Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, D.C. – December 17, 2007 . . . Major stories this week included interviews with Ambassador James Jeffrey, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, on US-Iran relations; with State Department Middle East spokesman David Foley on Iran’s nuclear program, sanctions, and Russia’s provision of nuclear fuel; with German parliamentarian Angelika Beer on the visit to Tehran by a European Parliament delegation; with William Wulf, leader of the US scientific team that visited Iran from October 13-22; with Edwin Lyman, an expert on nuclear weapons; with Georgia Institute of Technology professor John Garver on the impact of sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program; and with NIH Director Elias Zerhouni on world health issues; coverage of Secretary Rice’s news conference on US foreign policy achievements in 2007; on Russia delivering its first shipment of fuel to Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power station; on increased hostilities between Turkey and Kurds in northern Iraq; on the worsening political crisis in Lebanon; on President Bush’s planned trip to the Middle East early in January; donors pledging $7.4 billion to Palestine; the continuing crackdown in Iran on Internet users, students, gays, union leaders, minorities and women’s rights activists; and on Yalda celebrations.

In an interview broadcast December 19 on News and Views, Ambassador James Jeffrey, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, said “There is no change in the Bush administration’s policy vis-a-vis Iran following the NIE report. The report is confirmation that the current regime has been a danger and will remain a danger. It is an exact confirmation of what we have been afraid of for years: that Iran had a specific weaponization program. Also, Iranians should know,” he said, “what is going on in their own country and they didn’t know about this. There is still a danger that Iran eventually would choose to develop nuclear weapons. That is our concern and the concern of every nation in the region and every country on the UN Security Council. All options, including military, are on the table,” he continued, “but our goal is to continue to use other forms of pressure – economic and political – to get a change of position.”

David Foley, the State Department spokesman for Middle Eastern affairs, told News and Views December 20 that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany are finalizing the text of a resolution that can then be sent sometime in the next few weeks to the full Security Council for a vote. Mr. Foley said the Bush Administration backs Russia’s decision to supply Iran with its first consignment of nuclear fuel for a civilian power reactor. According to Mr. Foley, President Bush’s argument is that the consignment means Iran has no need to engage in the costly process of enriching its own uranium since it will have access to nuclear fuel from external sources. Mr. Foley cautioned that despite the NIE report released earlier this month, Iran can resume its weapons program at any time. He once again urged Iran’s leadership to accept the incentive package that is on the table and to return to negotiations.

PNN conducted a live interview December 17 with Angelika Beer, a senior European lawmaker and member of the German legislature, who led a delegation of European Parliament members to Iran (December 6-10). In addition to meeting with Iran’s foreign minister and other senior officials, Ms. Beer said the group also talked with women activists, bus drivers and religious minorities (Bahais). She said the European Union is in solidarity with the West and with Israel in fearing a nuclear Iran. Ms. Beer said the human rights situation in Iran has worsened. She also said the European Parliament is still hoping for a diplomatic resolution of the problems with Iran, adding, “We stand by civil society activists and we reiterate the European Parliament’s position on the Mujahedin Khalq as being a terrorist organization.”

News and Views December 21 reported live on the press conference Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held to highlight US foreign policy issues during the past year. In addition to talking about the Koreans, China and Taiwan, and Burma, Secretary Rice also touched on Iran: “With Syria and Iran, we remain open to better relations,” she said, “but they must choose cooperation, not confrontation, with the international community. We will continue in the meantime to step up the pressure behind our diplomacy. And on that effort, we have made progress this year with regards particularly to Iran. We have strengthened international cooperation to pressure Iran to give up its pursuit of a nuclear capability, including through a second UN Security Council sanctions resolution. We are now negotiating, and I believe that we will achieve next year, a third sanctions resolution. We have increased financial pressure against Iranian agencies, banks and front companies that abuse the international financial system, and we have targeted Iran’s provision of lethal support to extremists who attack US and coalition troops and innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

News and Views interviewed Edwin Lyman, an expert on nuclear weapons with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), live on set December 21. Mr. Lyman began by giving a brief description of the UCS, saying the organization is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. According to Mr. Lyman, mastering fuel cycle technology is the most crucial aspect of making a nuclear weapon – while making the bomb itself is not as challenging. “If you can make the fissile material for a bomb, then you’ve done the hard part,” he said. Or as he was quoted in Time Magazine (December 17) as saying, “If you can make fissile material, you can make a warhead.” All proliferation experts, he told PNN, are concerned about nuclear technology being misused for military purposes. For instance, he said, A.Q. Khan’s network [in Pakistan] was implicated in providing Libya the technology it needed to develop a weapons program which was later dismantled. Mr. Lyman said that Iran has not been able to apply sophisticated technology for its centrifuges. “It’s still very rudimentary. Iran claims it is planning to export nuclear fuel in the future, but at this point it doesn’t seem likely as they don’t have the capacity to generate enough for domestic consumption let alone to export.”

In a live interview with News and Views December 18, John Garver, professor of International Relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said weak economic sanctions against Iran are not going to be efficient. But China and Russia, he predicted, will both come around on the sanctions issue. Mr. Garver said the West is very skeptical of Iran’s nuclear program, since a country with huge petroleum reserves does not need a nuclear program at such a high cost. “Iran’s economic rationale,” he said, “for pursuing this program is very weak and does not make sense. It is international pressure that led to the cessation of Iran’s weapons program.”

William Wulf, leader of the US scientific team that visited Iran from October 13-22 and the former president of the National Academy of Engineering, told Roundtable with You December 19 “that we have an historic opportunity to continue our work with Iranian colleagues on problems of global importance that will not only advance international science and engineering, but also build trust and respect for one another throughout our societies.” Mr. Wulf said his delegation was treated well, particularly by those under the age of 25 – which is, by some estimates – two-thirds of the country. He said some 1,800 students and faculty packed a conference room designed for 400 people to hear team member Joseph Taylor, a Nobel laureate in physics. “It was like he was a rock star,” Mr. Wulf said. He predicted US-Iran technology collaboration could extend beyond engineering, science and technology. “Our delegation enjoyed the respect and hospitality of Iranians from all walks of life. The discussion between the two groups was straightforward. We did not run into any obfuscation. Our interactions with other Iranians were equally positive.” Don’t forget, he said. “In spite of political differences, Iran and the United States have a history of academic cooperation. Over 60% of Sharif University of Technology’s faculty studied at American institutions.”

Late Edition December 19 looked again at the US scientific team’s trip to Iran from the perspective of three other team members: William Colglazier, Norman Neureiter and Glen Schweitzer. The trip was part of an Iranian-American partnership started in 1999 to promote collaboration between American and Iranian scientists in medicine, engineering and technology. The three spoke about their trip and their plans for the future of the partnership at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. “Iran has a very large science and technology infrastructure,” Late Edition reported them as saying. “It is, probably, the leading science and technology country of the Muslim world. This is a country where people value education and training. They have very good universities where admission is based on competitive exams. In fact, in the leading universities there are more women than men that actually do well on these exams. It’s certainly a crossroads in many ways of the Middle East. Many of the senior leaders of the universities were trained in the US and are quite eager for science and technology re-engagement with scientists in the United States.”

News and Views December 17 reported on Russia delivering its first shipment of fuel to Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power station. Russia’s foreign ministry said the fuel will be under the control and guarantees of the International Atomic Energy Agency for the whole time it is in Iranian territory. Tehran argues that nuclear work at Bushehr and elsewhere is strictly for civilian purposes, but the United States and its Western allies have accused Iran of using the program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. An Israeli delegation is in the United States in an effort to convince US officials that Iran is still developing nuclear weapons – despite the recent National Intelligence Estimate that said Tehran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Russia says Iran has signed a written agreement that the fuel will not be used for purposes other than civilian.

 News and Views December 18 said President Bush voiced support for the Russian delivery of nuclear fuel to Iran for the Bushehr power plant, saying “Then the Iranians do not need to learn how to enrich [uranium].” Secretary Rice said Washington had been in contact with Moscow over the matter and that the US has supported the Bushehr project for the past couple of years because of guarantees Russia has put into effect for the non-diversion of the program. She said as long as enriched uranium is outsourced by Iran and is used for civilian purposes, Washington has no problem. Washington will continue, she said, to counter Iran’s negative influences. Later, Secretary Rice arrived in Kirkuk, Iraq, unannounced. She then went to Baghdad to press for national reconciliation. The Pentagon will be delivering a report to the Congress on the situation in Iraq, but Iran’s continued involvement in Iraqi violence is a matter of contention in the report.

News and Views December 17 invited London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh to review recent Iranian developments. He commented on Russia’s announcement that it would provide sufficient uranium to Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant in the next two months for it to start operations. Mr. Nourizadeh said there is no excuse for Iranian authorities not to stop enriching uranium and complying with international demands. He said, “There is no room for Ahmadinejad to call the NIE report a victory for Iran while pressure is mounting for Iran to stop uranium enrichment.” He commented on President Ahmadinejad’s news conference the previous day on the decline of the dollar, inflation and the economic problems facing the country. Mr. Nourizadeh discussed recent changes in Iran’s Interior Ministry, which is responsible for Iran’s forthcoming elections, and talked about the release of two union leaders. “Ebrahim Maddadi, Vice President of the Tehran Transportation Union, and Reza Dehghan, President of the Painters Union, were released after pressure from European labor unions and the international media.”

Energy analyst Bahman Diba told News and Views December 22 that following the release of the National Intelligence Estimate, US policy toward Iran will likely change – in part because of the upcoming presidential election. He said he doesn’t think additional sanctions will be imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council until Iran answers additional questions for the International Atomic Energy Agency, and “that could take as long as one-two months.” Turning to Iraq, Mr. Diba said Iran would like to benefit from a reduced US presence in Iraq. “But a reduction of forces,” he said, “does not mean a change in US control of Iraq.”

News and Views December 17 reported on increased hostilities between Turkey and Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. The Turkish military announced it bombarded the headquarters and other locations of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in and around the Qandil Mountains. Turkey says it has the right to use force to combat separatist rebels who shelter in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq and mount attacks in which they have killed dozens of Turkish troops in recent months. Casualty figures on both sides have been difficult to confirm as neither the Turkish government nor PKK allowed reporters into the area. Turkey claims it acted in cooperation with the United States.

News and Views December 19 talked with Touraj Atabaki, professor of Middle East history at Leiden University in the Netherlands, about the tensions between Turkey and the Kurds. “Washington is in an awkward position,” he said, “as the parties to this conflict are both its allies. And the Bush administration is feverishly working toward some sort of a deal so that the crisis doesn’t get out of hand.” Mr. Atabaki said the ruling party in Ankara is under intense pressure to bring PKK guerrilla warfare to an end. He said, “If the crisis is not resolved soon, there is a great danger of it spilling over and embroiling other countries, including Iran.” The Turkish parliament has authorized military incursions across the border into northern Iraq, but the government in Ankara does not wish to have a full-scale war with its Kurdish neighbors because it would complicate Turkey’s entry into the European Union.

News and Views December 18 interviewed Reza Moeni, a researcher with the Paris-based Reporters without Borders on a crackdown in Iran on Internet cafés. Mr. Moeni said police have closed down 24 Internet cafés and other coffee shops since December 9. Twenty-three people have been detained as a part of this broad crackdown for their so-called “immoral behavior.” This process, Mr. Moeni said, is another indication of severe repression of freedom of speech and limiting the access to internet in Iran.

News and Views reported on the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence accusing a group of detained leftist students – who were arrested during a student ‎gathering earlier this month – of “acting against national security.” The deputy head of the Majlis ‎National Security Committee met with the families of the detained students and said that “almost all of the detainees are students who have not committed any serious crime, but who have committed minor violations and will be punished lightly and accordingly.” The families, however, claim their loved ones are being physically and psychologically tortured while being held at Evin prison in Tehran.

Hossein Alizadeh is Communications Coordinator for the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. He appeared on Late Edition December 21 to talk about homosexuality in Iran. He said people in Iran don’t openly talk about their sexuality and receive little sex education in any case. “There’s a misconception about homosexuality in Iran, and people often refer to it as child abuse. The Islamic code doesn’t accommodate homosexuals in Iran, and if someone is convicted of being a homosexual, the punishment is execution.” Mr. Alizadeh also talked about the psychological impact of such exclusion in a society, saying it can lead to suicide. “All of these things are another example of human rights abuses by the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mr. Alizadeh said.

News and Views December 23 interviewed the Vice President of the International Federation of Human Rights, Abdol Karim Lahidji, about the deteriorating health of imprisoned trade union leader Mahmoud Salehi. Mr. Salehi, former head of the Bakers’ Association of Saghez, was reportedly admitted to the hospital, unconscious, on December 11after repeatedly collapsing in Sanandaj Central Prison during the previous week. Mr. Lahidji said the Islamic Republic of Iran arrests workers, students, journalists and women’s rights activists on unclear charges as well as violates their basic rights while in custody.

News and Views December 23 interviewed lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah who represents three students from Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran. Mr. Dadkhah said the three students – Majid Tavakoli, Ehsan Mansouri and Ahmad Ghassaban – have been cleared by a general court in the capital of charges of “insulting all that is sacred.” He said the judiciary, however, stressed that charges from another case, of agitating public opinion, remain open, and bail was set at 80 million tomans (about $80,000).

News and Views December 23 talked with Fakhteh Zamani, an activist for the Canada-based Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners about increased pressure from authorities. Ms. Zamani said many human rights defenders and their families in the Azerbaijan region of Iran have been summoned and/or arrested, while dozens of Azerbaijani political prisoners are still in custody on unclear charges. They are, she said, not allowed visits with lawyers or family members. She cited as an example the case of Abbas Lesani, an Azerbaijani political prisoner in Ardebil who is to receive 50 lashes before being transferred to a prison in Ahar. He is accused of nationalism, separatism and working against the regime. He says he is guilty only of supporting his people.

News and Views December 23 interviewed Manizhe Gazerani, the wife of Mohsen Hakimi, one of four union activists arrested just over a week ago in Tehran. Security forces arrested Mr. Hakimi, Ebrahim Gohari, Alireza Asgari and Hossein Gholami while their four families were gathered in a park in Tehran. Family members say their loved ones have been accused by the Revolutionary Court of “acting against national security.” Ms. Gazerani told PNN, “Pressure from the security forces is so high that any relationship between worker activists is suspect. My husband has been in prison for nine days and no one will tell me why he was arrested or what he has done.”

Had he been allowed to live, Ali Akbar Saeedi Sirjani would have turned 76-years-old on December 11. He died in captivity in 1992, after having been imprisoned because of his outspoken criticism of the Islamic regime. As a well-known poet, writer, critic and teacher, Mr. Saeedi Sirjani was referred to by his critics as “the home-made Salman Rushdie.” Members of the Iranian community in Los Angeles threw a birthday celebration at the UCLA Faculty Center, and PNN was there. Event co-organizer Sholeh Shams, owner of Rahavard Magazine, told PNN, “It was important to reminiscence about Saeedi Sirjani’s cultural, social and intellectual values as well as the political struggles for which he lost his life.” The PNN package was broadcast December 17. Two days later, Mrs. Sayeh Saeedi Sirjani e-mailed PNN with her thanks for our coverage, saying reaction to program in Iran was “significantly vast and impressive.”

News and Views December 19 reported on the White House announcement that President Bush will visit Israel and the West Bank next month as part of a nine-day Middle East tour in a follow-up to the Annapolis Conference. Mr. Bush’s trip to Israel and the West Bank, starting January 8, will be his first since taking office. He will then travel to Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, returning to Washington on January 16. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Mr. Bush’s visit is meant to encourage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks re-launched last month in Annapolis: “What the President’s role can be is to help encourage them, to help continue to push on those negotiations.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said, “We believe the ongoing establishment of [Israeli] settlements [is a] major impediment [to] the peace process.” Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu said, “If Israel stops its attacks and aggression and closure of the Palestinian lands, this would be exchanged with a Palestinian truce.”

News and Views December 20 interviewed Assistant Deputy Secretary of State for the Near East, Lawrence Butler, to look at progress made – or not made – in Iraq in 2007. Mr. Butler said there was concern at the beginning of the year about the surge and whether it would succeed because of the country’s extreme violence and high casualty rate. “But there were two high points in 2007: the smart application of military resources that purged insurgents from their hold-outs, and the fact that Iraqi politicians are now focused more on politics and governance instead of survival… As Ryan Crocker, the US Ambassador to Baghdad, testified to the Congress in September, there is a revolution going on in Iraq. Now they are trying to find a balance.” Mr. Butler said Iraqis do not want other countries to interfere in their affairs. “Iran has interests and influence all across Iraq,” he said, “and the Iraqis are not pleased with that because it has been deadly.” Mr. Butler said the US would like to see several things happen in 2008: “A finalization of the oil revenue distribution issue, debathification reform and a Kirkuk process that will now be under UN leadership and supervision.”

News and Views December 18 reported that world donors meeting in Paris have pledged $7.4 billion dollars to the Palestinians. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said, “The real winner is the Palestinian state.” The aid pledges surpass the $5.6 billion dollars that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had requested for the next three years. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad thanked the donors for their generosity. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had warned that the conference represented the Palestinian Authority’s last hope to avoid bankruptcy. The United States is pledging $555 million dollars for 2008, while the European Union is promising $650 million dollars for the same period. The militant Hamas group that controls the Gaza strip said it welcomes support for the Palestinian people, but it accused Mr. Abbas of accepting money tied to American and Israeli agendas. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert endorsed the international effort to bolster the Palestinian economy, but said he would not agree to steps that compromise Israel’s security. The donors have said Israel must ease checkpoints and other travel restrictions in the West Bank for the aid to be effective.

News and Views December 20 reported that despite peace talks, Palestinian medical officials said at least four gunmen were killed during an Israeli military operation in the central Gaza Strip Thursday. The Israeli military described the incident as “a routine operation against terrorist threats.” Israeli officials have rejected an offer by the Hamas militant group to discuss a ceasefire in Gaza, with cabinet minister Shaul Mofaz saying the government should consider talking with Hamas through a mediator at the same time Israel’s military should keep striking militants as long as they continue firing rockets from Gaza. And in a longstanding tradition, dozens of people came to the old city of Jerusalem Thursday to collect a free Christmas tree, provided by city authorities.

News and Views December 20 interviewed veteran Lebanese journalist Hesham Melham, Washington bureau chief of Al-Arabiya news channel, on the worsening political crisis in Lebanon. He said that both pro- and anti-Syrian groups agreed in principle earlier this month to elect General Michel Suleiman as their consensus candidate to succeed Emile Lahoud as president. Mr. Lahoud’s term expired November 23. Mr. Melham said the opposing camps might have found a loophole that would avoid the need to amend the constitution – which is needed for a senior public servant to run. But he said it is unclear if other obstacles have been cleared to ensure that the vote, which already has been delayed eight times, can proceed. The opposing camps have failed to reach a broad political deal despite intense French-led mediation. Mr. Melham said the Hezbollah-led opposition wants guarantees it will have veto power in the next cabinet, adding that Hezbollah doesn’t want to see a powerful president in Lebanon because it doesn’t want its position as a power-broker threatened.

News and Views December 19 covered an address made by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in which he said Afghanistan is not a hideout for terrorism, but a victim of it. He urged the US and its allies to target terrorists outside of Afghanistan, adding that militants are being trained in sanctuaries and centers outside the country. Mr. Karzai’s comments came as Admiral William Fallon, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, began a review of military strategies in the region to ensure that an increase in violence in Afghanistan does not threaten long-term process. More than 6,000 people have died so far this year, in violence related to a growing Taliban insurgency. President Karzai has reached out to Taliban leaders, asking those not involved with al-Qaeda to lay down their weapons and join the government.

News and Views December 23 reported on the visit to Afghanistan by Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, just one day after French and Australian leaders visited the country. The visits came after the US urged its NATO allies to provide more support to Afghanistan. After meeting in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai, Mr. Prodi was to travel to the western city of Herat where the majority of Italy’s more than two-thousand soldiers in Afghanistan are based. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on December both pledged long-term political, economic and military support for the war-torn country. Prime Minister Rudd announced plans to provide Afghanistan with nearly $95 million dollars in economic aid. Taliban militants have increased their attacks over the past two years, despite continued efforts by US and NATO forces to strengthen the government and end the insurgency.

Today’s Woman looked at higher education in Iran and the United States. Topics included classes offered in the US on the Internet, how “virtual” group projects work, the limitations of cyber classrooms – e.g., classes for theatre majors are limited for obvious reasons; how to go about getting admitted to college in the US (from taking SATs to applying to two-year colleges); a discussion on scholarships and how to find them; and the freedom to choose majors according to desire and aptitude. For Iran, topics included a read-out on the Konkoor (nationwide college admission test) and how 60% of participants are women; and how systemic restrictions based on ethnicity, social status and more, make the road to higher education more difficult.

Roundtable with You December 18 looked at world health with NIH Director, Dr. Elias Zerhouni. The Algerian-born physician heads the top US medical research agency with 18,000 employees and a budget exceeding $29 billion. “We are dedicated to improving the health of Americans by conducting and funding medical research at the National Institutes of Health,” he said. “The NIH investigates the causes, treatments and preventive strategies for both common and rare diseases, helping to lead the way toward important medical discoveries that improve people’s health and save lives.” Whether it’s to uncover new knowledge that will help prevent, detect, diagnose or treat a disease, from the common cold or the rarest genetic disorder, Dr. Zerhouni said, “To make change in science, we need to recognize first and foremost that no one knows the answer at the edge of science, and you have to be humble. The second is that no one knows the exact pathway or approach by which the next breakthrough is going to occur. You have to be flexible enough to allow a diversity of approaches.” Dr. Zerhouni invited the audience to explore the wealth of medical research on the NIH web site at www.nih.gov.

Discussion on Today’s Woman December 22 was devoted to eye disease and causes of blindness at different ages. Macular degeneration is a medical condition predominantly found in older adults in which the center of the inner lining of