Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – December 10, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included the National Intelligence Estimate saying Iran suspended its nuclear program four years ago – a complete reversal of previous reports; international and Congressional reaction to the surprise revelation; interviews with the US envoy to the IAEA, Ambassador Gregory Schulte; Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA); State Department spokesman David Foley; Stanford University political scientist Abbas Milani; former CIA field office in the Middle East Robert Baer; Senior Research Fellow at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research Bruno Tertrais; American University foreign policy professor John Calabrese; Tehran University political science professor Sadegh Zibakalam; leading Iran analyst Valerie Lincy; Syracuse University professor Mehrzad Boroujerdi; Glasgow University Iran analyst Reza Taghizadeh; and on other topics, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) on his recent trip to Iraq; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Bahrain; an interview with Rafi Dajani, Executive Director of the American Task Force on Palestine, on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks; the rare visit to North Korea by the US’s top nuclear envoy Christopher Hill and his subsequent visit to Beijing; irregularities in Russian’s parliamentary elections; Venezuelans closing the door to President Hugo Chavez’s wish to stay in office indefinitely; demonstrations at Tehran University; the ongoing struggles of Iran’s labor movement; Internet filtering by Iranian authorities; and the increased popularity of blogs and text messaging in Iran.
Coming Up: Veteran diplomat Edward Djerejian will be a special guest on News and Views Friday, December 14, to talk about the Annapolis conference and what comes next in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Mr. Djerejian, who served as US ambassador to Israel and Syria, is now head of the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. Over the years, he has played key roles in the Arab-Israeli peace process, the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, successful efforts to end the civil war in Lebanon, the release of US hostages in Lebanon, and the establishment of security arrangements in the Persian Gulf.
NewsTalk interviewed State Department Middle East spokesman David Foley December 7 on US policy toward Iran. Mr. Foley said the National Intelligence Estimate is more interesting in its differences from the 2005 report than it is a surprise. “The 2007 report shows that Iran has had a nuclear weapons program and still, through enriching uranium, is trying to achieve it,” he said. “We think the reason Iran suspended its program in 2003 was because the country did not have the capability it needed. Iran also has ballistic missiles, which are very expensive. There is no reason for Iran to have them. We believe we should apply pressure until Iran responds to the world on this nuclear issue.” Mr. Foley said he believes US and European pressure probably caused Iran to suspend its program in 2003, but that things deteriorated after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005. That’s when, Mr. Foley said, “the uranium enrichment started. We tried to have talks with Iran, but Iran insisted on continuing enrichment and the sanctions followed. Economic sanctions are a diplomatic tool, and we are aware of the hardship they cause. But Iran is pursuing a nuclear program while trying to lie to the world. The IAEA report is proof of that. Iran is hiding the fact that it intends to have nuclear weapons. Therefore sanctions against Iran will continue. We believe this NIE report will strengthen the international community’s commitment to diplomacy regarding the Iranian issue. We will stand by our allies. If Iran suspends its uranium enrichment program, Secretary of State Rice will talk with them.” Mr. Foley again said the US is not trying to overthrow Iran’s leadership. “But we do want them to change their behavior.”
Roundtable with You December 8 looked at ramifications of the NIE report with Abbas Milani, research fellow and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution. He also is Director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University and a visiting professor in the University’s Department of Political Science. Mr. Milani says the NIE report has greatly diminished the chances of any military conflict with Iran over its nuclear program. He said a military confrontation with the United States or Israel would be a godsent gift for President Ahmadinejad. Mr. Milani said with his popularity plummeting and the economy in decline, only an American or Israeli attack on Iran can help Mr. Ahmadinejad and his radical allies consolidate power and save his presidency. The only solution to the “Iran problem,” he said, from the nuclear question to Iran’s regional support for Islamist groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is for the century old dream of democracy to become a reality. Mr. Milani said President Ahmadinejad is fully aware of this danger and has done everything he can to forestall democratic change, adding that his misguided policies have led Iran to the brink of economic catastrophe.
PNN interrupted its regular programming December 4 to broadcast President Bush’s news conference in which he discussed the NIE, saying he had not changed his assessment of Iran and noted, “What’s to say they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program?” News of the NIE’s findings broke at 12:15 pm on Monday, December 3, and PNN was on the air within 10 minutes with the story – more than half an hour before the Washington Post and other media. Although the report determined that Iran stopped seeking a nuclear bomb in 2003, Mr. Bush said Tehran’s secrecy shows it cannot be trusted. News and Views also carried the President’s comments in Omaha on Iran the next day.
News and Views December 9 focused on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his remarks Saturday to a global security conference in Bahrain. Mr. Gates said, “There can be little doubt that [Iran’s] destabilizing foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the United States, to the interests of every country in the Middle East, and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing.” The Secretary urged Gulf Arab states at the conference to support US-led efforts to pressure Iran into suspending uranium enrichment, saying the international community must intensify such efforts. “While we must keep all our options open, the United States and the international community must continue and intensify our economic, financial and diplomatic pressures on Iran to suspend enrichment.” Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, dismissed the Secretary’s remarks, saying he was interfering in the domestic affairs of regional countries. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki Saturday accused Washington of using espionage to compile a new intelligence report about Iran’s nuclear program. “The day the [NIE] was issued, the Foreign Ministry submitted a formal note of protest to the Swiss Embassy and demanded an explanation over espionage activities taking place.”
News and Views December 4 reported on the new National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran is less determined to produce nuclear weapons than previously believed in that it halted a secret program to develop nuclear weapons four years ago. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said the latest NIE suggests Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program in the second half of 2003, but that Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium could be used to develop a nuclear weapon sometime between 2010 and 2015. “On balance,” he said, “the estimate is good news. On the one hand, it confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it tells us that we have made some progress in trying to ensure that that does not happen.” News and Views reported that Iranian officials welcomed the report. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the parliamentary committee on national security and foreign affairs, said the NIE report proved the accuracy of statements by Iranian officials about the civilian – peaceful – nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel believes Iran is still trying to develop nuclear weapons and that his country will continue to work with Washington to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei said he was happy to see the report was consistent with IAEA findings, and expressed hope the report helps defuse current tensions between Tehran and Washington.
News and Views December 5 interviewed Ambassador Gregory Schulte, the US envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency about the NIE. From Vienna, he said it is important to remember the NIE report did say Iran was conducting a nuclear weapons program until 2003. “Our concern about Iran’s nuclear program was totally justified,” Mr. Schulte said. “Until Iran comes clean about its past and answers all the outstanding questions proactively, then Iran will remain a danger. We are pleased that the Iranian leadership has relented under international pressure and shelved the military part of their program,” the ambassador said. “But the fact that Iran is carrying on its enrichment, which is the integral part of making a bomb, remains worrisome to us,” he continued. The Ambassador said the US administration is carefully examining the report to see if Washington needs to recalibrate its policy toward Iran. “The international community has called on Iran to suspend its enrichment and until it does so, the Iranian nuclear program will remain a cause for concern…This is not a victory for Iran. This reconfirms the concern we have had over Iran’s nuclear program. The report states clearly that they had a military nuclear program. We have an offer on the table to come and negotiate. Iran is continuing to pursue a kind of nuclear technology that can only be used for non-peaceful purposes.”
Roundtable with You December 5 interviewed Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA), who serves on the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, on the “little bombshell” presented by the NIE’s findings. After playing the President’s remarks from Tuesday that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Roundtable’s host said the NIE raised two questions in particular. First, if Iran doesn’t have a military weapons program, why has it resisted international inspections? And second, why did the US allow this NIE to become public and at this time? Congressman Moran said, “Iran has a vested interest in convincing the world that it possesses a nuclear program, whether it does or doesn’t have such a program. It gives Iran a lever in manipulating events in the region. And for Iran, he said, the nuclear program is a trump card to be traded away, not a goal in and of itself.” As far as the US motive for making the report public at this time, Congressman Moran said, “Washington’s strategy has been to isolate Iran from the rest of the international community.” He suggested the best option now is to “sit and negotiate all issues without any precognition. Both sides know what to expect when they meet.”
News and Views December 5 reported that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would not directly comment on the Iranian president’s remarks about the NIE. But she did say the report is an indication of how democracy works, expressing hope that someday the Iranian people too will live in a democracy. She said continuation of enrichment still poses a danger and the world community must not back down, the UN Security Council should press Tehran to halt those activities that could lead to production of an atomic weapon. She has been in touch with her counterparts among the five permanent members of the Council and Germany to explain US strategy and the report. Tom Casey, deputy spokesman for the State Department amplified, “The NIE makes clear that this is a program that they could restart at any time.” Pascale Andreani, the spokeswoman for the French Foreign Ministry, says the latest report of the IAEA shows that Iran still hasn’t answered all the questions asked about its past and present activities. “Iran doesn't respect its international obligations,” she said, “so our position hasn’t changed. We must maintain pressure on Iran.” China wants consideration of the NIE in the UN Security Council’s next move. Russia’s Foreign Minister says Moscow hasn’t seen any evidence indicating Iran ever had a nuke program.
News and Views December 4 reported that Democrats in Congress welcomed the report, with some expressing hope the US would use the NIE as a reason to open diplomatic talks with Iran. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the NIE suggests there is time for a new policy toward Iran that deters it from restarting its nuclear program while also improving relations overall. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Democrats had requested the new Iran assessment “so that the administration could not rush this Congress and the country to another war based on flawed intelligence.” Senate Intelligence Committee chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said the report showed “a level of independence from political leadership that was lacking in the recent past.” Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, vowed to question intelligence officials closely about their classified sources. “Just two years ago, the intelligence community believed that Iran was determined to develop nuclear weapons,” Mr. Reyes said. Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph Biden, (D-DE) said, “This means that the international community has a significant window of opportunity in which to act to avoid the stark choice between going to war or accepting a nuclear Iran... The NIE makes clear that the right combination of pressure and positive incentives could prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program... We should communicate this in direct talks with Iran.”
News and Views December 8 interviewed Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an associate professor of political science at Syracuse University, on the impact of the NIE report on US-Iran relations. He speculated on the timing of the report’s release, saying the US intelligence community was anxious to make up for its botched intelligence estimate of Iraq and Baghdad’s WMD capabilities. On the other hand, he said, Congress has been putting pressure on US intelligence agencies to show more independence, and this was an opportunity for the analysts to demonstrate they can act independently of policymakers. Mr. Boroujerdi said the NIE has put Iran and its leaders in a stronger position to deal with international sanctions and that “additional sanctions have become increasingly unlikely.” That the United States and its intelligence agencies have put out a report that Iranian leaders have embraced will be awkward for them because they have always depicted the Bush administration as lying and bereft of any credibility, he said. “And with the threat of war now diminishing as result of this report, it will have the unintended consequence of dampening oil prices and this could present Tehran with financial difficulties,” he concluded.
The 2008 presidential candidates were also quick to draw conclusions about US policy based on the report. News and Views December 4 quoted Democratic candidate John Edwards as saying, “The new National Intelligence Estimate shows that George Bush and Dick Cheney’s rush to war with Iran is, in fact, a rush to war.” And on the other side of the aisle, Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani said, “For years now, the Islamic Republic of Iran has defied and played games with every international effort aimed at persuading the country to halt enrichment of uranium. Sanctions and other pressures must be continued and stepped up until Iran complies by halting enrichment activities in a verifiable way.”
News and Views December 5 reported on a host of other voices on the NIE: Robert Baer, former CIA field office in the Middle East, and now a columnist for www.time.com says the Bush administration is now convinced that Iran is “a bridge too far” and would upset the fragile balance in Lebanon and Iraq, places they consider “recent successes.” Newsweek correspondent Michael Hirsh reported that there has been zero change in the political atmosphere in Washington, but added that Defense Secretary Robert Gates knows the disadvantages of a strike on Iran. Bruno Tertrais, a Senior Research Fellow at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research said, “The paradox is that even though the report in fact vindicates international pressure on Iran because it said [international pressure] has had effects in the past, now the problem is that some countries in the UN Security Council say ‘well, we don’t want any more sanctions’ – so as a result of that, there is a real risk that the Iranians believe they have a free hand now.”
News and Views reported December 4 on press coverage of the NIE. The Washington Post wrote that the new National Intelligence Estimate is a blow to the Bush administration’s foreign policy. “President Bush got the world’s attention this fall,” the paper wrote, “when he warned that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to World War III. But his stark warning came at least a month or two after he had first been told about fresh indications that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons program. The new intelligence report not only undercuts the administration’s alarming rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear ambitions but could also throttle Bush’s effort to ratchet up international sanctions and take off the table the possibility of preemptive military action before the end of his presidency.” The New York Times wrote that with the new report, persuading the international community to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran will be harder and makes justifying a military strike on Tehran weaker. The Washington Times wrote that based on the report, Iran halted its activities to develop nuclear weapons in 2003. USA Today, quoting an Israeli intelligence officer, wrote “This report and its data are a matter of interpretation, and only a blind person can’t see that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb. They are threatening the whole world.” The International Atomic Energy Agency also weighed in, “No evidence has been found to indicate that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, therefore our reporting has been right.”
News and Views December 6 interviewed several regional experts live in studio. One, John Calabrese, teaches US Foreign Policy at American University and serves as book review editor of The Middle East Journal. He also wrote the book, Revolutionary Horizons: Regional Foreign Policy in post-Khomeini Iran. Mr. Calabrese said the new NEI provides a good opportunity for both countries to open dialogue on a wide range of issues. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said, “The US is still willing to talk with Iran if it stops enrichment. International pressure has been effective.” Switching gears to the revived Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, News and Views also interviewed Rafi Dajani, Executive Director of the American Task Force on Palestine. He said the role of the US in the peace process is crucial: “The administration is very much committed to making this work. And the internal problems facing the two leaders will not and should not be used as an excuse for not going forward with the process. The time is right for this to yield to results.”
News and Views December 4 interviewed David Foley, a State Department spokesman on Middle East issues. He said the NIE report reconfirms that Iran was actively involved in producing nuclear bombs and that it shelved its program in response to international pressure. The important point to keep in mind, Mr. Foley said, is that Iran was continuing to enrich uranium despite calls by the international community to suspend it. “This enrichment activity in and of itself is a threat to world peace given Iran’s history of concealment and secrecy,” he said. “Our offer of negotiation continues to be on the table and Iran would be wise to seriously consider our generous incentive package.” Commenting on EU talks with Iran, Mr. Foley said it would be inaccurate to suggest Washington does not support talks with Iran. “All Iran has to do is to comply with a simple request made by the international community: suspend its enrichment of uranium.”
News and Views December 4 talked with Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University, for Iranian reaction to the NIE report. He said it reconfirms what the leadership of the Islamic Republic and the International Atomic Energy Agency have been saying all along – that Iran does not have a covert nuclear weapons program right now. “They may have had a program a few years ago, up until 2003,” Mr. Zibakalam said. “But it is clear now that nothing improper is going on.” Mr. Zibakalam argued that continuing international sanctions against Iran would be unjustified because the NIE report clearly vindicates Iran, in that all of its nuclear activities are within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
News and Views reported December 3 –before the NIE was released – that China had reversed its position, saying it will support further financial and economic sanctions against Iran. A Western diplomat described this “change of heart” as the most significant outcome of last weekend’s meeting in Paris of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. News and Views also reported that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met December 2 in Israel with her South Korean counterpart, Song Min-soon. She urged Seoul to sever all economic ties with Iran. “When Europe takes steps against Iran, Iran turns to Asia,” she said. “We must not allow Iran to bypass significant activity from the international community by offering it alternatives in Asia.”
PNN was ahead of The New York Times on commentary from a leading Iran analyst. Two days before the report was released, PNN interviewed Valerie Lincy, editor and principal researcher of www.IranWatch.org, which is published by the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. The Wisconsin Project carries out research and public education designed to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction and is operated as a non-profit under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin. Ms. Lincy said the findings of the Wisconsin Project are similar to those of the US government. “Iran is close to building a bomb by 2009. So there is an urgency to stop the government from going further with its enrichment activities.” She repeated this in an op-ed column in The Times December 6. The NIE’s finding that Iran had halted its nuclear program in 2003 was indeed a surprise, she wrote with Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project. But the international community shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss Iran’s nuclear potential as a very dangerous threat, writing Iran is still free to “operate and add to its centrifuges at Natanz, accumulate a stockpile of low-enriched uranium customary for civilian use, and then have the ability to convert that uranium in a matter of months to weapons grade. This ‘breakout potential’ would create a nuclear threat that we and Iran’s neighbors will have to live with for years to come.”
News and Views December 6 interviewed Reza Taghizadeh, an analyst on Iran’s nuclear program who lectures at Glasgow University. Mr. Taghizadeh surmised that the motivation for the NIE being issued by the Bush administration at this time was either to reach a tacit understanding with Iran over the issue of stabilizing Iraq or it was aimed at China and Russia in order to gain their support for further punitive sanctions against Tehran for its continuing enrichment of uranium. However, Mr. Taghizadeh said he believes, “Moscow will harden its position in light of this NIE report and will make it harder for Washington to get its support in pushing for more sanctions against Tehran.” He said there are two basic schools of thought on Iran now. One is the White House’s position that toughening sanctions has succeeded in compelling Iran to change course and shelve its nuclear weapons program. The other is one shared by the Democratic leadership in the US Congress, who will argue for more flexibility and diplomacy in dealing with Iran.
Energy analyst Bahman Aghaii Diba told News and Views December 8 that the NIE doesn’t change anything when it comes to sanctions against Iran because the issue of uranium enrichment is still a problem, whether Iran’s nuclear program has been suspended or not. “Like the report on Iraq,” he said, “this [NIE] could have mistakes. The timing could be due to the upcoming presidential election. It clearly says that Iran had a nuclear weapons program up to 2003.”
News and Views December 3 reported on Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), recently returned from a trip to Iraq, who says the US is neglecting diplomatic efforts that might build on recent gains against insurgents in Iraq to help end the conflict. Senator Webb, who opposed the war, said the Bush administration has shown little interest in non-military attempts to engage Iraq’s neighbors and that the public debate in the US has been too narrowly focused on troop levels in Iraq when it should be broadened to encompass “a region in chaos, from Lebanon to Pakistan.” The senator said, “We need to get strong regional diplomatic agreement, and the US is the only country that can do that. This has been the missing piece all along…The deputy prime minister mentioned to me when I was there – he’s a Kurd – he basically said, this is in his words, ‘Every country in this region has a dog in this fight.’ And I said, That’s a lot of dogs…We saw last week the first step toward something of that sort with the Annapolis conference on the Palestinian-Israeli situation. That could have been done five years ago.”
News and Views reported daily on the rare visit to North Korea by the US’s top nuclear envoy, Christopher Hill, to monitor the disablement of its nuclear program and preview a promised declaration of all of Pyongyang’s nuclear activities. Mr. Hill told reporters in Pyongyang that he expects North Korea’s declaration to be comprehensive, and that the country must address US concerns about a possible secret uranium enrichment program that it has yet to publicly acknowledge. He said establishing complete diplomatic relations would come only after a complete denuclearization of the peninsula. Speaking with reporters again before leaving for Beijing, Mr. Hill said he was given a full tour of North Korea’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon and that he had good talks with senior officials during his three-day visit. Before briefing officials on his trip to North Korea, leader Kim Jon Il made public that he had received a personal letter from President Bush, delivered by Mr. Hill. The White House has not commented on the matter and no details about its contents were immediately available.
News and Views December 4 reported that Europe has joined the United States in urging Russia to probe numerous complaints of voting irregularities in the landslide victory of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia political party. United Russia won 64% of the parliamentary vote on December 2. The Communist Party ran a distant second with 12 percent, while two pro-Kremlin parties held seven and eight percent (respectively) – enough to win seats in the State Duma. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office said it was “neither a fair nor democratic election.” Mr. Putin brushed off the foreign assessments, saying the legitimacy of parliament “has without a doubt been increased” by the election results. The constitution bars Mr. Putin from running for a third straight term in Russia’s presidential election next March, but a United Russia-dominated parliament could back him as prime minister and allow him to head the next government under new election laws.
News and Views December 3 reported that Venezuelans have voted down proposed reforms that would have granted new, extensive powers to President Hugo Chavez, including the ability to run for re-election indefinitely. The country's electoral authority said 51 percent of voters said “no” to the proposed constitutional changes. The vote represented the first major electoral defeat for Mr. Chavez in his nine years in office.
Roundtable with You December 6 examined the struggles of Iran’s labor movement with Mehdi Kouhestaninejad, a national representative with the Canadian Labor Congress. Mr. Kouhestaninejad described the dreadful conditions experienced by average Iranian workers, who, for the most part, live below the poverty level. Those who speak out against these inhumane conditions find themselves intimidated by Islamic authorities, he said, with some even receiving long prison terms, which even further deteriorates the living conditions for that person’s family. Mr. Kouhestaninejad said it was in July when Mansour Osanloo, head of the bus workers’ union (Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company), was abducted in the middle of the day by security agents and taken to Evin prison. Reza Dehghan, a founding member of the Painters Union in Iran, was arrested just last month and taken to prison. Mahmoud Salehi, another leader of the bus workers’ union also is in prison. Mr. Kouhestaninejad said both Mr. Salehi and Mr. Osanloo are seriously ill and need urgent medical attention. “The struggle of the labor union in Iran is both economic and politi