Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington D.C.(March 2) – The U.S. State Department released its annual human rights report on Iran as Iranian security forces arrested over 70 students during a demonstration at Amirkabir University. PNN provided live coverage of President Barack Obama’s first address to congress in a special report. Other top stories included reports that the Bushehr nuclear plant will be operational by 2009; plans for the drawdown of American troops in Iraq; and an interview with Dr. Farinaz Koushanfar, named one of the top young innovators of 2008 by MIT Technology Review.
STATE DEPARTMENT RELEASES HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT ON IRAN
News and Views February 26 – The United States criticized Iran in its Annual Report on Human Rights, which examines human rights situations in more than 190 countries during 2008. The report looks at social, political and rule of law issues, demonstrating that the Iranian government's poor human rights record worsened during 2008 and continues to commit numerous serious abuses. The report also criticizes China and Russia for their poor human rights record during 2008. The State Department criticized many other countries in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Korea, Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe.
News and Views February 27 – Human rights activist Ladan Boroumand said that this year's annual country report on Iran clearly states that the human rights situation in Iran is worsening. "Specifically, the report said that executions and extra-judicial killings are on the rise in Iran. Ethnic groups such as the Baluchis, Kurds and Iranian Arabs have also borne the brunt of the regime's crackdown," she added. On the question of whether the regime holds fair and free elections, Ms. Boroumand said that elections have never been truly free because the Islamic government pre-selects candidates that it is comfortable with and disqualifies those who are not in line ideologically. "The main issue with observing basic human rights in Iran is that Iranian clerics feel they are accountable not to the people, but to God. The political structure of the country – resting all political power with a supreme religious leader – precludes a system of government that respects human rights. The Islamic penal code – which sanctions flogging and cutting off limbs – also is in contravention of human rights standards," she added. She summarized by stating, “In every respect the human rights track record of the Islamic Republic shows deterioration.” Ms. Boroumand is the Director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF). ABF is a non-governmental non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights and democracy in Iran.
News and Views March 1 – Human rights lawyer Neil Hicks appeared on News and Views to comment on the Department of State’s country reports. Mr. Hicks works for Human Rights First, a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington, D.C. Mr. Hicks said that reports issued by human rights organizations documenting violations in countries like Iran do have an impact because governments cannot continue to be oblivious to world public opinion. "The important thing about this year's annual State Department report is that it reported that the U.S. government is not immune from criticism on its record," he said. The State Department annual report is a valuable tool for everyone who is following the human rights situation around the world, he argued. "The announcement by the Obama administration that it would shut down the Guantanamo prison camp is a very positive step because it will strengthen America's hand when it tries to persuade other countries to respect human rights and refrain from torture," he said. "The Iranian government has objected to what's in the report, but their words have little credibility," he added.
PRESIDENT OBAMA MAKES HIS FIRST ADDRESS TO CONGRESS
PNN Special Report February 24 – PNN broadcast live President Barack Obama's first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening. The president was optimistic despite desperate economic times, “Though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: we will rebuild, we will recover and the United States will emerge stronger than before.” He said the stimulus plan he signed last week is a first step, but that long-term challenges lie ahead. The President also acknowledged that money is tight but said his administration has already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade—from agriculture to defense. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal gave the Republican response, calling for bipartisanship but warning that Republicans will only go so far. “Where we agree, Republicans must be the President’s strongest partners. And where we disagree, Republicans have a responsibility to be candid and offer better ideas for a path forward.” Political analyst Babak Yektafar was live in studio and said that President Obama is facing great challenges and great opportunities in confronting domestic and foreign crises. He said that despite the Republican’s negative reaction to the President’s economic stimulus package, President Obama gave his speech in an atmosphere that differed from his predecessor’s. Mr. Yektafar predicted that over time the President’s imitative would receive a better response from both sides of the aisle. He added that Republicans have no choice but to rely on Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, and Michael Steele.
70 STUDENTS ARRESTED AT AMIRKABIR UNIVERSITY IN TEHRAN
News and Views February 24 – More than seventy students were arrested at Amirkabir University. A crowd of more than 1,500 students of the Polytechnic University staged a protest against the regime’s policy to re-bury martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war on the grounds of the university. Students carried banners, complaining that their campus was being turned into a cemetery. The students also said the Evin prison in Tehran was becoming a university due to the number of students being held there. Forty of the arrested students were later released. According to the news report, some of the students were wounded by batons, knives, sprays and other weapons used by regime forces. News from the Tehran Polytechnic Students' Forum reported eight students were detained in their homes. During the re-burial ceremony, witnesses said there were clashes between the protesting students, members of the security forces and other students loyal to the government. Nasim Sarabandi, an executive of the Women’s Committee of Daftar -Tahkim-Vahdat (the main Students’ Union) told PNN, “Yesterday Iranian TV broadcasted that Daftar Tahkim invited citizens and students to join them and demonstrate against Iranian authority and this news isn’t true.” Mrs. Sarabandi suggested that the authorities who wanted to re-bury the war’s dead victims on university grounds could have, at the very least, asked students how they felt about this and respected their opinions.
NewsTalk February 24 – NewsTalk devoted most of the news hour to the recent student demonstrations. Ghasim Shole Saadi, a former educator at a university in Tehran; Morteza Simyari, a member of an Iranian student movement; and London-based journalist Nasser Mohammadi, added their insights to the discussion. Mr. Saadi described how the government’s treatment of student activists is worsening. Mr. Simyari added to the discussion by imploring the government to respect students’ requests. He urged the government to respond to student demands in positive ways rather than arresting them and sending them to prison. Mr. Saadi stated, “There are many obstacles on the road to democracy, but many people fight for it anyway with the only weapon they have, which is hope.” Discussion of the situation of student activists led to a talk about the regime’s efforts to honor the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war. Mr. Simyari remarked that the government of Iran uses martyrs as a political weapon against the student movement in Iran. He added, “They want to change the Amirkabir University into a cemetery where they bury the bodies of war martyrs in the university.” Mr. Mohamadi remarked, “In fact, to bury the martyrs in the universities is a way of insulting them because they use them as a political weapon against the students. Iran's regime has to respect the people who sacrificed their lives for their country.”
Roundtable February 25 – According to an Amirkabir University news site, dozens of Iranian students were arrested Monday after they protested a government decision to rebury troops who died in the Iran-Iraq war on the grounds of a Tehran university. Ali Afshari and Ehsan Ramezanian joined Roundtable to speak about the developing story. Ali Afshari is a political analyst and a former student activist. Ehsan Ramezanian is a member of Liberal Students’ Group in Tehran. The university’s website, AUTnews.com, which is controlled by the students who organized the demonstration, said that 20 students were transferred to Tehran's Evin Prison and that the others had been released overnight. It also reported the arrests of five student leaders Tuesday. "This is a scheme to create rallying points at universities for student supporters of the government. They said that anybody who criticizes anything will in fact be criticizing the revered martyrs of the war," former student leader Abdullah Momeni said in an interview Tuesday. He also said that universities are the last places in this country with a grain of freedom and the ability to express opinions. Discussion centered on the implications of the policy to bury martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war on university grounds. Students are incensed by the government’s attempts to turn universities into “graveyards” in order to dampen student protests against the government.
BUSHEHR NUCLEAR PLANT TO BE OPERATIONAL IN 2009
NewsTalk February 25 – Preparations for the opening of the first phase of the Bushehr nuclear power plant was the focus of today’s NewsTalk with analysts Alireza Nourizadeh reporting from Los Angeles and in-studio guest Mohsen Sazegara. Mr. Sazegara began by explaining that Iran seemed to be following the same path as that of North Korea. “What happened at Busheher is not against Russia’s obligations regarding UN sanctions against Iran. It is just a small step, which was expected several years ago. The main problem is if Russia does something that facilitates Iran's ability to create an atomic bomb,” he stated. Mr. Nourizadeh remarked that Russia has received many benefits from its atomic relationship with Iran. The next topic for the hour was the recently released report on human rights in Iran, which was published by the U.S. Department of State. Mr. Nourizadeh said, “The State Department's report cheers all Human Rights activists in Iran. This report shows that U.S. policy has not changed.” Discussion centered around whether or not the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights impedes on the rights of those rights found under Islamic rule. Mr. Sazegara commented on the topic saying, “We have just one Human Rights Declaration and there is no Islamic (or other religion) Human Rights Declaration.”
TENSIONS RISE BETWEEN ARAB COUNTRIES AND IRAN OVER BAHRAIN
48 Hours February 28 – The show focused on increasing tensions over the sovereignty of Bahrain. Reza Ghassemi, a former Iranian diplomat and ambassador to Kuwait, appeared on the show with Ibrahim Mirani, a member of Iran's Pan Iranist party. In the 1970’s the Pan Iranist party opposed granting independence to Bahrain. Mr. Ghassemi said that the reaction by Arab countries was understandable after a prominent Iranian cleric called Bahrain one of Iran's provinces. "This unwise statement was very provocative and we could understand why it triggered widespread condemnation in Bahrain as well as from neighboring Gulf monarchies and Arab leaders in general," he added. "The Bahraini people are happy being independent from Iran and as far as Iran is concerned the case is closed," he said. The Shah of Iran had no option but to grant the tiny Gulf Island its sovereignty when the British withdrew its forces from the Persian Gulf in the early 1970s, he said. Mr. Ghassemi said that the government of Iran may have called Bahrain's sovereignty into question as a counter-weight to the United Arab Emirate's territory dispute over the three islands Abu Musa, Tunb, and Lesser Tunb. "Iran had to act as a responsible member of the international community and could not keep that island as a colony against the wishes of its Arab inhabitants," Mr. Ghassemi stated. Mr. Ibrahim Mirani, a member of the Pan Iranist party, believed that “Bahrain was an integral part of Iran. Bahrain’s independence was against the Iranian constitution, and all international conventions presented another viewpoint.” Mr. Ghassemi countered that by saying if we can legitimately claim sovereignty over Bahrain, then we should go ahead and make similar claims over parts of Afghanistan, the Caucuses and former Soviet republics. "The sooner we realize as Iranians that Bahrain is a non-issue, the better-off everyone will be," he said. In closing, Mr. Ghassemi said, "Historians will judge the Shah of Iran kindly for his decision to make Bahrain independent."
NATIONAL SECURITY REFORM SEEKS TO MANAGE NEW THREATS
News and Views February 27 – PNN reported on a study by members of the Guiding Coalition of the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR). The PNSR unanimously affirmed that the national security of the United States is fundamentally at risk. In an on-record briefing at VOA, James R. Locher, executive director of the Project on National Security Reform, and Ambassador Thomas Pickering, explained key areas of the report’s findings and the recommendations. Mr. Locher said the security environment of the early 21st century differs from the environment that the U.S national security system was created to manage. “The character of the actors has changed, the diversity of state capability is greater, and international norms have shifted as well,” he added. The findings call for a bold, but carefully crafted plan of comprehensive reform that is capable of overcoming the challenges of the present environment. Mr. Locher then said, “The report’s major assessments and findings follow a four-part logic – assessment of the international environment, revisement of the conceptual grasp of national security, and then identify the problems of the current system. And on that basis spell out the goals for effective reform.” Ambassador Thomas Pickering also explained the new concept of national security as moving away from a concept of maintaining security from aggression against the nation to a concept of maintaining security against the failure of major national infrastructure systems. Ambassador Pickering pointed out that most of the budget goes to military spending. He contended that related agencies suffer from under funding.
PUBLIC DIPLOMACY UPDATES
News and Views February 28 – President Barack Obama’s new policies towards the Middle East led the discussion of world events with international analyst and weekly contributor Dr. Bahman Aghaii Diba. Dr. Diba spoke about the recent activities of U.S. diplomats and envoys in the Middle East, saying that their work “is in the path of President Obama’s new policies, but it is too early to see the changes. The diplomats are still gathering information. President Obama’s administration is very patient with Iran.” Dr. Diba was asked what he thought about recent moves by European governments to increase sanctions on Iran. “Europe is preparing to get involved in case U.S.- Iran talks fail. Europe does not want any military option to be exercised,” he replied. Dr. Diba also gave his thoughts on a U.S. military exit from Iraq, saying that the impact of a military exit on the region is largely dependent on Iraq’s security. He added that Iran and Syria also have a role in the matter. However, he believes that Iran and Syria have little interest in the stability of Iraq. Other analysts maintain that an unstable Iraq would aid both Syria and Iran politically.
News and Views February 27 – PNN reported Senator John Kerry is presiding over a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on how to better engage Muslim communities around the world. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing speakers included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and experts on Muslim and interfaith issues. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright told lawmakers, "The United States is frequently accused of applying one set of standards to its own actions and another to that of Arabs and Iran. Upcoming votes in Iran and Afghanistan will no doubt influence the course of those nations." Dalia E. Mogahed of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies told Committee members, "A recent Gallup survey found majorities around the world, including 90% of Egyptians and 57% of Iranians, believe the invasion of Iraq did more harm than good. Only percentages in the single digits believe the West takes an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” Ms. Mogahed stated that the resolution of violent conflict and the responsible withdrawal from occupied countries are the most important steps we can take to squelch public anger at the U.S., contending that such steps should be applied to Iraq and Afghanistan.
NOTES FROM IRAQ
News and Views February 23 – PNN’s correspondent and analyst for Iraq and Turkey reported that weapons made in Iran were found in Iraq. Iraqi authorities stated that they believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran would continue to support and arm Iraqi militants. Iraqi and U.S. forces are working together to destroy Iraqi militias. To date, an estimated 51 terrorists have been captured or killed by coalition forces. In other news, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Major General David Perkins, said the U.S. has been transferring security responsibilities to the Iraqi government. According to General Perkins, a reduction of 8,000 U.S.military personnel has already taken place. Abdul Karim Khalaf, a spokesman from the Interior Department, said the ability of Iraqi forces to fight terrorism has increasingly improved. Finally, PNN reported that the U.S. is evaluating the selling or transferring of some its military equipment to the Iraqi army. PNN reported, “The security improvement in Iraq makes the gradual withdraw of U.S. forces possible.”
News and Views February 26 – PNN reported that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani visited Iran in an attempt to improve Iran-Iraq relations. Meanwhile, British and Kuwaiti prime ministers visited Iraq. Iraq has asked Kuwait to forgive its more than $28 billion debt to Kuwait.
News and Views February 26 – PNN reported that Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, an adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said earlier this month that Iran had sovereignty over the kingdom of Bahrain. Iraq’s foreign ministry condemned the comment and officially supported Bahrain’s right to sovereignty. PNN reported coverage of the long-standing dispute over the territorial sovereignty of Bahrain.
News and Views February 25 – PNN reported on an interesting development in the Turkish Parliament. Ahmet Turk, who heads the Democratic Society Party (the largest pro-Turkish party), triggered a controversy after he delivered a speech in Kurdish to parliament. Mr. Turk broke a law that bars the language from official settings. In response, the Turkish state television immediately stopped the broadcast of Mr. Turk’s speech. The reaction of the Turkish government to Mr. Turk’s speech has increased the tension between the European Union and Turkey. Approximately one-fifth of Turkey's population is ethnic Kurds. Speaking Kurdish in public was banned until the 1990s, being considered a threat to unity. The Kurdish language is still banned in all official correspondence and state institutions.
FEDERAL BUDGET PUSHES FOR CHANGE AT A RECORD COST TO TAXPAYERS
News and Views February 25 – PNN reported that President Obama has pulled out his most potent weapon – the federal budget – to carry out his promise of change, including winding down the Iraq war, expanding health care and tackling global warming. However, in proposing a record $3.55 trillion federal budget for next year, President Obama's gambit is full of political and financial risks that Congress will have to weigh when it debates his proposals and writes its own budget blueprint in coming weeks. The popular president, who came to office on January 20 with a vow of bipartisanship, is not expected to attract much support from opposition republicans for a document that is packed with ever-rising domestic spending and tax increases on the wealthy. Even some of the president’s fellow democrats, who control both chambers, might have a hard time swallowing new spending and cuts in some programs such as agriculture. More importantly, his fiscal plan envisions huge budget deficits – and government borrowing that goes with that – to continue throughout his four-year term. Moreover, for some budget experts that is a terrifying prospect given the $10.8 trillion national debt already being carried by Washington. With a $1.75 trillion deficit expected this year (12.3 percent of the gross domestic product), the president’s budget would leave deficits of about 3 percent of GDP in 2013.
GOP LEADERS CALL PRESIDENT’S PLAN IRRESPONSIBLE
News and Views February 25 – Republican leaders attacked President Obama's handling of the economy Tuesday, calling it irresponsible and “certain to increase taxes and federal debt”. Responding to the president’s televised speech to a joint session of congress, top republicans said the president relies too heavily on spending, and not enough on tax cuts, in trying to revive the economy. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal gave the Republican Party’s official response, saying "The way to lead is not to raise taxes and put more money and power in hands of Washington politicians." He said that the massive economic stimulus bill recently enacted by the president and congressional democrats will expand the government, increase taxes down the line, and saddle future generations with debt. Many say the governor is eyeing a presidential bid in 2012. The president told Congress last night, "I've asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort. I have told each of my cabinet members, as well as mayors and governors across the country, that the American people and I will hold them accountable for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive inspector general to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called recovery.gov so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent." Vice President Joseph Biden held the first Recovery Plan Implementation meeting.
CONGRESS DEBATES $205 BILLION WAR FUNDING PACKAGE
News and Views February 27 – Congress continued debate on the president's budget proposal. President Obama requested about $205 billion in war funding through the end of fiscal 2010 on Thursday. The president is planning to boost troop levels in Afghanistan to counter resurgent Taliban forces. His first budget proposal asked for $75.5 billion through September, which would bring total war spending to $141.4 billion for the current fiscal year. The president also requested a slightly smaller $130 billion to fund the wars for fiscal year 2010, which starts on October 1. He asked Congress to increase the Pentagon's regular budget to $533.7 billion next year – up 4 percent, or $20.4 billion, from its spending plan for the current year (drawn up under the Bush administration). The budget proposal also increases State Department funding from $47.2 billion in 2009 to $51.7 billion in 2010.
News and Views February 25 – The president’s federal budget envisions slowly increasing military spending while drastically cutting the cost of the Iraq war as he withdraws troops from Iraq – a major campaign promise. The cost for the two wars will decline to $130 billion in the 2010 fiscal year that begins October 1, according to an official who briefed reporters on the president’s budget, due to be released on Thursday. Annual costs for the war will drop sharply after that to $50 billion annually beginning in 2011. Congress has already appropriated about half of the money that the Obama administration said it would need for Iraq and Afghanistan this year. However, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the administration would need to make a budget "supplemental" request to Congress for an additional $75 billion. President Obama, who inherited a more-than $1 trillion budget deficit from President George W. Bush, will set a goal in the budget of cutting that deficit in half by 2013. The administration anticipates big savings in the budget over the next few years in a number of areas, including defense spending. Some private analysts are skeptical that the reduction of troops from Iraq will bring big savings in the near term. They note that the drawdown from Iraq comes as the administration is boosting troop levels in Afghanistan. Troop withdrawals also can be costly initially because of the costs to move personnel and equipment out of a war zone.
The administration official said those costs were included in the budget. President Obama will deliver an address on Friday regarding "the way forward" in Iraq, officials said, in which he is widely expected to announce steps to begin pulling U.S. combat troops out of Iraq. Pentagon officials said about 40,000 troops involved in training and mentoring Iraqi security forces were expected to remain through the end of 2011, when all U.S. forces are due to leave under a agreement signed between the United States and Iraq. President Bush signed a $612 billion defense authorization bill in September – the largest in real terms since World War II. The economic crisis means defense spending will come under more pressure and restrictions. In his speech to Congress on Tuesday, President Obama promised his upcoming budget would bolster the pay and benefits of soldiers and increase the total number of troops, but that unnecessary "Cold War-era" weapons would be eliminated.
CLINTON MEETS WITH AFGHAN AND PAKISTANI COUNTERPARTS
News and Views February 27 – State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed that there are links between Afghan and Pakistani security, and Taliban and al-Qaida threats to both countries. Mr. Wood said that the trilateral meeting between Secretary Clinton and her Afghan and Pakistani counterparts was a very good forum for discussion on how to deal with security issues in the region. Mr. Wood declined to comment on specifics regarding the deployment of 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Instead, he chose to connect the deployment of the troops to the question of how the U.S. can improve the security situation both inside Afghanistan and along its border.
DEMOCRATS CONCERNED ABOUT IRAQ DRAWDOWN PLAN
News and Views February 27 – PNN reported the leading democrats have expressed concern over President Obama's plan to draw down nearly two-thirds of U.S. forces in Iraq by August 2010. Congressional officials said the president would announce the 19-month withdrawal plan of combat troops at Camp Lejeune, a U.S. military base in North Carolina. Under the president’s proposal, up to 50,000 troops could stay in Iraq for limited missions in training and combating terrorism. The move has brought praise from some key republicans while democrats are disappointed at the high number of troops who are set to remain in Iraq. "When they talk about 50,000, that's a little higher number than I had anticipated," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said before the briefing at the White House. However, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) said in a statement, "The president’s plan balances the benefits of reducing our presence in Iraq with the need to do so deliberately and responsibly. By drawing down troops, we will reduce the strain on our military, free up resources for Afghanistan and other priorities, and support the Iraqi government.” Given continued interests in the region, the president’s plan allows for the gradual shift of troops to other missions. The timeframe currently set forth is three months longer than what the president promised while campaigning for the presidency. The increased duration would allow U.S. troops to maintain a presence in Iraq through a series of regional elections. Republican Congressman John McHugh, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he is concerned the situation in Iraq remains fragile.
NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION POLICY LOOKS AT IRAN AND RUSSIA
News and Views February 27 – The link between nuclear nonproliferation and U.S., Russian, and Iranian interests continued to stir debate. The president’s 2010 budget proposal contains the wording, “The president will work with our allies to ensure that Iran lives up to its responsibilities to the world community, and rededicate America to the agreement at the heart of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to work toward a world without nuclear weapons while working over the next four years to lock down all loose fissile material." Howard L. Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a hearing on U.S.-Russia relations that "At the heart of our relationship with Russia lies a number of inter-related foreign policy issues and challenges – Iran’s nuclear program, the war in Afghanistan, missile defense, and arms control." Rep. Berman asked, "Should the new administration continue to pursue missile defense in the Czech Republic and Poland as it seeks to engage Russia in efforts to prevent the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran?" Chairman Berman believes that Iran should be at the top of the agenda in U.S.-Russia bilateral discussions.
Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution said in his testimony to the Foreign Affairs Committee, "Differing timelines for the U.S. missile defense system and the development of a long-range Iranian missile offer the administration an opportunity to find a way forward.” Mr. Pifer stated that the Bush administration had planned to make the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic operational in 2012. According to Mr. Pifer, most projections suggested that the Iranians would need more time to develop a long-range missile. It is Mr. Pifer’s opinion that the administration should adopt a two or three year moratorium on the construction of the missile defense sites. Rep.
Gary L. Ackerman, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, brought India into the mix by saying that any strategy addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions needs to be supported by a broad international coalition and India, based on both its interests and its values, should be a part of that coalition.
Senators Chuck Hagel and John Kerry outlined in a report that the U.S. should look favorably at the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline once the new administration has sorted out its policies for Iran, and that it should also support the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline.
News and Views February 25 – PNN reported that Dennis Ross has been appointed as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s special advisor for the Gulf and Southwest Asia. State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said Mr. Ross will integrate policy development and implementation across a number of offices and officials in the State Department and provide the secretary of state with strategic advice. Mr. Wood stated that Ambassador Ross will not serve as an envoy nor negotiate with officials in the region, but will aid the secretary’s work in the countries of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E, and Yemen.
News and Views February 23 – A top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that the U.S. policy of shunning communist Cuba by imposing a strict trade embargo has failed to prod the island nation toward democracy and should be re-evaluated. "We must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests," wrote Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) in a report dated Monday. While the report stops short of calling an end to the ban, it offers a harsh assessment of U.S. policies. It charges that the existing embargo provides the Cuban government a convenient "scapegoat" for the nation's economic difficulties, ignores recent political developments, and keeps the U.S. from gaining a "broader understanding of events on the island." The report points out that President Obama could engage Cuba on this and other issues such as drug interdiction, migration and terrorism.
POPULAR BLOG ASKS IRANIANS, “DO YOU TRUST YOUR GOVERNMENT?”
Roundtable February 26 – PNN reported to viewers that nearly 70 percent of Americans approve of the way President Obama is doing his job. This news, in spite of the severe economic problems in the United States, is according to the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll. In comparison, President Bush’s approval rating hovered around 30 percent in January 2008. President Obama campaigned on the idea of bringing change to the American people and people seem to support that. The Islamic Republic also said it wants prosperity for its people. There are no similar polls in Iran. Some government reports in Iran indicate high support for President Ahmadinejad. Only a few months ago, the Iranian Majlis Research Center was reported to have concluded that Ahmadinejad's approval rating had drastically declined. Other Iranian government-run media claimed his approval rating is high. PNN asked viewers, “To what extent do you trust your government?” Viewers sent in more than 50 emails. A PNN journalist’s blog received more than 120 comments. Close to 600 viewers participated in the survey on the blog. Ninety-seven percent of those who answered do not trust the Iranian government. Only 1% of those who responded fully trust their government. A Google Analytics report demonstrated that the blog site received 5,158 visits from 81 countries. The U.S., Germany, and Iran had the highest number of visitors to the site. One-hundred and ten visitors from the U.A.E. also checked out the blog. Visitors spent an average time of under three minutes on the site. Visitors left 538 comments on the site this month.
SEX SEGREGATION IN SCHOOLS SEEN AS THE ROOT OF SOME SOCIAL ISSUES
Today’s Woman February 28 – The show focused on the effects of sex segregation in schools with contributions from Mehrdad Darvishpour, a sociologist based in Stockholm; Dr. Akbar Karami, a general physician from inside Iran; and two weblog writers from inside Iran. Mr. Darvishpour argued that school segregation is the root of many social issues. He contended that separating boys and girls in schools could lead to a hunter/prey ideology in which men are portrayed as invaders and women as victims. Dr. Karami acknowledged that school segregation stems from the imposition of religion, suggesting that in Iran people are more progressive than the government. In phone interviews, Iranian weblog writers Neda and Arash spoke from their personal experiences of the negative effects school segregation has had on their lives.
ISRAELI TENNIS PLAYER REFUSED ENTRY TO TENNIS TOURNAMENT IN DUBAI
Roundtable February 24 – The United Arab Emirates’ refusal to grant an entry visa to a female Israeli player to play in the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championship has spurred a furious debate about sports and politics. The U.A.E. said it was worried that Israel’s incursion into Gaza would make fans angry and put Shahar Peer, ranked 45th in the world, in danger. Sports journalist Iraj Adibzadeh appeared on Roundtable and argued that the era for using sports as a political tool is over. He discussed the many reasons why sports should be separated from politics. Outraged, the Tennis Channel refused to air the event. The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour has hit the Dubai tournament with an unprecedented series of fines, penalties and warnings.
HUMAN RIGHTS NEWS FOCUSES ON STUDENT CRACKDOWNS
News and Views February 27 – On the morning of February 12, 2009, officers of the Ministry of Intelligence in Iran allegedly attacked Alireza Davoudi at his home in Isfahan and transferred him to a jail in the city. Alireza is the Isfahan spokesman for Students for Equality and Freedom in Iran (SEF). His father, Shahram Davoudi, spoke with PNN about his son’s situation. The elder Davoudi stated that his son Alireza is in a bad situation, saying, “Last Sunday, I could visit my son for only five minutes. His face was red and he couldn’t speak to us very well.” Alireza Davoudi is a well-known student activist at the University of Isfahan. He was also arrested last Spring and was subjected to physical and mental torture while in prison. His exact whereabouts are unknown at this time. Forces of the regime also arrested Mohammad Pourabdollah on the same date at his house in Tehran. Mohammad was one of the 50 SEF students arrested last year following Student Day celebrations.
GATHERING PLACE OF THE GONABADI DERVISHES IS DESTROYED
News and Views February 23 – the Iranian authorities have reportedly destroyed a house of worship of the Gonabadi dervishes in Isfahan. Mostafa Azmayesh, the author of several books on Sufism and the representative of the Gonabadi dervishes outside Iran, spoke to PNN about the declining tolerance of the religion. Mr. Azmayesh described to PNN that the "hidden pressure" on dervishes is growing. Mr. Azmayesh told PNN that more than 126 dervishes are currently being held in Evin prison, with six people detained in ward number 242, allegedly an area of solitary confinement. Islamic Republic forces destroyed the prayer and gathering place of the Gonabardi dervishes last Wednesday. The dervishes had gathered there to pray, meditate, read Sufi poetry, and perform religious ceremonies. In recent months, following the demolition of several dervish sites throughout Iran, dervishes in Isfahan had expressed concern that their hosseinieh could meet a similar fate. Sufis in Isfahan and elsewhere in Iran see the raid as just one part of a campaign by conservatives against the Gonabadi dervishes.
The crackdown has included arrests, court summons, and accusations in the media that Sufism is a deviation from true Islam. A Sufi house of worship was demolished in the city of Qom in 2006; another was partially destroyed in Borujerd in 2007; and a Sufi prayer house in Kish was forced to close late in 2008. Some Sufis have faced arrest, been sentenced to lashings, or been forced to pledge not to attend Sufi ceremonies. Mr. Azmayesh said that because of mounting pressures, the Gonobadi dervishes decided to protest on Saturday, February 21, 2009. This demonstration took place in front of the parliament in Baharestan square in Tehran. The author said, “It is clear that there is growing state intolerance toward religious minorities in Iran.”
HADI KHORSANDI: AN IRANIAN SATIRIST IN EXILE
Roundtable February 28 – PNN interviewed the well-known satirist Hadi Khorsandi. The history of satire in Iran can be traced back centuries to important art works such as Rumi’s. Khorsandi’s work has been compared to other famous satirists such as Obaid Zakani of the fourteenth century. Mr. Khorsandi, like Obaid Zakani, has constantly fought modern day superstition and its promoters. His satire is recognized for its humor and the meanings he infers on many levels. Some critics say that his ability to convey humor on multiple levels has made his work everlasting. Mr. Khorsandi is well-known for his comments on trying to convey the extent of censorship laws in Iran. Speaking about the talents of Charlie Chaplain, he once said, “If Charlie was in Iran, he would have been in Evin prison.” Before the 1979 revolution, Mr. Khorsandi started a daily satire column in the then prominent Etelaat newspaper. The father of comedian Shaparak Khorsandi, he is particularly renowned for his open criticism of all forms of dictatorship and religious fundamentalism. Mr. Khorsandi spoke with PNN about his work and his life in exile, explaining, “Now that my website is banned in Iran, to send my messages and words to Iranian people I luckily can use VOA PNN.” Even though he has now spent more than half of his lifetime in exile, many say that the art of Persian satire would not be complete without Hadi Khorsandi’s collective works.
IRANIAN LISTED AS ONE OF THE WORLD’S TOP YOUNG INNOVATORS
Late Edition February 28 – One of the world’s top young innovators joined Late Edition on Saturday. Rice University’s Farinaz Koushanfar joined PNN from Houston, Texas. Dr. Koushanfar, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice university, has been named to MIT Technology Review magazine's coveted 2008 list of the world's 35 Top Young Innovators. Dr. Koushanfar was recognized for developing new techniques that microchip designers can use to fight hardware piracy, a growing problem that is already believed to cost chipmakers several billion dollars per year. "In two short years at Rice, Dr. Koushanfar has firmly established herself as a leader in her field," said Rice President David Leebron. "Her work will make computers more secure and efficient for people all around the world, and she is richly deserving of Technology Review's prestigious TR35 honor." Dr. Koushanfar’s research documented a new method that allows microchip designers to lock and remotely activate chips with a unique ID tag. Her technique stems from inherent, minuscule, and unclonable variations found in individual microchips. Some variations are so miniscule that only a few atoms are out of place. Dr. Koushanfar’s chip-locking technology allows for activation of the chip by patent holders. Her work is being expanded on several fronts to create higher-level security mechanisms, chips with multiple personalities, and third-party intellectual property protection and reuse. MIT’s annual list recognizes talented and accomplished innovators under age 35 whose “cutting edge research exemplifies the spirits of innovation.” The 35 individuals are chosen from a field of more than 300 nominees and come from disciplines as diverse as biotechnology, medicine, computing and nanotechnology.
CINEMA NOTES AND NEWS
Late Edition February 27 – Producer and director Arman Najdm joined Late Edition from Berlin. He is a member of the Club of Iranian European Filmmakers (CIEF), which recently protested the film “Letters to the President” shown at the Berlin International Film Festival. "Letters to the President" is a documentary about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Najdm said, “The Berlin International Film Festival allows the president of this brutal regime, Ahmadinejad, to present himself as ‘human’ and ‘popular’ in this film. We must take note of the fact that, under the direction of Mr. Kosslick (the president of the festival), the Berlin film festival has changed into a stage for anti-Semitism and for self-confessing Islamists like Ahmadinejad.”
Late Edition February 27 – Iranian-born, Vienna-based TV and documentary producer and director Arash T. Riahi joined Late Edition from Vienna. Mr. Riahi spoke about his new film "For a Moment, Freedom", which focuses on the topic of migration, striking a balance between humor and tragedy. While the film portrays realistic portraits of misfortune, it does not dominate the overall feeling of the film. Mr. Riahi said, “This film is a declaration of love of life, for freedom means life. And because I do not merely regard life as something you have to get through somehow, because I see it as something worth fighting for, this film is also intended to convey a life affirming attitude, though this attitude is not blind to the bitter truths of life.” Mr. Riahi has won many prestigious awards at international festivals for the film.
This week on the History Channel – Legendary sports figure John Patrick McEnroe grew up in the suburban neighborhood of Queens, New York, and saw his first foray into professional tennis as an unseeded amateur who reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in 1977. A profile of the Russian dancing sensation Mikhail Baryshnikov followed. Also during the week, the second segment of “Hippies” aired. Viewers were taken on a mind-expanding exploration of one the most explosive, controversial and misunderstood periods in modern history. Every aspect of the movement was explored – free love, the peace movement, drugs, Eastern religions, communes, Gestalt therapy, and macrobiotics. The audience was introduced to the gurus whose words and actions inspired it – Marshall McCluhan, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Rubin, Gloria Steinem, Dick Gregory and a host of others. The final feature of the week was the opening segment of a two-part series regarding the “Hillbillies”. The History Channel looked at this mythic and misunderstood land and viewers learned about the mountain men who settled America’s first frontiers and fought the Indian wars.
PNN’s question of the week was “Should Iran officially recognize Israel?” Out of 9547 respondents 7,124 or 75 percent said yes – 2,095 or 22 percent said no – while 328 or 3 percent 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 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.
A BBC Persian viewer writes: “Since BBC has launched its programs in Persian we (and my friends) mostly tune in to their programs in the evening because of their variety, but on weekends we always switch back to 48 Hours. Tonight's show with Homeyra was most interesting.”
Taqi from Tehran asks: “To me, any change in Iran should start with changing the Constitution which is full of flaws. The biggest flaw is that dictatorship has been officially ingrained in and confirmed by the Constitution. Vali-e Faqih is over and above the law. Democracy has been defined as governing by the people and for the people. If the Regime claims there is democracy in Iran, then why only one person can make all and every decisions?”
A Today’s Woman viewer comments: “I enjoyed watching Today’s Woman program about gender segregation of school kids in Iran. I believe you have to produce several programs about this topic. It’s VERY important that you keep talking about this issue. It has a huge impact. Thank you a 58 year old woman from Iran.”
Bahram from Iran comments: “The Iranian authorities have two sorts of ‘embellishments’: First, they blame America or Israel for every miserable thing which happens in Iran; as though one would think that the politicians in these two countries have nothing to do but plot against Iran around the clock! Second, every day we hear from the state media about scientific and economic achievements in Iran; however, when we compare this news with the world news, we see high exaggeration by the government. The Iranian government is not sincere with its people.”
Sadaf from Iran remarks: “Thank you for the Today’s Woman program about Temporary marriage. I am a Sunni Muslim woman and in our faith we consider temporary marriage as cheating. I thank Ms. Davoodi Mohajer for her comments on the topic. However I think Mr. Borghe-e has no idea about contemporary Iran. I cannot believe he said Temporary marriage is not for sex.”
Soheila from Iran writes: “The Iranian authorities can be compared with those clerics in the Middle Ages. Cleric in those days repressed people in the name of the Christ. They claimed they were representatives of Christ. The present authorities of Iran, too, claim they represent the Twelfth Imam, who is in occultation, and commit many crimes in his name.”
Taqi from Tabriz writes: “Today you aired a pre-recorded message from one of you viewers in Today’s Woman program and he suggested to you to use pure Persian words in your TV programs. It was very interesting that this gentleman asked you not to use words like "enteza'ee" and alike, but he himself for times used the word "alfaz" though he could use "vazhe'ha". This indicates that there is no robust and rational argument for such issues. Thank you for you, Reza and Negar for your logic approach to the question.”
Mahyar from Tehran comments: “Unlike the speeches of the Iranian authorities, President’s Obama’s speech was informative, accountable, and contained solutions for the problems of economy. The speech was free from rhetoric and sloganeering. During the last thirty years we have seen and heard pensive and showy speeches, without giving any solution.”
Kurosh from Tehran writes: “The viewer lists the “achievements” of Ahmadinejad during his office: 1- Sanctions against Iran(2) extending censorship (3) increasing pressure on the students (4) forced retirement of the professors and (5) record inflation.”
Amir from Iran: “In a country where people have no voice in selecting the government, and have little role in the government functioning, people can trust none of the members of the governing body.”
Sohrab from Shah Abad Gharb remarks: “It is true that many factories and industries are closed because of mismanagement of the government. But it is also true that new jobs are created ranging from peddlers, tea service on the streets, to kidney-selling and prostitution.”
Sina from Isfahan writes: “In Iran all religious sects are under pressure, whether they are Shiites, Baha’is, or other minorities. The fact is the government defines every aspect of people’s life including their religions.”