Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – October 29, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the announcement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on harsh, new US sanctions against Iran; Congressional reaction to the sanctions; interviews with State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on the new sanctions; with Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) on US-Iran relations; with former Chief of Mission Bruce Laingen on bilateral relations 28 years after being held hostage; with the Vice President of Afghanistan; with Parviz Dastmalchi, a survivor of the 1992 Café Mikonos assassinations; increased tensions along the Turkish-Iraqi border; a call for the release of imprisoned labor leader Mansour Osanlou; criticism of Iran’s systematic use of the death penalty against juveniles; and a new weekly segment focusing on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
News and Views was on the air within minutes of the Bush Administration’s imposition of sweeping new sanctions against Iran October 25 – the harshest in nearly three decades – cutting off key Iranian military and banking institutions because of Tehran’s support for terrorism and its nuclear weapons program. PNN broadcast the announcement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in its entirety (with a slight delay for translation into Farsi). Secretary Rice said the United States remains fully committed to a diplomatic solution with Iran, but said the Iranian government “continues to spurn our offer of open negotiations, instead threatening peace and security by pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to a nuclear weapon, building dangerous ballistic missiles, supporting Shia militants in Iraq and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories and denying the existence of a fellow member of the United Nations – threatening to wipe Israel off the map.” Secretary Paulson went into some of the specifics: “We are designating Iran’s Bank Melli, Bank Mellat and Bank Saderat. These are three of Iran’s largest banks. They all have facilitated Iran’s proliferation activities for its support of terrorism. We are also designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for proliferation activities and its Quds Force for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. The IRGC is so deeply entrenched in Iran’s economy and commercial enterprises, it is increasingly likely that if you are doing business with Iran, you are doing business with the IRGC.”
Following the announcement, PNN interviewed State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. Mr. McCormack said there is complete consensus within the administration about imposing the new sanctions. “It was time to send a very clear message to the Iranian regime,” he said. “The United States is willing to sit at the table with Iran. But in order for this to happen, it knows what it has to do. We want diplomacy to be effective, but Iran must stop meddling in neighboring countries. The Iranian people should ask why the Islamic Regime is bringing their nation under sanctions and into isolation. We are ready to discuss peaceful nuclear energy.”
PNN reported that most members of Congress welcomed the new sanctions on Iran. News and Views reported Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “I am fully supportive of a robust diplomatic and sanction effort against Iran. Iran should not entertain any idea that they can proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon for military purposes. I don’t see these sanctions as a predicate for really aggressive action.” Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), also was supportive: “We applaud the Bush administration’s decision today. . . The IRGC has long had American blood on its hands, most recently in supporting terrorist action against our troops in Iraq.” Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) said, “I commend the administration on its new, far-reaching sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force and associated institutions and individuals. We need to use every available peaceful means – diplomatic, economic and political – to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem, and serious sanctions are the surest way to do that without firing a shot.” However, Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) called the sanctions a poor excuse for the Bush administration’s refusal to follow the Iran Sanctions Act. President Bush, he said, continues to violate US law to protect oil companies doing business with Iran. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) warned that recent “chest pounding rhetoric” by the Bush administration reflects intensified efforts to justify invading Iran.
PNN had an exclusive interview October 26 with Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL), the author of three Iran-related pieces of legislation: HR 2880 expands the Iran Sanctions Act to include Iran’s export of gasoline. HR 235 asks the World Bank to end disbursements to Iran. And HR 203 asks for the immediate release of labor union leaders Mansour Osanlou and Mahmoud Salehi. Mr. Kirk said Iran’s increased rhetoric is just one example of Tehran’s weakening hand. He said both the United States and China depend on a peaceful Persian Gulf for their energy supply, and won’t let Iran “mess that up.” He said he believes growing combativeness by President Ahmadinejad will lead to “a very powerful US-Chinese alliance.” Mr. Kirk also thought Russia would be on the US-Chinese side in the end, dismissing President Putin’s apparent chumminess with Iran. Representative Kirk said he is happy to hear the World Bank is not going to approve new amounts of money for Iran, but he said that is not enough. “The World Bank currently has $870 million pending for Iran, and given the highly confrontational foreign policy of the Iranian government, I think it is inappropriate to undercut the United Nations in that way.” World Bank President Robert Zoellick has said the Bank will align itself with whatever the UN Security Council suggests, and that money in the pipeline is for existing projects that deal with things like earthquake recovery.
Earlier in the week, PNN covered Secretary Rice’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The policies of Iran,” she said October 24, “constitute perhaps the single greatest challenge for American security interests in the Middle East, and possibly around the world because the combination of Iranian terrorism, Iranian repression at home and the pursuit of nuclear weapons technology, technologies that could lead to nuclear weapons, it’s a very dangerous mix. We are preparing with our colleagues for a further Security Council resolution, but we’ve not been content to make those the only two tracks, which is why the President has been very determined to demonstrate inside Iraq that we will pursue Iranian agents and actors when they are engaging in activities that are harming our troops and harming innocent Iraqis.”
PNN covered a separate hearing on Iran sanctions and regional security, at which the chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), said “We’ve frittered away our strength and credibility in Iraq’s civil war. We’ve subcontracted our security to others. We’ve checked our own sanctions at the door while others negotiate. And while we’ve certainly indulged in plenty of bombastic rhetoric, we’ve never laid out for Iran our own carrots and sticks, or even clear red lines. We haven’t made Iran an offer it can’t refuse. Because we haven’t made either an offer or a threat. And I predict that until we do, and unless we do, our day of reckoning and regret will come even closer.” Philip Gordon, a Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, testified: “To be perfectly frank, it is uncertain whether even if the United States does receive the full cooperation of its European and UN Security Council partners, it will be able to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Iran seems determined to move forward with plans to develop a full nuclear fuel cycle that would leave it a short step away from a weapons capability.” Ilan Berman, Vice President for Policy at the American Foreign Policy Council, said the Iranian regime maintains just 45 days worth of gasoline inside the country. Without a petroleum reserve, he said, “even a partial cutoff of supplies would leave Tehran with just two options, both potentially threatening to regime stability: to raise prices, or to limit consumption. The Iranian regime is acutely aware of this vulnerability, and is actively attempting to eliminate it.”
News and Views October 26 reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Lisbon that he objected to the new sanctions against Iran, saying such action would put Iran in a corner over its nuclear program. “Why should we make the situation worse, corner it [Iran] threatening new sanctions?” he said. But in an interview with NBC, Secretary Rice said the international community cannot sit idly by while Iran tries to obtain a nuclear weapon. The US and Russia have differences, she said, about the tactics and timing regarding Tehran, but Washington and Moscow share the same basic goal of a non-nuclear Iran. Earlier, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in Prague that the United States would proceed with plans to install missile interceptors in Poland and a guidance radar facility in the Czech Republic, but “possibly wait before making them operational” until it has “definitive proof” of a missile threat from Iran. His proposition was the most specific and clear prospect of delay.
NewsTalk this week focused on the Bush administration’s new sanctions against Iran and the closer alignment to US policy by the European Union. On October 27, Berlin-based political analyst Mehran Barati said it appears the United States and Russia have reached an agreement behind the scenes: the United States will make significant concessions in its anti-ballistic missile system in Europe – something Russia strongly opposes – if Russia supports the US position against Iran in the UN Security Council. This would be at odds, Mr. Barati said, with President Ahmadinejad’s understanding that Iran and Russia together will create a new superpower in the region. Mohsen Sazegara, a guest researcher at Harvard University, said the same thing – that Russia will support new UN sanctions against Iran next month in return for the more conciliatory position by the United States vis-à-vis its anti-ballistic missile system in Europe. On October 23, Paul Janiczak, former Deputy Assistant Inspector-General for Iraq Reconstruction, was a guest on NewsTalk. He said Iran’s interference in Iraq is very problematic, that it inflames unrest in Iraq and that it has no interest in a democratic Iraq.
Ambassador Bruce Laingen, former chief of mission in Tehran during the hostage crisis, was the guest on Roundtable with You October 28, looking at US-Iran relations 28 years after the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran. Mr. Laingen said the hostage-taking was blemish on Iranian traditions of hospitality: “This was a flagrant violation of all international norms of behavior and diplomacy, and tarnished Iran’s reputation all over the world. If you ask a lay person in any corner of the world what they think of Iran, probably the first image that comes to their mind is that of a hostage taker, and this is quite unfortunate and will take a long time to dissipate.” Ambassador Laingen said there is a lack of trust on both sides, not giving much hope to a normalization of relations. “What’s important,” he said, “is to tone down this violent rhetoric and engage in dialogue without any preconditions.” PNN received an e-mail for Ambassador Bruce Laingen, within hours of his appearance on Roundtable. “I and my family deeply regret what happened [in 1979]. You were a hostage for 444 days. And we Iranians are hostages [now] for almost 28 years. You went back to freedom. But since [you left], freedom has been taken away from most Iranians. Our wealth has been taken and confiscated, or nationalized. And since the American Consulates closed, freedom also has gone. Since that time, I pass daily your consulate compound at Shahnaz Avenue in Tabriz, and never ever have I seen a laughing or happy face there. As you said, let’s look forward to a good and bright future. We in Iran – the people of Iran – are friends with America and hope that the dark clouds will clear and sunshine will shine for both nations. Religion cannot govern and cannot run and rule nations. I hope to see you in Iran when the sun shines again. Let me repeat that your words touched me. Thank you, Mr. Bruce.” During Roundtable, a view from Shiraz wrote, “I was a child when this hostage-taking took place, and now as an adult I feel a deep sense of shame that my countrymen did this. I would like you to convey my sense of shame to Ambassador Laingen.” Mr. Laingen responded: “We hear this all the time. Every one of us, when we meet Iranians in this country, we’re told ‘We are sorry.’ We have heard this enough. Let’s move on and work toward a better future. We have wasted 28 years and all we have is two empty embassies in Washington and Tehran.”
Michael Jacobson, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told News and Views that the new sanctions were expected, but a bit different than what the media had reported. He said because the sanctions target specific entities, like the Quds Force, they will certainly help stop those entities’ involvement with terrorism and proliferation. He said the specificity of the sanctions is also on purpose in a bid to avoid directly affecting the Iranian people.
PNN launched a new feature today, a question of the week polling viewers for their response to the following: Do you think President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies are to blame for the the recent round of sanctions? Viewers are offered three possible answers: Yes, No, or Don’t Know/No Opinion. The question will be asked during News and Views and will also be asked on PNN’s web site, with results to be announced the following week. We plan to ask one question each week related to one of the week’s biggest news stories in a bid to build audience interaction with and affinity for our programming.
PNN recently began another feature, this one a weekly segment focusing on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). One segment might tell viewers about IRGC’s mission and actions while another includes information on IRGC members or an IRGC threat to launch dozens of missiles against US interests within minutes should the US launch strikes inside Iran. This week’s IRGC report focused on top members of the Corps, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi; and the new nuclear negotiator who replaced Ali Larijani, Saeed Jalili. The report said that the inclusion of such senior Iranians in a group newly designated by the US government as a terrorist organization torpedoes any chance of meaningful diplomatic engagement with Iran.
Looking Ahead: PNN will be taking News and Views on the road this week to Istanbul, Turkey, to cover the Iraq Neighbors conference. News and Views anchor Setareh Derakhshesh and State Department correspondent Ali Farhoodi will anchor the show live from Istanbul November 1-November 4.
Reporting for News and Views, VOA-TV correspondent Deborah Block gave an eye witness account from the Turkey-Iraq border, saying, “People here are going about their everyday business, but they are also very apprehensive about their future and the fact that the border between the two countries might be closed. My overall impression,” she said, from her conversations with Iraqi Kurds, “is that they think Turkey is using PKK (the Kurdistan Workers Party) as a pretext to commit aggression against Iraq. They think that Turkey is hostile to the Kurds in general, and this animosity is at the root of this violence.” Ms. Block said Kurds told her they listen to foreign broadcasts, including VOA, on a regular basis to get the latest news.
News and Views reported October 28 that Turkey’s foreign minister says Ankara is keeping all of its options open in its fight against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, including diplomacy and military force. Speaking in Tehran after talks with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, Turkey’s Ali Babacan thanked Iran for helping to fight rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and said he discussed continuing Turkish-Iranian cooperation. Ankara is threatening a military incursion into northern Iraq to attack the bases of PKK rebels, who killed 13 Turkish soldiers last week. Also, Iranian state media said October 28 that President Ahmadinejad strongly criticized the PKK in a telephone conversation with Turkish President Abdullah Gul. Mr. Ahmadinejad said terrorist activities by the PKK are harming the interests of Turkey, Iran and Iraq. In another telephone conversation, this one with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the two leaders reportedly agreed on the need to confront PKK rebels, but said they preferred to resolve the crisis peacefully.
News and Views interviewed Salameh Nemat, former Washington bureau chief of Al-Hayat, the London-based Arabic language newspaper, on the skirmishes between PKK rebels and Turkey near the Iraq-Turkey border. Mr. Nemat said Iraq has been unable to prevent the Kurdish rebels from using its territory because Iraqi forces are bogged down fighting insurgents and militias in the interior, particularly in and around Baghdad and in the western provinces. He suggested there should be a regional solution to the Kurdish issue. “Turkey alone cannot deal with this issue,” Mr. Nemat said. “These countries have to recognize their Kurdish minorities’ desire for autonomy and self-rule. None of these states – namely Turkey, Syria and Iraq – is interested in an independent Kurdish country, but the autonomous Kurdish region in the north of Iraq is as close as they can get to total independence.”
News and Views interviewed Menashe Amir, former head of Israel Radio’s Persian Service about Israel’s efforts to step up its diplomatic offensive against Iran. He said the initiative, which includes meetings with UN Security Council members, is intended to counter a growing threat from Iran’s nuclear capability. He said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traveled to Moscow last week and will be visiting Beijing next week to stress a sense of urgency in dealing with the Iranian threat. “Russia is kind of unpredictable because Moscow puts its own interests first and we won’t know until the eleventh hour whether they would vote for the third round of sanctions against Tehran or not.” Mr. Amir said he doubts Iran’s nuclear program will be on the agenda of the Middle East peace conference slated to be held at the end of November.
News and Views interviewed Justin Logan, associate director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, October 24 about the options available to the international community in dealing with Iran’s refusal to comply with UN resolutions. Mr. Logan said it appears increasingly likely that the Bush administration’s diplomatic approach to Iran will fail to prevent Iran from going nuclear. He said the United States will have to decide whether to use military force to delay Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability. Mr. Logan said given the costs of the military option, the only compelling rationale for starting a war with Iran would be if there is good reason to believe Iran’s leadership is fundamentally undeterrable. But Mr. Logan said evidence indicates Iran is deterrable and would be particularly so if faced with the devastating repercussions that would result from use of a nuclear weapon. He said a military attack against Iran’s nuclear program poses several problems: US intelligence seems likely to be even poorer on Iran than it was on Iraq; Iran has buried its nuclear facilities in such a way that they would be difficult to destroy; Iran could respond in such a way that the United States would feel forced to escalate to full-blown regime change; and there would be a host of unintended consequences inside and outside Iran.
Roundtable with You looked at US sanctions against Iran October 26 with Reza Hossein Borr, author of A New Vision for the Islamic World. Mr. Hossein Borr said the new US sanctions were imposed to change Iran’s behavior on its nuclear program and to punish the Islamic Republic by paralyzing its means of exporting goods. He said despite record oil revenues, Iran’s economy continues to be in shambles, and that the Islamic regime keeps raising the nuclear issue to cover up its domestic failures. On the issue of Russian support for Iran, Mr. Hossein Borr said Russia has never supported Iranian interests at its own expense, and is not doing so now. He said Iran’s loss of a good portion of Caspian Sea rights is a good example of this. He said Iran was silent during a good part of the Caspian Sea summit earlier this month in a bid to gain the support of its neighbors against the United States.
A union spokesman from Tehran, an Amnesty International researcher from London and the representative of Canada’s main labor union came together on Roundtable with You to call for the release of Mansour Osanlou. Mr. Osanlou, who is head of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, was imprisoned in July as a result of his union activities. Participating in the show at great personal risk, Reza Shahabi – the spokesman for the Tehran Bus Drivers Union – said union members had been unaware that International Labor Organization officials visited Tehran last week in a bid to free Mr. Osanlou. Nor did he know that ILO representatives are in Iran this week seeking the payment of back wages for thousands of workers. Mr. Shahabi expressed concern for his jailed colleagues, saying some are in need of medical treatment. Mehdi Kouhestaninejad, a national representative of the Canadian Labor Congress, said that since being detained, Mr. Osanlou has had a portion of his tongue cut off and has lost sight in his left eye. From London, Drewery Dyke, an Amnesty International expert on Iran, expressed deep concern about repeated human rights violations in Iran, saying he is concerned for the well-being of Mr. Osanlou and other prisoners.
Philip Alston, an independent United Nations human rights expert, criticized Iran in a news conference in New York October 26, saying Iran is probably the only country in the world to systematically use the death penalty against juveniles. News and Views covered the news conference in which Mr. Alston estimated at least 75 juveniles are on death row in Iran now. He said the Iranian government “never responds to any communications” he sends them and that at least 173 people have been executed for offenses such as adultery, unlawful sexual relations and homosexuality, while laws that allow for stoning to death in these cases are “barbaric by any standards.”
Roundtable with You looked at Afghanistan today in an interview with Abdul Karim Khalili, currently second Vice President of Afghanistan in the administration of President Hamid Karzai. Joining the show from London, Mr. Khalili said Afghanistan has made great strides in building roads, hospitals and schools, and that progress is being made in gender equality. He expressed great pride in the increased participation of women in politics, despite deep obstacles rooted in Afghan traditions, and cited the service of a woman in the Afghan cabinet. Mr. Khalili said Afghanistan’s greatest challenge is terrorism. He expressed gratitude to the international community and to the people of the United States and Iran, saying as far as he knows, Afghanistan is the only issue the two countries have agreed to work on together.
An assassination attempt in September 1992 changed Parviz Dastmalchi’s life. In a one-on-one interview with NewsTalk’s monthly special Face to Face, Mr. Dastmalchi described the night when gunmen stormed Café Mikonos in Berlin, killing four members of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran. Mr. Dastmalchi has written extensively about surviving that evening and he worked closely with German authorities in the resulting criminal case. Mr. Dastmalchi said one reason why Iran doesn’t have a democratic government today is that people “aren’t familiar with democracy and democratic ways. Maybe that’s why Iran got stuck with a totalitarian regime.” He said the crime and destruction he saw the Iranian regime wield after the Islamic Revolution has led him to one goal – to “try to bring democracy to Iran, based on human rights. A government,” he added, “established with an ideology, becomes a tool of oppression and crime.”
Students at Allameh University collected over 1,000 signatures demanding the resignation of the university’s president. News and Views interviewed Amir Reisian, legal counsel of the committee for defending education rights at Allameh. He said the committee collected the students’ signatures to back a call for the resignation of president Sadredin Shariati and the cancellation of orders suspending student activists from the university. Despite the petition, he did not sound optimistic, saying Allameh University management is not under scrutiny and does not pay attention to what its students have to say.
News and Views covered the Iranian team that competed in the World Boxing Championships in Chicago this past week, the first qualifying event for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Iran participated in 10 of the 11 weight classes. Morteza Sepahvand, who weighed in at 64 kilograms, defeated his opponent and moved on to the next round, as did Homayoun Amiri. Mr. Amiri, the Iranian team captain, weighed in at 75 kilograms and advanced to the second round after beating his Peruvian opponent. The Iranian team ran into unexpected trouble when Ali Mazaheri, a gold medalist at the Asian Games in Doha, was defeated in his heavyweight match. Jasem Delavari advanced to the next round in the super heavyweight category. Despite efforts from the team’s security, PNN correspondent Ali Emadi was able to conduct exclusive interviews with all of the Iranian boxers as well as Nasrallah Delshad, who was among the 77 referees judging the competition.
Today’s Woman profiled Anousheh Ansari, who captured headlines one year ago as the first female private space explorer, earning a place in history as the fourth private explorer to visit space and the first astronaut of Iranian descent. The program looked at Pamela Melroy, NASA’s second female shuttle commander who is leading the Discovery shuttle at the same time as Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson, the first woman ever to lead an International Space Station mission. Both space flyers say they took heart that enough female astronaut are flying that the coincidence could occur.
Today’s Woman interviewed Ladan Boroumand, human rights activist and founder of the Boroumand Foundation, about violence in Iran, particularly with regard to political prisoners, student activists and women activists. Ms. Boroumand said people are afraid to report government abuses, but encouraged them to report incidents of violence to international organizations. She said her website has an application people can fill out that enables them to report an abuse without identifying themselves.
Another Today’s Woman program focused on temporary marriage with Toronto-based sociologist Leili Pourzand. Temporary marriage, or sigheh, is a fixed-time marriage, which, according to Islamic law, is a marriage with a preset duration, after which the marriage is automatically dissolved. It is considered prohibited by Sunnis. Ms. Pourzand said women have no rights in a temporary marriage. No certificate or license is issued. Foreign women involved in a temporary marriage with Iranian men cannot ask for citizenship for themselves or for any children resulting from the relationship. One caller from Iran summed up why temporary marriage has supporters: she is married to her husband against his family’s wishes, and is pleased to be in a temporary marriage because she believes in having a relationship before marriage. Critics say temporary marriage is a religious loophole for premarital or extramarital sex.
This week’s “On the Record” – Persian News Network’s once-a-week program featuring executive editor Kambiz Mahmoudi as ombudsman – addressed the illegal use of the VOA/PNN logo and copying of the VOA/PNN home page on two different web sites. Mr. Mahmoudi didn’t provide additional information on the fraudulent sites, but reminded viewers that VOA/PNN’s URL is www.voapnn.com.
This week’s History Channel segments included a three-part profile of JFK: A Presidency Revealed, which traces John F. Kennedy's journey from his privileged roots as the son of a wealthy Irish-American entrepreneur, to his celebrated thousand days as both the first Catholic and the youngest man ever to be elected president of the United States; a profile of Thomas Jefferson that tells the compelling story of one of America’s most complex and enduring figures; and a program on rogue waves, the story of one of nature’s most terrifying forces, what they are, how they work and what we need to learn to deal with this dangerous ocean menace.
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