance. She also said participants at the conference talked about the plight of Iraqi refugees. The conference in Sweden was the first annual review of the International Compact with Iraq, a five-year economic and political reform package that the UN Secretary-General helped broker. Mr. Al-Maliki offered to host next year’s conference in Baghdad, to show that Iraq has emerged from the chaos of war.
News and Views May 26 interviewed sociologist Mohammad Borghei about the nomination of Iran’s former top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani – one of President Ahmadinejad’s rivals – as Speaker of the Parliament. “Larijani’s nomination by conservatives as Speaker of the Parliament doesn’t change anything since this Parliament is so dysfunctional,” Mr. Borghei said. “Tomorrow is the opening session of the new Majlis, but since people are aware it isn’t a legitimate entity, they don’t pay any attention to what it does.” Mr. Borghei said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is “faced with a bunch of uneducated, low-level conservative clerics. Even he isn’t happy with them. The situation now in Iran is more oppressive for women, activists and journalists politically, socially and culturally.”
News and Views May 31 reported that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to attend a summit of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) June 3-5 in Rome. In an interview with VOA/PNN, Italy’s former Justice Minister, Pierre Facino – who is the UN’s envoy to Burma – said the Iranian leader will not be holding any bilateral meetings with Italian officials. Mr. Facino said Mr. Ahmadinejad’s stated desire to see Israel “wiped off the map” is not acceptable in the view of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government. Mr. Facino said Iran’s role in supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon shows that Tehran supports terrorism. He said Iran must assure the international community that its nuclear program is not for military purposes and Iran must cooperate with the IAEA. Mr. Facino expressed dismay that the Iranian leader had even been invited to attend the FAO conference. Because so many heads of state have confirmed attendance and because of soaring food prices globally, it appears the conference will be a summit on world food security.
News and Views June 1 talked with veteran journalist Fiamma Nirenstein, Vice-Chairperson of the Foreign Policies Commission of the Italian Parliament, in advance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Rome for an FAO summit. Ms. Nirenstein, who also is a Middle East political analyst for several Italian newspapers, said, “I am happy that neither the President and Prime Minister nor the people of Italy have responded to Iran’s invitation for a meeting with Ahmadinejad. The Government and the people of Italy hate the Iranian President and do not recognize his viewpoints on international affairs. This is not only because of Iran’s attempts to access nuclear weapons against the international community’s will, but other strategic issues such as Ahmadinejad’s weekly speeches in denial of the holocaust, his interest in obliterating Israel, and plans for exporting Islam to the West, all and all affect our people and government’s decision.” Ms. Nirenstein said other issues of concern are Iran’s violation of human rights and the increasing number of executions in Iran. She added that support for the opponents of the Iranian government will be on the European Parliament’s agenda. “Triple rounds of the UN Security Council boycotts against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program have proven to be of no use,” Ms. Nirenstein said. “Therefore, Europe should follow the United States in a unilateral boycott of Iran.”
News and Views June 1 reported that fighting has intensified fighting in northern Iraq between Kurdish rebels and Iranian security forces. Members of the Revolutionary Guards have begun what has become their routine bombardment of suspected Iranian Kurd positions in northern Iraq, and guerrillas have claimed incursions into northwestern Iran. One Kurdish radio station, which supports PEJAK, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, claimed Iranian Kurds have killed 12 Iranian soldiers in the past 24 hours. Kurdish journalist Javad Ghader, who is editor of the Globe newspaper in Irbil, told VOA/PNN that Iran has good political and economic relations with the semi-independent Kurdish government and than Iran opened a consulate in Irbil, the Kurdish capital. PEJAK, a shadowy group of mostly Iranian Kurd, has been fighting the Iranian regime from the Iraqi side of the border for five years. To visit PEJAK members, one has to drive up bone-jarring dirt roads, out of the Iraqi Kurdish zone of control, to a remote valley frequently shelled by Iran.
Roundtable with You May 30 reviewed current events with London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh, beginning with a brief description of the new tell-all book on the Bush administration – this one by former White House Press Secretary Scott McClelland. In the book, Mr. McClelland accused the administration of “waging a political propaganda campaign” that led the United States into an “unnecessary war.” Mr. Nourizadeh focused more on how the release of the book has been handled rather then the book’s content. Despite lobbing such harsh criticisms at a sitting president, he pointed out that Mr. McClelland has no fear of retaliation. “What would happen if someone from Ayatollah Khamenei’s inner circle decided to write a memoir in the same fashion?” he asked. Mr. Nourizadeh also touched on the election of a new Speaker of the House in Iran’s new session of parliament; on the Iraqi government’s control of Sadr City, the significance of Lebanon’s selection of a new president, and the recent trip to Tehran by the exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal. Mr. Nourizadeh also talked about the Israel-Syria peace talks held in Ankara, emphasizing that the “realistic approach of Syria and Israel regarding the peace process will soon have the Islamic Republic of Iran finding itself even more isolated, with only a few insignificant friends left.”
News and Views May 28 reported that Stephen Hadley, National Security Advisor to President Bush, was the speaker at an event commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Proliferation Security Initiative. Chaired by Acting Under Secretary for International Security and Proliferation John Rood, more than 80 senior officials of signatory countries attended the event. Mr. Hadley said the 21st century’s challenge in this field is managing the legacy of excess stockpiles and making sure that such material doesn’t end up on the black market. He elaborated on a six-step comprehensive approach to the threat of the millennium: terrorism. Mr. Hadley explained that the Proliferation Security Initiative is compatible and complementary to all international ratifications of the UN Security Council. He singled out North Korea and Iran as two states that need to be contained because of their nuclear programs. Mr. Hadley said the US, its allies and other countries will not betray future generations by allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons capability. He said the US will use diplomatic and financial pressure and UN Security Council resolutions to try to convince Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.
News and Views May 27 reported that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says his willingness to talk to leaders of adversarial countries such as Iran does not necessarily mean an audience with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Senator Obama said Iranian presidential elections in 2009 would be a factor in the timing of any meetings. “There’s no reason why we would necessarily meet with Ahmadinejad before we know that he was actually in power. He’s not the most powerful person in Iran,” the Senator pointed out to reporters while campaigning in New Mexico. The McCain campaign immediately accused Senator Obama of backtracking, saying his policy on talking to adversaries is inconsistent. In recent weeks, Senator Obama and his aides have emphasized that while there would be no “preconditions” for potential top-level meetings, there would be extensive staff-level preparations. In the case of Iran, Senator Obama said, “Preparation means that there are low-level talks in which there’s clarity about our concerns around the nuclear weapons program, but that we’re willing to listen to their perspective.” The Senator said his position has been consistent. “I’ve said that with sufficient preparation, I would be happy to meet leaders from other sovereign states including countries like Iran or North Korea or Venezuela,” he said. “I have said that it is important to make sure that it begins with low-level diplomatic engagement and that there’s a clear agenda so that any meetings would be constructive.”
News and Views May 29 reported that Senator Barack Obama expects to clinch the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination next week. Talking to reporters on his plane from Denver to Chicago, the Illinois senator, 46, was asked if the race for the November general election against Republican John McCain begins after Tuesday’s final primary votes. “Yes,” he responded. Asked if he will be the winner of the Democratic nomination at that point, he said, “I believe so.” On Saturday, Democratic officials will work on a compromise over disputed primaries in Michigan and Florida. After that, he said, “all the information will be in, and there will be no more questions unanswered. I suspect that whatever remaining superdelegates there are will be able to make their decisions quickly after that.” Senator Hillary Clinton has said she will not quit until the last votes are cast and counted. The Democratic nominee is likely to be decided by the nearly 800 superdelegates – members of Congress and other party insiders – who are free to vote for whomever they want. Senator Obama is leading in pledged delegates, and more and more superdelegates are announcing their plans to endorse him and help him surpass the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination. “We’re only a few days away,” he said. Senator Obama would be the first black US president.
News and Views May 28 reported that Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, favors extending arms control deals with Russia, opening strategic nuclear talks with China and pressing on multiple fronts to limit the spread of nuclear arms technologies. Senator McCain seemed to signal that stopping the illicit spread of nuclear arms technology would be more of a priority in his White House than it has under President Bush, calling it a “crisis” that cannot be ended by military action alone. In a clear reference to Senator Obama, Senator McCain said, “Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven’t tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades. Others think military action alone can achieve our goals, as if military actions were not fraught with their own terrible risks. While the use of force may be necessary, it can only be as a last resort – not a first step.” The Arizona senator said, “We need to increase IAEA funding and enhance the intelligence support it receives. We also need to reverse the burden of proof when it comes to discovering whether a nation is cheating on its NPT commitments. The IAEA shouldn’t have to play cat-and-mouse games to prove a country is in compliance. It is for suspected violators to prove they are in compliance.” Senator Barack Obama commented, saying “On issue after issue, John McCain is offering more of the same policies that have failed for the last eight years. That is the agenda that he and President [Bush] are raising money to support later today.”
News and Views May 29 reported that the former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, attending a literary festival in Wales, said military action against Iran should be a last resort, adding that allies have not done enough to promote other options. He said he believes regime change in Iran is in order. Earlier, activist and Guardian journalist George Monbiot had called for a citizen’s arrest of Ambassador Bolton as a war criminal for his role in the war on Iraq. Mr. Monbiot was dragged away by security as he tried to approach Mr. Bolton. Earlier, during a question and answer session at the event, Mr. Monbiot had asked Mr. Bolton what distinguished him from a Nazi war criminal. Mr. Bolton replied that in exchange for a ceasefire on the Gulf War, Iraq had been required to do a variety of things including a declaration of weapons of mass destruction and the elimination of those weapons. He said Iraq had shown numerous times that it was not in compliance with the ceasefire resolution.
News and Views May 30 reported that negotiators from North Korea and South Korea have held brief talks aimed at restarting the six-nation negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear activities. A spokesman for South Korea’s Foreign Ministry (Moon Tae-young) said Seoul’s chief representative in the talks, Kim Sook, held an hour-long meeting in Beijing with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Kwan. The US envoy to the talks, Christopher Hill, also was in China. He met with his Chinese, North Korean and South Korean counterparts before traveling to Moscow for a meeting with his Russian counterpart. The subject of all the discussions was the North’s declaration of all its nuclear activities so the six parties can finalize the second stage of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear facilities. In Moscow, Mr. Hill said the progress in Beijing was good. Meanwhile, in an interview with the Washington Post, CIA Director Michael Hayden said that al-Qaeda is losing its influence in the Middle East and is on the defensive elsewhere in the world. He said the terror group has faced ideological setbacks as much of the Islamic world rejects its radical form of Islam. Admiral Hayden added that Iran is undermining progress in Iraq, saying it is, in his words, “the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces.”
Roundtable with You May 25 focused on the Iran-Iraq War and why it was prosecuted by Iranian leaders six years after the liberation of Khorramshahr. Iran recaptured the port city of Khorramshahr from Iraq on May 24,1982, 1½ years after Iraq captured the city early in the war. The successful retaking of the city is perceived as a turning point in the war and the liberation is celebrated in Iran on its anniversary, May 24. Roundtable’s guest, veteran journalist Masoud Behnoud, said while some Iranian leaders thought it would be an opportune time to end the war, no one had the gumption to discuss the matter with Ayatollah Khomeini who was bent on taking Iranian forces to Baghdad and beyond. “Because Khomeini toppled the Shah of Iran with relative ease and humiliated the Carter administration by holding US diplomats for 444 days, Khomeini thought he could vanquish Iraq if he continued the war and ignore calls for a ceasefire,” he added. “But now, in retrospect, almost all Iranian leaders have to admit that when Iranian forces expelled every Iraqi soldier from the Iranian territory, it was a perfect opportunity to end the war and avoid further carnage and destruction.” Mr. Behnoud said the clerics took a big gamble when they decided to continue the war beyond what was necessary, and that they dragged on the war for six more years in the hope of scoring big victories. Mr. Behnoud said the gamble didn’t produce the hoped for dividends.
Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about the official start of the 8th Majlis in Tehran, comparing its make-up to the 6th and 7th sessions, and issues parliamentarians are expected to address, including the state of Iran’s economy, foreign policy and political rhetoric; Iran’s nuclear program in light of the latest IAEA report, in which the agency was dissatisfied with Iran’s compliance; US insistence that Iran’s enrichment program be suspended before negotiations begin; and replacement of clerics in Iranian politics by former members of the Revolutionary Guards.
Roundtable with You May 29 focused on Amnesty International’s most recent report on Iran, in which it said human rights violations in the Islamic Republic were widespread in the past year. The report said authorities continued to suppress dissent, discriminate against women, torture prisoners, carry out executions – including minors – repress minorities, persecute Baha’is for their religious beliefs, treat other religious minorities poorly, and carry out sentences of stoning to death, amputation and flogging. Lawyer and human rights activist Mehrangiz Kar told Roundtable’s viewers that violations in the Islamic Republic not only didn’t stop, they increased and intensified over the last year. Ms. Kar, who was subjected to some of these violations before she left Iran, said thousands of women were arrested or treated harshly by authorities during a crackdown last summer. Additionally, she said, women activists for the One Million Signatures Campaign were subjected to harassment and repression all year long. “Bad laws, written vaguely, in the hands of dogmatic and fanatical minds that don’t belong in the 21st century . . . have brought the worse case scenario to the Iranian people.” She said, “The problem in Iran is that the current religion-inspired laws are in conflict with the principles of human rights.”
News and Views reported on drastic cuts in research funding at Tehran’s Allameh Tabatabaee University. The head of the university has reportedly returned the budget meant for research at his institution back to the government. Faculty members are deeply disturbed over this development, but maintain silence in public out of fear of losing their jobs. The professors say the university has reached a tipping point with the end of research monies, saying research is what gives a university respect and differentiates it from other institutions of higher learning.
Roundtable with You May 27 focused on Iran’s relations with Europe in an interview with parliamentarian Erik Ullenhag, the leader of Sweden’s Liberal Party. His party has paid special attention to human rights, particularly to the situation of Iranian women and religious minorities in the Islamic Republic. When many Iranians complain that Iran’s nuclear program has diverted the free world’s attention from their country’s human rights situation, Mr.Ullenhag – although sympathetic to their concerns – points to the fact that there are many organizations in Europe that are supporting Iranians in their struggle for freedom and liberty. One way in which this is illustrated, he said, was the Olof Palme Award given to Iranian journalist Parvin Ardalan for her efforts to promote women’s rights. Mr. Ullenhag said while the European are concerned about Iran’s nuclear policies, they should remember the principles of human rights as universal principles that every society should respect. He said the government of Iran, as a member of the United Nations, has an obligation to observe these principles and to not deprive Iranian citizens of their human rights. He also pointed out that the final decision is for the Iranian people to make.
News and Views May 29 reported that Washington has defended the United States’ recent human rights record after being criticized in Amnesty International’s annual report. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said, “This is a tough issue. We have people who are in Guantanamo Bay who have actively supported and actively participated in some of the worst terrorist acts against the United States in our history. You have people there who have been released and transferred back to their home countries or otherwise released who have then wound up attacking US forces on the battlefield.” Mr. Casey pointed out that one of the former detainees at Guantanamo who was released recently “met his end as a suicide bomber in Mosul….The fact remains that the United States does stand at the forefront of efforts to promote international human rights and I don’t think that any of the political disputes that exist over detainee policy should detract from that.”
News and Views May 31 talked with journalist and author Rahim Rashidi about recent clashes between Kurdish and Iranian forces. Asked about the political conditions in the Kurdish region in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, Mr. Rashidi said, “Unfortunately, and despite the efforts of the Kurdish people to have democracy in the region, the Iranian government’s crackdown continues. Kurdish leaders have expressed over and over again that there is no military solution to the Kurdish issue.” Mr. Rashidi said the Iranian government ties peaceful Kurdish activities for democracy to terrorism and separatist ambitions. “But the Kurdish people, a minority, are not separatists,” he said. “They are only looking to have a political system based on democracy and human rights.”
Roundtable with You May 28 talked with scholar and author Shahla Shafiq about secularism and the women's movement in Iran. The term "secularism" was first used by the British writer George Holyoake in 1846 to describe his views of promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief... Although the term was new, the general notions of free thought on which it was based had existed throughout the history. Shahla Shafiq has written many articles and books on the topic, including The New Islamist Man: The Political Prison in Iran. She said she believes that the women’s movement in Iran is a symbolic sign of the struggle faced by Iranians who believe in secularism and the separation of religion and state. She points to the cultural contrast between the ruling class and the so-called Islamic values they try to push upon people – such as the hejab for women – and the resistance of people, particularly the women of Iran who keep fighting to preserve their own cultural identity and their human dignity. Ms. Shafiq said, “This clash of cultural identity in fact started even before the revolution, by the intellectuals who wrongfully targeted western civilization and western values for a concept that they had not even studied properly.”
Today’s Woman May 28 talked about women and democracy with Azadeh Kian-thiebaut, a lecturer in political sociology at the University of Paris. Ms. Kian said democracy is not legitimate without gender equality. “Women’s rights are human rights,” she said, “and the two cannot be separated. The roots of democracy consist of people putting aside their privileges for the sake of allowing those subordinated to be equal. In Iran, with hard work and determination women have made significant achievement. However, laws and traditional ways have enabled them from reaching their full potential.” Ms. Kian said the women’s movement in Iran can help establish the grounds for democracy. “Without the help and support of men, women cannot reach gender equality. The right to freedom lies in the individual’s ability to make choices. When we discuss women’s equality,” she said, “it affects all aspects of minorities, whether ethnic or religious. Religious or secular, women in Iran have put aside their differences in order to achieve their common goal of gender equality.”
Azadeh Kian-thiebaut appeared on Today’s Woman again on May 31 to talk about the status of democracy in Iran and the history and importance of secularism for gender equality. Ms. Kian said government and religious leaders often characterize secularism as evil or bad. “This separation of church and state, or secularization,” she said, “can only occur when a state has modernized, when it has moved toward scientific thought rather than religious ideologies…. And with democracy, secularization occurs when people vote according to their needs, not religious thought.” Ms. Kian said secularism benefits everyone, especially women. “It is even beneficial for religion,” she said. “Although it is often noted as being anti-religious, secularization allows religion to have its own freedom from the state…. When the state and religion mix, it is especially dangerous for women because those in power – usually men of the older generation – use religion and God as the source for their laws – and most people find it difficult to refute God’s words.”
Today’s Woman May 27 looked at the life and work of acclaimed scholar and author Azar Nafisi, best known for her book Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which was a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into 32 languages. Ms. Nafisi told Today’s Woman she wrote Reading Lolita for self-expression, not for political purposes. “Everyone has their own translation of literature depending on their cultural existence. If you’re in Tehran, reading Nabokov means something different than reading it in Washington. Literature has no boundaries; a woman in Iran can find herself from the writings of Jane Austin.” Ms. Nafisi said novels are democratic because they allow different points of view to present themselves. “It makes the reader become open-minded about situations and fosters tolerance. Change comes by altering minds not altering governments. Literature is an important tool that can change the minds of others. Freedom is like happiness; we are always aspiring to reach it. The essence of freedom is making choices. However, when we are free to make choices we must accept the responsibility those choices entail. Home for me is literature; it’s something that I can take with me wherever I go and neither Ahmadinejad nor Bush can take it away from me.” Ms. Nafisi said there are plans to make a movie based on Reading Lolita, and she said she has two books that will be released soon.
News and Views May 31 interviewed Ali Ashraf Darvishian, a renowned writer in Iran and board member of the non-governmental Iranian Writers Association. Mr. Darvishian is executive editor of the largest encyclopedia of ancient Persian fables (Farhang Afsanehe Marom Iran). Already totally 27 volumes, Mr. Darvishian said the collection of fables is still growing, adding that contributing authors believe the job will never be finished. Mr. Darvishian said the stories are transferred orally from the past via storytellers known as gusan. “I have been working on these volumes for years with my co-editor, Reza Khandan. In fact we’ve worked about 19 years now with no break. In all that time, we’ve not received any grants from the government or any other sources – with the exception of one small, cultural NGO.” Mr. Darvishian said the Islamic Republic has pressured his publisher into rejecting two volumes which included erotica fables. Although he recently suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized over a month, Mr. Darvishian said he is on a mission to continue this work for the next Iranian generations.
Today’s Woman May 26 focused on women’s rights activists in Iran with Nasrin Sotudeh, a Tehran-based human rights lawyer. Appearing on the program via phone, Ms. Sotudeh said authorities have arrested Amin Yaqoubali. He was collecting signatures for the One Million Signatures Campaign in a park when he was detained, but Ms. Sotudeh said his arrest is illegitimate because it is not illegal to collect signatures. He reportedly has been sentenced to one year in prison. Ms. Sotudeh also said the Tehran Revolutionary Court has given feminist Nahid Jafari a suspended sentence of six months in prison and 10 lashes for disorderly conduct in public. Ms. Jafari was arrested more than a year ago and was beaten while in custody, but Ms. Sotudeh said Iranian authorities state they do not know who was responsible for the abuse.
Roundtable with You May 24 featured journalist Erfan Qaneifard, who recently wrote a three-volume biography of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. He also has translated many books into Farsi from English and other languages. Mr. Qaneifard said he spoke with 450 of the president’s friends, associates and detractors in researching the book. He also traveled to 17 countries. Mr. Qaneifard said he delved into Mr. Talabani’s background as a Kurdish leader and the defining moments of his life. “Over the years,” he said, “Mr. Talabani and his Kurdish nation were pawns in the tug-of-war between Iran and Iraq.” He recounted the Shah’s withdrawal of support for Kurdish Iraq in 1975 in exchange for a peace treaty with Baghdad. “A number of Kurdish leaders felt betrayed by the Shah and Washington when they reached an accommodation with Saddam Hussein,” he said. Mr. Qaneifard said throughout history, Iraqi Kurds always looked to Iran for protection – even when Tehran cracked down on its own Kurdish minority. “Even when Iranians and Iraqis were killing each other in their eight-year war, Mr. Talabani aligned himself with Tehran because he saw it in the interest of Iraqi Kurds to be the allies of Iran,” he said. On the assassination of Iran’s Kurdish leader Abdolrahman Ghassemlou in Vienna in 1989, Mr. Qaneifard said that there is no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Talabani had any involvement of any kind in the planning of his murder at the hands of the Iranian security agents, contrary to what has been suggested by some of Mr. Talabani’s detractors. [Editor’s Note: After the interview, Mr. Qaneifard contacted VOA/PNN to say Mr. Talabani had watched the live broadcast of Roundtable and was appreciative of VOA/PNN devoting an entire show to his biography.]
News and Views June 1 reported that a senior Hezbollah official said the Shiite militia group has handed over the remains of several Israeli soldiers killed in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon to the International Committee of the Red Cross for delivery to Israel. Hezbollah security official Wafik Safa announced the release Sunday at the Lebanese border town of Naqoura minutes after the arrival of Nasim Nisr, a Lebanese man released from jail hours earlier by Israel. The ICRC accompanied Mr. Nisr into Lebanon following his release from the Nitzan Prison in central Israel where he had served a six-year term for allegedly spying for Hezbollah. The dual release has fueled speculation that the simultaneous developments could be part of a broader prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hezbollah. Israel holds about 10 Lebanese prisoners while Hezbollah continues to detain two Israeli soldiers seized in the deadly cross-border raid in July 2006 that sparked the 34-day war between the Shiite militia group and the Jewish state.
News and Views May 29 reported that Lebanon’s new president, Michel Suleiman, has appointed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to form a new national unity government. Mr. Suleiman announced the appointment after 68 lawmakers in Lebanon's 127-member parliament nominated Mr. Siniora, a leader of the US-backed majority coalition.
News and Views May 28 reported that Lebanon’s new president, Michel Suleiman, is consulting with lawmakers on the formation of a national unity government. Mr. Suleiman is expected to announce his support for Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to head the new government. The anti-Syrian parliamentary majority nominated Mr. Siniora Tuesday, suggesting he keep the position he has held since 2005. The president must appoint the prime minister nominated by a majority of lawmakers. The Hezbollah-backed opposition has said it is not satisfied with the choice of Mr. Siniora, because of his involvement in Lebanon’s 18-month-long political stalemate. President Suleiman’s election last week and the proposed unity government are part of an Arab-brokered deal Lebanon's rival politicians reached last week. Despite the deal, tensions between anti-Syrian and pro-Hezbollah factions remain high. Officials say Hezbollah gunmen opened fire on rival activists during a confrontation east of Beirut Tuesday, killing a Lebanese soldier who was caught in the shooting. The government has announced a ban on provocative political activity in Beirut to prevent more factional fighting. The measure bans political activists from chanting slogans, waving flags and using motorbikes and car parades. Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally, Amal, called on their supporters to adhere to the ban.
News and Views May 27 reported that sources close to United Nations-sponsored talks on a prisoner exchange between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah say there is progress and that there could be positive developments in the next 30 days. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has pledged not to use weapons for political gain in the country, adding that Hezbollah does not seek to rule Lebanon. In an address before thousands of supporters in Beirut, the Hezbollah leader said he would comply with the recent Arab-brokered agreement that forbids the use of arms to achieve political goals.
News and Views May 26 reported that Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has begun his first day in office, facing the challenge of stabilizing a country still shaken by civil war. Lebanon’s parliament elected the former army chief as president Sunday as part of an Arab-brokered agreement to defuse an 18-month-long political crisis. His main task this week will be to form a unity government in which the Hezbollah-led opposition will have veto power. The government will replace the Western-backed administration of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. He resigned Sunday, but will stay on as caretaker until a new administration is formed. During his inaugural speech Sunday, Mr. Suleiman urged Lebanese factions to discuss a joint defense strategy for the country. He also called for better relations with Syria, which occupied Lebanon for 29 years until 2005. President Suleiman earned a reputation for being a neutral, unifying leader, during his decade-long tenure as army chief. He took the post in 1998, eight years after Lebanon’s 15-year civil war ended.
Today’s Woman May 29 focused on a global health conference recently held in Washington, DC, with mother and daughter participants from Houston, psychologist Dr. Elham Kourosh and pediatrician Dr. Atosa Kourosh. The main problems highlighted at the conference were AIDS, malaria and access to clean water and medicine. Dr. Elham Kourosh (the mother), said sickness in any part of the world is a threat to the whole of society. One topic that came up at the conference, she said, was domestic violence. “Of the women surveyed in one particular country, 50% believe that when they disobey their husband, he has the right to hit them. We want to educate women and make clear that in no circumstance is it alright for a woman to get abused by her spouse. Growing up, my family was very supportive and insisted that I get my doctorate degree. My father told me that for a woman, education is particularly important because it contributes to being a good mother. If we parents listen to our children more often we can learn a great deal.” Dr. Elham Kourosh’s daughter, Dr. Atosa Kourosh, said conference participants want to contribute to society. “During my travels to Africa, China, and India the children, no matter what dire circumstances they may be in, have hope for happiness. The two most important and beneficial things for children are family and education. Every child should realize that they were put on this earth to make it better. When a child truly believes they can accomplish anything, chances are they will.”
Late Edition May 31 featured an interview with Sean Ashfar, a specialist in digital visual effects. Sean left Iran after graduating from high school, and earned his undergraduate degree in film production from San Francisco State University. He said establishing himself in post production work in Los Angeles has been difficult, saying, “This is a very competitive business.” Sean has worked with companies such as Artisan, New Gate, Disney and Universal Pictures, and is considered one of the most successful Iranian-Americans in Hollywood today. He has worked on films like Idiocracy and My Super Ex-Girlfriend as well as on TV series such as ER and CSI.
Roundtable with You May 31 talked with Arya Abbas Amirie on his recently released autobiography, Unparalleled Journey. As a young boy, Mr. Amirie raised lambs to subsidize his school expenses. He went to New York in 1957 with $630 in his pocket and an English vocabulary of fewer than 40 words, and ended up with a Ph.D. and a faculty position at Kent State University. He formed a student group at KSU and took the group to Iran for a year of study. That endeavor led to his establishing an international research center to advise the Shah on foreign policy. He later taught at the University of California at Los Angeles and advised President Ronald Reagan on Middle Eastern affairs.
Today’s Woman May 30 talked about consanguineous marriages in Iran and other countries and why marriages between blood relatives occur. Dr. Fariborz Gorouhi, a medical internist, said the primary concern for inter-family marriages are the genetic disorders that can arise for the children. This occurs, he said, when two genes of the same type come together. Dr. Gorouhi said vaccines and medicines are available today for some of the health factors of consanguineous marriage. He said it is not 100% guaranteed that children of such relationships will have genetic problems; the main component that determines the likelihood of genetic disorders is how closely the mother and father are related. For consanguineous couples who want to get married, Dr. Gorouhi said it is very important that they be educated and informed about the possible risk factors.
Today’s Woman June 1 focused heavily on children as the first day of June is International Children’s Day. The first segment aired a package on gifted children. Experts say the percentage of such children is extremely low, and parents should not push their children beyond their abilities but instead focus on their children’s particular strengths and interests. The next segment looked at malnutrition in the world and the call for global help in fighting hunger and poverty. Proper health and nutrition is extremely important not only in child development but also in the production levels and economics of a country. Many people are malnourished to the point that they cannot function at physical and mental capacity. The final segment focused on the side effects of energy drinks such as Red Bull. Energy drinks have led to heart-related complications. It is especially dangerous to mix energy drinks with alcohol.
This week’s History Channel segments included profiles of artists Georgia O’Keefe and Jackson Pollock, cowboy Buffalo Bill and rock icon Tina Turner. Segments one and two profiled Georgia O’Keefe, who is considered one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. Her work was devoted to creating imagery that expressed what she called “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.” Ms. O’Keefe’s images include abstractions, large-scale depictions of flowers, leaves, rocks, shells, and bones, as well as unusual shapes and colors found in the architecture and landscapes of northern New Mexico. Segment three profiled artist Jackson Pollock, whose drip-splash method of painting on his large canvases established his reputation as a major abstract expressionist. He also explored figurative studies, but shortly before his death in an automobile accident, he reclaimed his interest in action painting. Segment four profiled the adventures and legends of William F. Cody, also known as Buffalo Bill, one of the most colorful figures of the Old West of the late 1800’s, mostly famous for the shows he organized with cowboy themes. Segment five profiled Tina Turner, born as Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, the daughter of a sharecropper who overcame poverty and hardship to become one of the most successful entertainers ever. She broke down the racist and sexist walls that had traditionally insulated the world of rock music to become an adored rock diva.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – answered several e-mails from viewers. After last week’s broadcast, a number of viewers called in or wrote to ask about the responsibilities of VOA/PNN and whether we had any hidden agenda. “Doubtless, every medium has responsibilities,” Mr. Mahmoudi said, “which differ based on the laws, by-laws and the charters of each broadcasting organization. Radio was used by Nazi Germany and other aggressors for propaganda purposes during World War Two. Many times, it was successful. But today, with the globalization of the Internet, it is unimaginable to think the message of any given broadcast source influences people in the same way it once did. Audiences now have access to multiple sources of information. It is the audience who must weigh the messages heard and decide whether he/she finds the information credible and authentic. We at VOA/PNN are working under a very clear and transparent charter. Our responsibility is to inform, to be totally truthful and unbiased. We do our utmost to adhere to these rules. We believe in and practice according to the principles of free flowing information. We are broadcasting from a democratic country with all its checks and balances in place. There are officials and/or state-controlled media of some not-so-democratic countries who make accusations. It is entirely up to the informed audience to judge whether those accusations have any merit. Our mission is to broadcast information free from biases. There is no hidden agenda. We are transparent and truthful. You be the judge.”
The fifth week of Late Edition’s Book Club highlighted The Inheritance of Loss, which won author Kiran Desai the Booker Prize in 2006. At 35, Ms. Desai is the youngest women ever to have won the Booker, Britain’s best-known literary award. The novel explores globalization, multiculturalism, economic inequality, fundamentalism and terrorist violence. Ms. Desai argues that multiculturalism, confined to the Western metropolis, doesn’t begin to address the causes of extremism and violence in the modern world. The book is “set in a remote corner of Indian against the backdrop of growing Nepalese unrest, and in the streets of Manhattan, where illegal immigrants try to make a living while eluding the authorities. It is Ms. Desai’s second book and concerns itself with what she calls ‘the enormous anxiety of being a foreigner.’” Ms. Desai’s mother, Anita Desai, has been a Booker finalist three times, but has not won. They are the first mother-daughter team of nominees in the prize’s history.
PNN’s question of the week was, “Is the nomination of Ali Larijani as Speaker of the Parliament by conservatives in the Majlis considered a defeat for President Ahmadinejad?” Out of 8,748 respondents, 53% said yes, 37% said no, while 11% 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: “The ayatollahs of the Islamic regime maintain their dictatorship by imposing unjust restrictions on the Iranian people. I believe the Iranian people need to learn more about their rights and responsibilities. This definitely could lead to democracy and freedom.”
IRNA, the Islamic Republic News Agency, reported May 27 that Behzad Nabavi, a veteran Iranian politician who is a senior member of the reformist Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, said, “You cannot bring change to Iran through VOA.” Responding to a question about his former deputy, journalist Mohsen Sazegara, and about reformist student activist Ali Afshari, Mr. Nabavi said they “cooperate with Americans and claim some people have pushed them to the American side!” Mr. Nabavi said cooperating with American media against the Iranian regime is not effective. He said, “Change needs to happen from within. You cannot bring change inside the country through VOA.” When reformist lawmaker Nouradin Pirmoazen appeared on VOA’s Roundtable with You on March 9 to discuss Iran’s then-upcoming parliamentary elections, he criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy and referred to the disqualification of reformists from running for office as a “political massacre.” Iran’s Interior Minister attacked Mr. Pirmoazen, saying “This has definitely been treason and an appalling act.”
From a viewer in Tehran: “To me, the Iranian parliament should not be taken seriously because qualified people are not allowed to run for office, and if a bill is passed by the Parliament, it can be rejected easily by the Guardian Council or [Supreme Leader Ayatollah] Khamenei.
From a viewer in Kashan: “Thanks for your programs. I wish you success in your work. I hope one day our nation gets rid of despotism.”
From a viewer in Iran: “I believe Iranians need to learn more about their rights and responsibilities [if they want to] get democracy. Currently, people are very accepting with the restrictions the Islamic Republic imposes on their life. This only helps to maintain the dictatorship of the Ayatollahs.”
From a viewer in Sari City, the capital of the northern Mazandaran province: “Mohsen Rezaie, Secretary of the Expediency Council recently said that Imam Khomeini brought identity to the Iranian people. This is doubtful because when the Imam came to power, what happened is that many young girls fled the country only to be prostitutes in foreign countries; the number of prisoners soared from 6,500 to 250,000; the unemployment rate increased; and the divorce rate went up.”
on May 29 highlighted VOA/PNN’s interview with Azar Nafisi, “sitting left in this discussion interview on Voice of America’s Persian TV station. [She] is the author of the bestselling book Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which has gained a great deal of public attention and has been translated into 32 languages.” The site then lists links to the interview from YouTube: http://www.iranian.com/main/singlepage/2008/azar-nafisi-1 http://www.iranian.com/main/singlepage/2008/azar-nafisi-2 http://www.iranian.com/main/singlepage/2008/azar-nafisi-3
From a viewer in Tehran, commenting on VOA/PNN’s live broadcast of Late Edition from the Newseum in Washington, DC, on May 29: “First of all, I must congratulate all of you for such a professional and informative program. To be frank, I must say that you have been really successful in attracting many layers of Iranian society, particularly the young and the educated layers. I have a few points I’d like to make. The program is jam-packed with political news and interviews. There is almost nothing to help viewers relax. You need to add music and songs to your line-up. I thought your program at the Newseum was especially good. On behalf of my family, we really appreciate you. Your professional staff proved they are hard-working and doing their best to strengthen links with their fellow Iranians.”
From a teacher in Kerman: “Thank you so much for tonight’s program [from the Newseum]. It’s really making a difference.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Thank you very much VOA Persian staff! With your hard work, you have made VOA news indispensable to me and millions of Iranians around the world. Your work is important to us, especially in this darkest era of the history of Iran when people have an unquenched thirst for knowing the truth.”
From an Iranian viewer in Germany: “Instead of having a physician on Today’s Woman talking about viruses and vaccines, why not bring a lawyer onto the show who can speak about important issues like women’s rights and freedom in Iran? As Iranian women, we are not getting anywhere. Our problem is the fascist Islamic mindset. It is not health, but freedom, from these mindsets that we need. Have you not asked yourselves what is more important in this sensitive region of the world, health or freedom? Please spend the limited time you have on Today’s Woman discussing what is important.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Please have Today’s Woman do a show about the poor in Iran. I send you this picture because women – at least in my opinion – are more sympathetic than men.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Please make more time to acknowledge and read viewer e-mails in order to show them they are important. It shouldn’t take more than two minutes.”
From a viewer in Iran: “Does older age in pregnant women in consanguineous relationships increase the risk of genetic problems in the children?”
From a 25-year-old viewer in Karaj: “I find Today’s Woman a very informative program. I hope one day it will be broadcast freely for everyone inside Iran.”
From a viewer in Hamedan: “I watch Today’s Woman everyday. I hope to see you all here in Iran one day. Producing programs on topics that are taboo in Iran is very useful and constructive.
From a viewer in Hamedan: “Would you please produce a program about women and the veil? Thank you.”
From a viewer in Iran: “A lack of security in Iran is one of the major problems women face. The male-dominated society does not allow women to work because of this excuse. From the men’s perspective, the only secure job for women is teaching.”
From a viewer in Tehran: “Your programs are great and valuable. Whenever there is bad weather in the capital and it causes problems in watching VOA, it makes me crazy!”