Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – March 12, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included talks in Baghdad between Iraq, its neighbors and ambassadors of the five U.N. Security Council members on how best to stabilize the region; President Bush’s tour of Latin America; exclusive interviews with Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, and author Azar Nafisi; coverage of International Women’s Day; Undersecretary Nicholas Burns testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee; legislation on Iran introduced by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA); and ongoing talks to draft further sanctions on Iran because of its continued defiance of a U.N. resolution to halt its uranium enrichment program. Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) spoke with the Iranian people on a live viewer call-in program.
On the Road with President Bush
VOA Persian went on the road with President Bush on his goodwill tour of Latin America. News and Views’ anchor Setareh Derakhshesh reported along the way from Sao Paulo, Brazil; Montevideo, Uruguay; and Colombia. She reported from Bogota March 11 with President Bush’s first public comments on this weekend’s Baghdad regional conference. He characterized the meeting as positive, but said he is waiting to see if participants turn their words into action. Speaking at a joint news conference with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Mr. Bush said “People are now committed publicly to helping Iraq which was I thought very positive.” He said, “I think the other benefit from the conference is the [Iraqi] government gained some confidence.” President Bush said he thought some momentum had been created, as participants prepare for a second, ministerial-level gathering. He said the head of the U.S. delegation for those talks will be Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The president was asked about pledges made in Baghdad by Iran and Syria to help halt the violence plaguing Iraq. He said their words are welcome, but he wants to see action. “Words are easy to say in politics and international diplomacy,” he said. “If they really want to help stabilize Iraq there are things for them to do, such as cutting off weapons flows and/or the flow of suicide bombers into Iraq.”
The man who represented the United States at the Baghdad talks March 10 was the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. He said American delegates spoke about weapons concerns with their Iranian counterparts. “I did talk with them directly, and in the presence of others. We engaged across the table, as well. I did raise those concerns,” he said. The ambassador also said Iranian representatives voiced support for improving security in Iraq, but he said statements alone are not enough. “They have stated today that they support Iraq, that they support the reconciliation effort, that they support the effort to bring security to the people of Iraq. The next step is to see that these good sentiments, good statements be translated into concrete action,” he said.
The head of Iran's delegation, Abas Arakchi, said security in Iraq is necessary for stability in the region, so there is no reason for Iran to interfere in Iraqi politics, other than to support peace. He blamed Iraq's violence on the presence of foreign forces in the country. “The presence of foreign forces in Iraq justifies violence in that country, or serves the benefit of terrorists and violence in Iraq. And, violence is used to justify the presence of foreign forces. So, for the sake of peace and stability in Iraq, and to keep its integrity and unity, we need a timetable for the withdrawal of the foreign forces,” he said.
Nukes / New Sanctions
Negotiations on a U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution are still in a preliminary stage as Russia and China express concern about Western proposals for tough financial penalties against Iran for its controversial nuclear program. Ambassadors from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany met for two hours March 9 in search of a way forward on a follow-up Iran sanctions resolution. It was their fourth meeting in a week, in addition to a number of conference calls involving senior diplomats and ministers in national capitals. But after all the talk, there is no draft resolution on the table, and no indication when one might be ready.
Iran's envoy to the United Nations nuclear agency says sharp cuts in technical aid projects to Tehran will not affect the country's uranium enrichment work. Ali Asghar Soltanieh says Iran's sensitive nuclear work will continue as planned under the safeguards of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, I.A.E.A. He says the cuts are not related to Iran's enrichment program. Mr. Soltanieh spoke after the I.A.E.A.'s 35-nation board decided March 8 to freeze or curb nearly half of its more than 50 aid projects to Iran, out of concern Tehran may be trying to build nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program.
Ali Banuazizi, professor at Boston College and co-director of its Program in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, told VOA that Iran’s nuclear confrontation with the United States and its allies is a great mistake. He emphasized that for ordinary Iranians, human rights issues are far more important than access to nuclear energy. He cited Iran’s economic problems, unemployment, inflation, lack of access to foreign capital as important issues that need to be dealt with. “Lack of capital investment and technical know-how threaten Iran’s oil production, and oil is Iran’s main source of foreign exchange. President Ahmadinejad’s remarks are provocative, and his policies isolate Iran without solving any of the country’s pending economic problems.”
Burns / House
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 6, responding to members’ questions about Iran’s nuclear policy, possible further U.N. sanctions against Iran and sectarian violence in the region. He said diplomacy – not military intervention – is the best course of action to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program. “It is my judgment that diplomacy is the best course of action in blocking and containing the Iranian regime. I do not believe that a military confrontation with Iran is either inevitable or desirable. If we continue a skillful, patient, energetic, diplomatic course, and we have the patience to play it out over the mid- to long-term, I’m confident we can avoid a conflict, and we can see this larger American strategy in the Middle East vis-à-vis Iran succeed.”
Mr. Burns said one way the U.S. is trying to bring peace to the Middle East – Iraq in particular – is by attending this past weekend’s meeting in Baghdad with European nations, Iran and Syria. “To try to send a message that every one of those countries, particularly Iran and Syria, have a self-interest and an obligation to use their influence, for peace, for an end to the fighting among the ethnic groups there, and to secure stability at long last in Iraq itself.” Mr. Burns said another concern is that Iran is inciting violence not only in Iraq, but in other countries in the region as well. He cited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal as one example. “When the Hamas leader visited Tehran this morning, it is true, and one member said this, and President Ahmadinejad apparently said – if we're to believe the press reports – that Hamas should continue its violent attacks on the government of Israel.”
The Undersecretary said the administration had held discussions with relevant oil companies and countries – including Royal Dutch Shell, Repsol YPF, Australia LNG and China’s National offshore Oil Corporation – in recent weeks about their potential investment in Iran’s oil and natural gas sector. Mr. Burns said he told CEOs and prime ministers the United States was “vigorously opposed” to the deals and that any agreements would “undermine international efforts to resolve the nuclear issue.”
VOA Persian reported on the legislation introduced by the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), that would force the Bush administration to sanction oil companies and countries that strike deals with Iran. The legislation would bar the administration from entering into civil nuclear deals with countries if they aid Iran’s nuclear program. “My legislation goes beyond the waiver issue,” Mr. Lantos said March 6. “If a nation aids Iran’s nuclear program, it will not be able to have a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States. I am introducing the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007. The objective of my legislation is twofold: to prevent Iran from securing nuclear arms and the means to produce them, and to ensure that we achieve this goal in a peaceful manner. My legislation also calls on the President to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group. The Revolutionary Guard and its Quds Force train terrorists throughout the Middle East, including in Iraq and in Lebanon. The Revolutionary Guard, which is a major base of support for [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, owns huge economic enterprises in Iran. Foreign banks will think twice about dealing with these enterprises once the Guard is declared a terrorist organization.”
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also introduced legislation regarding Iran on March 6. Her legislation would require that U.S. government pension plans and mutual funds sell any investments in companies with ties to Iran’s energy sector.
Member of Congress Talks Directly with the People of Iran
On Tuesday, March 7th, Roundtable hosted Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (MI). Host Ahmad Baharloo opened the program with a sound clip from Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns at Tuesday's House Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iran. In the clip, Secretary Burns stated in his testimony, "Military confrontation is not either inevitable nor desirable" and that a diplomatic solution with Iran was preferable. Congressman McCotter stated that "no one in the U.S. Congress has any desire to have a military confrontation with Iran" and that his comments represent the general view of the Congress and the people of the United States. We support the path of diplomacy." Rep. McCotter said there was bipartisan agreement in Congress that diplomacy with Iran was preferable to military confrontation. In response to a call commenting critically on U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rep. McCotter countered that liberating the people of Iraq and Afghanistan was a good thing for the region.
International Women’s Day
VOA Persian devoted significant airtime to commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8. This included coverage of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which held a joint news conference in Washington in which they accused Iran of increasing persecution and legal prosecution of women's rights activists. Human Rights Watch researcher Hadi Ghaemi said the situation for women in Iran is paradoxical. “Iranian women are at the cutting edge of social activism in Iran,” he said. “Although they are visible and extremely successful in every social, economic and cultural domain, Iranian law treats them as second class citizens, and discriminates against them.” He said that during the past year, the Iranian government has “substantially stepped up its persecution and prosecution of peaceful women's' rights advocates.”
Police in Tehran arrested 33 women last weekend, including many prominent rights activists. They were holding a rally outside a courthouse where five other women activists were standing trial. Roundtable with You reported on the development live. Simin Behbahani, a prominent poet who was appearing on the program via telephone from Tehran, denounced the arrests in the strongest possible terms, asking the Iranian regime to address the grievances of these women in an amicable way instead of resorting to violence and arrests. An attorney for several of the activists, Nasrin Sotoodeh, told VOA by phone from Iran that three of her clients were accused of acting against national security by virtue of gathering outside the courthouse. Ms. Sotoodeh quoted her clients as saying police used excessive force.
In an interview with News and Views, Undersecretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky said, “One of the best means to convey the information regarding women’s rights is through programs such as yours. Men and women in Iran have not yet been able to exercise their basic, fundamental rights. You have repression of basic freedoms. Many women in Iran have stepped forward, despite great obstacles and risks, and have certainly indicated their desire to contribute more fully in the development of their society. We would like to see that all men and women in Iran have the opportunity to exercise their rights.”
Mahnaz Afkhami is Founder and President of the Bethesda-based Women's Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace, as well as the former Minister of State for Women's Affairs in Iran. In exile in the United States, Ms. Afkhami has been a leading advocate of women's rights for more than three decades, having founded and headed several international non-governmental organizations focused on advancing the status of women. She told VOA’s Roundtable with You that “You cannot change the trend of history. Despite all the harsh roles and regulations against the women of Iran in the past 28 years since the Islamic Revolution, the [regime’s leaders] have not been able to stop progress, the only thing they manages to do is to retard progress’s trend for a short time.”
Late Edition featured numerous stories tied to International Women’s Day, including reports on women in the U.S. military and those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; the history and significant of the day; a discussion on the treatment of girls in India; a report on breast cancer; an interview with Indian film director Mira Nair (an Oscar nominee for her 1988 debut feature, Salaam Bombay!); a feature on female domestic workers in Singapore and another on abuses frequently faced by migrant workers.
Interview: Senator Jim Webb (D-VA)
VOA Persian interviewed Senator Webb following his introduction of legislation on March 5 that prohibits the use of funds for military operations in Iran without congressional authorization. Senator Webb, who is a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, said “what we want is to bring the administration to the table with the Congress, to discuss responsibly future relations as they relate to Iran.” The Senator said “what you see with North Korea is a change of course in this administration, which I think is a welcome change of course. And I believe that we should be doing the same thing with Iran as long as Iran acts responsibly as well. Iran cooperated responsibly after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. We have indications that there were signals from Iran in 2003 working toward some sort of a normalization of relations. It is very important to have a long-range goal of the United States to bring Iran into the international community as a responsible player and not simply to refuse to talk. So this is one of the things that I hope will happen with his type of legislation.”
Interview: Reza Pahlavi
VOA’s News and Views interviewed former Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi March 10. H.R.H. said the Iranian people are going to have to free themselves from the Islamic regime. He said Iranians living abroad can assist in such movements, but it is workers and teachers and nurses who will lay the foundation for resistance and bring about change in Iran. “One protest is not enough. These protests must turn into a real resistance which can eventually unite people across Iran, so that they can apply the necessary pressure to reach the final goal – to replace this regime with one desired by a majority of the people.”
Mr. Pahlavi decried the treatment of women in Iran since the Revolution. “Women are treated as second class citizens. How can Iran be a part of the 21st century when half of its people are considered second class? Change must occur in Iran. Our country has a complex society. We have a wide range of political views, from the extreme left to the extreme right. These points of view bring a balance to Iran. We need to get rid of the roots of the Islamic republic of Iran, otherwise the regime will find a way to continue this game and stay in power…the destiny and future of our country depends on our taking advantage of the opportunities facing us right now.”
The Washington Post reported March 8 that a former Iranian deputy defense minister who once commanded the Revolutionary Guard has left his country and is cooperating with Western intelligence agencies. The paper quoted a senior U.S. official as saying Ali Rez Asgari disappeared last month during a visit to Turkey, adding that he is willing cooperating and that the information Mr. Asgari is offering is fully available to U.S. intelligence. London-based journalist and political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh told VOA that in additional to serving as a commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Mr. Asgari served in a position of authority during the Iran-Iraq War and also served as a military advisor in Lebanon. Mr. Nourizadeh said Mr. Asgari also would be in a position to have information on Iran’s nuclear program.
Tightening the Reins
Mehrdad Mashayekhi, a visiting professor of sociology at Georgetown University, told VOA’s Roundtable with You March 5 that Iran has increasingly moved toward a totalitarian state in the years since 1979’s Islamic revolution. He said the revolution was quickly derailed, with leaders “forbidding gatherings, political parties banned and opposition leaders jailed. In this climate, universities were closed and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave the country…the clergy increased pressure on various institutions, Islamic law replaced civil law. The biggest victims of the Islamic revolution were women and intellectuals.” Mr. Mashayehki said the government’s suppression of the media interrupted communication between inside and outside Iran, allowing leaders to control information. The regime, he continued, began using events – like the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program – to create a permanent crisis in society. Such crises divert people’s attention from unemployment, addiction and mass poverty. Mr. Mashayehki said the best remedy is to separate government from religion.
Appearing on Roundtable with You March 11, Iranian journalist and former political prisoner Akbar Ganji discussed ways democracy might be introduced in Iran. “I believe that a transition to democracy through the constitution of the Islamic Republic is impossible because of the principle of the Velayate Faqih, or absolute rule of the clerics.” Mr. Ganji said he believes a military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran “would have calamitous consequences for the people of Iran and the United States as well as for peace and stability in the Middle East.” He said it will take social mobilization by the people of Iran to wrest power from the clerics. “The regime must be turned into a democratic system not by military means, but through a sustained civil campaign by Iranian citizens, and through a process that will not lead to the elimination of any individual, group or profession.”
London-based economist Hadi Zamani told VOA Persian that public corruption is usually seen in countries where there is a lack of political and social freedoms, where political power is the monopoly of one group, and that group is not accountable to others. Mr. Zamani said corruption in Iran has taken on new dimensions. “It has become the norm in economic matters and financial dealings. It has become epidemic. When there is no accountability, when there is one group of people holding power and there is no competition in the political arena, you inevitably end up with corruption at all levels.”
Interview: Azar Nafisi
VOA’s Late Edition interviewed Azar Nafisi, the author of the bestselling Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, on the role of imagination in literature, the non-existence of democracy without freedom of speech and the relationship between culture and human rights. Ms. Nafisi pointed out that her book, which has been translated into 32 languages, can be read in China by people uninformed about Iran – “the book is a celebration of the freedom of readers no matter where they might be. For example, in Iran these days, you never know which book you’re reading might be illegal. For a while, reading The Thousand and One Nights was illegal, part of Omar Khayyam was illegal. Making books illegal makes them more interesting to people. By censoring books, you are insulting readers. The points I make are not political – if we don’t respect individual rights, we are not respecting human rights.”
300 – The Movie
Warner Brothers Pictures released a new film March 9 called 300 – a ferocious retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae in which King Leonidas and 300 Spartans fought to the death against Xerxes and his massive Persian army. Reza Badiyi, a well-known television director (Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, Mannix), told Roundtable with You that the film doesn’t warrant comment because it is more like a cartoon than a feature film. But he agreed with the widespread protests staged by Iranians who believe the movie has sullied their history and national pride. “When America is at war, or in a warlike situation with a country, then Hollywood consciously or unconsciously makes movies that portray the people of that country in a negative light. The same thing was done to the Russians, the Koreans, the Germans. Now it’s time for Iranians and Arabs.”
Historian Touraj Daryaee, a professor at California State University, Fullerton, also appeared on Roundtable to discuss 300. He said Hollywood has no qualms about distorting history as long as there is a profit at the box office. “How many times has Hollywood portrayed Iranians in a positive light? Never. We have always been portrayed as a bunch of terrorists and losers.”
Boozman on VOA
Congressman John Boozman (R-AR), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, appeared on Roundtable with You a month ago, discussing U.S.-Iranian relations, Iran’s nuclear program, and the possibility of a military strike against Iran. He had the following to say to Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns at a Committee hearing on March 6: “Not too long ago, I was asked to do [a program with the] Voice of America broadcast to Iran. And I’d been very critical of our outreach efforts in the past and some of the things that we are trying to do. But I really do want to compliment you on that particular program. The feedback that I got from people that had seen the program, from friends that were in Iran, and said, ‘I saw Congressman Bozeman during primetime’ – it was very, very positive. I think the program itself – all of us have done a lot of call-in radio, call-in television – I think the format and the way that the program went was as good as any program I’ve ever participated in anywhere, and the calls and the information back and forth was excellent, so I do want to compliment you on that particular program.”
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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.