Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week
Washington, D.C. – March 10, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included the UN Security Council’s passage of a third round of sanctions against Iran; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s historic visit to Iraq – and correspondent Nazy Beglari’s exclusive interviews in Baghdad with US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq; an interview with the US Permanent Representative to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte; growing student protests in Iran despite a government crackdown; on-the-ground coverage of the primaries in Ohio and Texas that resuscitated Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and put Senator John McCain over the top for the Republican nomination; the Iranian government’s preventing journalist Parvin Ardalan from traveling to Stockholm to receive the Olof Palme Prize – and an interview in Tehran with Ms. Ardalan; upcoming parliamentary elections in Iran, scheduled for March 14; the government handing down a death sentence against an Iranian novelist for writing a book deemed offensive to Islam; International Women’s Day and the status of women’s rights in Iran; the Toronto-based Iranian Queer Organization winning a prominent award for its advocacy of Iranian homosexuals; and an interview with the wife of missing former FBI agent Robert Levinson.
News and Views March 5 interviewed General David Petraeus, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, on the challenges currently facing the US in Iraq. General Petraeus said he will brief Congress next month before lawmakers make a decision on a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq. “The troop surge has been very effective,” he said. “There has been a dramatic decrease of violence in Iraq. But this doesn’t mean such gains aren’t reversible.” General Petraeus said he expects Congress will give him a further period of assessment in order not to lose the security gains made in recent months. “After the collapse of Saddam’s regime,” he said, “Iraqi Sunni’s joined Al-Qaeda because they felt that they had been insulted and disrespected. This is why they didn’t participate in the election….But later they realized they are ideologically different from Al-Qaeda, and tried to be a part of political democratic movement in Iraq.” On Iran, General Petraeus said the border is presently under Iraqi control and supervision. “I visited the border and I talked with many Iranians. I realized that Iranians like Americans. And I believe Americans like Iranians as well.” But he said the Iranian government has been playing contradictory roles in Iraq, and that its cooperation with Iraq is vital for Iraqi security. “Iran must be more helpful to its neighbor and stop supporting extremists.”
News and Views March 5 interviewed Gregory Schulte, Permanent Representative of the United States to the Vienna based nuclear watchdog of the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Ambassador Schulte said IAEA Director-General Mohamed Al-Baradei’s report indicated “the Islamic Republic of Iran has done some atomic-military activities for the production of nuclear weapons, and has not complied, but violated both resolutions of the Security Council of United Nations.” Mr. Schulte said Iran is not ready to cooperate or explain these activities, has 3,000 centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium, and recently examined new advanced centrifuges for faster enrichment – all of which are in violation of Security Council resolutions. “Based on the National Intelligence Estimate, we believe Iran could have nuclear weapons by 2010 to 2015, so we still have time to solve this problem diplomatically.” Mr. Schulte said an incentive package – including the lifting of long-standing sanctions on the sale of commercial jets, agricultural equipment and telecommunications technology – presented to Iran in June of 2006 by the United States, Russia, China France, Britain and Germany is still on the table. He said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is ready to talk with the Islamic Republic anywhere and anytime if it halts the enrichment of uranium. “I hope the IRI reevaluates its behavior,” he said.
In an exclusive interview with VOA/PNN, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said he hopes Iraq’s Arab neighbors realize the importance of Iraq and try to establish relations with Iraq as soon as possible. “Arab countries do not send their ambassadors to Iraq, while the Islamic Republic of Iran’s president visited Iraq….A stable and democratic Iraq, at peace with its neighbors, is beneficial for the entire region, including Iran.” Ambassador Crocker said the United States recognizes that it is important for Iran and Iraq to have close and friendly relations with each other. But he said the Islamic Republic must change its behavior and foreign policies toward Iraq. “Islamic Republic of Iran activities in Iraq are the main cause of instability in the country,” Ambassador Crocker said. But the US envoy said he remains hopeful about the future of US-Iranian relations even though the US has significant differences with Iran’s regime, “I expect that under some circumstances, Iran and the US will come back to a relationship,” he explained. “Historically we have had close ties, and I think we will again in the future.” Mr. Crocker said Iran has chosen to delay US-Iran talks in Baghdad, but added that “We’re prepared to continue the dialogue. We'll do anything reasonable to try and improve security here in Iraq.”
Roundtable with You March 4 looked at the UN Security Council’s approval of a third round of sanctions against Iran because of its continued defiance of UN resolutions on its nuclear program. London-based political analyst Alireza Nourizadeh said the Islamists called it a victory when the National Intelligence Estimate announced last December that the Islamic Republic had stopped all activities dealing with the production of nuclear weapons in 2003. A few weeks later, he noted, Iran proclaimed another victory by launching a new generation of missile. But on March 3, the UN Security Council imposed new sanctions against Iran with 14 votes for and one abstention. Mr. Nourizadeh said countries such as Russia, China and South Africa – nations Iran considers allies – again voted with the majority. He said Iranian media proclaimed the new sanctions “dead on arrival.” Mr. Nourizadeh noted that while the newest resolution while imposing new sanctions, still leaves the door open for continued diplomatic contacts with Iran in search of a viable solution. Resolution 1803 puts 13 people and 13 companies on the sanctions list and asks countries not to issue visas to specific individuals and to inspect suspected Iranian aircraft and ships.
News and Views March 6 interviewed Mark Katz, professor of government and politics at George Mason University on Iran’s trade with Russia. He said the newest sanctions will not have any meaningful impact on Russian trade with Iran. Russia’s main goal is to ensure the United States doesn’t normalize relations because then Moscow wouldn’t enjoy the same level of commercial ties that now exist between the two countries. However, Mr. Katz said he doesn’t foresee an alliance between Moscow and Tehran to check US influence in the region. “In a certain sense, they both try to counter US influence in the Middle East, but both governments know that if US forces leave the area, then there would be a greater likelihood for Moscow and Tehran to vie for pre-eminence in the area and this could be a cause for tension and friction.” Mr. Katz said a military strike against Iran by either the US or Israel would benefit Moscow. “That’s because Tehran will turn to Russia to replenish its military stockpile and reconstruct its nuclear facilities.”
News and Views had an exclusive interview March 7 with Christine Levinson, the wife of former FBI agent Robert Levinson who has not been heard from since March 8, 2007, when he was visiting Kish Island, an Iranian resort and free-trade zone off the southern coast of Iran. Mrs. Levinson said she traveled to Tehran late last year, accompanied by her sister and 14-year-old son, but did not succeed in getting any answers from the Iranian officials with whom they met. “They expressed sympathy with our predicament, but were not able to give us any information as to what might have happened to my husband. It has been three months now and we have not heard anything. I hope the Iranian officials keep their word and pursue my husband’s case vigorously.” Mrs. Levinson said the US government is doing everything it can to help, but is more or less hamstrung since the two countries don’t have diplomatic relations. “Nonetheless, they have been trying to put pressure on the Iranian government through the Swiss Embassy there which is looking after US interests in Iran.” Mrs. Levinson appealed to the Iranian people for clues to her husband’s whereabouts. “My husband is suffering from a number of medical conditions and I'm not sure he is getting any medical care where he is right now.”
Roundtable with You March 7 looked at the status of human rights in Iran. The program host noted that women’s right activist Parvin Ardalan was barred from leaving Iran only minutes before her plane was set to take off. She had been en route to Stockholm to accept the Olof Palme Award for her work to promote women’s rights. In a video message, Ms. Ardalan said, “The award is given to the tireless efforts of millions of Iranian women who are struggling to create a civil society based on gender equality and justice.” The General-Secretary of Sweden’s Liberal People’s Party, Erik Ullenhag, said his country monitors human rights violations in Iran. “In the case of Parvin Ardalan, I brought the matter to the attention of the President of the European Commission; to Javier Solana, President of the European Union Council; and to the President of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights.” He said the Liberal People’s Party has asked European organizations to put more pressure on the Islamic Republic’s government to release political prisoners. “One reason Ms. Ardalan was barred from traveling is the fear that she will expose the atrocities committed by the Islamic regime.” Fred Saberi of Sweden’s Iranian Liberal Network said one percent of today’s Swedish population is made up of Iranians. “We are an active minority that cares about what is happening in Iran and communicates human rights violations to the appropriate authorities.”
Roundtable with You March 6 looked at the selection of candidates for Iran’s parliamentary elections with Mehrdad Mashayekhi, Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, and with Houshang Kordestani, a political activist and member of the Executive Committee of Europe’s Iranian National Front. Mr. Mashayekhi questioned the validity of the elections, saying approval of the candidates by the Ministry of Interior, the Council of Guardians and the Supreme Leader allows the ruling clergy to prevent any or all critics from running. He said the election is more of a public relations gimmick so that the Islamic Republic can show democracy in action in Iran. Mr. Mashayekhi said most important political institutions and personalities in Iran are encouraging their followers to stay home and not vote since the elections are only a meaningless exercise. Mr. Kordestani characterized the elections as illegal, adding that the Iranian National Front has asked people not to participate. “Due to the circumstances surrounding the elections – the suppression of the syndicates, unions and political parties and a lack of political expression, freedom of the press and gender discrimination – the INF has asked people to stay home on election day.”
News and Views interviewed Jalil Roshandel, Associate Professor and Director of Security Studies at East Carolina University on President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Iraq. He characterized the visit as symbolic and said it had several objectives: “To get support among Iranians during this election period, to assert Iran’s role in the region and to sign economic agreements with Iraq. It is still difficult not to address the situation of those killed in the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq War. Iran does not have a clear policy toward Iraq and these agreements seem to be short-term with no long-term objectives.”
Ali Asghar Ramezanpour is an independent journalist who is also the ex-Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, whose portfolio focused on books. Mr. Ramezanpour fled Iran after being put on trial for the books published under his leadership. In an interview with News and Views, said he was opposed to the verdict again Yaghoub Yadali, the author sentenced to death for writing a book deemed offensive to Islam by the Iranian justice system. Mr. Ramezanpour said he believes that even under tight censorship and oppression, such a ruling is “incredibly bizarre and unexpected.”
PNN correspondent Guita Mirsaeedi reported March 4 from Ohio on the close race between Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. She said the primary election is crucial in determining the outcome of the Democratic nominee for president. Support for both candidates is not limited exclusive to gender or race. She said Senator Clinton has strong support from the black community and Senator Obama has gained increasing support from women voters. March is Women’s History Month and Senator Clinton is trying to use this to advance her campaign. Whatever the outcome, the result will be historical, marking the first time a woman or an African-American has been selected as a Presidential nominee in the United States.
Roundtable with You March 5 focused on the US presidential primaries and carried live President Bush’s endorsement of the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain. Mr. Bush invited the Senator to the White House to congratulate him on his victory and expressed his support. PNN correspondent Guita Mirsaeedi reported from Ohio on the Democratic fight for the nomination, with Senator Hillary Clinton winning three out of four races March 4, in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island. Senator Barack Obama won the primary in Vermont. Ms. Mirsaeedi attributed Senator Clinton’s victory to the support of labor unions and blue collar workers suffering from unemployment and other problems of a stagnant economy. Strayer University political science professor Shayan Samii explained the role of super delegates in the Democratic Party and the role they are now expected to play as both Senators Clinton and Obama try to capture the necessary number of delegates to win the party’s nomination.
News and Views covered student movements and protests at Iranian universities between March 2-9 via phone interviews, footage by hidden cameras, web logs and student news agencies. The Iranian government banned 50 students from attending their universities. The expelled students wrote an open letter to President Ahmadinejad about their right of free speech and media. The largest anti-government student protest to date took place in Shiraz, in southern Iran. Security guards arrested 12 students and ordered them to report to a revolutionary court. Groups estimated as high as 2,000 protested on a daily basis at Shiraz University, where students are demanding the resignation of the University’s president, greater freedom for student activities and better living conditions in dormitories. Many students claim security guards pushed them and made the arrests without cause. The student newspaper at Amir Kabir University reported more than 1,000 students requested the resignation of university officials for supporting anti-student groups, including the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Late Edition March 6 interviewed the executive director of the Toronto-based Iranian Queer Organization, Arsham Parsi, on the IRQO’s being awarded one of two 2008 Felipa de Souza Awards from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. The Felipa de Souza Award recognizes the courage and activism of grassroots groups and individuals working for the fundamental human rights of all people. Mr. Parsi said the Iranian Queer Organization helps Iranian gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people all over the world. “I believe the ability to achieve a higher quality of life is dependent upon education and having a democratic and credible government and a just legal system in Iran. We want to end discrimination against sexual minorities in Iran and raise awareness of queer oppression in Iran and other countries.” Mr. Parsi criticized President Ahmadinejad’s comments at Columbia University last September when he said there are no homosexuals in Iran. He said the Iranian president was trying to ignore the existence of gays in Iran, when “this is a big lie, because there are many documented cases of gay and lesbian persecution, including executions, in Iran.” Links immediately appeared on the Internet following PNN’s interview with Mr. Parsi. A sampling:
http://asre-nou.net/1386/day/17/m-hamjensgerayan.html http://negarakha.blogfa.com/post-371.aspx http://5pesar.wordpress.com/2008/03/05/sa08-03-05/
News and Views March 7 interviewed the head of VOA’s Polish Service, Ted Lipien, who is an expert on Poland’s Solidarity movement, on labor movements around the world showing solidarity with jailed Iranian union leader Mansour Osanloo. “When an authoritarian government starts arresting labor leaders, it shows not only that there is a political crisis, but also an economic crisis,” he said. Mr. Lipien drew parallels between Poland of the 1980’s and Iran today, saying that “Iran is on the cusp of major transformations like Poland was. And we saw in Poland that the leader of its solidarity movement eventually became its president.” He said there is hope that the leaders of Iran come to terms with the fact that time for change has come and that they will not try to block it. “I hope the international community lends its support to the reform process in Iran,” Mr. Lipien said. “I have to add that the international community gave considerable coverage to labor unrest in Poland, but we aren’t witnessing that same phenomenon about Iran. This could be because Iran is more isolated from the rest of the world and is not as easily accessible by the Western media,” he concluded.
Today’s Woman March 3 focused on International Women’s Day, with panelists discussing the way international pressure influences the women’s movement in Iran, from UN sanctions to Amnesty International’s human rights reports. From London, Amnesty International spokesman Drewery Dyke said, “Hopefully, the future of Iran’s women’s movement will not be stalled by the regime.” He said Amnesty cannot be entirely certain its reports help the women’s movement. But he said, “When the struggles of women activists such as Shirin Ebadi and Mehrangiz Kar have been highlighted by the media, it has contributed positively to the women’s movement in Iran.” From Los Angeles, poet Partow Nooriala talked about the origins of International Women’s Day, saying it started in 1908 with the women’s movement in New York, which at that time was focused on the equality of workers’ rights. “Although women have come a long way since then,” she said, “there is still no place in the world where women are regarded as the complete equal of men.” Ms. Nooriala said, “If there were not acknowledgment from the international community about Iran’s human rights offensives under the Islamic regime, the status of women in Iran would be far worse than it is today.” She said the One Million Signature Campaign is one of the most beneficial contributors to the women’s movement in Iran, and that “it is imperative that we continue to support this campaign and the women of Iran.”
Today’s Woman March 4 also focused on International Women’s Day with Berlin-based journalist Elahe Boghrat, who said, “This is a day to celebrate the progress and accomplishments made by women everywhere. Women make up half of any population. Therefore, in order for any society to be truly free, there needs to be freedom for everyone.” She said that Switzerland is regarded as one of the most democratic countries in the world today, but noted that women did not obtain the right to vote there until 1976, eleven years after Iran established women’s suffrage. Before the Islamic Revolution, the women’s movement in Iran had made considerable progress with regard to political, cultural, and societal rights. Since then, the women’s movement has endured significant obstacles. Ms. .Boghrat said with upcoming parliamentary elections, the most important question a woman can ask herself before voting is, “Which candidate will benefit and advance the rights of women?”
Today’s Woman March 7 focused on International Women’s Day festivities, opening with the recent statement supporting Iran’s women’s movement that was sent to the UN Commission on the Status of Women from 280 women activists and six female Nobel Peace Prize winners. Panelists talked about the Olof Palme Awards ceremony in Stockholm and the work of prize-winner Parvin Ardalan, an Iranian women’s rights activist. Ms. Ardalan’s sister accepted the award because Iranian officials prevented her from leaving Tehran. They discussed the history and work of the Association of Iranian Researchers, and how and if diplomatic tactics, mainly putting pressure on Iran from other governments, can help fight human rights abuses in Iran. Roya Kashefi, from the Association’s Human Rights Committee said the group tries to identify problems facing Iran and Iranians worldwide and offers well-informed and expert solutions to improve and overcome them. Ms. Kashefi said, “By increasing awareness in the West about the status of women in Iran, we can contribute to their cause and act as a voice for the Iranian women who are forced to be silent.”
VOA/PNN March 5 interviewed Andrea G. Bottner, Director of International Women’s issues at the State Department on Parvin Ardalan’s travel denial to the Olof Palme Awards ceremony in Sweden. She said Ms. Ardalan would not have been selected to receive the award if she wasn’t worthy. “And it is really regrettable that she wouldn’t be able to go and claim that prize, to go and accept the award. I regret to hear that this has occurred. We stand with her and women like her working for equal treatment and respect for human rights. So we stand with her.”
Today’s Woman March 6 focused on the Olof Palme Award ceremony in Stockholm with award recipient Parvin Ardalan, who spoke with PNN from Tehran because authorities prohibited her travel outside of the country. From Stockholm, co-host Elham Sataki talked about the Olof Palme Awards, given in honor of Sweden’s former Prime Minister to someone who promotes democracy. A spokesman for the Awards told PNN it was unfortunate the Iranian government did not recognize this as a significant achievement. Ms. Sataki said there was a media frenzy in Sweden regarding Ms. Ardalan’s inability to attend the ceremony. Her sister accepted the award on her behalf. Newspapers in Sweden highlighted Ms. Ardalan’s efforts to promote women’s rights in Iran as well as her work in co-founding the One Million Signatures Campaign, which fights to end Iran’s discriminatory laws against women. Today’s Woman talked with Ms. Ardalan, who said she was initially very happy about plans to attend the ceremony, but added she has yet to be given a legitimate reason from the Iranian government for banning her departure. Ms. Ardalan said she sent a copy of her acceptance speech to be read at the award ceremony, and she highlighted excerpt for PNN: “The world needs to become aware of all the discriminatory laws and issues Iranian women endure. The attentiveness of the international community regarding the status of women in Iran is crucial; people need to realize that Iranian women are demanding the most universal of rights: equality.” Ms. Ardalan said the award is not only for her but for all of the women’s rights activists in Iran and around the world.
Today’s Woman March 6 also interviewed Mahnaz Afkhami, former Minister of State for Women’s Affairs in Iran, and pioneering women’s activist in Iran before forced into exile. Ms. Afkhami talked about her work in Iran before the Islamic Revolution and her participation in international women’s conferences, including the 1975 first World Conference on Women in Mexico. She compared women’s movements from the past to current women’s movements and acknowledged the importance of technology in spreading awareness and building communication among activists. Ms. Afkhami said the current women’s movement in Iran would not be as strong as it is without the Internet. She discussed the purpose of her foundation – the Women’s Leadership Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace – as dedicated to women's leadership and empowerment. “The primary objectives are to increase the number of women taking on leadership and decision-making roles at family, community, and national levels, and to improve the effectiveness of feminist movements in Muslim-majority societies and globally by strengthening the capacity of our partner organizations.” She talked about the foundation’s web site, which is translated into 17 languages. Ms. Afkhami said the website makes a variety of resources available: “publications, news and event information, and material on advocacy and networking programs.” She concluded by saying the “One Million Signatures Campaign is one of the most important components of the women’s movement in Iran today.”
Celebrated on March 8, International Women’s Day is the global day recognizing all women and intended to inspire them to achieve their full potential. In many countries it is an official holiday. Discussion on Today’s Woman March 8 was devoted to the subject as well as to celebrations commemorating the day around the world. Secretary of State Rice was among the high-level participants at a conference in Brussels on the role of women in world affairs. In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said women need the freedom to pursue more education and should not be forced into marriage. Women in Bangladesh marked for equal rights. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the public and private sectors to step up investment in programs that empower women. Actress Reese Witherspoon launched a global United Nations campaign to end violence against women. Sweden-based sociologist Mehrdad Darishpour talked with PNN about his latest book on the challenges women face to obtaining equal rights. He said women are victims of tradition in societies such as Iran’s. Elahe Hicks of Human Rights Watch spoke about the resolution passed by the UN Security Council that specifically addresses the impact of war on women, and women’s contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace.
Late Edition March 9 interviewed UCLA graduate student Roja Bandari about International Women’s Day. Ms. Bandari, a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign in Los Angeles, said, “This is a very important day for Iranian women all around the world.” She said Iranians in the area are trying to support the campaign in California. “A group of university students is working hard to get more signatures to help Iranian women. This is a very important mission for them.” Ms. Bandari said the Campaign is demanding an end to legal discrimination against women in Iran. “I want to help promote collaboration and cooperation for social change,” she said, “helping to identify women’s needs and priorities, amplifying women’s voices and promoting democratic action.”
Today’s Woman March 2 examined hypochondriasis and Iranian and Afghan refugees. People with hypochondriasis are very worried about getting a disease or are certain they have a disease, even after medical tests show they do not. An increasing number of refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq are moving to Iran due to war at home. Panelists talked about the vulnerability of the women and children, and the difficulties of adjusting to a new environment. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently said, “War has always been devastating, but now, women and girls are themselves targets in the war zone. Today’s weapons of armed conflict include rape, sexual violence, and the abduction of children conscripted as soldiers or forced into sexual slavery.” Panelists said hypochondriasis is one of the most common diseases in refugee camps, particularly woman, and that it is mainly caused from stress.
Late Edition March 4 interviewed Copenhagen-based writer and psychologist Manzar Hossini. Ms. Hossini, who left Iran in 1985, works with the Iranian community in the Danish capital as a family therapist. She said it isn’t easy for many Iranians to accept their new lives as immigrants or refugees, and that they can face depression or other problems. Ms. Hossini started writing 10 years ago. “It was always my dream to become a writer,” she said, “but I really didn’t have much time to do so as a teenager.” She has been using her experiences as a psychologist to create characters and stories, and how now published two novels and five books of poetry. Ms. Hossini is a member of International PEN and is a well-known writer in Europe. “I write in Farsi,” she said, “but I’m a woman without borders, and this is a very important element in my writing. I call this work literature of immigration or global literature.”
Today’s Woman March 5 focused on feminism and art with writer and poet Simin Behbahani. One of the most prominent figures in modern Persian literature, she is Iran’s national poet and an icon of the Iranian intelligentsia and li