Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, D.C. – November 26, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and PNN’s exclusive interviews with the US Ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, before and after the meeting; the upcoming Middle East peace conference in Annapolis; an exclusive interview with State Department spokesman David Foley on expectations for Annapolis; an interview with University of South Florida political science professor Mohsen Milani on its prospects for success; an interview with Gen. Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO; last weekend’s rare head of state OPEC summit in Riyadh; the possibility of another round of US-Iran talks on Iraqi violence; the disappearance of a former student leader in Iran after appearing on a PNN show; the UN’s condemnation of human rights violations in Iran; Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi calling on her government to suspend sensitive nuclear activities; an interview with Rodney Jones, President of Policy Architects International, on political instability in Pakistan vis-à-vis the country’s nuclear weapons power; Congressional debate over policy toward Iran; Iran increasingly coming up in campaigning for the 2008 US presidential election; an interview with the Heritage Foundation’s Ray Walser on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s latest visit to Tehran;

Ambassador Gregory Schulte, the US Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Association was the featured guest on Roundtable with You November 24. His Iranian counterpart, Ali-Asghar Soltanieh also was invited to participate, but declined VOA’s invitation. Mr. Schulte said he was happy with IAEA deliberations on Iran’s nuclear program but expressed surprise that the Iranian ambassador also was pleased. “If Mr. Soltanieh was happy too, then he clearly was not listening. Almost every member of the Board of Governors called on Iran to do three things: First, to cooperate with the Agency more fully and proactively; second, to sign the additional protocol in order to give the Agency more information about the nature of Iran’s nuclear activity; and third to suspend its uranium enrichment. The IAEA report clearly says that Iran has fallen short on all three counts,” Mr. Schulte said. “My report to Secretary Rice would be that we had a satisfactory response here at the IAEA as it would make it easier to pass a third sanctions resolution against Iran at the UN Security Council,” he added. “I hope Mr. Soltanieh is hearing this and conveys this message to the Iranian leadership.” He agreed with a caller’s comment that it would be more cost-effective for the Iranian government to purchase fuel for its reactor being built by the Russians than for Iran to process the fuel itself.

Mr. Schulte told another viewer the US and its allies “have taken pains to make sure sanctions target Iran’s leadership, not its people, so that those in charge of Iran’s nuclear program will bear the brunt of the sanctions.” But he admitted that Tehran’s policy choices may worsen economic conditions for the larger segment of the Iranian public as foreign companies begin to pull out and reconsider doing business with Iran. Mr. Schulte also disputed the notion propagated by Iranian leaders that the US is against Iran’s acquisition of nuclear technology. “Please don't believe this story. The United States is a strong supporter of nuclear technology all over the world for peaceful purposes. We have given Iran assurances of fuel supply and promised them to build top-of-the-line nuclear reactors. This offer is still out there. The United States wants to have a different type of relationship with Iran. But are the Iranian leaders willing to give up their support for international terrorism? Are they willing to play a more constructive role in the region and comply with their obligations under the NPT?”

Viewers immediately flooded PNN with e-mails for Ambassador Schulte: “Mr. Schulte, as an Iranian, I would like to thank you and other US officials for your efforts against the Islamic Regime’s dangerous ambitions to get nuclear weapons. Please do whatever is necessary to stop the Islamic Regime from getting WMD. And please get more serious, and push the regime harder because we Iranians don’t want to see the Islamic Regime with nuclear teeth. We hope to see some results soon – before it’s too late.”

“Dear Mr. Schulte, if you really want to prevent the Islamic Regime from getting weapons of mass destruction you should support secular Iranians’ fight against the regime, along with your other efforts at the UN.”

“I just wanted to say that Mr. Schulte is a first-rate diplomat and I see a bright future for him.”

“Tonight you had one of the best Roundtables ever. You had one of the best officials of the US government, who came across as very genuine. I congratulate you all, especially [anchor] Mr. Farhoodi. VOA/PNN has a huge audience in Iran. You need to be congratulated for what you did tonight. You shake the foundations of the regime with your programs.”

PNN correspondent Ali Farhoodi broadcast live from Vienna with coverage of the IAEA’s Board meeting. (VOA was the only television network broadcasting live from Vienna – even Iranian state television, IRIB, with a large contingent of reporters, had to send their reports ftp, or via the internet, ostensibly because of budget problems.)

PNN reported that China encouraged Iran November 20 to abide by UN resolutions and strengthen cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to achieve early solution of its nuclear issue. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters in Beijing that “China is working on IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei's newly released report on the Iranian nuclear program, which is objective and professional.”

A Middle East Peace conference is scheduled to begin in Annapolis November 27. PNN will report on the all-day sessions scheduled at the Naval Academy as well as pre- and post-conference bilateral meetings with attendees such as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. David Foley, the State Department spokesman on Middle East issues, told News and Views that President Bush will hold bilateral talks with foreign leaders on November 28 following the Annapolis conference. He said substantial gaps remain in drafting a joint Palestinian-Israeli document to present at the conference that would set the basis for their final status negotiations. Mr. Foley said the Israelis and Palestinians will set up working groups to pursue negotiations, adding that “President Bush and the international community are all ready to help them make progress, and they appeal for the largest Arab support possible.” Although the Annapolis conference will focus on reviving Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, it also will discuss efforts for a comprehensive Middle East settlement.

News and Views interviewed Mohsen M. Milani, Professor of Politics and Chair of the Department of Government and International Affairs at the University of South Florida in Tampa, about the Annapolis conference and prospects for its success. According to Mr. Milani, prospects for peace and stability in the Middle East are bleak until there is a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Only through peaceful negotiations will this historical conflict be resolved as there is no military solution to the conflict.” He said he was skeptical about the chances of a breakthrough at the Annapolis conference, quoting an opinion survey in Israel as saying 71 percent of those polled welcomed the conference taking place, but 82 percent said there would be no peace treaty. “I happen to think the 82 percent have it right,” he added. Some of the core issues underlying the conflict – the issue of refugees, Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem, and the final borders – are difficult. He said it is essential for Syria and Egypt to participate if the conference is to enjoy any success. “It’s a truism that Arab countries cannot wag war against Israel without Egypt, and cannot make peace with Israel without Syria,” he concluded, adding that Syria is under pressure from Iran and Hamas not to participate.

News and Views reported that the foreign ministers of Egypt and Turkey will attend the peace conference. Other Arab states were expected to decide whether to attend or not during an Arab League meeting in Cairo November 23. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she believes the conference will be a success if it launches Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to create a Palestinian state. She said the United States hopes for a peace deal between the two sides before President Bush leaves office in early 2009. Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, said “In our hearts we know that one day we will have to end the conflicts, in whatever way, and we will have to pay a price.” Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel, said “It’s better to try and fail than not to have tried at all.” He believes a lack of engagement with the Palestinians gave the wrong message to others. It gave a boost, he said, “to the Iranians, to Osama bin Laden, to all of the extremists in the region, to be able to say the Americans don’t care about the Palestinian issue.”

Mehrdad Khonsari, a research consultant with the London-based Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, told News and Views November 24 that both Israel and Palestine need to make some serious changes immediately after the Annapolis conference. “The goal must be a permanent peace,” he said, “not just a ceasefire. We need to see great changes in the Mideast. Israeli policy toward new settlements in Palestinian territory needs to change. Palestinians need to stop suicide bombers.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said the peace conference will have no benefit for the Palestinians. But Mr. Khonsari, a former diplomat, said Mr. Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “are isolated in the Middle East. They are not Palestinian supporters so much as they are looking to what benefits the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

News and Views reported November 25 that Israeli tanks and infantrymen on a night operation in the Gaza Strip killed two Palestinian militants in a gun battle early on Sunday, just hours before the Annapolis conference is to begin. A few hundred Palestinians in Gaza City held a protest November 24 against the Annapolis, protesting against any potential concessions Palestinian leaders would make at the conference. In Jerusalem, an estimated 500 Israelis rallied November 24 outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s official residence calling on him to make every effort to make peace with the Palestinians. As Mr. Olmert was due to leave for Washington and Annapolis, demonstrators packed the narrow sidewalk and a nearby street junction carrying placards reading: “This is the time – choose peace” and “Yes to a peace treaty.”

News and Views interviewed General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and former presidential candidate on a number of topics, including Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, the 2008 presidential election, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and how foreign policy is playing in the presidential campaign. “There are some unexplained anomalies in the information that has been collected thus far by the IAEA that would let any observer believe that there is some reason to suspect that Iran is actually pursuing nuclear weapons.” He said if outstanding questions aren’t resolved about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, “those who want to use force will have a stronger case. So I don’t think the Iranian leadership should be confident that force won’t be used. Force could be used and could be used relatively quickly.” General Clark said he does not advocate the use of force at this time, but illustrated a few possible military strike scenarios. He also said if Senator Clinton wins the 2008 election, he would expect her to carefully begin a dialogue with Iran, involving experts on Iraq, nuclear issues, economic development, and reparations and properties and other issues of concern associated with the change of regime in 1979. After 30 years of no communication, he said, “there is an awful lot to talk about, but we have to begin the dialogue in the right way.” On Pakistan, General Clark said, “We are going to call on [General Pervez] Musharraf to do the right thing, but ultimately it’s his responsibility. He is the man who seized control in 1999. He is the man who screwed it up. And he is the man who has to fix it.”

NewsTalk contributor Rob Sobhani attended the rare summit of OPEC heads of state last weekend in Riyadh, where he had an up-close encounter with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He appeared on News and Views November 22 and said the two leaders tried unsuccessfully to turn the gathering into a political vehicle, but Saudi Arabia insisted the OPEC leaders stick to the topic – oil and the environment. Mr. Sobhani said the reasons behind the rising price of oil are the decline of the dollar and the demand for energy.

News and Views November 20 reported that Iran has agreed to hold a new round of talks with the United States on improving the security situation in Iraq. The US envoy to Iraq, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, have met two times in Baghdad this year to discuss Iraq's security situation. Their meetings broke a 27-year freeze in diplomatic ties, but did not appear to make much progress – each side blamed the other for Iraq's violence. David Foley, a State Department spokesman on Middle East issues, told VOA in a written contact that the US has said it is always ready for the next round of talks with Iran over Iraqi security. He said details are being worked out.

Hassan Mansour, an economics professor at London’s Schiller University, told NewsTalk November 25 that the US dollar has played an important role in the world economy for over 60 years. But for nearly two years, Iran – OPEC’s second biggest producer – has been reducing its exposure to the dollar, saying the weak US currency is eroding its purchasing power. The international affairs director of the state owned National Iranian Oil Company, Hojjatollah Ghanimifard, told reporters November 19 that Iran has effectively cut all ties with the dollar when it comes to oil revenues. “This is an economic decision,” he said, “and we’ve been proven right. Over time, the dollar has gotten weaker and weaker.” Mr. Mansour said Iran is right when it says the value of the US dollar will reduce the value of other countries’ currency reserves. “But Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comment that Iran will receive more revenue from Euros is nonsense, because the price of oil is based on the dollar, and Iran will receive the same amount of value for its oil whether it’s paid in dollars or Euros.

PNN is scheduled to interview Mike Gapes, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Britain’s House of Commons, on November 28. It will be Mr. Gapes’s first post-trip interview since leading a group of eight MPs on a rare trip to Iran last week, the first such visit by an official British delegation in four years. The group met during their four-day visit with Iran’s new top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. They also met Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, chairman of the Iranian parliament Gholam Ali Haddad and judiciary advisor on international affairs Mohammad Javad Larijani. British-Iranian diplomatic relations were only restored in 1999 after ties were cut over the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini calling for the killing of writer Salman Rushdie. The relationship has been troubled since then on a number of fronts.

Ali Tabarzadi, the son of Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, appeared on Roundtable with You November 21, nearly a month to the day after his father was a guest on the program. The father, a former student leader and Secretary-General of the Iran Democratic Front, appeared on Roundtable October 22. Despite a pledge to keep silent about his treatment while incarcerated for six years, Mr. Tabarzadi had contacted PNN to express his deep concern about the treatment of imprisoned students, saying authorities are resorting to torture, “obtaining confessions” and getting “students to say things they have no knowledge about.” “Torture,” he said, “makes you say what people want to hear.” The son, Ali, told PNN his father was arrested within hours of his appearance on Roundtable. “In the absence of a free press,” he said, “the Voice of America is the greatest source of information for Iranian freedom fighters. Within this context, my father, despite the restrictions imposed on him by judicial authorities, took the risk to appear on Roundtable to voice his deep conviction about the injustices he observed in his daily life.” He said authorities carted his father off to Evin prison following the interview, but “haven’t told him on what basis he should remain in prison.”

Former student leader and human rights activist Hamid Alizadeh, who now resides in Los Angeles, welcomed the UN Human Rights Committee’s condemnation of repeated violations of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Appearing on Roundtable with You November 21, he was commenting on a vote the UN committee passed the previous day by a vote of 72-50 with 55 abstentions. “These resolutions send a strong signal from the international community to [Iran that its] failure to uphold the rights and fundamental freedoms of [its] citizens is unacceptable, and must end,” said Britain’s Ambassador to the UN, Sir John Sewers, said in describing the vote. From Tehran, student activist Ali Rahimi said the recent crackdown on student activists is not stopping student leaders from planning activities to commemorate Shonda Azar, or Iranian Students Day, on December 7.

PNN reported on Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi calling on the Islamic Republic November 19 to suspend sensitive nuclear activities to avert a “serious” threat of a US military attack. “The drum beat of war can be heard very loudly,” Ms. Ebadi, a lawyer, told a conference of her rights group in Tehran called “No to war, yes to peace and human rights.” She urged all Iranians to support a national campaign aimed at preventing possible US military action. Speculation has grown that the United States may launch air strikes against Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, which the West fears is a cover to build nuclear weapons. “Iran should respect UN Security Council resolutions,” Ms. Ebadi told reporters after the conference.

News and Views looked at the Iranian nuclear problem from a number of perspectives November 19. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is to brief EU ministers on options in support of UN sanctions against Iran. Mr. Solana also hopes to meet in the next week with Iran’s new nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in Israel over the weekend that the IAEA report does not diminish France’s seriousness in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. “Paris will not comprise Israeli security,” he said. In Saudi Arabia for an OPEC meeting over the weekend, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Al Arabia TV that Washington’s war talk is just psychological propaganda. From Cairo, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, Admiral William Fallon, said he hopes Iranians don’t make a mistake and think the US is afraid or not inclined to stand up to them. In Kuwait, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, said even if Iran was to produce nuclear weapons, its position in the world would not be enhanced. President Ahmadinejad said he wants to talk with Arab neighbors about a consortium to supply enriched uranium to the region, adding that the consortium and the facilities should be in a neutral country such as Switzerland. And from Moscow, President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly announced that Russia will send nuclear fuel for the Bushehr power plant, a reversal of a previous commitment made to Israel.

Elahe Hicks of the New York-based Human Rights Watch is a regular contributor on NewsTalk. She reports that she recently attended an international human rights conference in Istanbul organized by an American NGO. Many women rights activists from Iran were invited to the conference. Two, who are members of the One Million Signatures Campaign to abolish discriminatory laws regarding Iranian women, specifically mentioned the role of VOA/PNN programs during their presentations. While both of them were extremely supportive of the VOA programs, they were critical of US foreign policy toward Iran. They both said “VOA programs have changed the Iranian family’s lifestyle.” One of the speakers, who was recently arrested, said: “These days Iranian people after work go directly to their homes to watch VOA/PNN programs.” She said the majority who have access to satellite equipment plan their daily schedules around various VOA/PNN programs. She mentioned while the Iranian elites and intellectuals follow the content of VOA/PNN programs with a critical approach, these programs are the only source of information for the majority of the middle class. As a friend (and now a part) of the VOA Persian service for more than 14 years, once again I would like to congratulate you on your efforts to promote the flow of impartial news and information to Iran. I wholeheartedly hope that VOA/PNN will continue to meet the expectations of the extraordinarily demanding audience in Iran.”

News and Views reported November 21 that senior Pakistani officials are indicating President Pervez Musharraf may quit his post of army chief in a few days and begin his term as a civilian president. On November 22, the show reported that the president's hand-picked Supreme Court dismissed the sixth and last legal challenge against his re-election. Opposition leaders continued to protest President Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule. Former cricket star and opposition leader Imran Khan, who was released from prison on Wednesday, says political parties should not participate in “fraudulent” elections that would legitimize emergency rule. Meanwhile, News and Views reported that President Bush said in a television interview that the Pakistani leader has done more for democracy in his country than any other modern leader has, despite the current state of emergency and the crackdown on political opposition.

PNN interviewed Rodney Jones, President of Policy Architects International. His most recent work has been in support of the Advanced Systems and Concepts Office of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) on the transformation of US defense strategy, nuclear proliferation issues and the war on terrorism. He served earlier as Senior Advisor to the START II project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Moscow Center. “There is always a background concern on the Pakistani nuclear arsenal and where it will go,” Mr. Jones said. “But even though the US is not aware of the exact location of these sites, they are secure and the army is making sure that there are safeguards. [General] Musharraf is not defying the White House, he is trying to keep the peace and prevent further problems.”

News and Views looked at the resolution introduced by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) to prevent the Bush administration from attempting to use the 2002 Congressional Authorization for the Use of Force against Iraq to justify in any way military action Iran. “We have learned how adept the Bush administration is at interpreting and twisting language to justify military adventure,” the Congressman said. “This legislation clarifies that…. [it] does not justify, allow or authorize military action against Iran.” The identical resolution was introduced in the Senate by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). “Senator Obama and I agree,” Mr. Abercrombie said, “that immediate action is needed that leaves no room for the administration to use military force against Iran without the specific authorization of Congress.” A total of 12 bills are pending in the House of Representatives and the Senate, designed to throw up roadblocks to any decision by the Bush administration to take military action against Iran's nuclear program.

News and Views also reported on Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who has introduced legislation condemning the sale of arms to Syria and Iran by Russia. She said the sales only threaten to further destabilize an already volatile region of the world. “Despite the well-known fact that Iran and Syria are active state sponsors of terrorism in the world and despite reports indicating that their governments have supplied weapons, financing, training, and political support to Hezbollah and Hamas, the Russian government insists on arms sales that undermine efforts toward peace and security in the region of the Middle East,” warned Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. She urged sanctions on Russian entities engaged in arms sales to Iran and Syria, adding that as recently as this week, news sources report Iran is seeking to order Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft.

Iran is becoming a more frequent topic for discussion among 2008 presidential candidates. News and Views reported that former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), a Democratic presidential candidate, said in an interview with CBS that, “It is crucial for us, between now and January 2009, to take every step we can take to stand strongly against Bush and Cheney continuing to move forward and on the march to military action in Iran…. I see a continued pattern of behavior that is very similar to the pattern of behavior leading to Iraq.... What we know is that we have a president, Ahmadinejad, who is radical, bellicose in his rhetoric about us, about Israel, about our allies. And we also know that the Iranian people have historically been between the most moderate in the Muslim world and the most pro-American in the Muslim world. I think that presents a huge opportunity to America if we’re smart.” Meanwhile, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a Republican candidate for president, said, “When I first advocated this path to success, people like Senator Edwards called it the McCain strategy, the McCain surge. It wasn’t and it isn’t, but I noticed he doesn’t say that anymore. And I just want to say to you that again the Democrats want to set a date for withdrawal. They tried it again last week. My friends, I can only describe to you the consequences of setting a date for surrender, a date for withdrawal, the way the President of Iran described it a couple, three weeks ago. He said when the United States leaves Iraq there will be a void and we, the Iranians, will fill that void.”

News and Views November 22 interviewed Parastoo Froohar, the daughter of Dariush and Parvaneh Froohar. Mr. Froohar was head of the small but popular Iranian People’s Party – one of Iran’s oldest secular political groups – when he and his wife were murdered in their house in Tehran in late November 1998. Parastoo said that nine years after her parents’ murders, the justice system considers their case closed. But she said in her view, and in the view of her family’s sympathizers and supporters, the case is still open. It is believed by many that high-ranking agents of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry were responsible for the killings, carrying out orders by some senior ruling clerics.

Ken Berman, program manager for Internet anti-censorship at the International Broadcasting Bureau, talked with News and Views November 20 about ways of circumventing Iran’s filtering of the Internet. He said the Iranian government should pat itself on the back for having one of the most sophisticated filtering operations in the world. “We were under the mistaken impression that the Chinese were the frontrunners in filtering Web sites, but now Iran has overtaken China in achieving this unique distinction,” he said. Mr. Berman said the Iranian government not only employs the latest technology in filtering, but also has stunted the growth of broadband to impede fast access. “There are seven million Internet users in Iran,” he said, “with a population of 70 million. VOA is circumventing the Iranian government’s attempts at filtering those seven million users by providing proxies to visitors to the VOA web site.”

Ray Walser, formerly a US diplomat and now a Senior Policy Analyst with the Heritage Foundation specializing in Latin America, discussed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s visit to Tehran – his fourth – with News and Views. He said it is hard to conclude that expanded ties between Venezuela and Iran will benefit the Iranian people. In response to a statement made by Mr. Chavez while in Iran – that the “dollar empire is collapsing” – Mr. Walser said there is some reason to be concerned about the weakness of the dollar, but that it is unlikely the Euro or Yuan will be able to replace US currency in world markets. “Mr. Chavez, by trying to weaken the US dollar further causes a spike in inflation,” Mr. Walser said, “and this will only hurt the poor whose cause he is championing.” He said some in the West are alarmed by President Chavez’s attempt to use oil as a weapon and put US oil imports at risk. Mr. Walser also said Venezuela, under President Chavez, is increasingly being used as a way station for smuggling cocaine into the US and Europe by Colombian drug kingpins working with corrupt Venezuelan military officers.