Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, DC – January 29, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the President’s State of the Union address on January 23; the President’s and Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ comments on U.S. force protection policy, including orders to capture or kill Iranian agitators in Iraq; our interviews with former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, General Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI); and daily developments in the ongoing nuclear stand-off with Iran.
President / State of the Union Address
VOA Persian television broadcast live President Bush’s State of the Union address and the Democratic Response January 23 with simultaneous translation in Farsi. In the address, President Bush blamed Iran, in part, for the escalating danger the United States faces from Shia extremists, who are, he said, hostile to America and determined to dominate the Middle East. “Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah – a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken. . . . Radical Shia elements [in Iraq], some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day. . . The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. But whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent, they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East, and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale.”
Following the President’s address anchor Setareh Derakshesh was joined by two Persian-America analysts, Dr. Hormoz Hekmat and Dr. Mansour Farhang , who provided balanced commentary on the President’s address.
With regard to Iraq, Dr. Hekmat supported the President’s call for additional troops. He said, “ In all fairness to the President, after a war that has lasted 6 years, he has to caution the American people against a troop pullout at this point as he did in his speech. Leaving Iraq, as he mentioned tonight, would mean an increase in violence in the Middle East, for Arab countries and even for Iran. This is a reality and the President is trying to get the American people to understand, that in the event of a pullout, there will be an immediate increase in violence in the Middle East and, in order to avert that, there is a need for this surge of troops.”
Dr. Farhang, on the other hand, expressed his support for the Baker-Hamilton strategy. Farhang said, “according to the Baker-Hamilton report, increasing the number of soldiers will increase the violence in the Middle East. We have witnessed this in the past, a superpower would continue to engage in a war to sustain its credibility, and we saw this in Vietnam. The Baker-Hamilton report is the true solution to this problem, and should be followed, but Mr. Bush has decided not to do so and in reality is continuing a policy that existed before.
Commenting on the President’s address the next day on NewsTalk, political analyst Kamran Beigi, former communications director for Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, said it was the leaders of Iran’s Islamic regime who said Iraq is the battlefront between the United States and Iran. Beigi said the root cause of the U.S.-Iranian crisis is their opposing ideologies, with modern ideology promoting freedom, democracy and human rights whereas the ideology of the Islamic regime denies modernity. He said the key to change will be Iranian youth, and whether they will or won’t support Iran’s Islamic regime. Freelance journalist Homa Sarshar agreed with Beigi, but said she believes Iranian young people have already indicated they want to develop friendly relations with the United States. She said Iranian leaders have started to feel the pressure of U.N. sanctions and that President Bush’s State of the Union address added to that pressure by causing political analysts to talk about the possibility of war with Iran. She said, “Iran’s leadership got the message.”
Mohsen Milani is chairman of the Department of Government and International Affairs at the University of South Florida. He told VOA Persian the President’s voice toward Iran was less hostile than in the past, but that his general policy toward Iran remains unchanged: the United States still opposes Iran’s intervention in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.
In an exclusive interview with VOA Persian, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton said he thinks the risk posed by an Iran with nuclear weapons was so grave that the United States is willing to offer to sit down and talk with the government of Iran even though it's still on our list of state-sponsors of terrorism, even though it represses religious freedom inside Iran. Bolton went on to say that those issues won't disappear either. In fact, he said, I think the way the government of Iran conducts not only its internal but also its external affairs shows that it had really little interested in dialogue with the United States… It's provocation within Iraq I think is further evidence of that, consistent with its support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. Bolton said, “ Iran is now not a functioning democracy-the way the system works, it has the appearance of voting and that sort of thing. Because the mullahs carefully vet who is eligible for elections clearly and ultimately have the proverbial authority. So I think the ultimate answer to this kind of regime is to replace it with a regime that is democratic.”
Force Protection Policy
After meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his new Iraq commander, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus January 26, President Bush said his force protection policy is clear. “Our policy is going to be to protect our troops in Iraq. This makes sense, that if somebody is going to try to harm our troops or stop us from achieving our goal or killing innocent citizens in Iraq that we will stop that,” he said. U.S. officials say they have no evidence that Iranian forces have directly attacked U.S. troops in Iraq. But, as the President mentioned in his State of the Union address, Iranians provide advice and material for various terrorist and militia factions that do attack both U.S. and Iraqi targets.
Secretary Gates told his first Pentagon news conference January 26 that he is particularly concerned about Iranian help in the development and construction of sophisticated, high-powered bombs – Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs – that have been the main killer of U.S. forces. “We are trying to uproot these networks that are planting IEDs, that are causing 70 percent of our casualties,” Mr. Gates said. “And if you're in Iraq and trying to kill our troops, then you should consider yourself a target. We're not simply going to stand by and let people bring sophisticated IEDs into the country that can disable an Abrams tank, and give them a free pass.” The Washington Post quotes unnamed U.S. officials as saying there are 150 Iranian intelligence operatives in Iraq. Secretary Gates said he has “no idea” how many there are, but that U.S. forces will target them if they support violent groups.
The Pentagon confirmed January 26 it is still holding five Iranians captured two weeks ago in the northern town of Irbil and suspected of supporting violent activities. Those detainees have claimed diplomatic immunity. Both President Bush and Secretary Gates said the U.S. approach to Iranian activities in Iraq will not result in any direct U.S. military action aimed at Iran.
Burns / Iran
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said January 23 that the U.S. will not allow Iran to control the Middle East or the Persian Gulf. He said that is why the U.S. is sending a second U.S. aircraft carrier battle group to the region. Speaking at an international conference on security issues in the Israeli city of Herziliya, Mr. Burns said recent sanctions passed by the U.N. Security council on Iran are just the first step in what he said will be a broad international effort to get Iran to stop developing nuclear weapons. “And so Iran is going to have to suffer the consequences of being an international pariah because of the Security Council sanctions,” he said. “But my country does not believe we should stop there. We believe that greater pressure should be brought upon the Iranians to convince them to recalculate how they think about their nuclear program and just how valuable it is to them.” The Security Council has set a February 21 deadline for Iran to comply with its demands or face the possibility of further sanctions.
Assistant Secretary of State Kristin Silverberg, in Beijing to talk about U.N. sanctions against North Korea, also discussed the Iranian nuclear issue with Chinese officials. Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Ms. Silverberg said she told the Chinese the U.S. wants to see expanded U.N. sanctions against Tehran. She declined to go into detail, but described the discussions as “very constructive.” The European Union last week called on all countries to enforce U.N. sanctions against Iran and announced a series of measures it would take against Tehran's efforts to develop a nuclear program.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discussed the impasse in an interview with Iranian television. He said the United States wants to hurt Iran, but that the U.S. military is not capable of inflicting serious damage on his country.
Nukes: Iran, Russia, North Korea, El Baradei
Russia’s national security advisor, Igor Ivanov, held talks January 28 in Tehran with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. In a rare reception for visiting diplomats, Mr. Ivanov also met with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. State radio reported Iran wants Russia to help mediate in the stand-off with the U.N. Security Council over Tehran’s nuclear program, and that Iran is looking to Russia for “new proposals, such as enrichment of uranium on Russian soil.” The Kremlin proposed last year that Iran move its uranium enrichment work to Russian territory, where it could be better monitored to alleviate international concerns that Tehran is trying to build atomic bombs in violation of its treaty commitments. Political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh told VOA that it appears Ayatollah Khamenei has given Mr. Larijani increased responsibility for Iran’s foreign policy – a dig at both President Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Mottaki. Mr. Nourizadeh said U.N. sanctions against Iran have got the Islamic regime very worried. I
ran's state news agency (IRNA) quotes Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of foreign affairs and national security committee, as saying Iran has begun installing 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium. On January 26, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said Iran would risk another punitive U.N. Security Council resolution if it installed the devices. Earlier in the week, Iran barred 38 U.N. nuclear inspectors who came from nations responsible for a Security Council sanctions resolution. A government spokesman, Gholamhossein Elham, said January 23 that Iran has “no problem” with the International Atomic Energy Agency. But he added, “It is the legitimate right of all governments to screen inspectors.”
North Korea is dismissing speculation in Western media that it is secretly helping Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Pyongyang's state-media carried a government statement January 27 that denies allegations published in a British newspaper earlier in the week. The statement called the allegations a “sheer lie” and “fabrication.” On January 24, The Daily Telegraph quoted an anonymous European defense official who alleged that North Korea was helping Iran to prepare for its own underground nuclear test, possibly before the end of this year.
The head of the U.N. nuclear agency – I.A.E.A. – says an attack on Iran because of its nuclear program would be counterproductive and catastrophic. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, Mohamed El Baradei said he hopes the talk about a possible military strike will stop. He said the threat of force will only encourage Tehran to pursue a nuclear weapons program. He urged a return to negotiations. The United States and Israel have said the use of force is an option in dealing with Iran's nuclear program. Israel has said a nuclear Iran is a threat to the Jewish state.
President Bush briefly mentioned Iran’s nuclear ambitions in his State of the Union address January 23: “The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran, and made it clear that the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons.”
Interview: General Richard Myers, USAF (Ret.)
In an interview with VOA, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, said he believes the surge in U.S. troops President Bush is planning for Iraq has a chance because the number – 21,500 – was determined by military men, and that aside from military considerations, the decision also took political and economic considerations into account. General Myers said the United States is certain Iran has taken American lives by taking weapons and weapons technology into Iraq, adding that this claim is substantiated by evidence on the battlefield. He said changes in U.S. forces command, the dispatch of a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf and the stationing of Patriot missiles is not necessarily related solely to Iran or Iraq, but rather to regional instability.
Iran: Russia vs. U.S.
Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, travels to Washington this week as part of the Mideast Quartet that is trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But in the past few days, Russia has expressed concern over U.S. interests in Iran. Speaking in Moscow January 27, Mr. Lavrov said he plans to demand an explanation from the United States over its growing military presence in the Middle East. He also criticized Washington for demanding tough sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. One day earlier, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said a U.S. plan to set up a missile defense system in central Europe is a “mistake” and that it will have “negative consequences for international security.” Speaking on message from New Delhi, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov January 24 told reporters that Iranian and North Korean arsenals are limited to medium-range missiles that pose no threat to either Europe or the United States. The United States says it wants to have missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter a possible long-range Iranian and North Korean missile threat in the future.
U.N. / Holocaust Denial
The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution January 26 condemning any attempt to deny the Holocaust, with Iran’s delegate alone in speaking out against the measure. The U.S.-drafted resolution was adopted with 103 of the world body's 192 member states signed on as co-sponsors. The brief text simply “condemns without any reservation any denial of the Holocaust.” It names no country specifically, but its intention is clear, after last month's Holocaust denial conference in Tehran. There, many speakers referred to the mass extermination of Jews as a myth.
Interview: Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI)
Appearing on Roundtable – with simultaneous translation – Congressman McCotter, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed hope that Iran’s Islamic regime will come to understand that the best way to govern is to give people liberty. He said the U.S. Congress is deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, particularly as Iran has said it wants to wipe Israel off the face of the map. He said the United States is also concerned about Iranian interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs, including its support for terrorist elements in Iraq. The congressman responded to viewers’ questions for more than 15 minutes, taking calls from Tabriz, Kurdistan, Tehran, Ahvaz, Cyprus and Sweden. Most callers expressed concern about the possibility of the United States using military action to effect regime change in Iran. Rep. McCotter said the United States doesn’t favor such military action but did say the international community will consider all options to preserve peace.
Interview: Jim Robbins, National Defense University
VOA Persian interviewed International Relations Professor Jim Robbins of the National Defense University about the deployment of a major “strike group” of ships, including the nuclear aircraft carrier Eisenhower as well as a cruiser, destroyer, frigate, submarine escort and supply ship, to head for the Persian Gulf, just off Iran's western coast. Mr. Robbins said it is to protect American forces in the region and to prevent Iran trying to disrupt tanker traffic. He encouraged dialogue between the United States and Iran, saying problems get solved through negotiation and compromise.
Filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi wrote and directed the film Half Moon about Mamo, an old renowned Kurdish musician, who begins an arduous road trip to Iraq after 35 years to perform in concert after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The film, which won the 2006 San Sebastian film festival in Spain, has been banned in Iran because of two taboos – it is in Kurdish and features women singing. VOA Persian interviewed Mr. Ghobadi, who said the political situation in Iran has begun forcing him and other artists to practice self-censorship. A spokesman for Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance denied that Mr. Ghobadi is banned from working in Iran. VOA Persian broadcast footage from the film during the segment with Mr. Ghobadi.
In the eleventh century, in Persia, there lived a mathematician named Ghiyathuddin Abulfath Omar bin Ibrahim al-Khayyami – or, Omar, son of Abraham, the tent-maker. Omar wrote poetry, and while his rhymes received little attention in their day, they were rediscovered and translated into English more than seven centuries later. Mehdi Aminrazavi, a professor of religion and philosophy at Virginia’s Mary Washington University, wrote about Khayyam’s impact on the worlds of science, philosophy and poetry in his book The Wine of Wisdom. Appearing on Roundtable, Mr. Aminrazavi talked about Khayyam and his philosophy on Islamic fundamentalism.
AIDS in Iran
Iran has the highest proportion of heroin addicts in the world and a growing AIDS problem. In a country where discussing sex, drugs and AIDS is taboo, two doctors are tackling the stigma and help those who are suffering with Iran’s first counseling and care center for HIV+ patients. Dr. Kamiar Alaei appeared on Roundtable January 27 to discuss effective ways to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. “The biggest stumbling block in treating HIV/AIDS in Iran,” Dr. Alaei said, “is cultural. There has always been a stigma attached to those who carry the virus and AIDS patients invariably are ostracized by their families. Unfortunately, people have the mistaken impression that only people who are involved in immoral conduct are vulnerable.”
Iran / Human Rights
Hadi Ghaemi, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, told Roundtable viewers January 28 that human rights in Iran – especially freedom of expression and assembly – deteriorated in 2006. Mr. Ghaemi said the government routinely tortures and mistreats detained dissidents, including through prolonged solitary confinement. He said Human Rights Watch also reports abuses by the Judiciary, which reports to supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and by members of President Ahmadinejad’s cabinet, which is dominated by former intelligence and security officials. Mr. Ghaemi cited the Islamic regime’s crackdown on Web sites and electronic journalists. He said Iran has executed at least 13 juvenile offenders in the last five years – a record high by any nation. Mr. Ghaemi said focus by the West on Iran’s nuclear program has lessened the spotlight on human rights violations.
In the News
PBS’s The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer focused its attention on the “Changing Voice of the Voice of America” in a 10-minute package January 26. In addition to looking at regional strategic priorities and increased attention to television and the Internet, a main focus of the program was VOA Persian Television, its four hours of daily Farsi-language programming into Iran and its broad reach to all segments of Iranian society. Correspondent Jeff Brown interviewed the host of News and Views about program content, ranging from news headlines to human rights.
Evidence of Effectiveness
After appearing on Late Edition, Fariba Amini, Associate Editor of IJNet for the International Center for Journalists, wrote VOA Persian that her interview was a big success: “We received a lot of e-mails and new subscribers.” Ms. Amini is in charge of the ICJ’s recently launched Persian Web site designed to connect and provide training opportunities for 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.