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Persian tv weekly highlights 2/9




Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week


Washington D.C. – February 9… Special programming marks the 30th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution this week. Other top stories include analysis of Iran’s first satellite launch; U.S.-Russian plans to begin talks on reducing nuclear stockpiles; and new information on former FBI agent Robert Levinson who disappeared in Iran in 2007.

IRAN CELEBRATES 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ISLAMIC REVOLUTION

PNN Special Programming this week: In the first of a series of special reports, News and Views detailed the rupture in U.S.-Iranian relations, President Barack Obama's options and the possibility of future U.S. dialogue with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Segments on a variety of programs explored topics such as nuclear developments, Iranian youth, women's status and the economy. February 11, 1979, was the final collapse of the Pahlavi dynasty when rebel troops overwhelmed those loyal to the Shah of Iran. Iranians approved a national referendum on April 1, 1979, making Iran officially an Islamic Republic. "The ramifications of events in Iran 30 years ago are still being felt today," said VOA Director Danforth Austin. "VOA has expanded its audience in Iran, becoming the largest international broadcaster in that country."

30 YEARS AFTER, IRAN’S REVOLUTION STILL REVERBERATES

News and Views February 3 – Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution caused a rupture of relations between that country and the United States that continues today, 30 years later. However, U.S. President Barack Obama has sent signals to Teheran that dialogue may be possible. VOA looked at events over the past three decades. On February 1, 1979, Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile in France. Iran's Islamic revolution had already begun, but it solidified around him. Later that year, on November 4, radicals scaled the wall at the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 53 diplomats, staff, and guards hostage. Thus began 30 years of anger and confrontation, culminating in 2002 when President George Bush declared Iran to be part of the so-called "Axis of Evil," three countries he said were pursuing nuclear weapons. But now, with the change of administration, President Barack Obama is sending a different signal. His latest message came in an interview with al-Arabiya TV. “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us,” stated the President during his first televised interview in office.

Much of Iran's rage against the United States stems from Washington's support of Iran's Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. He took control in 1953 after a CIA-backed coup against the elected Iranian government. Many Iranians came to view the Shah as a brutal oppressor, a view that bolstered Iran's Islamists, says former Iranian diplomat Shireen Tahmaseeb Hunter. When the United States admitted the gravely ill Shah on October 22, 1979, the rage of radicals reached the boiling point. On November 4, radicals seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The move energized an even wider group of Iranians. Former embassy Charge d'Affairs and hostage Bruce Laingen said, “It was meant to be a symbolic, short term act. But immediately, it became something more than that. Because the very evidence of Iranian students going over the walls of the embassy inspired a passion on the streets very quickly on the part of everybody, particularly young students.” Bruce Laingen and the other hostages were held captive for 444 days until being released on January 20, 1981. There were other events that deepened the hostility towards America. When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein launched in 1980 an eight-years-long war against Iran, the United States backed him. Then in July 1988, a U.S. Navy ship in the Persian Gulf accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner, killing all 290 people aboard. After the U.S. toppled Saddam in 2003, Iran saw an opportunity to become influential in Iraq by working though certain clerics and political parties. At the same time, the United States has accused Iran of providing bombs and support to Iraqi insurgents to attack American troops.

It is Iran's nuclear ambitions that are the main point of contention between Washington and Tehran. The United States and some Arab states believe Iran is taking these actions to establish itself as a major regional power. Some, like Center for Strategic and International Studies senior analyst Anthony Cordesman, downplay the power of Iran. According to Mr. Cordesman, “It [Iran] is a hegemon, which basically has limited influence in Iraq, has major problems with Afghanistan, can't dominate the Gulf, or carry out any military action in the Gulf without provoking the United States into a response that it cannot cope with, has no great influence in Central Asia, as a power can scarcely put pressure on Turkey, and whose leverage in Syria is as much a matter of Syria using Iran as Iran using Syria.” The Iranian Revolution is now 30 years-old. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to make numerous demands of the United States before Tehran agrees to ease the current official diplomatic freeze. But analysts say the recent change in U.S. leadership may afford an opportunity to let go of much of the past and begin to chip away at the ice.

Roundtable February 2 – Mehdi Khalaji joined Roundtable to discuss the status of modern Shia Islam in post-revolutionary Iran. Mr. Khalaji is a Middle East analyst at the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Studies. Mr. Khalaji noted that the 1979 revolution in Iran has created a fundamental shift in any level of critical thinking in Iran, from economic planning, to cultural development, to education, family planning, social affairs, as well as political engagement. Mr. Khalaji attributed the decline in critical thinking across these areas to the shifts in perspectives of Shia Islam. Mr. Khalaji believes that open and frank discussions on policy have largely been in decline during the last 30 years. In Mr. Khalaji's view, a seismic shift has taken place in Iran because, in general, prior to the revolution in Iran the clergy and clerics were a "fringe part of the society, which depended on the religious belief of the populace for its survival and success." He added, "Currently, they find themselves responsible for every single issue. And that has been quite tough on the more intellectual clergy who only sees its role as religious advocates."

Roundtable February 3 – On the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Iran has allowed western Journalists to travel to Iran to report the news. This opening is a change from last year when the correspondents of many foreign news media outlets failed to get their visas extended and, as a result, had to leave the country. The Voice of America was not allowed to visit Iran to report on the Anniversary of the Revolution. Islamic orientation minister Mohammad Hossein Safar-Harandi banned the BBC’s new Farsi-language TV station from operating in Iran, and has forbidden Iranian journalists to work for foreign news media outlets. According to the group Reporters Without Borders, Iranian journalists are prevented from freely covering domestic news. PNN spoke with Reza Moeini, an Iranian representative at Reporters Without Borders. Since December, the government of the Islamic Republic has shut down an increasing number of newspapers and blocked numerous websites.

NewsTalk February 4 – PNN guest analyst Alireza Nourizadeh described how the Shah did not permit certain political parties. According to him, this is what gave the best opportunity for religious leaders to take over the leadership of political activities in Iran – “In the absence of political parties and democracy in Iran, the majority of Iranian people followed Ayatollah Khomeini, not the secular political leaders like Shahpour Bakhtiar.” Mr. Nourizadeh said that when Ayatollah Khomeini was in the opposition, he promised many things to the Iranian people. However, when he finally got the power he did something else. Mohsen Sazgara added that the Shah did not cooperate with the secular opposition, which could have prevented the revolution. Mr. Sazgara said the political groups who followed Khomeini did not have clear vision of “freedom”. He explained that the meaning of the Islamic Republic, which Khomeini founded, was not clear to many of his followers.

Roundtable February 6 – Dr. Esmaeil Khouie, an Iranian author and poet, joined PNN to discuss the influence and effects of the 1979 revolution on the Iranian language. Dr. Khouie stated that language in any given land is a "follower of the economic, socio-political, as well as cultural system and situation of the time, and is not separate from those influences.” However, according to Dr. Khouie, a new form of dialogue was introduced after the revolution in Iran. He explained how the government tried to express its antagonistic feelings towards some groups or governments through a "tough language." Dr. Khouie described the use of the phrase "Great Satan" in reference to the United States as one example. He also explained how the government tried to express its support for groups that were more aligned to their politics by using soft and affectionate language, such as the use of "oppressed people" or "occupied land" in reference to the situation of the Palestinians and the actions of Israel. Dr. Khouie also noted that the Iranian language had already undergone a massive re-structuring prior to the revolution. He explained how language sophistication increased in accordance with the economic status of people. Dr. Khouie lamented what he described as "foul language and disrespectful communication" that has been brought about because of the stress and economic hardship that citizens now experience.

48 Hours February 8 – One of the main slogans of the 1979 revolution was "Independence, Freedom and the Islamic Republic." London journalist Alireza Nourizadeh spoke about the last 30 years since the revolution. Mr. Nourizadeh explained how revolutionary leaders believed that the Shah was a mere puppet of the West and that he wanted no foreign power to meddle in Iranian affairs. Mr. Nourizadeh said that Iran was not a puppet of the United States and new declassified documents in the West show that the Shah was his own man and that he put Iran’s national interests above those of Washington or London. "The Shah wanted to exercise Iranian sovereignty in the Persian Gulf and if that ruffled the feathers of the West, then so be it," he said. Ayatollah Khomeini, on the other hand, defined "independence" in very anti-Western terms. However, the Islamic Republic, Mr. Nourizadeh claimed, is far more dependent on foreign powers than the Shah was, at least in terms of economic assistance. "Russian advisors in Iran far outnumbered American ones before the revolution," he said. "Freedom" also became a victim of the revolution's excesses as Ayatollah Khomeini moved to consolidate power for the clerics and put down any kind of dissent by closing down independent newspapers and political groups, Mr. Nourizadeh said. Mr. Nourizadeh said that by rigging elections and disqualifying candidates who are not in line ideologically with the regime, the Islamic Republic has lost any remnant of legitimacy. In the area of foreign policy, the regime has isolated Iran internationally and has turned it into a pariah state, he said. On U.S.-Iran relations and prospects for normal ties between the two countries, Mr. Nourizadeh said he seriously doubts that Iran's Supreme Leader has any interest in normalized relations with Washington. "Anti-America bias and hostility to anything that America stands for is the founding principle of the Islamic Republic,” he added. Mr. Nourizadeh briefly spoke about this week’s launch of the first Iranian satellite into orbit. He said, “Progress is not being able to send a satellite into orbit. How can Iranian leaders claim progress when we have 14 million people in poverty or as an oil-rich country we continue to import gasoline?”

A LOOK AT THE BEGINNINGS OF THE ISLAMIC CONSTITUTION IN IRAN

News and Views February 6 – In a series exploring the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, PNN analyzed the roots of the Islamic constitution. Hedayat Matin-Daftari, the head of Iran's National Bar Association before the Iranian revolution of 1979, granted PNN an interview. Mr. Matin-Daftari said that the concept of the "Absolute Rule of the Religious Leader", which provides the backbone of the theocratic rule in today's Iran, was something that Ayatollah Khomeini had in mind while in exile. However, Mr. Matin-Daftari believes the Ayatollah concealed his real agenda from most of the Iranian opposition trying to overthrow the monarchy. According to Mr. Matin-Daftari, although revolutionaries were now in charge and Mr. Khomeini their leader, secular groups were unaware of Mr. Khomeini's ultimate plan for an Islamic government through the establishment of the Absolute Rule of the Religious Leader, referred to in Iran as velayat al-faqih. He stated that the abolition of Iran's secular system of justice was the pre-requisite for establishing his theocratic rule.” The provisional constitution for the Islamic Republic did not include the post of supreme Islamic clerical ruler," he said. "Iran's current constitution is incapable of being revised because its founding principles are based on Islamic ideology. The Iranian constitution, as it has been written, is inherently undemocratic. There are some provisions in this constitution that give it a facade of democracy, but it's just a facade," he said.


SOME IRANIAN WOMEN CALL FOR MORE EQUALITY AND FREEDOM

News and Views February 7 – Thirty years after the revolution, Iranian women at home and abroad call for change. Iran's Islamic revolution was all about bringing change. Many hoped that by toppling a repressive monarchy and rolling back western influence, revolutionists would usher in a freer and better life for its citizens. While change certainly came, it had different consequences from what many had hoped -- especially for women. Now 30 years later, many Iranian women abroad and at home are calling for more equality and personal freedom. Best-selling author Siba Shakib spoke with VOA in Dubai. Ms. Shakib left Tehran shortly after the 1979 revolution. Since then, she has returned to Iran only a few times. Ms. Shakib has written a lot on Afghanistan, focusing on the strength of women in difficult times. As for Iran, she says the Islamic revolution has been both good and bad for women. “In a way we have become more suppressed but we were never free,” she stated. “The past 30 years in Iran has not only taught men and boys but especially girls and women to fight even more and a lot of women and girls who otherwise would not have education do have education now, they do work, they do have responsibility, they do not have an opinion,” she added.

The Iranian revolution forced Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi out of office and swept into power religious cleric Ayatollah Khomeini. But after he took power, draconian laws were put into place that took away many women's rights. Human rights activist Shirin Ebadi was a judge under the Shah. Like many professionals and intellectuals, she initially supported the revolution. She was soon forced out of her job, but did not give up her fight for democracy and human rights - often amid death threats. In 2003, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work. She says the revolution's promises of individual and social freedom have not been realized. Ms. Ebadi stated, “I never saw the freedom that I wanted being realized. That is why I became a defender of human rights and I am fighting so that we actually gain that freedom." Shirin Ebadi stayed in Iran, but between two and three million other Iranians left during and after the revolution. Many settled in the United States, Europe and here in Dubai. Fariba Shiva is a beautician in Dubai. She left Iran when she was eight but returned last year to visit her sister in Tehran. She believes many Iranian women want a change in their status.

Ms. Shiva offered her opinon on women in Iran saying, “They are looking for equality, they are looking for respect, they are looking for equal opportunity. They are very well educated, most of them, and they are trying to open a space for themselves in society." Author Siba Shakib agrees but says change should not mean imposing western culture on Iranian women. Like Siba Shakib - many Iranian women both at home and abroad say it's time the revolution finally delivers on its promises.

News and Views February 7 – PNN interviewed prominent attorney and human rights activist Merhangiz Kar about how the Iranian revolution has changed the status of women in Iran. Asked if women would have been better off without the advent of the Islamic revolution, Ms. Kar stated, “We cannot say with any certainty if that would have been the case or that we are better off now because of the revolution. But I can tell you that the only field that women have been allowed to excel in is higher education despite many, many obstacles that women have had to grapple with.” She added that the regime is not pleased with the fact that women make up 60 to 70 percent of Iran's student body. Ms. Kar believes the regime is anxious to reverse this trend by setting up a quota system for women entering colleges. Turning to the dress code, Ms. Kar said the mandatory Islamic veil was imposed on women through coercion. "Unfortunately, some women who were ideologically in tune with the regime cooperated with the strict enforcement of the Islamic dress code for women," she remarked. Ms. Kar characterized this action as "women against women's rights." She stated, "Women are still bearing the brunt of this Islamic dress code through coercion. It should not be forgotten that it was women who first protested against not being able to wear what they wished." Ms. Kar expressed disappointment that after 30 years Iran's penal code is still biased against women. She cited honor killings in Iran as a commonplace example. "I would have liked to believe that 30 years after the frenzied atmosphere of 1979, we could move towards banishing violence from our penal code, not just towards women but other groups as well," she added.

Roundtable February 5 – Roundtable examined the role of women in the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran; what was promised and whether it was fulfilled. There is an ongoing demand for gender equality in Iran, which signals that Iranian women's demands have not yet been fully met. PNN interviewed Geneive Abdo, liaison for the United Nation’s Alliance of Civilizations. This project was created by the UN Secretary General to improve relations between Western and Islamic societies. Ms. Abdo is a former journalist for the British newspaper The Guardian. She recently completed the book Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America after 9/11, a detailed, investigative work of the Muslim community in the United States since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Ms. Abdo was the first American journalist based in Tehran since the United States cut off ties with Iran in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. She described for PNN her insightful stories over nearly three years of living in Iran. She argued that despite Western beliefs, Islamic Hijjab is not the main issue that Iranian women face. They are more concerned about education and unjust Islamic law that discriminates against women, particularly in the areas of divorce, marriage and child custody matters. Ms. Abdo said what the revolution promised to women was not delivered and that is why there is an ongoing quest and battle for gender equality in Iran. She described how Iranian women need to gain equality in their families as this will eventually affect the society.

DUBAI BUSINESSES WANT U.S. ECONOMIC SANCTIONS LIFTED AGAINST IRAN

News and Views November 5 – U.S. sanctions against Iran have been in place since 1979, following the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by Iranian students who then held a group of Americans hostage for more than a year. The sanctions were left in place as relations between the two nations remained frozen. Sanctions were even tightened by the Bush administration in response to Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iranian business operating in the Persian Gulf states have felt the squeeze but now are hoping for some easing under the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama. VOA spoke to a Dubai businessman about the sanctions. Amir is an Iranian businessman in Dubai, shipping foodstuffs from the United States to Iran. He asked to remain anonymous but said he believes the sanctions are just too restrictive. “Everybody is hoping for change in the future, even me, myself. I hope the market gets better in the future." Amir has been in business in Dubai for 27 years. Dubai has a long history of being a trading center.

More recently, this has also been a place where Iranians can get around U.S. and international sanctions. Under the sanctions, American companies are not allowed to sell goods directly to Iran. But the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part, does not impose the same limitations on its local distributors. Iran's port, Bandar Abbas, is only about 160 kilometers northeast of here. “Dubai is very close to Iran. So it is very good business for us, for example, if we load one container and ship it to Iran, it will take nine to ten hours. So goods will go to Iran very fast,” added Amir. The United Arab Emirates is Iran's top trading partner. There are an estimated 450-thousand Iranians living here with about 10-thousand Iranian firms operating in the country. Washington wants the Emirates to keep a closer eye on Iranian banks operating in Dubai. Washington suspects that Iran is using those banks as a financial conduit to skirt international sanctions and pursue its nuclear program. While the lack of trade between Washington and Tehran has been bad for Iran, it's been quite good for the Emirates. Andrew Critchlow is the managing editor for the Dow Jones news wires. He says the Gulf States are benefiting from the sanctions and are not eager to see that change. Mr. Critchlow stated, “It is certainly not in their interest to see the United States move towards a more amicable relationship with Iran --- and Saudi Arabia for a long time has been opposed on religious and theological grounds to the Iranian regime." But Iranian businessmen like Amir definitely want to see a rapprochement so they can trade openly and boost their business. In the mean time, they are pinning their hopes on President Obama, who has said he is open to dialogue with Iran. But most analysts say that 30 years of mistrust between Washington and Tehran will not be reversed so quickly, and politics is likely to continue to have an impact on trade and business.

ANALYSIS OF IRAN’S INTERNATIONAL POSTURE

48 Hours February 5 – 48 Hours focused on the roots of Iran’s hostility towards America with guest Abbas Milani. Dr. Milani is the director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University and a visiting professor in the department of political science. Dr. Milani suggested that hostilities towards the West are used as a way to deflect criticism from Iran’s own shortcomings and mismanagement. He said Iran's widespread corruption and the incompetence of Iranian leaders has become public knowledge for many Iranians. Dr. Milani said if regime leaders felt their power jeopardized or if the leaders felt that economic hardship threatened the regime’s hold on power, the regime might be forced to rethink their hostile policies toward the West and begin to negotiate in good faith. “Oil prices have dropped so much that Iran's basic economic needs are not being met. Self-preservation is paramount in the minds of Iranian clerics. Even if it means de-escalating tensions between Iran and the rest of the world, they would do it in order to survive politically,” he commented. Dr. Milani said that it would be a mistake to think that Iran only has problems with the United States. He outlined a number of issues that are outstanding between Tehran and other members of the international community. "Over the nuclear issue, it's not just Washington, but Europe, Russia and China that have come together in slapping sanctions on Iran. There is Tehran's assistance to militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas at a time of dire economic conditions in Iran. There is also the worsening human rights situation in Iran that the world community cannot turn a blind eye to," he added.

News and Views February 3 – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was briefed by Special Envoy for the Mideast George Mitchell on his trip to the region. Both briefed President Barack Obama this afternoon. Secretary Clinton said Washington is waiting for the results of the Israeli elections to work with the new Israeli government. Mr. Mitchell said parties in the region "recognize widely that American diplomacy can be helpful in resolving the difference and moving forward toward the peace and stability that everyone wants." Mr. Mitchell said, "With patient, determined and persevering diplomacy, we can help to make a difference and that we can assist those in the region achieve the peace and stability that people on all sides long for." Secretary Clinton also discussed the Middle East and Iran with her visiting British and German counterparts. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he was in Washington "with a very strong commitment from our prime minister to work with President Obama…to work with all of your colleagues across the whole range of issues that bring us together". Mr. Miliband then summarized the U.S. approach towards Iran. German Foreign Minister Frank Walter-Steinmeier was more direct in expressing concern about Iran and its latest adventure in launching a satellite into orbit. The German minister stated, “"In Iran, we also have to understand that what we are facing in that country are technical capabilities that really urgently require an intensified dialogue between us in the months and weeks to come.” Meanwhile, the P5+1 member countries that deal with Iran's nuclear portfolio concluded its meeting in Wiesbaden, Germany and issued a statement. The meeting was attended by U.S. representative William Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. The group's statement called for a diplomatic solution as well as Iran's cooperation with the IAEA.

NewsTalk February 1 – Mehrdad Khonsari, a research consultant with the London-based Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, and Paris-based journalist Cyrus Amouzgar discussed the latest news on Iran and the region. Mr. Khonsari spoke about the latest on Hamas, who reportedly fired missiles into Israel today. He commented on the peace plans underway to maintain stability in the Middle East. Mr. Amouzgar assessed Special Envoy George Mitchell’s recent trip to the Middle East. “Senator George Mitchell has experience in Middle East Issues. We have to be optimistic about his meeting in the region,” he added. Both spoke about the situation in Iran. Mr. Amouzgar stated the main problem in Iran is that there is no direct connection between the government and the people.

IRAN-AFRICA SERIES

News and Views February 6 – PNN examined the freeze in relations between Egypt and Iran. After the revolution in Iran, President Muhammad Anwar Al Sadat welcomed the exiled Shah of Iran. This action and the friendship between the Shah and Mr. Sadat infuriated Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran’s revolutionists. In 1980, with Ayatollah Khomeini’s order, the Iranian government officially cut all ties with Egypt. In the last decade, specifically during President Khatami’s administration, Iran attempted to restore relations with Egypt. In this report, PNN looked at the recent demonstrations in front of the Egyptian Interest Section in Tehran. In 1981, Iran named a street in Tehran after Khalid Islambouli, the man who assassinated President Sadat. This action is one of the largest obstacles that prevents the normalization of relations between Egypt and Iran. Political analyst Dr. Ahmad Zeid Abadi, journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin and Shapour Bahrami, the former Iranian ambassador to Egypt, reviewed the nuances of Iran’s relationship with Egypt.

News and Views February 7 – Turning to Iran’s relationship with Algeria before the revolution, PNN examined Algeria’s role in the U.S. hostage crisis in Tehran. Algeria played a key role in the negotiation and the release of American diplomats who were held hostage in Iran. In 1993, Algeria cut off ties with Iran after accusing the Islamic Republic of supporting the Islamic Salvation Front for its interference in Algeria’s internal affairs. Tehran denied the accusations. Relations between Algeria and Iran were normalized during President Khatami’s administration. During President Ahmadinejad’s term however, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was not eager to improve the relationship. Iran was further angered when Algeria supported the United Arab Emirates’ claim over 3 islands in the Persian Gulf.

News and Views February 8­ – During the third segment, PNN highlighted the relatively stable relationship between Iran and Tunisia. Journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, stated Iran’s direct financial and logistical support of liberation movements in Africa caused relations between the two countries to sour. Relations are improving as Iran is working with Tunisia on economic policies. Next, PNN looked at Iran’s relationship with Libya, which actually improved after the 1979 revolution. Iran and Libya became strategically aligned due to similarities in anti-American and anti-Israeli positions.

News and Views February 9 – PNN looked at reports of increasing economic and military links between Sudan and Iran. Some Iranian Revolutionary Guards were allegedly dispatched to Sudan to assist with the training of the Sudanese army. Seventy percent of Sudan’s population is Sunni. In this report, PNN discussed the Darfur crisis and the possibility of Iranian involvement in training and helping the Sudanese government.

IRAN LAUNCHES FIRST SATELLITE INTO ORBIT

News and Views February 4 – PNN announced that Iran has launched its first satellite, called Omid, into orbit with great domestic fanfare. PNN interviewed Charles Vick, an aerospace expert with the organization Global Security, on the recent launch. Mr. Vick has over 35 years of aerospace expertise in Soviet space technology and international space assessment. Mr. Vick said that launching a satellite is a major accomplishment for any nation. He remarked, "In the face of world opposition and sanctions, Iran has joined a very exclusive club." Mr. Vick added, however, "the act was mainly a symbolic accomplishment because the satellite was very small. Launching a heavy warhead for intercontinental distances would require a far more powerful missile." Mr. Vick spoke about the strategic implications of launching a satellite into orbit. He noted that the launch demonstrates Iran's launch-vehicle technology. This technology has two types of application – a peaceful application for satellites and the potential for launching long-range missiles with nuclear warheads. Mr. Vick added that North Korea, China and free-lance scientists from the former Soviet Union and Pakistan provided technical expertise to Iran on its ballistic missile technology. Mr. Vick concluded that Iran's main motive in developing its space technology seems to be aimed at asserting itself as the main military power in the Persian Gulf region.

IRAN’S SATELLITE STIRS NUCLEAR CONCERN

News and Views February 3 – Amid great domestic pride and celebration, Iran put its first satellite into orbit. Yet to leaders and analysts in the West, the satellite launch represents a forward step in Iran's apparent quest to be both nuclear capable and able to deliver a warhead on target. Yesterday Iran joined the nations who have a presence in space. The satellite Iran put in orbit has heightened concerns in Washington and elsewhere about Iran's nuclear ambitions. In October, 1957, the then-Soviet Union launched its first satellite, Sputnik. Overnight, the West was forced to face the reality that if Moscow could put a satellite in orbit, it could also put a nuclear warhead on target. Today many analysts say they believe Iran appears to be focused both on nuclear weapons and missile capability. The motivation, they say, is self-protection, which is usually called "deterrence." At the Washington nuclear study group The Ploughshares Fund, President Joseph Cirincione shared his views. Mr. Cirincione stated, “They want a nuclear weapon to defend their territory, defend their government. They live in a very tough neighborhood. They are surrounded by nuclear states - Russia, China, Pakistan, India, and, too, Israel and the United States.”

But at the White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs framed Iran's space launch as potentially aggressive. “This action does not convince us that Iran is acting responsibly to advance stability or security in the region,” said Mr. Gibbs. Since the early 1980's, Israel has been able to reach at least part of Iran with its Jericho II missiles. Many analysts say a longer range version is being developed. Diplomatic experts believe that for Iran's leaders this is a justification to become nuclear capable. Still, reaching deterrence with Israel or any state is, perhaps, still years away according to nuclear analyst David Albright, founder of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. “Iran has a formidable challenge to be able to put a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile. If the missile is going to be small, then it has an even greater challenge, because the nuclear warhead has to be small. And it can be very difficult, particularly for a country like Iran to actually make a warhead small enough to fit on a small missile,” added Mr. Albright. Iran continues to complete its nuclear reactor at Bushehr with Russian assistance. The Bushehr facility is visible.

However much of Iran's nuclear program is hidden behind a wall of denials, though there are some structures in Natanz and Arak that have been identified by experts as strongly resembling nuclear facilities. Though the International Atomic Energy Agency is not allowed to conduct on-site verifications, western powers suspect Iran is planning to use enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons. Senior defense analyst Anthony Cordesman outlined what is known by saying, “Iran officially denies that it is seeking nuclear weapons. It is also moving forward with centrifuges which can be used to produce nuclear weapons materials. It is moving forward with a heavy water reactor, which is a way of producing plutonium that cannot be controlled.” The United Nations, with strong U.S. and European Union backing, have imposed three rounds of sanctions. Iran has refused to comply with demands to halt its nuclear program. Joseph Cirincione is one of a number of analysts who sees three options: military engagement, sanctions, or diplomatic engagement. But Mr. Cirincione and others say that the upcoming elections in Iran, and the desire by its leaders to continue to portray the United States as the enemy, will likely prevent or dampen any official response for now to President Barack Obama's recent overtures.

News and Views February 3 – State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood called the news about Iran sending its first satellite into orbit notable and cause for great concern. Mr. Wood said that developing a space launch vehicle that could put a satellite into orbit “could possibly lead to the development of a ballistic missile system”. He reported that UN Security Council Resolution 1718 prohibits Iran from engaging in missile-related activities.

NewsTalk February 3 – Studio guest Dr. Sohrab Sobhani and London-based analyst Nasser Mohamadi joined PNN to discuss Iran’s launch of its first satellite into orbit. Dr. Sobhani spoke about the positive outcomes of the launch and said that Iranian youth deserve more opportunities that are scientific. Mr. Mohamadi added, “Before launching a satellite, it would be better to strengthen the industrial base in Iran.” Discussion turned to Hamas with Dr. Sobhani stating, “It is better to negotiate with people and countries that can have a constructive role in Iran than to negotiate with the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal.” Mr. Mohamadi said, “Iran can be a real superpower in the region if it follows a friendly policy in relation with neighboring countries and the West.” Mr. Mohamadi believes Iran will need to be more transparent if it hopes to negotiate with the U.S.

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER IN WASHINGTON TO MEET WITH SEC. CLINTON

News and Views February 6 – PNN reported that during the visit by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to the United States, the minister discussed an array of issues with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Topics that ranked on the agenda included the state of relations in the Middle East, specifically Iran and Afghanistan. Secretary Clinton thanked France for its leadership in achieving the ceasefire in Georgia and undertaking efforts to tackle the global financial challenges. She also said the U.S. is proud to have France as a coalition partner in Afghanistan. On the Mideast, both diplomats stressed the need for Israel to open the crossings. On talks with Hamas, Foreign Minister Kouchner quoted Tony Blair, the Quartet Envoy, that a task force cannot be formed until Hamas agrees not to talk with other Palestinian factions. Secretary Clinton reiterated the U.S. stance on the subject. Asked about the decision of the Kyrgyz President to close the U.S. airbase in that country, Secretary Clinton stated no matter what the decision of that government, it will not affect U.S. operations. She said the Pentagon is looking into other options should the leadership in Bishkek proceed with its decision. On Afghanistan, the French diplomat commended the parliamentarian elections and the election of women to the Afghan legislative body, something he said no one dreamed could happen a few years ago. Mr. Kouchner commented, "I think that the key word on Afghanistan is what I call Afghanisation. That means, we must give the people of Afghanistan control of their own destiny, in the sense that the progress that has been made already, is there."

RUSSIA AND U.S. SET TO BEGIN TALKS ON REDUCING NUCLEAR WEAPONS

News and Views February 6 – PNN learned that the new U.S. administration is looking forward to holding talks with Russia on nuclear arms reduction. President Barack Obama is set on convening what the Times of London calls "the most ambitious arms reduction talks with Russia for a generation." The Times reported that the Administration would aim to drastically cut each country's stockpile of nuclear weapons by 80%. The reason behind the talks is the December 2009 expiration of the 1991 U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Under the current treaty, Russia and the U.S. have cut their respective stockpiles from roughly 10,000 to 5,000. An administration official stated, "We are going to re-engage Russia in a more traditional, legally binding arms reduction process." The official added, "We are prepared to engage in a broader dialogue with the Russians over issues of concern to them. Nobody would be surprised if a reduction to the 1,000 mark for the stockpile would be the result for the post-START treaty. Early reports indicate that Russia has expressed willingness in this regard.

PANETTA: IRAN MAY HAVE MILITARY INTENT IN ITS NUCLEAR PROGRAM

News and Views February 6 – In continued coverage on Iran's nuclear program, PNN reported that President Barack Obama's pick for CIA chief has concerns about the intentions of Iran's nuclear program. During his confirmation hearing, Leon Panetta acknowledged he has little experience in intelligence matters. However, he told the Senate Intelligence Committee that if confirmed, he would bring valuable experience to the job. Mr. Panetta said that the biggest challenge for the CIA would be anticipating the next crisis. In testimony prepared for a Senate hearing, Mr. Panetta said his first challenge would be to improve the agency's human-intelligence operations. Mr. Panetta said it was crucial that policymakers have accurate information on looming threats. Mr. Panetta told Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) that he believes Iran's nuclear intentions are not wholly civilian, suggesting that the country has a military intent. Mr. Panetta applauded the efforts the CIA has made in Iraq and Afghanistan in fighting terrorists and following rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea. He said the biggest challenge for the agency is looking ahead to potential emerging crises.
Mr. Panetta mentioned Russia, China, Africa, Latin America and the worldwide economic crisis. He stated that he wants to bolster CIA operations in these regions and other parts of the world where tomorrow's threats already may be starting to develop. Mr. Panetta told the Committee the United States will continue to hand foreign detainees over to other countries for questioning, but only with assurances that they will not be tortured. No torture has long been U.S. policy, but some former prisoners subjected to a process — known as extraordinary rendition— during the Bush administration's anti-terror war said they were tortured. "I will seek the same kind of assurances that they will not be treated inhumanely," Panetta said Friday in his second day before the Senate Intelligence Committee. "I intend to use the State Department to be sure those assurances are implemented and stood by, by those countries." Mr. Panetta formally retracted a statement he made Thursday that the Bush administration transferred prisoners for the purpose of torture. "I am not aware of the validity of those claims," he said. Senator Kit Bond, (R-MO) chastised Mr. Panetta for careless words. "You cannot be making statements or making judgments based on rumors and news stories," he added. Mr. Panetta addressed the practice of waterboarding by stating, "I believe that waterboarding is torture and is wrong, and more importantly, the president has expressed the same opinion. Having said that, I also believe that, as the president has indicated, that those individuals who operated pursuant to the legal opinion that indicated that that was proper and legal ought not to be prosecuted or investigated."

VICE PRESIDENT SPEAKS AT MUNICH SECURITY CONFERENCE

News and Views February 7 – An analysis of world events with international analyst Dr. Bahman Aghaii Diba focused on the 45th Munich Security Conference underway in Germany. U.S.Vice President Joe Biden and Iranian Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani were both present at the conference. Dr. Diba discussed what he called “a season of secret diplomacy” in which representatives from host governments hold informal sideline talks during conferences. Mr. Larijani attended the conference to talk about Iran’s nuclear program. Vice President Biden stated that President Barack Obama's administration would emphasize diplomacy, democracy and development over the use of military force. However, he said Washington would not hesitate to defend its interests through force if needed. The Vice President said it is time for the United States to repair its relationship with Russia, where there has been what he called a "dangerous drift.” He said the two nations may still disagree on some things, but can work together where their interests coincide. In addition, he said Washington is willing to talk to Iran, but will also work to pressure and isolate the country if it refuses to abandon its nuclear program. Envoys from Iran and Russia both said they saw potential for warmer ties with the United States under the new administration.

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER’S PARTY FARES WELL IN PROVINCIAL ELECTIONS

News and Views February 8 – PNN interviewed General Sirvan Kakooii, a ranking member of the Defense and Security Committee of the Iraqi Parliament today. During the telephone interview, the General said Iraqi lawmakers have decided that members of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) must leave Iraq. The group is also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). An Iraqi security consular said that Iraq might return some PMOI members to Iran. However, General Kakooii did not confirm this statement.

News and Views February 5 – PNN interviewed Iraqi lawmaker Dr. Mahmoud Osman about the status of the Iraqi parliament. Dr. Osman explained the Iraqi parliament was having a problem electing its speaker. “It’s unexpected that the Parliament will reach a fair agreement soon,” he said. Dr. Osman explained the lack of agreement among Iraqi lawmakers has raised fears, concerns, and serious questions about democratic process in that country.

Roundtable February 4 – According to early estimates, 51 percent of 14 million registered Iraqis took part in provincial elections across their country. Mishkat Al Moumin, who served as Minister of Environment in the Iraqi Interim Government (2004-2005); is a former professor of law at Baghdad University; and now serves as the director of an NGO that focuses on international law. He said that although Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's name was not on the ballot, initial reports show he may turn out to be the biggest beneficiary of the votes. Roundtable reported that a significant number of Mr. Maliki's State of Law Party candidates appeared victorious. James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation stated "if Al-Maliki does as well as it is being reported, that is a sign that his policies are paying off, especially his moves against the Shia militias of Al-Sadr and other radical leaders. It appears he is acquiring strong support amongst the Shia in the South, where his party wasn't strong before, and this appears to be a huge blow to Iran." Mr. Al Moumin added, "Democracy cannot be imposed, and it has to be really wanted by the people, and fought for, by the people." He spoke about the difficulties that lie ahead for Iraqi politics explaining, "Religious parties are very well organized, operate effectively, and have grass-roots effects, whereas secular parties are not organized, and have a lot of infightings.” In other news, the U.S. has repeatedly accused Iran of training and supplying weapons to insurgents in Iraq to attack American troops in Iraq. Tehran denied the charges.

News and Views February 3 – PNN spoke with Sam Parker about the first provincial election in Iraq since 2005. Mr. Parker is the program officer at the Center for Post-Conflict Peace and Stability Operations. Mr. Parker commended the provincial elections and highlighted the relative lack of violence seen in the country on election day. He spoke about how the secular slogans of service and the anti-corruption platforms proffered by candidates are steps towards building a long lasting democracy in Iraq. Mr. Parker’s recommendations to the Obama Administration through a report for the Institute for Peace are to redirect Iran's efforts to destabilize the area into something positive and to start building a relationship with Iran based on what the U.S. already agreed to – achieving stability and democracy for Iraq.

AN INTERVIEW WITH ISRAELI SPOKESMAN MARK REGEV

News and Views February 2 – PNN interviewed Mark Regev, the spokesman for the Israeli government. Mr. Regev spoke about the need to extend a hand to Muslims in the Middle East and to say, “We have no hostility towards you.” In order to fight terrorism, Mr. Regev stated, “We also have to isolate extremism by working with moderate forces.” Mr. Regev spoke about the upcoming elections in Israel. “We have a free pre-election in Israel and I wish in Iran they had that. On the issue of the threat by the regime in Tehran against our security, there is no political division and we are all united to prevent Iran from proliferating.” Mr. Regev was presented with a report by the Israeli group Peace Now and the Washington Post, which stated that 100 settlements were built illegally in 2008. Mr. Regev said the policy of the government is clear, “All settlements that are illegal will come down.”

FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN ATTORNEY GENERAL SWORN IN

News and Views February 3 – Eric Holder was sworn in as U.S. Attorney General – the first African-American to be the country's top law enforcement official. Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath of office to Mr. Holder in a ceremony today at the Justice Department. Hundreds of employees cheered, clapped and snapped photographs during the historical swearing in. After the swearing in, Mr. Holder told the crowd that their work would not be easy. He called on employees to return the Justice Department to what it once was and what it must be to serve the American people. He said the agency must make sure the American people are treated fairly and justly. The U.S. Senate confirmed Mr. Holder's nomination late Monday in a vote of 75 to 21. Vice President Biden said that under Mr. Holder's leadership the Justice Department will return to a past standard of "no politics, no ideology – only a clear assessment of facts and law." Among Mr. Holder's first priorities will be a review of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies. At his confirmation hearing last month, Mr. Holder vowed to end harsh interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, used against terrorist suspects during the Bush administration. He said he believes waterboarding is torture. Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania delayed a committee vote on Mr. Holder by a week, trying unsuccessfully to get Mr. Holder's assurance that he would not prosecute intelligence agents who took part in the waterboarding of terrorism suspects during the Bush administration. Mr. Holder will be responsible for drawing up a plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. He will also review other controversial Bush administration policies, such as military commissions to try suspected terrorists.

WASHINGTON BRIEFS


News and Views February 6 – Although media reports indicate that Abdul Qadir Kahn, a Pakistani nuclear scientist, would be released from house arrest, the State Department commented that Mr. Kahn’s lawyer made this announcement and that the Pakistani government has not yet confirmed it. The official stated further that if the reports are true, the "United States regrets the decision because it believes Khan is still a threat to international security and the Pakistani government is well aware of Washington's position."

News and Views February 5 – PNN reported that Secretary Hillary Clinton and Special Envoy George Mitchell briefed President Barack Obama about Mr. Mitchell’s trip to the region. A White House spokesman said the president agreed with the envoy that it would take U.S. diplomacy and patience to reduce tensions in the Middle East. White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "He's now developing a specific set of next steps and the president looks forward to hearing more about that." Secretary Clinton also met with Tony Blair, the Quartet envoy, to hear his views and ideas of the Middle East. She said Mr. Blair would be working with Mr. Mitchell, General Dayton and other state department and white house officials on this matter. Speaking at a conference outside Tel Aviv, Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran posed a particular challenge to his country. Mr. Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s Likud party, is a candidate for this month's parliamentary and premiership elections. Mr. Netanyahu commented, "This Iranian regime is giving Hamas the rockets, money, and the political and military backing. Therefore, if we want to end the threat of rockets from Gaza, there is no escape from uprooting Iran's regime in Gaza."

News and Views February 3 – PNN interviewed Arab journalist Salameh Nemat about Special Envoy George Mitchell’s trip to the Middle East. The journalist reported that Mr. Mitchell’s mission right now is largely exploratory. “He will observe, listen and will try to get the parties to contain the security. Every step is positive because any lack of action will give way to extremists.” The journalist said the conflict among various Palestinian factions is harder to resolve because it is getting deeper. Salameh Nemat added, “Iran's role is backing Hamas and Hezbollah, but we have to wait and see if, with the new administration’s message to the Middle East, Iran is willing to change its course.”
News and Views February 3 – PNN reported that President Barack Obama has nominated a three-term republican senator, Judd Gregg, to serve in his cabinet as commerce secretary. The senator from New Hampshire is the ranking republican on the Senate Budget Committee, and sits on subcommittees dealing with commerce, defense and homeland security. President Barack Obama said Senator Gregg agreed with him on the urgent need to get American businesses and families back on their feet, and that the republican nominee is a master at working with rival democrats to get things done.

SECOND ECONOMIC STIMULUS PLAN NEARING A CRITICAL VOTE

News and Views February 2 – With hundreds of thousands of Americans losing their jobs, many losing their homes, and a rapidly shrinking economy, President Barack Obama is under pressure to move swiftly to get his nearly $900 billion plan through congress by mid-February. Senior republican senators warned on Sunday their party was unlikely to back the stimulus bill without changes to cut waste and to ensure the package provides an immediate boost to the deteriorating economy. "The thing I want all of them (lawmakers) to remember, and the thing I am thinking of every single day, is the thousands of people being laid off from their jobs right now," President Barack Obama said in an interview with the NBC television network. "They can't afford politics as usual, and old habits are hard to break, but now is the time to break them because we have an urgent situation." President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are due to meet house and senate democratic leaders at the White House on Monday. While the president does not need republican votes to get the bill passed, winning their support is an early test of his commitment to his campaign promise to try to end divisive politics. Republicans are unhappy with some of the spending priorities in the bill, which proposes a mix of tax cuts, public works projects and direct aid to struggling states. A number of U.S. companies announced layoffs last week and new figures showed the economy shrinking at its fastest rate in nearly 27 years. The number of Americans seeking jobless benefits hit a record high. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered a republican plan to provide government-backed, 4 percent fixed mortgages to credit-worthy homebuyers, saying it could save them an average of $5,600 a year.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA URGED TO FOCUS ON IRAN AND LATIN AMERICA


News and Views February 5 – U.S. President Barack Obama should keep his eye on Venezuela and its allies, including Iran, Russia and China, urged experts and lawmakers Wednesday at a hearing before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. George W. Bush's lack of attention to Latin America was partly blamed for the spread of President Chavez's influence in the region, and Subcommittee Chairman and democrat Eliot Engel warned of further leftist encroachment unless U.S. policy changed. "If we create a vacuum, others will rush in, like Iran, China, Russia or Venezuela," he said. "I hope we keep committed to focus on Venezuela," said Connie Mack, republican minority leader on the subcommittee.

Under socialist president Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has been a thorn in Washington's side since he was elected 10 years ago. Rep. Mack said the February 15 referendum that could allow Mr. Chavez unlimited reelection was an alarm signal for which the U.S. should take heed. Rep. Mack cited, “With the recent collapse of oil prices, the Chavez regime is increasingly feeling threatened, and with next week’s referendum he is once again telling the Venezuelan people to make him president for life. This is dangerous for all of us in this hemisphere, especially given his growing ties to Iran, and his military and economic alliance with Russia." U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates accused Iran last Tuesday of engaging in "subversive activity" in Latin America, saying it concerned him more than Russia's recent naval forays in the region. "I'm concerned about the level of frankly subversive activity that the Iranians are carrying on in a number of places in Latin America, particularly South America and Central America," Gates told lawmakers. "They're opening a lot of offices and a lot of fronts behind which they interfere in what is going on in some of these countries," he said. Dr. Ray Walser from The Heritage Foundation told lawmakers "the primary concern of the United States is dealing with a Latin American leader who routinely insults the U.S. and warmly embraces every rogue and tyrant from Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe to Kim Il-Song and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chávez has forged a strong relationship with an increasingly threatening Iran and a resurgent Russia." Dr. Walser said, "A less friendly player, such as Iran, is warmly welcomed by Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela and is actively courted by Brazil. Transnational bad actors from the violent Basque ETA separatists to terror groups Hezbollah and Hamas are also seeking to gain entry into the Western Hemisphere." He reiterated, "Sending an ambassador to Caracas ought to be quietly placed low down on the White House’s to-do list. A U.S. ambassador should not be sent to Caracas without a comprehensive, tough-minded strategy for dealing with Venezuela’s populist/authoritarian leader, one that focuses foremost on actions harmful to U.S. interests such as drug trafficking, creating a launching pad for radical Islamist terrorism, support for the FARC insurgency in Colombia, and fronting for Iranian sanctions evaders." Congressman Engle said, "I believe that President Barack Obama’s participation in April’s Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago would send an extremely positive message to the heads of state from Latin America and the Caribbean." He added, "As Chairman Berman moves forward with foreign aid reform and the Obama administration prepares its FY 2010 budget, it is essential that we increase funding for these countries in the Western Hemisphere." George Washington University professor Cynthia McClintock warned that Venezuela outspent the United States five to one in foreign aid in Latin America in the past few years – “It is estimated that, in 2006, Venezuela spent $2.1 billion abroad and in Latin America." Polling expert Sergio Bendixen told the hearing that democratic advances of the last 20 years are at risk as we see the unfolding of anti-American populist movements with authoritarian tendencies led and inspired by the Castro – Chavez playbook, and that Iran, Russia and China’s growing presence in the region add to this widening rift between U.S. interests and Latin America. Meanwhile, the first Russian language TV station specifically aimed at Latin America should begin broadcasting later this year, according to an announcement Wednesday by the channel's backers. The station – dubbed Inter Russia TV Channel or ITR TV – will hit the airwaves in Panama within four months, later expanding to cover the rest of the region. It will initially transmit 10 hours of programming each day, some with Spanish subtitles, later reaching an estimated half million Russian-speakers throughout Latin America.


NEW THEORY ON MISSING FLORIDIAN’S WHEREABOUTS IN IRAN

News and Views February 3 – U.S. lawmakers urged Iran to provide whereabouts of missing Floridian Robert Levinson. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) met with the Levinson family. Both men said that they would introduce resolutions Tuesday in their respective legislative bodies calling on Iran to cooperate and provide information on the whereabouts of former FBI agent Robert Levinson. Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) is co-sponsoring the measure. The resolution calls on the president and the allies of the United States to engage with officials of the government of Iran to raise the case of Robert Levinson at every opportunity, urging officials of the government of Iran to fulfill their promises of assistance to the family of Robert Levinson. The resolution calls on the government of Iran to share the results of its investigation into the disappearance of Robert Levinson with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Christine Levinson and six of her seven children, who live in Florida, will be joining Sen. Nelson and Rep. Wexler to unveil the resolution at 2:30 p.m. in the Capitol. Ms. Levinson's husband has been missing since March 2007 while on a business trip to the island of Kish off the coast of Iran. Iranian authorities have repeatedly told U.S. officials they have no information about Mr. Levinson. A new report in Newsweek suggested the case could be the new Obama administration's first diplomatic step to opening a dialogue with Iran. According to U.S. intelligence officials who asked not to be identified, Levinson disappeared after flying to Kish Island, an Iranian free-trade zone in the Persian Gulf, to investigate cigarette smuggling for his private consulting firm. Ever since his disappearance, the Iranians have denied any knowledge of his whereabouts. Nevertheless, officials have received sketchy reports that Levinson is languishing in an Iranian prison. "I believe he is alive and he's being held by the Iranians," Sen. Nelson, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Newsweek. Some U.S. intelligent officials believe Tehran might be open to releasing Mr. Levinson, perhaps as part of a swap for several Iranian diplomats who were apprehended by U.S. military forces in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil. Sources speculate the captive Iranians are suspected members of the hard line Revolutionary Guard and they were apprehended shortly before Mr. Levinson vanished. “Whenever Mr. Levinson's name has come up in the past, Iranian diplomats have quickly switched the subject to the Erbil captives – a possible sign they were interested in an exchange,” according to one U.S. intelligence official, who added that the idea is "worth exploring." On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be holding a closed hearing on Iran.

News and Views February 4 – In PNN’s continued coverage on the Bob Levinson story, PNN reported that U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Representative Robert Wexler have introduced a resolution calling on Iran to cooperate and provide information on the whereabouts of Bob Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared from Iran's Kish Island in March 2007. Mr. Levinson’s wife said she believes that her husband is alive. Christine Levinson said that she would not stop looking for Mr. Levinson. She said that U.S. officials have been very helpful in getting the word out that Bob Levinson is still missing. In December 2007, Mrs. Levinson went to Iran to meet with Iranian officials and those who saw Mr. Levinson on Kish Island. According to Mrs. Levinson, Iranian officials did not give her any information about Mr. Levinson. She said Iranian officials said that they would help her since their religion required them to do so. Iranian officials promised Mrs. Levinson that they would contact her when they finished their investigation. However, she has not heard anything from Iranian officials since December 2007.

HUMAN RIGHTS NEWS

Today’s Woman February 5 – The show began with a news segment that included a phone interview with Ms. Naseem Farahbandi, head of the women’s committee of Iran’s biggest student organization. She discussed reasons why the Iranian minister of higher education does not support female victims of harassment and instead defends the offenders. Next, the show focused on the practice of female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) with our guest Fatima Osmani, professor of legal management in Irbil. Discussion highlighted statistics and demographics of FGM. Ms. Osmani contended that the prevalence of FGM has significantly decreased in cities but still exists in villages. Discussion also focused on the psychological and physical impacts of FGM and the importance of education and raising awareness concerning the practice of FGM.

A LOOK AT MUSIC IN THE IRANIAN DIASPORA

48 Hours February 7 – PNN spoke with two acclaimed Iranian singers about their experience in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution. Hooshmand Aghili and Shakila appeared on 48 Hours to discuss their professional experience after the theocratic regime brought Muslim clerics to power. Mr. Aghili said that he left Iran two years before the revolution and never thought he would be in exile for 30 years. "That's why you have the ideas of exile and nostalgia heavily reflected in Iranian music in the Diaspora," he said. Shakila bemoaned the fact that in Iran women are not allowed to perform in public in the presence of men. "This has inhibited the careers of women singers," she said. "Children grow up by listening to their mother’s lullaby. How can we deny them a woman's voice when they grow older?" she asked. She described her life living in exile. "To reach my full potential in the world of music, I had to leave my country of birth despite my deep misgivings," Shakila said. "I have been asked to perform a number of concerts in Iran provided I appear in only-women audiences, but I've declined because I think every Iranian deserves the opportunity to hear my voice," she added. "I think being able to have our classical Iranian songs performed again by the new generation of singers has been healthy for our music," Mr. Aghili said.

BOOK CLUB RESPONDS TO VIEWER REQUESTS ABOUT GRISHAM NOVEL

Late Edition February 7 – Due to many requests from our viewers in Iran, Late Edition introduced John Grisham's latest novel titled "The Associate" on Saturday. The book was published in January 27, 2009, and remains at number one on the New York Times' bestsellers list. "The Associate" is a legal thriller, which follows current headlines regarding Wall Street lawyer misbehavior and industrial espionage with a sideline story that may remind readers of the lacrosse players’ scandal at Duke University. The plot revolves around a talented ambitious lawyer who toils away in a large law firm and is blackmailed to steal confidential documents. Like Grisham's previous novels, the nuances of the legal system and the murky, grey areas of Wall Street corporate law firms are resounding themes of the story. According to critics, Grisham's view on these issues has been more negative and extreme than before.

This week on the History Channel … a follow-up feature on Fort Knox. Viewers saw footage of the only film ever taken inside the top-secret fortress of the U.S. Bullion Depository. Almost all information about the facility is classified. The feature included an interview with Doug Simmons, who was hired to help during a 1975 audit. "Tunnels" went deep into the workings, history and extraordinary technology of the superstar tools that enable us to burrow beneath the earth. "Tunnels" took viewers to one of America's biggest tunnel projects, Atlanta's CSO (Combined Sewage Overflow). The first Biography of the week examined the life of comedian Richard Pryor. Featured interviews include Pryor, his daughter Rain, comedians Dick Gregory and Paul Rodriguez, and director Arthur Hiller. Finally, a two-part series on post-impressionists Van Gogh and Gauguin began with a journey back to October of 1888, when two struggling artists joined forces in a tiny yellow house in the South of France. Biography explored the collaboration between the two artists who shared a passion for painting despite their radically different approaches to the art. Their collaborated project "The Studio of the South" lasted only nine weeks. Nevertheless, those nine weeks proved critical to the development of each artist's work, identity and destiny. While both of these painters have been studied exhaustively over the past 100 years, their interaction and mutual influence have never before been addressed in film.

PNN’s question of the week – “Was the 1979 revolution a failure or a success?” Out of 21,854 respondents – 1,431 or 7 percent said it was a success – 20,183 or 92 percent said it was a failure – while 240 or 1 percent did not have an opinion.

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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 newsbreaks throughout our original programming, which includes the following shows: Today’s Woman, featuring influential women from around the world who discuss a full spectrum of social, medical, human rights, legal, sports and business topics. News and Views, PNN’s existing flagship, 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 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

Azad: “The Iranian Regime includes the dates of birth in Arabic calendar, in addition to the Iranian calendar, in the Birth Certificates (Shenasnameh). I am an employee of the State Organization for Registration of Civil Status, therefore I know that, by this process, the government is creeping toward changing the Iranian Solar Calendar to Arabic Lunar Calendar, thus destroying the Iranian culture. Also, I know that the people of Iran, particularly the employees of Civil Status Reg. Org. will stop the government from achieving its purpose.”

Yashar writes:
“Hello to you all at Today’s Woman. Thank you for having a weekly segment with Mr. Nabavi. He is a great satirist and I wish you could extend the time with him. Thank you again, Yashar from Goldast in Iran.”

Mahyar from Tehran:
“I regret to say that the Iranian Revolution has brought nothing for the Iranians but poverty and identity destruction. Iranian nation, will, one day, put such people as Khamenei, on trial for their crimes done through religious dictatorship.”

Soheila writes: “My name is Soheila and I write to you from Tehran. I am a big fan of Today’s Woman and I have followed your program since the start of it. Watching your program is an important part of my life. This is the first time I write to this program. This Friday’s show about relationship was great. I hope you continue to talk about this topic.”

Katayoun from Iran: “Thirty years ago, the Iranian staged a revolution in order to get freedom in social and political grounds. However, the religious government seized the power, by force, and oppressed the intelligentsia. Such repression has come to a climax in the past few years.”

A Today’s Woman viewer wrote: “30 years have passed since the Islamic Revolution. I did not have a good childhood experience because of the Iran-Iraq war. Sine I am a woman I could not bike. Biking is forbidden for us. I had to wear a hijab to cover my hair. I could not play outside the house because I was a girl. Now 30 years after the revolution I want to take my 6-month-old daughter and escape from Iran to another country. This is because I want a better future for my daughter.”

Behnaz from Tehran: “Pressure and drawbacks are increasing in Iran. Sometime ago new strict rules were imposed for what they call “internet crimes.” This has created problems in communication with you. Communicating with you has severe consequences including long-term imprisonment. Can you do anything?”
Alireza writes: “My name is Alireza and I am 20 year old. I am very happy for the discussion about relationship you had this Friday. Relationship is a big problem for Iranian youth. I agree with your guest in the show that sex should be practiced in marriage.”

Ramin from Iran: “The leaders of Iran are packs of lie: They say the oil proceeds go to people; that is a lie. They say the government is serving the nation; that is another lie, because we have an ailing economy. They say people enjoy freedom of speech; that is also a lie, as the newspapers are banned; and they say election is free. That is a big lie; as the candidates must be screened and confirmed by the Council of Guardian.”
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