Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – January 8, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included trouble on the nuclear front in Iran – from domestic criticism of the administration at home, to reports of a possible pre-emptive strike by Israel, to admonitions from a broad range of countries – this, while President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened not to be intimidated by critics. Other stories included the first days of the 110th Congress, changes in the U.S. strategy in Iraq, a report on the Iranian Schindler and women’s rights in Iran.
Ahmadinejad / Nukes
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says his country will soon produce nuclear fuel on an industrial scale. Speaking January 3 in the southern city of Ghotvand in Khuzestan province, Mr. Ahmadinejad did not specify when this increase will take place. The ISNA news agency quotes Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying Tehran will not be intimidated by what he called bullying powers who want to deprive Iran of its nuclear ambitions.
Reformist parliamentarians in Iran blamed President Ahmadinejad January 6 for failing to prevent U.N. sanctions. In an interview with Reuters, the spokesman of parliament’s reformist faction, Noureddin Pirmoazzen, said “The only way to pass the crisis is to build confidence . . . but holding a Holocaust conference and financing the Hamas government creates mistrusts and tension.” Iran hosted a conference in Tehran in December where participants questioned the Holocaust. It also granted $250 million in aid to the Palestinian Hamas government after Western donors withheld funds. Mr. Pirmoazzen said that two U.N. resolutions against Iran in the first 18 months of the government’s term in office showed the foreign ministry was incapable of looking after Iran’s national interests. “We hope to witness a return to the manner of former President Mohammad Khamati’s government and see the crisis is solved in the next 60 days, or else we will have no alternative but to impeach Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.”
Israel / Iran
Israel denied a report in Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper that it plans to wage a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities with tactical nuclear weapons. Citing what it said were several Israeli military sources, the paper said two Israeli air force squadrons had been training to blow up an enrichment plant in Natanz using low-yield nuclear “bunker busters.” The paper said two other sites, a heavy water plant at Arak and a uranium conversion plant at Isfahan, would be targeted with conventional bombs. Relations between Israel and Iran have deteriorated in the wake of comments from President Ahmadinejad that Israel should be wiped off the face of the map.
China / Iran
Chinese President Hu Jintao has urged Iran to “respond seriously” to the U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear program. Mr. Hu’s comments came in a January 5 meeting with Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, who says it is not Iran’s policy to pursue nuclear weapons – but that could change if Iran is threatened. Mr. Larijani repeated Tehran’s assertion that the Iranian program of uranium enrichment is aimed only at producing electricity. In a meeting on January 4, State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan urged the international community to resume negotiations on Iran’s disputed nuclear program. Mr. Larijani took a much more conciliatory position after this meeting, stressing that Iran will continue to honor a nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Saudi Arabia / France
Saudi Arabia and France called on Iran January 6 to accept international demands to halt uranium enrichment, saying the Mideast should be free of weapons of mass destruction. Visiting French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud al-Faisal stressed diplomacy must be the way to solve Iran's ongoing standoff with the West over its nuclear program. However, during a joint news conference, Prince Saud said “Israel should not be excluded” from this equation.
Bennington College professor Mansour Farhang, a former Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, appeared on Roundtable to answer viewer questions on what can be expected from the new Congress, including how it might impact U.S.-Iranian relations. He talked about the struggle for equality by American women and the historic election of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. VOA Persian Television reported live from Capitol Hill on the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress.
President Ford / U.S. – Iran Relations
VOA Persian Television covered the funeral of President Gerald R. Ford live from National Cathedral, including the eulogy of President Bush. In additional coverage, Ardeshir Zahedi, who was Iran’s ambassador to Washington during President Ford’s administration, appeared on Roundtable. Ambassador Zahedi said the biggest bilateral issue under Mr. Ford’s presidency in the mid-70’s was the price of oil. He said Washington was very sensitive to rising oil prices by OPEC and that he felt a great deal of pressure from the White House to do something about it. Also appearing on the show, Stanford professor Abbas Milani said the Shah was at the pinnacle of his power during the Ford presidency, and that there were tensions about U.S. suspicions that Iran was developing nuclear power that “might not be entirely peaceful in nature.” He said both Presidents Nixon and Ford gave Iran total access to U.S. weapons short of atomic bombs.
U.S. / Iraq
News & Views focused on President Bush’s announcement of new diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel changes vis-à-vis Iraq. VOA Persian Television also covered reports that the White House will seek a surge in U.S. troops in Iraq even as the new U.S. Congress is saying it may not pay for such an increase.
The Iranian Schindler
While a young diplomat stationed in Paris, Abdol Hossein Sardari succeeded in having all Iranian Jews classified as “non-racially” connected to the rest of the Jewish people, thus forestalling the possible deportation of hundreds of Iranian Jews from France to Nazi death camps. Researcher Fariborz Mokhtari, a professor at the National Defense University, is writing a biography of Mr. Sardari. Appearing on VOA Persian Television, Mr. Mokhtari said Mr. Sardari turned over 500 blank passports to Jewish acquaintances in Paris to help save other Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution. Farhad Sepahbodi, a nephew of Mr. Sardari and a former diplomat himself, also appeared on VOA Persian Television, saying his uncle was a great man who saved Jews – Iranian and others – because it was his duty as a diplomat and as a human being.
Sign of Effectiveness
A government-run station in Iran, Goftegoo Radio, has been conducting an open debate for the past month about whether Iran should change its tough stance on its nuclear program. Critics inside Iran have long been barred from discussing the subject. But guests on Goftegoo – which means dialogue in Persian – have expressed their criticism without fear of reprisal. The radio station reports directly to Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on all state matters. Anecdotal reports from Tehran say VOA Persian Television and other satellite programs beamed from the United States are responsible, in part, for Goftegoo’s open domestic dialogue.
Iran’s foreign ministry denied rumors January 7 that Ayatollah Khamenei had died, saying he is in good health. Asked in his weekly media brief about Mr. Khamenei, Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini said, “Some media made speculations that were not true. We wish him a long life and lasting good health.” Earlier this week, rumors appeared on the Internet claiming the 67-year-old Khamenei was dead.
The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights has initiated a campaign demanding an end to laws discriminating against women in Iran. Appearing on Roundtable, Iranian author and intellectual Shahla Shafigh said the campaign – called “One Million Signatures Demanding Changes to Discriminatory Laws” – is the group’s follow-up to the peaceful protest held by women activists in Tehran in June 2006, a protest that was brutally suppressed by security forces. Mehrangiz Kar, an Iranian activist who is currently a fellow at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, said inequality in Islamic law is the greatest obstacle to women’s rights in Iran. Both women said the Iranian government ignores international conventions guaranteeing equality of genders. They said Iranian laws based on Sharia ignore, for the most part, recognized conventions. Callers expressed strong support for the campaign.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi was a guest on Roundtable January 7 and she provided a dismal assessment of human rights in Iran. She said Islamic leaders distort the Holy Scriptures to justify their hold on power and to abuse human rights. She said Iranian law says women cannot become president because Islamic scholars in Iran say women cannot rule over men. Why is it, she asked VOA’s audience, “that Indonesia, with the world’s largest Muslim population, can elect a woman president?” She stressed the need for Islam to provide a progressive interpretation of its laws and to adapt laws to the needs of modern society. She said human rights are universal and should be respected regardless of race, religion or geography. It is a travesty, she said, to “use religion to trample on the rights of your citizens.”
London-based attorney Abdolkarim Anvari and Touraj Atabaki, history professor at the University of Amsterdam appeared on Roundtable with You to discuss the status of war reparations claimed by Iran from Iraq for starting the eight-year Iran-Iraq War in 1980. Both guests said the Iranian government has been negligent in addressing the country’s grievance against Iraq, adding that it is not too late for Iran to press its case by going to the International Court of Justice to reclaim some of the money Iran was forced to spend on the war, some $100 billion dollars. Callers expressed skepticism that any reparations would find their way to the pockets of war veterans. Callers said Iran’s Islamic regime has consistently ignored the plight of Iranian war vets.
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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.