Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – December 4, 2006 . . . Major stories this week included Russia saying it will back sanctions against Iran, President Bush's trip to the NATO Summit in Latvia, visits to the Middle East by President Bush and other U.S. and European officials, the open letter written to the American people by Iran’s President, ongoing jockeying in the Iran-Iraq relationship, this week’s impending report from the Iraq Study Group, Pope Benedict’s visit to Turkey and FIFA suspending Iran’s participation in all activities with the exception of a short reprieve for the Asian Games.
Iran / Nukes
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters December 1 in Amman that Russia is ready to back sanctions against Iran aimed at preventing it from building nuclear potential. He specifically cited the prohibition of technologies, materials and services related to the areas of concern, adding that Russia is against punishing Iran. His comments came after European powers circulated a new draft U.N. Security Council resolution outlining possible sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said his country, Germany and Britain wrote the latest draft, which was being shown to the United States, Russia and China. Until now, Russia has resisted U.S.-led efforts to impose strong sanctions on Iran, suspected by the West of trying to make a nuclear bomb. Iran says its nuclear activities are limited to peaceful energy projects.
In Amman, where he met with Jordanian and Iraqi leaders, President Bush again expressed concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, saying he has no problem with the Iranian people, just with the Iranian regime’s non-compliance with UN resolutions. From Los Angeles, nuclear energy expert Yadollah Parvizi told VOA the Bushehr nuclear plant in Iran is similar to other plants built by Russia, namely it follows a military design, which is only 50% efficient and labor intensive, making it less safe. Comparatively, Western-designed plants are typically 88% efficient, and are based on computer and electronic equipment, making them less prone to mistakes. He predicted the Bushehr plant will have considerable difficulties.
Bush (and others) in Middle East
VOA Persian reporter Vafa Mostaghim reported live from Amman on President Bush’s visit to Jordan and his meetings with King Abdullah and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. From Los Angeles, freelance journalist Homa Sarshar said the sectarian and religious strife in Iraq is worrisome to the United States and to others in the region, and that even though Iran is helping Iraqi insurgents, Iraq is turning to Iran for help in stabilizing Iraq. However, she said, Iran is interested only in an Iraq in crisis. From Paris, journalist Ahmad Ahrar, who writes for the Kayhan newspaper, said that regional problems increasingly pit the United States against Iran and Syria. He has little hope in the success of any possible U.S.-Iranian negotiations. Sohrab Sobhani, Professor of International Relations at Georgetown University, said Iran should learn to use oil as a positive tool in its relationships with the West, much in the same way Saudi Arabia has done. VOA also reported on other U.S. and European officials traveling in the region: Secretary of State Rice Condoleezza Rice in Jericho with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier in Beirut with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora; British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett touring minefields in southern Lebanon; and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran.
Iran’s President issued an open letter to the American people on November 29, deploring what he called the Bush administration’s “blind and blanket” support for Israel and crimes against the Palestinian people. The five-page letter, distributed to reporters at the United Nations, said while Iraqis were pleased at first with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. military presence in Iraq has since led to an explosion of violence and terrorism, and done nothing to rebuild the country or alleviate poverty. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, noted the letter had been sent to correspondents, not U.S. officials. “I understand it’s only five pages and not 18 pages like the last one,” he said, referring to the letter President Ahmadinejad sent to President Bush last May. President Bush has repeatedly said he considers Iran a threat to world peace.
At a news briefing, Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the letter would be examined by U.S. policy experts, but that at first glance, there appeared to be little in it that is new. He said no reply from President Bush is anticipated. “Clearly this is something of a public relations stunt,” Mr. Casey said. “I think what is more important than any of the words on that piece of paper are the actions that the Iranian government takes, the actions it takes in terms of its relations to its own people, and the actions that it takes in terms of how it relates to the rest of the world. And that includes its support for terrorism in Iraq. That includes its support for Hezbollah. That includes its support for Palestinian rejectionist groups. It includes continued defiance of the international community’s efforts to deal with the Iranian nuclear program.” Student activist Ali Afshari said Mr. Ahmadinejad should start talking about internal issues in Iran instead of sending letters to Americans. He praised the American political process because the president is accountable to the people. He said this is not the case in Iran.
Iran / Iraq
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani called on Iran to provide “comprehensive help” to improve his country's security situation during a visit to Tehran. Mr. Talabani arrived following a two-day delay, caused by a curfew that was imposed after bomb attacks in Baghdad killed more than 200 people. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told him Iran would do what it could. The commander of U.S. Forces in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, told 60 Minutes that Iran is not working to stabilize Iraq, that by providing money and arms to Shiite militants, Iran is hoping to see another southern Lebanon in Iraq, one where it has close control over the militia. From London, Iran Press Service journalist Safa Haeri said he believes the United States is mixing its interests in Iraq’s security with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, saying he believes this to be problematic.
Iraq Study Group
The Ahmadinejad letter came as the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker, prepared a report for President Bush that is widely expected to include a call for the administration to speak directly to Iran and Syria in hope of enlisting their support in calming the situation in Iraq. The Group’s report is scheduled to be released on December 6. Former President Jimmy Carter told VOA November 30 that he believes Iran and Syria should be brought into the discussion of how best to handle Iraq. “That ought to be the premise on which it’s done,” he noted. “Not for the United States or Iran to recapitulate old grievances or demand prerequisites for participation.” Mr. Carter said he hopes the panel’s recommendations on policy toward Iraq will be followed. President Bush says he will not be bound by the Group’s recommendations and is expected to also consider studies by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his National Security Council.
Iran’s Role In Lebanon
Political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh, speaking from London, said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has become a tool of Iran and Syria, and that like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the days before the Iranian Revolution, Nasrallah is building a populist base which could lead to revolution in Lebanon. His comments, of course, come as Hezbollah supporters stage one of the country’s largest protests ever, with tensions mounting as they demand the resignation of the Siniora government.
Pope / Turkey
Pope Benedict expressed hope that his trip to Turkey would lead to useful dialogue with Muslims. The pontiff returned to the Vatican on Friday, after spending four days in Ankara, Ephesus and Istanbul. His visit appeared to have gone some way toward improving relations with Muslims, whom the pope had angered when he made comments in September linking Islam to violence. From London, journalist Nasser Mohammadi told VOA the Pope’s visit was very important because of increased extremism and radicalism.
Camp No Man’s Land
The Norooz Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is trying to help Iranian Kurdish refugees camped out in no man’s land, a one-two kilometer strip between Iraq and Jordan. Tribal and ethnic issues prevent the refugees from being welcomed to another country. The president and founder of the Norooz Foundation, Bahman Maalizadeh, has helped purchase and deliver food and water to the refugees with the help of the US military. But his main focus is to enlist assistance from the State Department, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the Jordanian government. Mr. Maalizadeh, in Amman during the Jordan Summit, told VOA these refugees in no man’s land continue to be forgotten, as are Iranian Kurdish refugees in Turkey, Cyprus, Greece and Iraq. One such refugee in Turkey said conditions in Turkey might be difficult, but that they were more difficult in Iran.
Freedom of Expression
The International PEN Association honored prominent Iranian Kurdish women’s rights activist Roya Toloui for her struggle for freedom of expression. Ms. Toloui, editor in chief of the monthly Rasan magazine and the founder of the Association of the Kurdish Women Supporting Peace in Kurdistan, was released from prison on bail in 2005. Ms. Toloui told VOA she wishes to be the voice drawing attention to their condition in the “hell” of the Islamic Republic. She said, “I ask Mr. Ahmadinejad, before calling for freedom for Americans, I tell him to give freedom to Iranians – free political prisoners, give freedom to women, who constitute more than half of the country’s population.”
FIFA threw Iran's defending champion soccer team out of the Asian Games, just days before the start of the event. The sanctions were based on reports the Iranian government engineered the firing of Iran's federation director Mohammed Dadgan. Government interference with a nation's soccer organization is against FIFA's rules, and the federation said the Iranians refused to explain Mr. Dadgan's ouster. The sanctions kicked up a firestorm in Iran. By last Monday, the Iranian leadership was scrambling, apparently at President Ahmadinejad's insistence. The soccer disaster was unfolding two weeks before crucial nationwide elections for municipal councils as well as Iran's Council of Experts, an advisory board to the supreme leader. After what FIFA President Sepp Blatter called “alarming phone calls” from Iranian officials, FIFA relented and gave a short reprieve – allowing Iran to play in the Asian Games but still suspending all other international activity by the Iranians. Sports analyst Manook Khodabakhshian told VOA the suspension is a terrible political loss for the Iranian regime, adding that the government will have to accept a specified FIFA roadmap to re-enter international competition.
VOA Persian used new anti-filtering software called Psiphon on December 1, just hours after its release in Toronto. Psiphon is a new tool aimed at circumventing Internet filters used by some government – like Iran’s – offering hopes for freer access to information for activists, journalists and others. Developers say the software, developed at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, offers more potential for bypassing government censors than most other tools because it allows simple access and leaves no traces on the computers of people who use it.
The first female space tourist, Anousheh Ansari, is also the first Iranian astronaut. She visited VOA Persian’s DC studio to discuss her space odyssey. “I think commercial air travel to space will cost as little as $10,000-$15,000 in just a few years. I want everyone to respect each other’s creed, and my going into space is yet another example of how Iranian women have proven they can succeed under the most trying circumstances.” Asking why she wore a uniform in space with both the Stars and Stripes as well as Iran’s national flag, Ms. Ansari said she hoped by wearing both to discourage politicization of her visit to space.
Mostafa Mesbahzadeh, known as “the Father of modern Iranian journalism” died November 24 in La Jolla, California, after a bout of pneumonia. He was 98. Mr. Mesbahzadeh was an exiled Iranian newspaper publisher and founder of one of the Middle East's largest newspaper groups and a critic of the Islamic regime. Mr. Mesbahzadeh left Iran and went to Paris with his family in late 1978, before the fall of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's regime. The Kayhan Group continued publishing until March 1979, after the Ayatollah Khomeini's return to Iran, but was eventually taken over by the new Islamic government, which continues to publish a conservative daily under the Kayhan name. In 1983, Mr. Mesbahzadeh began publishing a weekly political newspaper from London under the name Kayhan London. The paper, written in Farsi and critical of the current Iranian government, will continue publication, its editors said in a letter. Iranian journalist Manook Khodabakhshian told VOA that Mr. Mesbahzadeh’s most distinguished achievement was the creation of Iran’s first journalism school, producing generations of Iranian journalists.
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News Talk, an hour-long program featuring a panel of experts discussing the day's top news stories, had its debut in October. News Talk opens VOA's daily four-hour Persian-language television block every day with a brief recap of the day's top headlines. It features in-depth discussions of the issues of greatest concern to Iranians and closes with a segment on worldwide media coverage of Iran. News Talk is followed by News and Views, Roundtable with You, and Late Edition, all one-hour shows that constitute a four-hour daily block of Persian-language television broadcast by satellite to Iran. News and Views, which debuted in 2003, features correspondent reports, interviews, and the top news stories from Washington and around the world. Roundtable with You, which debuted on television in 1996, takes calls from viewers and features a wide variety of guests discussing issues ranging from popular culture to politics. Late Edition, a youth-oriented program which first aired in July, looks at major world events and issues of interest to young people.
VOA's Persian television shows complement VOA Persian's daily radio broadcasts and Radio Farda, a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, youth-oriented radio program that is a joint project of VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. VOA's Persian language Internet site is at www.VOANews.com/persian.