Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – December 11, 2006 . . . Major stories this week included live coverage of the release on December 6 of the Iraq Study Group report; a broad range of reaction to the report, from President Bush and Secretary Rice to legislative leaders and political analysts; the confirmation hearing of Robert Gates as the incoming Defense Secretary; an exclusive interview with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the single most powerful Shiite leader in Iraq; and an interview with the newest member of the Board of Directors of the Export Import Bank, Iranian-American Bijan Kian.
VOA Persian broke into normal News Talk programming to provide viewers with live coverage of the release of the Iraq Study Group report. VOA Persian provided simultaneous translation of both former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton’s remarks as well as a portion of the question and answer session the two co-chairs held with reporters on their group’s bipartisan recommendations on a course of action in Iraq.
President Bush says he will consider the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations for U.S. policy in Iraq, just as he will review recommendations from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, State Department and his National Security Council team.
Responding to calls from the Iraq Study Group, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday she is ready for wide-ranging dialogue with her Iranian counterpart provided Iran halts uranium enrichment and returns to negotiations on its nuclear program. Regarding Iran, she said the overriding problem is Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons but said if it met the fundamental condition for renewing dialogue with the world community on that issue, the United States is prepared for far-reaching talks. “We have offered to Iran to change 27 years of American policy and to indeed sit across the table from Iran to discuss their nuclear issue and anything else they would like to discuss, should they simply verifiably suspend their enrichment activities so that they can't keep improving those enrichment capabilities while we talk. That's the reason for the suspension. So, I'll repeat what I've said many times. I will meet my Iranian counterpart, under those conditions, anyplace, anytime, anywhere,” she said.
One day later, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran is ready, under certain circumstances, to help the United States withdraw its troops from Iraq. Speaking at a conference in Bahrain, Mr. Mottaki said Tehran would be willing to help with any troop withdrawal if Washington decides on such action, and “changes its attitude.” He did not say what help Iran would offer. Opening a dialogue with Iran and its regional ally, Syria, was one of the key recommendations of the bipartisan panel of former Washington policy makers reviewing U.S. policy in Iraq.
Shirin Hunter, a Distinguished Scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said she believes the next step in Iraq will involve more U.S. troops. She said the United States has no leverage with Syria and Iran vis-à-vis Iraq unless it is willing to change its policies toward Syria and Iran.
From London, Nasser Mohammadi, a journalist for Kayhan, said the report’s focus appears to be more regional than just targeting U.S. policy in Iraq. He said he didn’t think the United States would be leaving the region as quickly as some countries hope.
From Paris, writer and journalist Cyrus Amouzegar said whether or not the United States chooses to pursue a dialogue with Iran regarding Iraq, Iran will not want to talk for two reasons: 1) the Quran says not to cooperate with oppressors, and Iran sees the United States as an oppressor, and 2) the Islamic regime wants to be the leader of the Islamic world. He said that is unlikely since most Muslims are Sunni, so Iran gains stature by promoting radicalism, especially at home and in Iraq.
Political activist and former diplomat Mehrdad Khonsari said he doesn’t believe the Bush administration will follow the recommendation of the Baker-Hamilton report. He said the situation in Iraq has encouraged Iran to take a more aggressive stance in the region, and he said he hopes the United States responds in kind.
DC-based political researcher Cyrus Saify said dialogue is always important, but that tensions in the region are encouraging certain players – Iran, Syria and Hezbollah – to throw the dice now in a bid to increase their power later.
Mohammad Habash, a member of Syria’s parliament, told VOA that Syria is ready to talk not only to the United States, but to Israel as well.
Scholar Steven Heydemann from the Brookings Institute said Iran is a major player in the region and can influence different factions in Iraq.
Freelance journalist Homa Sarshar expressed misgivings about Syria and Iran holding any negotiations regarding Iran. She said neither country wants a stable Iraq. Ms. Sarshar pointed out that it was unlikely the report will generate an immediate turnabout in U.S. policy, and that we will probably have to wait a few months to see whether the Bush administration follows any or some of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations.
Shahin Fatemi is Dean of the Graduate School of Business and Chair of International Business Administration at the American University of Paris. Speaking via satellite, Mr. Fatemi said the Islamic regime in Iran has been causing chaos and turmoil since it came to power in 1979. He said Iran has used oil to leverage its position in the region, particularly with Lebanon and Iraq. Mr. Fatemi expressed hope the Iraq Study Group’s report will build bipartisan support for U.S. policy in Iraq and Iran, and that such a policy will work for the national interest of the Iranian people. He said a U.S. policy with bipartisan support could propel countries like Saudi Arabia to take a more active role in the region, and that such action could stop Iran from meddling with its neighbors’ affairs.
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the single most powerful Shiite political leader in Iraq, visited with President Bush last Monday. VOA Persian Television caught up with Mr. al-Hakim in New York. As leader of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution of Iraq, Mr. al-Hakim said Iran not only has good relations with Iraqi Shiites, but with all sectors of Iraqi society, including Sunnis and Christians. He said Iran supports Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been invited to Iran several times. Mr. al-Hakim told VOA that the violence in Iraq today is not a civil war, and he attributed the violence to Saddam loyalists. He also said he carried no message from Iran on this U.S. visit.
The Senate confirmed Robert Gates by a 92-2 vote to be the next Secretary of Defense, with Democrats expressing hope he will steer a new course in the war in Iraq. When he takes the oath of office, expected later this month, Mr. Gates will succeed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has come under criticism from members of both political parties for his handling of the war. Georgetown University Professor Sohram Sobhani said Mr. Gates was clear in his criticism of Iran during the hearing, saying Mr. Gates described Iran as playing a destructive role in Iraq. Mr. Gates said the United States would only attack Iran as an “absolute last resort” and that the United States should first use diplomacy and work with allies to deal with the problems Iran poses. Mr. Gates added, “We have seen in Iraq that once war is unleashed, it becomes unpredictable. And I think the consequences of military conflict with Iran could be quite dramatic.”
The United States used closed-door talks in Paris last Tuesday to urge Russia and China to agree to sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program. Diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany met in the French capital to try to reach an agreement on the difficult issue, but there was no word on any breakthrough. In the past, the six world powers have been unable to agree to a sanctions program. Of the six, Russia and China have expressed the strongest misgivings. But Russia recently expressed support for some forms of sanctions, and France's foreign minister has voiced optimism that an agreement can ultimately be reached.
Iran / Palestine
Addressing worshippers at Friday prayers in Tehran, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said his Hamas-led government will never recognize Israel and will continue to fight for the liberation of Jerusalem. Mr. Haniyeh’s visit underscores growing Iranian influence in the region. Iran has close ties with two of Israel’s arch enemies: Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Iran / Turkey
Turkish Prime Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Iranian leaders in Tehran last week to discuss regional tensions and bilateral trade. Mr. Erdogan met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Vice President Parviz Davoodi. The Turkish prime minister, who was accompanied by Turkish oil and gas officials, also discussed boosting trade with Iran. Although the two countries enjoy very different relationships with the west, they share a common interest in their Kurdish populations and Iran is Turkey’s second largest gas and oil supplier.
More than 2,000 students from Tehran University protested against censorship and hardliners in Iran on December 7, Student Day in Iran. From our Washington studio, student activist Amir Abbas Fakhravar joined Roundtable with You, saying “Stars are being given to students for punishment. Those who accumulate two or three stars are refused registration at the university. Others are expelled or suspended.” Mr. Fakhravar said the university admission committee that determines who gets stars is made up of agents from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
VOA interviewed student activist Ali Nikoo Nesbati in Tehran. He said protesting students decided to hold the demonstration despite official intimidation to draw attention to restrictions on student activities and the expulsion of independent professors from Tehran University’s faculty.
Joining Roundtable from Los Angeles, Kourosh Sehati, former leader of the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran, described Tehran University’s campus as under siege on December 7. He said despite threats of arrest from regime officials, agents and guards, students gathered and escalated their protest.
From London, student Mostafa Sanatnama said the demonstrations in Tehran showed students were still actively opposed to the regime, but that such protests had decreased under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime. Also from London, Kayhan writer and journalist Nasser Mohammadi said the regime is increasing pressure on the students. He said the Iranian government is planning a cultural revolution along the same vein of China’s Cultural Revolution to force people to think the way it wants – at least in public.
Iranian-American Bijan Kian was sworn in as the newest member of the Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank in October 2006. In an interview with VOA, he said the Bank does not extend help to a number of countries, including Iran. He added that the Bank’s mission is to assist in financing the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets, but that U.S. laws and regulations currently prohibit any financial support or relations between Iran and the United States. Mr. Kian spoke at length about his activities in California since coming to America after the Iranian Revolution. “I respect my heritage and culture as an Iranian-American, and I also appreciate my new country and the opportunity to have freedom and justice.”
“The Iranian Paradox”
French author and former Le Monde correspondent Claire Trean talked with VOA about her new book. She said, “The paradox, or contradiction, in the title of my book refers to the contrast between the shockingly modern people I encountered in Iran and Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, who does not reflect the culture, attitudes and aspirations of the Iranian people, and yet was elected to become president of the Islamic Republic for four years.” Ms. Trean said she thinks the majority of Iranians are not vengeful toward America or Israel, and though they do not want their country to have the atomic bomb, they believe Iran has the right to use atomic energy.
MOMA / Rossellini
VOA interviewed actress Isabella Rossellini on the retrospective of her father’s work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Roberto Rossellini’s contributions to cinema, particularly his Neorealist strategies, are considered inestimable, and influenced, among others, Iranian cinema and French new wave. This is the first time since Mr. Rossellini’s death 30 years ago that his films are being shown outside of Italy.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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.