Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – June 4, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the President’s demand for the release of several Iranian-Americans being held against their will by the Iranian government; a broad-ranging interview on US-Iranian affairs with Ambassador James Jeffrey of the State Department’s Near Eastern Bureau; an exclusive interview with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); coverage of a news conference at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, an interview with Shaul Bakhash, husband of detained Iranian-American Haleh Esfandiari; and coverage of the talks between Iran and the EU regarding Tehran’s controversial nuclear program.
On June 1, VOA Persian covered President Bush’s condemnation of the Iranian regime for holding several American citizens – including Haleh Esfandiari, Parnaz Azima, Kian Tajbakhsh, and Ali Shakeri – against their will. “They should be freed immediately and unconditionally. These individuals have dedicated themselves to building bridges between the American and Iranian people, a goal the Iranian regime claims to support. Their presence in Iran – to visit their parents or to conduct humanitarian work – poses no threat.” The President also said he was disturbed by the Iranian regime’s refusal to provide any information on Robert Levinson – the former FBI agent who disappeared in March 2007 while visiting Iran’s Kish Island – and called on Iran to provide information on his whereabouts. “The United States,” Mr. Bush said, “is committed to protecting its citizens at home and abroad. We will maintain our efforts on behalf of these citizens until all of them are reunited with their families.”
In an exclusive interview with VOA Persian, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) talked about Haleh Esfandiari and her husband, who as residents of Potomac, Maryland, are his constituents. He has introduced a resolution calling for Ms. Esfandiari’s immediate and unconditional release saying Iranian officials arrested her on “trumped-up charges that she attempted to overthrow their government.” Mr. Van Hollen said the detention of Ms. Esfandiari and the other Iranian-Americans is now part of a very disturbing pattern of the Iranian government seizing Americans of Iranian descent. “And it sends a very bad message to all Americans….the fact of the matter is this is the kind of thing that continues to stand in the way of better relations between Iran and the United States. It is hard to read the Iranian government’s intentions. If this is simply a measure to try to gain leverage in negotiations, it will fail. It is a big mistake to think that by going out and detaining American citizens under false pretexts it will gain leverage. In fact the opposite will happen. It will result in making it much more difficult to move forward on other fronts….These kinds of actions only further isolate Iran within the international community.”
News & Views covered the May 31 news conference held at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars held by former US Representative Lee Hamilton, head of the Center and Shaul Bakhash, husband of Haleh Esfandiari. Mr. Hamilton said, “We are trying every avenue to secure her release,” but noted it has been 24 days since Ms. Esfandiari, who heads the Center’s Middle East program, has been held at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. Mr. Bakhash, a professor at George Mason University, said his 93-year-old mother-in-law has not been allowed to visit her daughter nor to provide her with medication. Mr. Hamilton discounted charges that Ms. Esfandiari is an agent.
In an interview with News & Views on June 1, Shaul Bakhash said, “This situation that Haleh has been caught in the middle of is scary. We have had no contact with each other and the charges from some of the government spokespersons are of real concern to me. We know Haleh is innocent of all charges and that allegations she is a US agent are baseless. What she was doing at the Woodrow Wilson Center was holding conferences and seminars. The government of Iran and institutes there are doing the same thing. They invite American, European and Asian scholars to go to Iran and attend conferences. Who is going to say that American scholars who participate in these Iranian conferences, who is going to say they are endangering the national security of the United States? That would be absurd.” Mr. Bakhash said he hopes charges against his wife will be dropped and that she will be released and come home soon.
News & Views quoted State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey as saying the detainees “are not party to any of the policy disputes between the government of the United States and the government of Iran.”
News & Views talked with Javad Mostafavi, editor and founder of Payam-e-Ashena, a weekly Persian-American magazine, about his friend and colleague, detainee Ali Shakeri. He said he has no first-hand knowledge of Mr. Shakeri’s detention or treatment in Iran – all he knows is from the newspapers. “He is a defender of human rights, especially of the Iranian people. I am sorry that people who work for human rights and better living standards in Iran get arrested.” Mr. Mostafavi said Mr. Shakeri’s arrest has had a very negative reaction in southern California – home to more than ½ million Iranians – particularly since the US and Iran have begun direct talks for the first time since the 1979 revolution.
Roundtable with You had an exclusive interview with James Jeffrey, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs on June 3, focusing on US-Iranian relations, the five American-Iranians being detained in Tehran, Iran’s involvement in Iraq and Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Ambassador Jeffrey reaffirmed that the United States does not seek regime change in Iran. He said the Iranian-Americans being detained in Iran do not work for the US government nor are they spies, as the Iranian government has charged. Mr. Jeffrey said the US has hard evidence that Iran is supplying munitions to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Ambassador also said President Ahmadinejad misunderstands the international community’s will to stop Iran’s nuclear program. “We will do whatever it takes,” he said. “And I underline whatever.”
Roundtable with You also focused on Iran-US relations on May 29 with Hossein Bagherzadeh, a political analyst and journalist based in London. Mr. Bagherzadeh said US-Iran talks last week did not begin under very auspicious circumstances. In addition to the United States emphasizing the necessity of Iran ceasing its provision of munitions to insurgents in Iraq, he said Iran is under pressure to halt its enrichment of uranium. Despite UN resolutions, he noted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said Iran will not stop its enrichment program “even if the UN Security Council adopts a thousand more resolutions.” Mr. Bagherzadeh said Iran’s allegation that detainee Haleh Esfandiari was trying to foment a “velvet” revolution in Iran and that she was a spy for the United States is both unacceptable and silly. He called for the immediate release of all the Iranian-American detainees.
Shahram Chubin – born in Iran, educated in Britain and the US, and a Swiss national – is director of research at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. He says last week’s bilateral talks in Baghdad show that Iran and the United States have the same interests, but don’t trust each other. Appearing on News & Views from Geneva June 1, Mr. Chubin said Iran believes it is the most powerful country in the region. He said one reason Iran encourages other countries in the region to adopt an anti-American position is because Iran feels threatened by the US presence in the Gulf. Mr. Chubin said UN sanctions against Iran have been ineffective so far, but said further sanctions would have a severe and negative impact on the Iranian people.
Ali Afshari, a researcher at the National Endowment for Democracy, told NewsTalk June 2 that the Iranian regime is using the talks for propaganda purposes, telling its citizens that the United States needs Iran to solve its problems in Iraq. He said Iran doesn’t want a democratic Iraq, what Iran wants is a paradox: he said stability in Iraq would benefit Iran, but said the Iranian regime doesn’t want the US to succeed in Iraq. Mr. Afshari also said Iran is using the talks to buy time – talking while at the same time continuing its uranium enrichment program.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani met with the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Madrid May 31, but their talks produced no breakthrough in the nuclear standoff and the two men will meet again in two weeks. Before heading into the talks, VOA Persian reported that Mr. Larijani ruled out halting Tehran's uranium enrichment work, saying that “suspension is not a way” to resolve Iran's nuclear standoff with the West. On June 3 in Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters that Iran will ignore continued US and UN pressure to stop enriching uranium as part of its nuclear program.
Israeli Middle East expert Meir Javedanfur, who was born and raised in Tehran, talked about his new book – “The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran” – with News & Views June 3. Mr. Javedanfur said the best way to understand President Ahmadinejad’s actions is to know his personal, political and military experiences. The author says the Iranian leader talks about wiping Israel off the map to distract the Iranian people from his failed economic policies.
London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh told News & Views June 2 that the US position toward Iran has remained the same while Iran’s position has changed – it is more in favor of talks and diplomacy than it has been previously. He said Iran is looking for a way to explain its change in policy, and suggested it will be Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who will be doing the explaining. Mr. Nourizadeh told News & Views June 3 that Iran views President Bush’s request to release detained Iranian-Americans as interfering in its domestic affairs. He said President Ahmadinejad’s newest comments about the destruction of Israel were more about promoting his own radicalism than anything else. During a speech to foreign guests mostly from African, Arab and neighboring countries, Mr. Ahmadinejad said, “God willing, in the near future we will witness the destruction of the corrupt occupier regime.” The Iranian leader was speaking at a ceremony in Tehran marking the 18th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who is known as the father of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Shojaoldine Shafa, a well-known researcher and author who was formerly head of the International Society of Iranian Scholars, says Khomeini’s revolution of 1979 was the worst catastrophe that has befallen Iran. Speaking from Paris, Mr. Shafa told Roundtable with You June 2 that “Khomeini has injected a venom into Iranian society that will take a long time to be eradicated.” Mr. Shafa, who is known for his revisionist views of Islam that some believe border on apostasy, has written nearly 60 books, the most recent of which takes its title from the Islamic Penal Code. According to Mr. Shafa, the Islamic Republic has succeeded in turning people away from politicized Islam, and that people are beginning to realize that there must be a separation between government and religion. He says Ayatollah Khomeini’s legacy is one of selfishness, not of spirituality. “He criticized Islam when it didn’t suit his agenda and ambitions.”
News & Views reported on students in Iran showing solidarity with the country’s labor movement. Students from Tehran University’s School of Law have started an initiative to support the families of jailed workers and issued brochures calling for support of Iranian workers. In an interview with VOA, legal expert and political activist Naser Zarafshan said, “Any development or changes in Iran should start from the social and civic classes with the support of other political groups.”
Hamid Reza Arabzadeh is a health and safety manager with the Department of Environmental Health and Safety at the University of California, Irvine. He talked with News & Views June 3 about the American Industrial Hygiene Association conference being held in Philadelphia. Mr. Arabzadeh the environmental experts attending the meeting are discussing many of the issues that will come up when G-8 leaders meet later this week in Heiligendamm, Germany. He said how the world’s most powerful industrial nations handle industrial activities is key to addressing the problem of global warming.
VOA Persian interviewed Bridget Conley-Zildic for its Women in Society program; Ms. Zildic is project manager for awareness about contemporary genocide at the Holocaust Museum in Washington. A collection of photos on Bosnia and Darfur is currently on exhibit at the museum, and Ms. Conley talked about the exhibit as well as the ongoing search in Srebrenica to find the remnants of victims. She said the UN has not played as effective a role in Darfur of late as it has in Bosnia. Despite being the mother of two small children, Ms. Conley said her work, including her travel to Bosnia and Darfur, and the subject of war, is essential if the mistakes of history are to be avoided in the future.
Channel One television director Shahram Homayoun discussed how media controlled by exiled Iranians help shape the political awareness of the Iranian diaspora on Roundtable with You May 30. Mr. Homayoun said the exile community struggled after the 1979 revolution, but eventually established a number of newspapers, as well as television and radio stations, most located in Los Angeles. He said Iranian immigrants were mainly interested in three things: freedom, employment and entertainment. Mr. Homayoun said Iranian-Americans have become so influential with the Iranian diaspora that the Islamic regime has tried to discredit exile-run media with misinformation. He said Iran, particularly through the New York-based Alavi Foundation, has spent millions of dollars to support television stations that favor the Islamic regime’s policies, citing Tapesh, Jamejam, Iran TV and Omide-Iran TV as specific examples.
Authors Hassan Safdari and Bruce Bahmani appeared on Late Edition June 3 to discuss their latest work. Mr. Safdari discussed his new book, “Ici tant de miroirs” (“There are So Many Mirrors Here”), saying, “My poetry is about simplicity. It is about a universe of love and quietude. It is a quest for reconciliation both concise and persevering.” Author Bruce Bahmani talked about his successful adaptation of a Persian epic into the American comic book genre for the first time. Rostam – taken from the rich verse of Ferdowsi, the famous Persian poet – is the hero-champion dedicated to protecting a mythical land of Iran from all invaders and usurpers. Mr. Bahmani said Rostam seemed perfectly suited for American comics. “After a few years of research, translation and adaptation, I put together a trilogy of stories suited for the creation of the books, in which the tradition of Ferdowsi’s technique of using the double entendre, one in which the main story overlays a deeper message or fable of wisdom and advice, could be accomplished.”
History Channel programming included a program on the Gestapo, Hitler’s secret police force; a segment from Ten Days that Unexpectedly Changed America on Albert Einstein’s 1939 letter to President Franklin Roosevelt urging him to explore development of the atomic bomb; another segment on the infamous 1925 Scopes trial pitting evolution against religion; a third segment on the 1848 gold rush, which sparked the largest migration of its kind in the history of the world; and lastly, a profile of playwright Tennessee Williams, whose works were influenced by his dysfunctional family (including an insane sister and alcoholic father);
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History Channel programming opens VOA’s daily five-hour Persian-television block with news headlines followed by various History Channel programs, translated and narrated in Farsi, that illustrate the cultural fabric and political landscape of the United States. News and Views, which debuted in 2003, is an hour-long program featuring correspondent reports, interviews and the top news stories from Washington and around the world. News and Views is followed by Roundtable with You, Late Edition and NewsTalk, all one-hour shows that together constitute a five-hour daily block of Persian-language television broadcast by satellite to Iran. 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 2006, looks at major world events and issues of interest to young people. NewsTalk, which went on the air in October 2006, opens with a brief recap of the day’s top headlines followed by a panel of experts discussing the day's top news stories. NewsTalk features in-depth discussions of the issues of greatest concern to Iranians and closes with a segment on worldwide media coverage of Iran.
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.