Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, D.C. – January 14, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included President Bush’s visit to the Middle East with live coverage from PNN correspondent Setareh Derakhshesh who is traveling with the President; Revolutionary Guard speed boats harassing US navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz; two exclusive interviews with Admiral Kevin Cosgriff on the Persian Gulf incident; an exclusive interview with Commander Lydia Robertson, spokesperson for the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain; an interview with military analyst David Isenberg; interviews with Middle East Institute scholars Greg Myre and Paul Scham, veteran Arabist Philip Wilcox, Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian analyst now living in Israel, and Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Aryeh Mekel on President Bush’s trip to the Middle East; an interview with Asif Ali Zardari, new co-chair of the Pakistan People’s Party and widower of Benazir Bhutto; interviews with Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi, human rights activist Lily Mazaheri, and physician Hessam Firouzi on the increasing use of amputations and other inhumane punishments under Islamic law; victories in the New Hampshire presidential primary by Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain, and exclusive interviews in NH on politics and on the Strait of Hormuz incident with actor Viggo Mortensen; Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH); Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM); Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL); Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA); Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH); Rep. Jim McGovern (D- MA); ONE Vote 08 president David Lane; Clinton campaign finance advisor Mark Aronchick; and Fergus Cullin, chairman of the Republican party in New Hampshire; an interview with nuclear power analyst Jacqueline Shire on the visit to Tehran of IAEA Director-General Mohammad El-Baradei; an interview with global financial strategist on the serious crisis facing Iran’s banking system; and an interview with author and intellectual Shahla Shafigh on feminism and women’s rights.

President Bush says Iran is the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism, and a source of instability in the Middle East. VOA/PNN reported that in the only speech of his Mideast trip January 13, the President urged the people of the region to reject extremism and embrace freedom. Standing on a stage in Abu Dhabi, less than 300 kilometers across the Persian Gulf from Iran, President Bush called for unity against Tehran. “Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. So the United States is strengthening our long-standing security commitments with our friends in the Gulf, and rallying friends around the world to confront this danger before it is too late,” said Mr. Bush. The President said Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, listing Tehran’s support for extremists in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories. “It sends hundreds of millions of dollars to extremists around the world, while its own people face repression and hardship at home.”

News and Views reported January 7 on five Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps armed speed boats harassing and provoking three US Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz early in the morning on January 6. PNN provided up-to-the-minute reactions from the State Department, White House and Iranian Foreign Ministry. US forces were on the verge of firing on the Iranian boats in the Sunday incident, when the Iranian boats departed. The State Department said the US government “will confront Iranian behavior” if it threatens the US or its allies. “The example that happened on Saturday was similar to previous cases and is an ordinary and natural issue,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told Iran’s official IRNA news agency. “This is an ordinary issue that happens for the two sides every once in a while and, after the identification of the two sides, the issue is resolved.” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, “We urge the Iranians to refrain from such provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident in the future.”

News and Views January 8 reported on the provocation of three American navy ships near the Persian Gulf in what US military and government officials call a serious incident. Officials said Monday that the American ships prepared to fire after the smaller Iranian boats acted aggressively in the strategic Strait of Hormuz on Sunday. Five boats, apparently operated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, sped toward the US ships before veering away and dropping boxes into the water, directly in a US vessel’s path. In an exclusive interview with News and Views, Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of US and coalition naval forces in the Persian Gulf, said “At one point during this encounter, the ships received a radio call that was threatening in nature, to the effect that they were closing in on our ships and that the US ships would explode.” Admiral Cosgriff said the US ships were in international waters during this incident, adding that, “We are in this region of the world merely to provide security since a large part of the world needs the energy resources of this area. What happened was pre- planned to give us a show of force, and it was highly unprofessional on the part of Iran.” The Strait of Hormuz between Iran and the United Arab Emirates is a key shipping route for oil. Both the Iranian and US navies patrol the waterway.

Admiral Cosgriff spoke again with News and Views January 9 about the confrontation between Iranian speedboats and US warships. He said the US warships were inbound to the Persian Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz on the morning of January 6. The Admiral said the ships were in the midst of a routine transit in the early daylight hours when five Iranian Revolutionary Guard high-speed craft came from the north and approached the US ships. “The five boats approached the US formation on its starboard bow in international waters slightly inside the Gulf from the apex of the strait,” Admiral Cosgriff said. He dismissed Iran’s allegation that the US Navy video of the incident is “fake.” He called the behavior of Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats that buzzed the three US Navy vessels as “unduly provocative” and said that the only aim of the US navy in the Persian Gulf is the security and stability of this waterway. The admiral praised the crews of the US ships, saying they followed procedure carefully, with good discipline and with due regard for all the factors. “What the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards did was totally unnecessary,” he said, “and could prove costly for them if repeated.”

News and Views January 8 reported on reaction to the Persian Gulf incident, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying, “I found the action by the Iranians quite troubling actually and a matter of real concern. This is a very volatile area and the risk of an incident and of an incident escalating is real. I can’t imagine what was on their minds with these three little FAS boats aggressively approaching three American warships.” Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the confrontation was ordinary and suggested it may have been a case of mistaken identity. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a stern warning to Iran, urging Tehran to cease what she called “provocative and dangerous” actions after Iranian ships confronted the American Navy in the Persian Gulf. She said the United States will defend its interests and allies in the region.

News and Views January 9 reported that a top US official says Iran must “bear the consequences” if Iranian boats again confront American vessels in the Persian Gulf. White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said the incident could have resulted in “an altercation between the two forces.” The US Defense Department released a video in which a member of the US Navy can be heard trying to contact the Iranian boats and identifying the naval ships as coalition vessels. A voice from one of the Iranian boats can be heard warning by radio that a US ship will soon explode. Iran’s state television cited a Revolutionary Guard official, who called the footage “fabricated.” Iran’s head of parliament, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel dismissed US reports of confrontation as part of a “propaganda campaign” against the Islamic republic. The Iranian official’s comments were published in the Tehran Times newspaper today. Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle Eastern Affairs, said the incident was evidence of Iran’s aggressive policies.

News and Views January 10 aired the official Iranian Television version of the Persian Gulf incident, courtesy of Commander Lydia Robertson, spokesperson for the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, who provided a link to the Iranian video that PNN/VOA had been unable to obtain from Iran:
http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=38190§ionid=351020101.
Iran says footage of the incident released by the US government is fabricated and that the audio is fake, claiming its boats approached the US ships only to examine their numbers. The Pentagon called those allegations absurd and factually incorrect. The Department of State said Iran may be projecting its own behavior onto others in terms of what they might do in a similar circumstance. The US stopped short of force, but says it will defend itself if a similar situation – the provocation of its ships – occurs in international waters. Saudi Arabia expressed concern over a possible escalation of tension and voiced willingness to talk to both sides.

News and Views January 11 reported that Iran aired a new tape meant to reinforce Tehran’s argument that the incident between Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrols and US warships on Sunday was a “normal inspections of vessels,” not a hostile act. In an exclusive interview with PNN, Commander Lydia Robertson, spokesperson for the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, said the fast boats – highly maneuverable patrol craft – were “visibly armed” and began aggressive maneuvers against the three American ships, steaming in formation into the Persian Gulf. Commander Robertson added that the radio threat may have come from another ship or from shore, though she added that the Iranian boats were moving threateningly before the radio threat was received. She insisted that the Fifth Fleet never claimed Iran made the threat. “No one in the military has said that the transmission emanated from those boats. But when they hear it simultaneously to the behavior of those boats, it only adds to the tension,” she said. “If this verbal threat emanated from something.

News and Views January 11 reported that the United States has filed a formal complaint to Iran protesting a disputed incident between Iranian forces and US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf on Sunday, January 6. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said US officials sent the protest note through the Swiss embassy in Tehran. He said the note warns against “provocative” Iranian action on boats in international waters.

Military analyst David Isenberg told News and Views January 11 that incidents such as the one that took place on January 6 are commonplace, adding that Iranian speedboats belonging to the Revolutionary Guards routinely monitor the waterway to stop and search illegal commerce. He said the threat – “I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes” – was made through an “open bridge to bridge circuit” and that it would be “very difficult to determine” that it came from the Iranian speedboats. But “when you put that (threat) in the context of the Iranian behavior, it created an uncomfortable situation for the sailors out there,” he added.

The US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and General David Petreaus, the head of US forces in Iraq, met at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait January 12 with a small group of reporters, including one from PNN/VOA. On bilateral US-Iranian talks on Iraq, Ambassador Crocker said, “We are ready, we have informed the Iraqis, we are inviting them, but Iran has not responded to us yet.” Mr. Crocker said that “he cannot say there was a shift in Iran’s position toward decreasing the level of violence in Iraq even though violence has subsided in the past few months. In the last 10 days, EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator) attacks have increased.”

News and Views January 11 reported on President Bush wrapping up his visit to Israel and Palestine before traveling to Kuwait. Mr. Bush visited Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and toured holy sites in Galilee after having held separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders over the past two days, trying to spur negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian state. President Bush said both Palestinians and Israelis have “difficult choices” and painful concessions to make if they are to reach a lasting peace agreement. He gave an outline of a two- state peace accord, saying, “I know Jerusalem is a tough issue. Both sides have deeply felt political and religious concerns. The peace agreement should happen and can happen by the end of this year. Speaking in Jerusalem Thursday, Mr. Bush called on Israel to end its 40-year occupation of Palestinian territory. He urged the two sides to agree on border adjustments and said Palestinian refugees and their descendants should be compensated for the homes they left decades ago in what is now Israel. Mr. Bush said Israel must have secure, recognized and defensible borders, and a Palestinian state must be viable, contiguous and sovereign.

News and Views January 10 interviewed Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian analyst who lives in Israel and who recently co-authored a book on the Iranian president: The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran. Speaking with PNN correspondent Setareh Derakhshesh in Jerusalem, Mr. Javedanfar speculated that the reason the three main parties – the US, Israel and the Palestinians – did not meet at the same time was because Mr. Bush wasn’t persuaded they’d be able to issue a joint communiqué. “He prefers to conduct his diplomacy one-on-one and nudge the parties without others being there.” According to Mr. Javedanfar, the most effective step toward peace would be to improve the economic conditions of the Palestinians. “It is critically important for the Palestinians to see tangible results and witness a marked improvement in their standard of living.” Mr. Javedanfar said that peace-making is a two-way street and that Israel should work toward making the lives of Palestinians more bearable by removing the security checkpoints so that they can go about their daily business. Another issue that deserves attention, he said, is the rampant corruption in the Palestinian government. Mr. Javedanfar said it will have to be dealt with or Western aid will go to waste.

News and Views January 10 interviewed Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Aryeh Mekel, who acknowledged that President Bush has asked the Israeli government to remove security checkpoints, saying they “create massive frustrations for the Palestinians.” He said Israel plans to remove the checkpoints, but he was non-committal about any timetable. On the issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, he said that Israel is not building any new ones but that those already built are needed to accommodate an increased population. Mr. Mekel said that Israel is very sincere in its desire to accept a two-state solution to the conflict whereby the Israeli and Palestinian people can live next to each other in peace. He said the key to a lasting peace would be for President Mahmoud Abbas to rein in Hamas and other radical elements within the Palestinian government. On the issue of Iran, Mr. Mekel said Israel “doesn't have any problem with the people of Iran. We only see the government of Iran as a problem. Our intelligence services believe Iran is still pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and that if they are on the same track, they could have a bomb by 2012.”

News and Views January 7 reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed hope that a visit by President Bush to the region will “give a push to the peace process.” Mr. Abbas called on Mr. Bush to “to stop the building of settlements in order to give the peace process a push and to ensure the end of the occupation which began in the year 1967.” The Palestinian leader also called on President Bush to push for a two state solution, adding that “Jerusalem is a capital for two states, the eastern part for the Palestinians and the western part for the Israelis.” He said 2008 should become “the year of peace.” Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said while he shared the misgivings of many in the Arab world about the intentions of the US president, he hoped to see concrete developments during the trip. President Bush’s visit is part of his stepped-up effort to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement before leaves office in January 2009.

Greg Myre, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute, told News and Views January 7 that President Bush’s trip to the Middle East is as much about Iran as it is about the Israeli- Palestinian peace process. A former correspondent for the New York Times and Associated Press in Jerusalem, Mr. Myre said some Arab countries are reluctant to follow the President’s position, and that it will be interesting to see what the President will say and offer during this trip to get them to side with the US on Iran. He said Arab countries also are concerned about Iran’s role in the region, adding that Israel views Iran as a bigger threat than Hamas.

News and Views January 8 also looked at the status of Palestinian-Israeli relations as President Bush is in the area to meet with Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab leaders. Paul Scham, an Adjunct Scholar at the Middle East Institute, told PNN that a peace accord will have to provide borders for Palestine based on a 1967 treaty and that Jerusalem will have to be divided – half under the Israeli flag and half under the Palestinian flag. Mr. Scham said he expects peace talks will be complicated for Israel and the US by the participation of Hamas – which both consider a terrorist organization. Hamas is the largest and most influential Palestinian militant movement and it won the general legislative elections held by the Palestinian Authority in 2006. The group also has operated a terrorist wing carrying out suicide bombings and attacks using mortars and short-range rockets. Mr. Scham said he believes Iran should have a role in the peace process because of its importance in the region.

Roundtable with You January 11 featured journalist and political analyst Menashe Amir. Mr. Amir said President Bush believes peace will be established between Israel and the Palestinians before his term is over in January 2009. He noted that President Bush called for the end of Israeli occupation of the territories gained in1967 war and he also called for Arab recognition of Israel. But Mr. Meir added that Palestinian radicals committed to the destruction of Israel and opposed to peace are the greatest obstacle to realizing this dream. He noted that in Jerusalem, President Bush said, “Iran was a danger, Iran is a danger and Iran will be a danger.” Mr. Meir agreed, saying Iran’s nuclear program is a great danger for peace and stability in the world, and called Shi’ia radicals sponsored by Iran’s ruling mullahs as an additional threat to the international community. He said UN sanctions succeeded against Libya and North Korea, and he predicted they will work against Iran as well. Until then, he said, the Islamic Republic remains the main source of tension in the region.

Roundtable with You January 7 reviewed events in the Middle East and Iran on the eve of President Bush’s visit to the Middle East as well as the eve of the New Hampshire primary in the US presidential election. Reporting from New Hampshire, PNN correspondent Siamak Dehghanpour said Senator Barack Obama is leading Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race by 10 points following his win in the Iowa caucuses, while Senator John McCain is leading on the Republican side. From London, political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said Tehran looks at Senator Obama as the ideal candidate with whom to deal. He said they are not so keen on Senator Clinton because she is a woman and because she has expressed concern about human rights in Iran. Mr. Nourizadeh said Tehran also dislikes former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani because he opposes reconciliation with the Islamic authorities in Iran. Mr. Nourizadeh said President Bush will try to gain support of Arab leaders for the Iraqi government as well as their support for continued isolation of Iran as a source of instability in the region during his visit.

News and Views January 9 interviewed Philip Wilcox, a veteran diplomat and Arabist who is now president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, on President Bush’s trip to the Middle East. Ambassador Wilcox said the significance of President Bush’s trip is that it is a comprehensive trip, giving him a chance to meet with all major parties in the Arab/Israeli conflict. He said President Bush must raise the level of US credibility in the region because so many Arab countries are critical of US involvement in Iraq and the possibility of a US confrontation with Iran. Mr. Wilcox said the issue of Iran should be dealt with apart from the Arab/Israel peace process, adding that “Resolving the issues between the US and Iran will not necessarily guarantee Arab/Israeli peace because that conflict has its own dynamics.”

News and Views January 13 reported that Palestinian medical workers say two members of the Islamic militant group were killed in an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday rejected President Bush's vision for the Middle East. Speaking at a rally in Gaza City, Mr. Haniyeh said, “I clearly say that Bush’s vision of the political, security and economic path is rejected and we will not accept it.” Mr. Haniyeh said the President’s views on a peace deal were based on promises to Israel, and don’t serve Palestinian interests. Mr. Bush singled out Gaza, which Hamas violently seized in June, as a problem that could not easily be solved in the 12 months remaining in his presidency.

PNN had an exclusive interview January 10 with Asif Ali Zardari, who is co-chair of the Pakistan People’s Party with his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Speaking from Larkana, the Bhutto family’s home town, Mr. Zardari, husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, said the ongoing suicide bombings in Pakistan are part of the policy to interrupt the election campaign, to harass people so they will not go out in support of their candidates. He said he is not seeking a parliamentary seat – meaning he can seek the post of Prime Minister. He said he is in touch with other candidates, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sherif, but said it is too soon to talk about a possible alliance between the Pakistan People’s Party and Mr. Sherif’s Muslim League. Mr. Zardari said he respects Scotland Yard and its investigation into his wife’s assassination. But he said the investigation is being done under the Pakistani government’s observation, and it is the Pakistani government that he doesn’t trust. Mr. Zardari said he expects the United States to help the people of Pakistan restore democracy to their country.

News and Views January 10 reported on a suicide bomb attack that killed 22 people in Lahore, Pakistan, all but one of them police officers. The blast on Thursday ripped through a busy square in front of the Lahore High Court where dozens of police had gathered ahead of a planned protest by the city’s lawyers. Authorities said the bomber was riding a motorcycle and blew himself up when police asked him to stop outside the court. Pakistan has seen a wave of bomb attacks in recent months targeting politicians and security forces, including the assassination just two weeks ago of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion was likely to fall on militants linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

News and Views January 9 interviewed Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi on the protest of the human rights group she founded, Defenders of Human Rights, against the amputation of hands and feet as a punishment in Iran. This is a “new dimension of human rights violations,” she said. “In the past days, several criminals in the province of Sistan-Baluchestan were sentenced to the amputation of hands and legs for actions against security….Punishments include flogging, amputation of fingers, hands and legs, stoning and execution. These exist in the penal laws and contradict international human rights principles.” Ms. Ebadi condemned the amputation and execution sentences, saying that the Islamic Republic of Iran has ignored protests of such punishments under Sharia law, “despite their being against international conventions that Iran has signed.” News and Views interviewed Ms. Ebadi again on January 13, after Human Rights Watch issued a protest against the Iranian government’s crackdown against students, journalists and workers. Ms. Ebadi said, “Unfortunately, the definition of ‘acting against national security’ is used in too many cases by authorities.”

News and Views January 13 interviewed Parvaneh Vahid Manesh, a student activist and the ex-wife of Saeed Habibi. Students in Iran say they are concerned the status of Mr. Habibi, who was arrested 40 days ago in Tehran. He hasn’t been allowed to call from Evin prison since the Ministry of Intelligence arrested him, accusing him and 30 other students of “acting against national security” at a demonstration. His ex-wife said, “We heard a rumor that Saeed is under pressure in prison and that he committed suicide there. But we don’t know if this information is true or not. The officials haven’t released any information about his situation, and they haven’t let him make any calls.” Mr. Habibi is a member of the Office of Consolidating Unity, the leading student movement in Iran.

Roundtable with You January 10 looked at the inhumane punishments handed down in the Islamic Republic of Iran with Lily Mazaheri, attorney and women’s rights activist. Ms. Mazaheri said Iran is one of only a few countries in the world where dismemberment is an accepted form of punishment. She said dismemberment is among the most inhumane of punishments and is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ms. Mazaheri said despite appeals from international human rights organizations, the Iranian government dismembered five young men by cutting off their right arms and left feet, adding that this was done by electric knife by a team of “so-called doctors.” Physician Hessam Firouzi called into the show from Tehran. He has been condemned to one year in prison for treating an imprisoned student activist. Dr. Firouzi said dismemberment “is an insult to the medical profession.” He said he understands “Iran plans punish two young men by blinding them and to throw to others off the top of a mountain.”

Today’s Woman January 8 focused on Qisas, a law of retribution under Islam, with Toronto-based lawyer and women’s studies expert, Leila Pourzand. Ms. Pourzand said that under Iranian law, women are given half the rights that men are given. Under Qisas, for example, if a man murders someone, his family has to pay blood money to the victim’s family. If the victim is a woman, the murderer’s family only has to pay half as much. Ms. Pourzand talked about the discrimination women face in Iran, and compared Qisas – or Islamic punishment law – in other countries ruled by Islamic law: Saudi Arabia and Susan, and formerly, in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Ms. Pourzand also pointed out the biggest problems with Qisas, that the punishment is irreversible, even when imposed wrongly.

The presidential candidates flew to New Hampshire after the Iowa caucuses, and so did PNN’s congressional correspondent, Siamak Dehghanpour, who filed live reports from Manchester January 7-9 for News and Views, Roundtable with You and NewsTalk. Senator Barak Obama was expected to handily win the Democratic primary, but Senator Hillary Clinton pulled out a last-minute victory that stunned candidates, pundits and pollsters. Mr. Dehghanpour reported on the heated election, the back-to-back debates held by the Republican and then the Democratic candidates at St. Anselm College on January 5, where Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran featured heavily in candidate comments. He also reported on Senator McCain’s sizeable win over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, despite New Hampshire ostensibly being Romney territory.

PNN interviewed dozens of voters outside polling places about their candidate preferences and issues of the day, ranging from the economy, to the war on Iraq, to immigration issues and the separation of church and state. PNN interviewed actor Viggo Mortensen, best known for his role in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but in New Hampshire to campaign for candidate Dennis Kucinich. Mr. Deghghanpour explained the role of celebrities in the campaigns – Oprah Winfrey for Barak Obama, Chuck Norris for Mike Huckabee, Tim Robbins for John Edwards, and how they can bring out the voters. He also talked with Congressman Kucinich, who said, “I will go to Tehran…and I will meet with the Iranian officials and with the Iranian religious leaders if they so desire. And I will work to rebuild the 28-year- gulf that has turned into a chasm. I will open my heart up…understanding the great