Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, D.C. – February 4, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included the President’s State of the Union address and his tough remarks on Iran; the Republican primary in Florida and the last week of campaigning before Super Tuesday; ongoing violence in Lebanon; interviews with former diplomat Scott Carpenter and Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation on the State of the Union address; journalist Kasra Naji on his biography of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; Diane Alai, the Bahai International Community’s representative to the UN in Geneva, and physician Kavian Milani, who is active in the US Bahai movement, on increased persecution against Bahais in Iran; Reza Hossein Borr, spokesman for the Baluchistan People’s Front on minorities in Iran; Mohammad Hashemi, president of Daftar Tahkim Vahdat, on unrest at Tehran University; journalist Babak Dad on upcoming parliamentary elections in Iran; journalist Hassan Zarezadeh Ardeshir on the Iranian government’s drive to enforce morals deemed insufficiently Islamic; Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch on ongoing abuses in Iran; Serbian activist Ivan Marovic about democratic movements around the world; history specialist Mehra Maleki on the role of women in the history of Iran; journalist and women’s rights activist Fariba Davoudi Mohajer on women and politics in both Iran and the United States; Toronto-based film critic Shahram Tabeha on the Academy Awards, scheduled for February 24; writer Mansoureh Pirnia on the history of the veil in Iran; and Dr. Mahsa Mohebtash, an oncologist at NCI and Bethesda Naval Hospital and actress Marcia Cross of Desperate Housewives, on breast cancer.

VOA/PNN January 29 provided special live coverage of the President’s last State of the Union address, from 8:30 pm -10:30 pm (5:00 – 7:00 am Tehran time), including a pre-speech discussion with two PNN political analysts, simultaneous translation of the speech and the Democratic response and post-speech analysis. VOA/PNN’s congressional correspondent, Siamak Deghanpour, reported live from Statuary Hall.

News and Views January 29 reported on President Bush’s tough comments on Iran in his State of the Union address: “We’re also standing against the forces of extremism embodied by the regime in Tehran,” he said. “Iran’s rulers oppress a good and talented people. And wherever freedom advances in the Middle East, it seems the Iranian regime is there to oppose it. Iran is funding and training militia groups in Iraq, supporting Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, and backing Hamas’ efforts to undermine peace in the Holy Land. Tehran is also developing ballistic missiles of increasing range, and continues to develop its capability to enrich uranium, which could be used to create a nuclear weapon.” He continued, saying, “Our message to the people of Iran is clear: We have no quarrel with you. We respect your traditions and your history. We look forward to the day when you have your freedom. Our message to the leaders of Iran is also clear: Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment, so negotiations can begin. And to rejoin the community of nations, come clean about your nuclear intentions and past actions, stop your oppression at home, cease your support for terror abroad. But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops. We will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.”

News and Views January 29 reported on President Bush’s final State of the Union address, saying he talked at length about the issues that will shape his legacy, starting with the war in Iraq and his decision to send in an additional 30,000 US troops. “Some may deny the surge is working,” he said, “but among the terrorists, there is no doubt. Al-Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated.” About half the speech dealt with foreign policy, with a heavy focus on the Middle East. “Our foreign policy is based on a clear premise: we trust that people, when given the chance, will choose a future of freedom and peace,” he said. “Palestinians have elected a president who recognizes that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel. Israelis have leaders who recognize that a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state will be a source of lasting security. This month in Ramallah and Jerusalem, I assured leaders from both sides that America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year.”

News and Views January 28 interviewed former diplomat Scott Carpenter who is now director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Project Fikra, which focuses on empowering Arab moderates and liberals in their struggles against extremism. He said President Bush would be focusing more on the economy than anything else in this year’s State of the Union address, saying he didn’t spend much time on it last year because the economy was doing well. Mr. Carpenter said on Iran, the President would likely take the same approach he has been taking, and say Iran is a threat. He noted that the President made it clear he is committed to peace in the Middle East in the speech he delivered in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago. Mr. Carpenter said President Bush is convinced the peace process will move forward; the question is whether the people around him will be able to help Mr. Bush attain his goal.

Roundtable with You January 29 focused on President Bush’s State of the Union address with Brian Darling, Director of US Senate Relations for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank. He is responsible for educating Senators and their staffs about Heritage’s latest research and policy recommendations. Conversation focused on Mr. Bush’s denunciation of Iran’s extremist regime, particularly its nuclear ambitions, its support of terrorism abroad and oppression at home. “Above all,” the President said, “know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops. We will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.” Mr. Darling said, “President Bush is commander-in-chief of the American Armed Forces, he is chief strategist for the remainder of his term, and he will work with [the] Democratic majority [in Congress].” He continued, “In the American political system, Congress has the power of the purse. In this regard, Congress has strong views in the direction of American foreign policy. However, the President is the one who directs and executes.”

News and Views January 29 also reported on the New York Times editorial that ran the previous day: “The longer Iran defies the Security Council and continues to enrich uranium, the closer its scientists get to mastering the skills for building a weapon. Without stronger punishments and stronger incentives, Iran is unlikely to halt its efforts….Russia and the Arab states must also stop trying to have it both ways with Iran….Europe and Persian Gulf Arab states need to stop playing both sides of the coin and impose additional sanctions of their own….Just talking about better relations is clearly not enough to get Tehran’s attention. What is needed [from Washington] is a credible grand gesture, like sending a high-level envoy to Tehran with a concrete list of diplomatic and economic rewards, including a timetable for restoring full diplomatic relations with the United States – if Tehran is ready to deal.” The editorial says there is no way to guarantee Iranian leaders would be interested. But it would “send a strong message to Iran’s citizens about the folly of their leaders’ course. It would give Mr. Bush the credibility to demand that the Russians, the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Saudis, and the list goes on, do more to stop enabling Tehran.”

Roundtable with You January 30 interrupted its program – which was a discussion on the US presidential campaign – to broadcast a live feed of Senator John Edwards’ announcement in New Orleans that he was suspending his presidential campaign. VOA/PNN beat both Fox News and MSNBC in airing the Senator’s remarks. The program host provided simultaneous translation of the Senator’s remarks. Senator Edwards’ departure from the race leaves two Democrats – Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama – and three major Republicans – Senator John McCain, Governor Mitt Romney and Governor Mike Huckabee – as the remaining contenders in the race for the White House.

News and Views January 29 looked at the latest developments in the presidential race, including Senator Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Senator Barack Obama. “I feel change in the air,” Senator Kennedy told a crowd of 4,000 students at American University on Monday. “Every time I’ve been asked over the past year who I would support in the Democratic primary, my answer has always been the same: I’ll support the candidate who inspires me, who inspires all of us, who can lift our vision and summon our hopes and renew our belief that our country’s best days are still to come. I’ve found that candidate.” Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, joined her uncle in supporting Senator Obama. On the Republican side of the aisle, Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney took aim at each other’s campaigns as the Republican primary took place in delegate-rich Florida. The former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, said he may drop out of the race if he doesn’t win Tuesday’s balloting, and polls showed him trailing far behind the two frontrunners.

Roundtable with You January 30 featured political scientist Shayan Samii answering viewer questions about the US presidential primaries. Mr. Samii talked about the importance of Senator John McCain’s victory in the Republican primary in Florida, and why Senator Hillary Clinton’s victory there was of less import. He explained that the Democratic Party refused to allow delegates to be awarded in Michigan and Florida because the states moved their primary calendars up without Party approval. One viewer from Iran wanted to know about the role of delegates at the parties’ national conventions. Mr. Samii said the Democratic candidate will be selected after a series of primaries and caucuses, culminating in the party’s convention, scheduled for August 25-28 in Denver, Colorado. Mr. Samii said the winning candidate needs to win a simple majority, or at least 2,025 of the 4,049 total delegates. If no candidate receives the required majority, the nominee is determined by a brokered convention. Senator John Edwards suspended his presidential campaign half-way through the live program, so Roundtable broadcast his remarks direct from New Orleans.

VOA/PNN interviewed Diane Alai, the Bahai International Community’s representative to the UN in Geneva on January 29 after Iran’s judiciary said it had sentenced 54 members of the Bahai religious community for anti-regime propaganda. Judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi told reporters in Tehran Tuesday that, “Three Bahais have been sentenced to four years in prison for propaganda against the regime,” and 51 others received suspended one-year jail terms, providing they attend courses provided by the state Islamic Propaganda Organization. Ms. Alai said the 54 people arrested in Shiraz, “were arrested only because of their faith. They were in Shiraz helping the city’s poor children.” She said there are about 300,000 Bahais in Iran, and that the government has increased pressure against Bahais since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. She said in the last two years, the government has even tried to prevent Bahais from gaining access to higher education and buying real estate.

Roundtable with You February 2 looked at the intensification of persecution against Bahais in Iran with Dr. Kavian Milani, a physician who is active in the Bahai movement in the United States. The Bahais are Iran’s largest religious minority, but their faith is not recognized in the country’s constitution and they have long faced harassment and persecution. This past Tuesday, Iran’s judiciary said it has sentenced 54 members of the Bahai religious community for anti-regime propaganda. Dr. Milani said “Bahai students in Iran are publicly humiliated in order to force them to renounce their faith, but the Islamic regime has to come to terms with the existence of this religious minority like Jewish and Christian communities.” Bahais have no rights in the Islamic republic, he said, even rights that other recognized [religious] minorities enjoy in Iran. “For example, a Bahai teenager cannot enter Iran’s universities. To attend, he would have to lie and say he is not a Bahai, or else be deprived of the right to higher education.” Dr. Milani said that the Bahai faith is progressive, egalitarian and believes in non-violence. “That’s why autocratic regimes are at odds with its basic tenets.”

Roundtable with You February 3 featured the biographer of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, journalist Kasra Naji, who works for BBC, CNN, the Guardian and the Financial Times. Mr. Naji, who lived in Tehran during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s rise to power, said the Iranian president “wrote a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel asking her to form an alliance with Iran against the victors of World War II. To think that Germany would abandon France, Great Britain and the United States in favor of Iran shows the depth of his ignorance in international affairs.” Mr. Naji said Mr. Ahmadinejad’s election victory in 2005 created a sea change in Iranian politics. “With him coming to power, just about everything changed. His electoral victory represented a wholesale realignment of politics in Iran,” he added. Mr. Naji claims that the Ahmadinejad victory at the polls was rigged, and that his rival, Hashemi Rafsanjani, later said in an interview that six million voter registration cards were manufactured to ensure his victory. Mr. Naji also claims that the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia played a key role in mobilizing Iran’s rural area in support of Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Roundtable with You January 31 focused on and religious minorities in Iran with Reza Hossein Borr, a researcher at the Center for International Studies in London who also serves as the spokesman for the London-based Baluchistan People’s Front. Mr. Hossein Borr said the objective of the Front is to establish a democratic and secular regime in Iran. He said, “We have no relationship, nor do we support the violent behavior of Jondullah (a militant armed group using violence for separation of Baluchistan). Mr. Hossein Borr said, “We work with 15 other ethnic and religious groups in Europe, all struggling for justice and equality in Iran.” Mr. Hossein Borr said on average, at least one Baluchi a day is executed in Iran, and that Baluchis suffered more than 1,000 human rights violations in 2007 alone. He said more than 25 percent of Iranians are Sunni Muslims, but Sunni Muslims cannot be elected to any high position in government. He said they, too, are deprived of basic human rights. Only a small percentage of non-Shia students can attend state universities. He characterized the situation in Baluchistan as “sorry,” with three out of four Baluchis living under the poverty level. He said the same is true in Kurdistan and other places that are dominated by Sunni Muslims.

News and Views January 31 interviewed the director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, Joe Stork. Mr. Stork said there has been no change in the attitude of the Islamic Republic of Iran with regard to the violation of human rights and executions. Of particular concern, he said, were the recent deaths of two apparently healthy young people while in custody in northwestern Iran. Mr. Stork referred to the death of 27-year-old Ebrahim Lotfallahi, who died in the detention center in Sanandaj sometime during the second week of January. He also cited the death of Zahra Bani-Ameri, a 27-year-old physician, who died in October while in custody in the town of Hamedan. Officials said both died of suicide. Mr. Stork said, “The government only heightens our concern by quickly dismissing them as suicides.” When asked about the violation of human rights by various other governments and dictatorships in 2007, Mr. Stork said the United States is among those countries that violate human rights, adding that many democratic countries and those on the path to democracy are violators. The program host challenged Mr. Stork, saying democracy in the United States is an advantage, not a liability, noting that people, institutions and organizations can criticize the government.

News and Views January 30 reported on the visit to Ankara by US Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Stuart Levey. Mr. Levey called on Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) to scrutinize activities by Iranian state-owned Bank Mellat in Turkey, accusing the bank of bankrolling terrorism. He said Turkey should take measures against Bank Mellat. The Turkish government, however, wants to make an inquiry before taking any action against the bank, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity. Bank Mellat, among the banks that US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has accused of bankrolling terror, has been operating in Turkey since 1982. Mr. Levey noted that as Iran has been cut off from larger banks in Europe, it is now seeking alternative outlets to the international system: “Turkey's proximity to Iran, shared history and ties between their people make Turkey a place where vigilance is needed.”

Roundtable with You February 1 interviewed Serbian activist Ivan Marovic about democratic movements around the world. He was a key figure in the Serbian student resistance group, OTPOR, which helped oust former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from power in 2000. Mr. Marovic described the efforts of the youth movement in Serbia, saying, “A generation of mostly 20-year-olds armed with spray paint and the slogan ‘Save Serbia,’ were able to defeat the Milosevic dictatorship….From the beginning, we selected non-violence as the means of our struggle. We did not have arms, nor did we have any desire to resort to violence.” Mr. Marovic continues to champion political and human rights with a video game he helped create, called “A Force More Powerful,” that teaches the tactics of non-violent resistance to others. “The spread of non-violent tactics in Serbia led to mass arrests, but those mass arrests eventually led to the solidarity of the police and armed forces with the masses, who then worked together to overthrow the dictator. Our experience can be used in similar circumstances around the world,” he said, citing the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, where he played a key role.

Roundtable with You January 28 reviewed events in Iran the past two weeks. London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh talked about security forces attacking a peaceful protest by students at Tehran University, leading to the arrest of several students and the injury of many others. He said students had been demanding better food in the cafeteria. The next day, he added, political slogans resounded across the campus, with thousands of students shouting, “We want freedom,” and “Down with the Dictator.” Another panelist, Mohammad Hashemi, president of Daftar Tahkim Vahdat, a student organization at Tehran University, confirmed the arrest of five students in clashes with security forces. Mr. Hashemi spoke of pressure on students “virtually all over the country.” Babak Dad, a journalist in Tehran, discussed Iran’s upcoming parliamentary elections. He said the Ministry of Interior eliminated 3,000 candidates to make the Council of Guardians’ screening easier and less subject to controversy or scrutiny. “They do not want to repeat the worldwide negative publicity of the past election when the Council of Guardians disqualified thousands of reformist candidates,” Mr. Dad said. “All of the candidates must receive Ayatollah Khamenei’s stamp of approval in order to be eligible to run.” Mr. Nourizadeh brought up the resolution drafted last week by members of the UN Security Council and Germany to increase sanctions against Iran. “This is a defeat for the Islamic Republic of Iran and its diplomatic efforts.” he said.

News and Views January 29 reported that Iran has offered to provide Egypt with funds to help with the influx of Palestinians flooding across the border seeking provisions because of the Israeli blockade. The offer came as Iran’s Assistant Foreign Minister, Ali Asghar Mohammadi, delivered a “special message” to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Ali Abu Al-Ghayt, and as the Iranian and Egyptian presidents had their first-ever telephone conversation. Officials in Tehran said diplomatic relations are close to being restored almost 30 years after they were cut over Egypt’s decision to recognize Israel.

News and Views January 30 reported that an Israeli commission was set to release its final report about Israel’s conduct during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. The panel’s interim findings harshly criticized the Israeli government and military’s handling of the conflict. In particular, it accused Mr. Olmert of going to war without a proper plan of action. Many Israelis consider the 34-day war against Hezbollah a failure because Israel did not crush the militant group or manage to free the two Israeli soldiers Hezbollah had kidnapped in a raid into Israel. Mr. Olmert has defended his handling of the war. More than 150 Israelis, mostly soldiers, and more than one-thousand Lebanese, mostly civilians, were killed in the conflict.

News and Views January 31 reported that an Israeli special commission has concluded that the country’s 2006 war with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon was a serious failure. The head of the commission, Eliyahu Winograd, says investigators found failures and shortcomings in the country’s political and military leadership during the conflict, but determined that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the military had acted in what they thought was the best interest of Israel.

News and Views January 28 reported on violence in Lebanon over the weekend, with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora declaring Monday a day of mourning following fatal street violence in Beirut Sunday. Lebanese opposition officials say at least seven people were killed and more than 19 wounded when protests against electricity rationing turned into violent clashes with troops. Demonstrators blocked major intersections with burning tires, and marched through the streets. Army troops arrived and said they fired into the air to disperse the protesters. Seven protesters were later found shot dead, but it is not clear who was responsible for their deaths. The army says it is investigating.

News and Views February 1 reported that Abu Laith al-Libi, one al-Qaeda’s top commanders in Afghanistan and a key liaison with the Taliban, was killed in Pakistan by an air strike. The strike was reportedly conducted by a Predator unmanned drone against a facility in north Waziristan. A web site that frequently carries announcements from militant groups said that al-Libi had been “martyred with a group of his brothers in the land of Muslim Pakistan,” but gave no further details. “We congratulate the Islamic nation for the martyrdom of the sheik, the lion, Abu Laith al-Libi,” said the banner which appeared in a section of the web site reserved for affiliated militant groups and not open to public posting. The message gave no further details about his death. The Libyan-born al-Libi was among the most high-profile figures in al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Panelists on NewsTalk this week talked about President Bush’s State of the Union address, his support for the Iranian people and his distinguishing between the people and their government; reaction to President Bush’s State of the Union address in Italy, France and Turkey; Iranian authorities trying to create a repressive environment as March’s parliamentary elections get closer; how university campuses in Iran are quiet – for the time being – because of strong arm tactics; how international organizations constantly pressure the Iranian government to do something about human rights violations, but get no response; how worker rights are respected in the West; how US laws protect employees from discrimination; how people in the US have the right to protest without fearing detention; how the Iranian government is using force to manipulate voters; how the majlis is impotent since the Council of Guardians, or Velayat-e-Faqih, makes all the important decisions; how the Council of Guardians’ power is absolute; how western governments’ economic interests in Iran prevent them from raising the issue of human rights and elections with Iranian officials; how change can occur in Iran through revolution, foreign intervention or through incremental changes, step by step; how elections in Iran can best be described as a puppet show; how the IRI murdered student Ebrahim Lotfollahi, “buried him in the middle of the night and then cemented his grave”; how special forces broke up a peaceful demonstration of students, entered their dormitories and started beating the students; the government crisis in Italy; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and his comments on Iran; the judiciary’s decision in Iran to ban most public executions; EU support of Turkey’s nuclear program; how Iran has to give up its obstinacy regarding its nuclear program ambitions for the sake of the safety and well-being of the people of Iran; and how President Ahmadinejad spouts anti-Israel diatribes in part because he thinks it will gain him popularity in the Arab world.

VOA/PNN covered the news conference that actor George Clooney held at the United Nations January 31 after being named a UN messenger of peace. The actor was appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his ability to focus public attention on international issues. Mr. Clooney has been waging a campaign to end the war in Darfur for several years, and said he plans to focus his attention on Darfur, although he wants to travel broadly in his new UN role. After the news conference, VOA/PNN’s New York correspondent Nazzy Beglari talked with the actor and asked him if he had any plans to travel to Iran or Iraq. He said that yes, he did plan to travel there, adding, “As a matter of fact, I have a friend from Shiraz.”

Today’s Woman February 2 examined breast cancer with Dr. Mahsa Mohebtash, an oncologist at the National Cancer Institute and Bethesda Naval Hospital. Dr. Mohebtash talked about the importance of awareness and early detection, as well as the advantages of seeking a second opinion once diagnosed with cancer. She said a woman diagnosed with breast cancer today has a number of options at her disposal, including a multidisciplinary approach, involving new surgical and reconstructive surgeries for women who undergo mastectomies. Dr. Mohebtash said there are new targeted therapies which kill cancer cells with less toxicity. She emphasized that support groups are a positive influence for dealing with patients’ sense of loss, saying Iran offers such support as well, referring viewers to the web site, Dr. Mohebtash said, “In Western countries, patients are willing to fully participate in their care, diagnosis and prognosis. In contrast, in many European countries, as well as Iran, family members prefer to keep a cancer diagnosis a secret from the patient in the hope to decrease his or her anxiety.” She suggested patients should be fully informed of every aspect of their care.

Today’s Woman also interviewed actress Marcia Cross, star of the television show, Desperate Housewives. Ms. Cross was in Washington to lobby Congress to end “drive-through” mastectomies for women. The campaign has garnered 20 million signatures for its campaign, which advocates that women should be given the choice to recuperate in the hospital for at least 48 hours following a mastectomy. Ms. Cross said she is hopeful the campaign will succeed. “I will be foolishly optimistic, but I really believe that with the new congress and eventually a new president, this bill will finally get heard. It really hasn’t been put to a vote. As Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said, [the Congress] would be hard pressed to vote against letting a woman stay in the hospital 48 hours after a mastectomy.” Ms. Cross said she thought Hollywood would be surprised to know this bill hasn’t yet been passed. “The sad thing is that one out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Awareness is growing, but the disease also is growing….Unfortunately, I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t been touched by it. The question really is, how do we cure it? I know that in some countries there is a shame associated with getting breast cancer. Women don’t go to doctors when they feel a lump, and they don’t understand it. There are a lot of women who are not aware of breast cancer and its symptoms.”

Today’s Woman January 30 focused on the role of women in the history of Iran with Iranian history specialist Mehra Maleki from Palo Alto, California. Ms. Maleki traced the role of women from the Ghajar Dynasty in the 19th century to the present, including the significant role of Fath Ali Akhondzadeh, an Azerbaijani playwright who advocated equal rights for women in several of the satirical plays that he wrote in the 1800’s. One viewer thanked Ms. Maleki, saying, “It is great to be able to learn about our history. We aren’t able to read and learn about people like Akhondzadeh in Iran. Let Iranian women know about people who