Reaching Millions of Television Viewers in Iran Each Week

Washington, D.C. – March 24, 2008 . . . Major stories this week included an exclusive interview with President Bush, focusing on US mistrust of Iran because of its nuclear program and with special Norouz – New Year’s – greetings for the Iranian people; the five-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War and Vice President Dick Cheney’s surprise visit to Baghdad; more detailed results from last week’s parliamentary elections in Iran; the continued detention of student leaders in Iran; Iran’s judiciary reviewing the 2003 Evin Prison death of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi; the continuing deterioration in human rights in Iran, with updates on crackdowns on the women’s movement, labor movement, and media; the election of the first female speaker of the National Assembly in Pakistan; interviews with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, veteran US diplomat Dennis Ross and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey on Iran’s nuclear program and US-Iran relations; and interviews with singers Shahnaz Pirmoradi, popularly known as Elham, Sima Bina, and Sepehr and Soheil Osloobi, of the rock band Blurred Vision.

VOA Persian Service" hspace=2 src="/persian/images/Bush_2Shot_Still_2.jpg" width=190 align=right vspace=2 border=0>President Bush gave an exclusive interview to the Persian News Network March 19 in which he said the United States doesn’t trust the Islamic Republic of Iran because the regime hasn’t been forthcoming about its enrichment of uranium. “It’s very hard for people to trust the Iranian government because they haven’t told the full truth, and that’s why the people of Iran have got to understand there are great suspicions right now, not only in the United States, but around the world. But there is a better way forward….The Russians proposed an interesting way that says – and I have said publicly, and the Iranian people need to know that I believe Iran has to right to have civilian nuclear power. “Russia has offered to provide fuel on a contractual basis and consistent basis,” the President said, but Iran needs to verifiably suspend enrichment to end UN sanctions. President Bush said he’s not surprised Iran blames the United States for problems the regime has created. “A lot of times, governments have failed to meet the needs of their people, particularly in relatively non-transparent, non-free societies, they always look for somebody to blame….On the other hand, the people of Iran must understand that the [difficult] conditions [in Iran] exist in large part because of either [mis]management by the government or isolation because of the government’s decisions on foreign policy matters – such as announcing they want to destroy countries with a nuclear weapon. It is irresponsible remarks like that which cause great credibility loss.” The President went to great lengths to express his respect for the Iranian people themselves, reserving special praise for reformists. “My thought is, is that the reformers inside Iran are brave people. They’ve got no better friend than George W. Bush, and I ask for God’s blessings on them on their very important work.” Mr. Bush made it clear that any bilateral talks with Iran are limited to activity in Iraq. “From my perspective, Iran has not been helpful in terms of helping this young democracy survive. I would think it would be in Iran’s interests to have a peaceful neighbor….The message to Iranians is: Stop [exporting] your weapons, your sophisticated IEDs, or there will be consequences.” The President also expressed special greetings for the New Year to the Iranian people. “The people of the United States respect the people of Iran; we respect the traditions of Iran, the great history of Iran….We want the people to live in a free society….Please don’t be discouraged by the slogans that say America doesn’t like you, because we do. And we respect you.” [Eds. Note: The Washington Post March 20 published an article based, in part, on this PNN interview with President Bush. Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA), www.washingtonpost.com (with soundbites) and Google News Alert also carried stories.]

Roundtable with You March 22 featured former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who said the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq will go down as the greatest foreign policy disaster in US history. She said it is even greater a disaster than Vietnam because of its unintended consequences, the most significant of which is the role it gave Iran to play in the affairs of Iraq. On the nuclear issue, Secretary Albright said Iran has failed to give satisfactory answers to IAEA inspectors and that this has created a cloud of suspicion about the nature of Iran’s program. “We don’t know how long their nuclear program has been going on and what its purpose is. If we couple this with their support for Middle East terrorist groups and lack of support to the Middle East peace process, then Iran presents a clear threat to US security concerns,” she said. Ms. Albright called on Iranian leaders to allow IAEA inspectors to have full and unfettered access to all of Iran’s nuclear sites. Turning to the women of Iran and their quest for equality, she said, “I have the highest admiration for the women of Iran. Their young women are among the best educated and bravest in the world, and I want to assure them that their sisters around the globe wish them well and want them to be active contributors to Iranian society. We know that in societies where women play an appropriate role, those societies are better off.”

News and Views March 20 interviewed veteran US diplomat Dennis Ross on US-Iran relations. A scholar and diplomat with more than 20 years experience, Ambassador Ross is now affiliated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Mr. Ross told PNN that nothing the Bush Administration or the international community is doing now is likely to alter Iran’s behavior over the coming year. Indeed, so long as the sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council don’t directly affect the Iranian economy, he said, Iranian leaders won’t have to make a choice between economic well-being and nuclear development and will thus proceed on the path to completing the nuclear fuel cycle. Mr. Ross faulted the Bush Administration’s efforts in forestalling the acquisition of nuclear technology by Iran. “The fact of the matter is that Iran was not a nuclear power before President Bush came to office, but we know that there is a strong possibility that Iran will be one by the time he leaves office in January 2009,” he said. On the role of Russia and China in coordinating international sanctions against Tehran, he said: "The next administration will need to convince the Chinese that as America contemplates direct talks with the Iranians, they must not undercut those negotiations by removing the leverage that could make them succeed. Indeed, if the Chinese want to ensure that force is not the only option left to stop the Iranian nuclear program, they must not undercut the sanctions. The Saudis could be very important in this connection: They don’t want to face an Iran that has a nuclear shield behind which it can engage in coercion and subversion, so America should try to convince them to use their enormous financial clout with the Chinese.” The Russians, he said, may be reluctant to restrain their relations with Iran given their interests in becoming an alternative to the United States in the Middle East and elsewhere. Still, the Russians also have strong financial interests in being a supplier of nuclear reactors and fuel elsewhere in the global market – and the next US administration could facilitate that objective.

News and Views March 20 interviewed R. James Woolsey, former Director of the CIA and currently an advisor and strategist for the presidential campaign of the presumptive Republican candidate, Senator John McCain. PNN asked Mr. Woolsey about the most recent assessment of Iran’s nuclear capability by the Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell. Last month, Admiral McConnell said the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate was poorly written and misread. Contrary to what people now believed, Admiral McConnell said, Iran has not stopped its uranium enrichment nor has it stopped its program of perfecting the ballistic missile. Mr. Woolsey agreed and said, “The NIE report was badly written and therefore gave the wrong impression.” He said columnist Tom Friedman put it well in an article in The New York Times: Iran is like the neighbor who has been a drug dealer for 18 years. “Recently, this neighbor has been very visibly growing poppies for heroin in his backyard in violation of the law. He’s also been buying bigger and better trucks to deliver drugs. You can see them parked in his driveway. In the past year, though, because of increased police patrols and all the neighbors threatening to do something, this suspicious character has shut down the laboratory in his basement to convert poppies into heroin. In the wake of that, the police declared that he is no longer a drug dealer. But he’s still growing poppies. He was using them for heroin right up to 2003. Now he says he’s in the flower business. He’s not in the flower business. He’s dealing drugs….That’s basically what has happened between the US and Iran – just substitute enriched uranium for poppies.” Mr. Woolsey said he is glad Admiral McConnell clarified the vague parts of the NIE. The former CIA director said he agrees with IAEA Director-General Mohammad El-Baradei that the US and Iran should hold talks. “But it is highly important that the people of Iran know in the event of an earthquake, such as the one that happened in Bam a few years ago, what problems such as safety and security the nuclear program of Iran entails. What will happen in the event of an earthquake to the nuclear installations as far as radioactivity is concerned?” Mr. Woolsey said, “The United States is not interested in supremacy in the Middle East. The United States is interested in the people of Iraq, and I might add in the people of Iran, being able to govern themselves rather than under the thumb of a theocratic, totalitarian, genocidal maniac such as Mr. Ahmadinejad.”

Both News and Views and NewsTalk March 21 reported that National Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe clarified one of the remarks President Bush made in an interview on March 19 with Radio Farda. In the interview, President Bush said he supported Iran developing a civilian nuclear power program. He went on to say, “The problem is the government cannot be trusted to enrich uranium because one, they’ve hidden programs in the past and they may be hiding one now, who knows; and secondly, they’ve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people – some in the Middle East.” On March 21, the White House downplayed those remarks, with Mr. Johndroe saying, Bush had “shorthanded" Iran's desire "to wipe Israel off the map", its refusal to heed U.N. Security Council demands to suspend its enrichment work and Iran's continued development of ballistic missiles.

Today’s Woman March 19 opened with President Bush’s speech at the Pentagon marking the five-year anniversary since the start of the Iraq War. The President addressed the debate on whether a US presence in Iraq is necessary, stating that “removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision and this is a fight America can and must win.” President Bush praised American soldiers for their work in liberating Iraq and said that US intervention led to the uncovering of human rights violations facilitated under Saddam’s reign. President Bush acknowledged that the Iraq War has gone on longer than expected, but he insisted that it is a battle worth fighting. The progress made in Iraq was emphasized, including the addition of Iraqi soldiers and police and the decrease of violence and death. President Bush said, “We’re helping the people of Iraq establish a democracy in the heart of the Middle East.” President Bush ended his speech by reaffirming his commitment to stay in Iraq until success is accomplished.

News and Views March 19 reported on President Bush’s speech on the fifth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Speaking at the Pentagon, President Bush said, “Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision – and this is a fight America can and must win. The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around – it has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror. Iran would be emboldened as well – a renewed determination to develop nuclear weapons and impose its brand of hegemony across the Middle East. The President said he understood the debate over continuation of the war, but said the surge of reinforced troops is working. He said in Iraq, we are witnessing the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology and his murderous network. And the significance of this development cannot be overstated. The President referred to Iran twice – as a supporter of Shi’ite militants and as a question, in that what would Iran do if the American forces were pulled out of Iraq prematurely? He said there is no argument that the Iraq War has come at a high cost, but said those costs are necessary when we consider the cost of a strategic victory for our enemies in Iraq. “A free Iraq,” he said, “will be an example for others of the power of liberty to change the societies and to displace despair with hope. By spreading the hope of liberty in the Middle East, we will help free societies take root – and when they do, freedom will yield the peace that we all desire.”

News and Views March 17 talked with Washington, DC-based writer Mohammad Borghei on parliamentary elections held on March 14. He said the elections were an important process for the regime in Iran. “They advertised the number of participants and candidates….But these were not real elections. Candidates were chosen by the regime, they are not known by the people, they have no plans, no platform, no programs. Iranians have become indifferent to this process since they know that they will not have any say in it.”

News and Views March 17 reported on Vice President Dick Cheney’s surprise visit to Baghdad, just days before the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion. The Vice President declared Washington’s “unwavering support” for Iraq. Earlier in the day, Mr. Cheney met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for talks focusing on security issues relating to Iraq and the region. The Vice President’s stop in Iraq is part of a Middle East tour including Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank and Turkey. Republican presidential candidate John McCain also was in Iraq, on what he said is a fact-finding mission.

News and Views March 17 also interviewed David Foley, spokesman for the State Department’s Near East Bureau. He commented on a Bloomberg report that said former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said in an interview that the US should enter in to direct talks with Iran. Mr. Kissinger had said he was in private talks with Iranians. He did not say any more. Mr. Foley said the State Department was unaware of what Kissinger was doing, but Washington has at least three channels of communication with Iran: European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, the Swiss government, and bilateral talks that have been taking place on and off in Iraq. Mr. Foley said he hopes Mr. Solana’s talks with Iran go forward and that he follows both the US and the EU’s policies. On a separate matter, Mr. Foley said Washington has expressed its displeasure with the natural gas deal Switzerland has worked out with Iran. Swiss energy trading company EGL said March 17 it had signed a multibillion dollar contract to buy natural gas from Iran over the next 25 years.

News and Views March 18 reported on Vice President Dick Cheney’s surprise visit to Iraq, where he said the United States will continue its mission in the country. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who is on day two of a previously unannounced visit to Iraq, said the United States will continue its mission in the country. Mr. Cheney said some phenomenal changes have taken place as a result of the progress that’s been made in the past year, “with respect to the security situation where Iraqi and American forces have done some very good work as well as with respect to political developments here in Iraq.” The Vice President said many sacrifices have been made, so “it is very, very important that we succeed, that we not quit before the job is done.” Next door, in Jordan, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain held a news conference in which he said, “We recognize that al-Qaeda is on the run, but they are not defeated. Al-Qaeda continues to pose a great threat to the security and very existence of Iraq as a democracy. So we know there's still a lot more of work that needs to be done.” And further east, in Russia, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said no agreement has been reached with Russia on US plans to deploy a missile defense system in Central Europe. However, the Secretary said the two sides have agreed to put together a strategic framework document on strategic arms reductions.

Roundtable with You March 23 focused on who would benefit most from a rapprochement between the United States and Iran. Hooshang Amirahmadi is a professor of Urban Planning at Rutgers University and Director of the University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He said that he recently traveled to Iran for the first time in time in 10 years, and that he got the impression after several meetings with President Ahmadinejad that the Iranian leader is very interested in breaking the logjam in US-Iran relations. Mr. Amirahmadi said he has come to Washington to give US policymakers a more accurate picture of Iran. “Unfortunately, issues related to Iran have taken on mythic proportions and we need to deal with them in a more realistic fashion. The fact of the matter is that both Iran and the United States are both great countries and we should see them as they are – not as we wish them to be.” Mr. Amirahmadi said his impression of President Ahmadinejad is that he is a good man with good intentions, “but his knowledge of the world around him is kind of limited.” Bijan Mehr, a political activist and the spokesman for the Iranian National Front in the United States, countered that Mr. Amirahmadi is not seeking to improve relations between the Iran and the US. “He is trying to get the government of Iran out of its international isolation and is not the least interested in the well-being of the Iranian public.” One viewer has this to say: “Either Amirahmadi is stupid or he is assuming we are stupid. No one in his right mind considers Ahmadinejad a good or honest man. How many university professors in the US do you know that have relations with both the US Congress and Ahmadinejad, and then claim they are not trying to do anything to facilitate better relations between the two countries? The problem in Iran is basic and Ahmadinejad and Khatemi cannot solve it. We need to change Iran’s constitutional law. Under the Shah, our constitutional law was good – we needed reform not a revolution. But now we do need a revolution because too many things have gone wrong.”

News and Views March 19 interviewed Mohammad Sharif, one of the lawyers for the Kazemi family, on the Iranian judiciary’s review of the death of Zahra Kazemi. An Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, Ms. Kazemi died in Iranian custody on July 11, 2003, almost three weeks after she was arrested for taking pictures outside a prison during a student protest in Tehran. Mr. Sharif said he was present in the criminal court in Tehran where the case was reviewed, and that the Kazemi family lawyers formally filed her death as a deliberate murder despite an earlier court acquitting an intelligence agent accused of beating her.

News and Views March 19 reported on students in jail in the New Year. VOA/PNN talked with the mother of Behrouz Karimi, a former Tehran University student who is now incarcerated at Evin Prison. “By ordering very high bail, the authorities mean they do not wish to release our dependents from jail,” she said. “I ask the authorities to reduce bail to a reasonable amount. Otherwise we will celebrate Norouz in front of Evin Prison. At least one dozen students detained last year for their role in student protests are still in jail. News and Views followed-up on this story March 20, and indeed the families of a dozen students celebrated Norouz in front of Evin Prison where they asked authorities to release their loved ones. One of the protesters, a young woman related to one of the detained students, told PNN, “Saeed Feyzollah Zadeh did nothing illegal. During last year, authorities first expelled him from the university and when he insisted on entering the university, they arrested him. He is a student who is not being allowed to continue his education.”

News and Views March 18 reported on the status of the Iranian student movement in the past 12 months (year 1386 on the Iranian calendar). Ali Tayakkoli, whose brother is imprisoned, told PNN, “If my brother and other jailed students are not released by the New Year (tomorrow), we will have a gathering in front of Evin prison.” Rashid Ismaeli, a student activist in Tehran, said, “Last year, we saw one of the harshest political situations against the student movements, but we’re going to stand our ground and continue to defend human rights.” meanwhile the movement could firmly stand on its positions to defend human rights.”

Today’s Woman March 19 reported on the release from prison of Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, an Iranian woman who had been under threat of being stoned to death for adultery. Her lawyer, Shadi Sadr, said Ms. Ebrahami was released from prison in Qazvin province on orders of the Iranian judiciary’s amnesty commission. Ms. Ebrahami’s partner, Jafar Kiani, was stoned to death in July 2007, creating international awareness of Iran’s increasing use of such forms of capital punishment. Today’s Woman also reported on Pakistan’s parliament electing the first female speaker of the National Assembly in the country’s 60-year history. Fahmida Mirza is a loyalist from the Pakistan People’s Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated three months ago.

News and Views March 20 interviewed Karim Lahidji, a Vice President with the International Federation of the League of Human Rights. He said, “The head of the Iranian judiciary is nominated by Iran’s Supreme Leader, and Iran’s Supreme Leader – Ayatollah Khamenei – is the top person responsible for all human rights violations in Iran.” Mr. Lahidji said that 2007 “was the worst year in the last decade with regard to human rights in Iran.”

News and Views March 17 talked with Faraj Sarkouhi, former chief editor of Adineh, a leading independent magazine now banned in Iran. Mr. Sarkouhi, who now lives in exile in Germany, said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policy on press and books is totally based on security regulations. Iran has banned nine lifestyle and cinema magazines for publishing pictures of “corrupt” foreign film stars and details about their “decadent” private lives. Mr. Sarkouhi said by banning more publications, “The Iranian authorities aim to kill all voices in order to unify a country according to one voice – the voice of the government.”

News and Views March 23 talked with Saman Rasoulpour, a Kurdish civil rights activist in western Iran, who said Kurdish activists who work with non-governmental organizations are under more suppression now than ever before. He said dozens of activists in Kurdish towns were detained and sentenced to severe punishments in the past year. Mr. Rasoulpour noted the cases of teacher Farzad Kamangar, journalist Adnan Hassanpour and environmentalist Hiwa Boutimar – all three of whom have been condemned to death and are awaiting execution because of their activism for Kurds. “The Ahmadinejad government’s policy of suppression against Kurdish civil rights activists is more severe than any previous government policy against Kurdish activists,” Mr. Rasoulpour said.

News and Views March 19 looked at the labor movement in Iran over the past year. Arash Alaei, a spokesman for the Unemployment and Expelled Workers Syndicate told PNN that the main impetus for union protests against management, factory owners and the government is non-payment of wages. He said workers are owed very large amounts of back pay, making it very difficult if not possible to pay bills. He said worker protests will be continuing despite many workers being jailed for their activism. Lawyer Mohammad Sharif who represents one of these jailed workers, told PNN, “Authorities haven’t allowed me to visit my client, Mahmood Salehi. Mr. Salehi has begun a dry hunger strike to continue his protest from Sanandaj Prison.”

News and Views March 17 interviewed the Director of Research from Israel’s Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, Arnon Groiss. Mr. Groiss also holds the position of Deputy Director at Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Arabic Radio. He participated in a conference held last week at a Washington, DC–think tank, the Hudson Institute on Iranian school textbooks. Mr. Groiss said the schoolbooks are preparing “Iran’s children for global jihad – war and martyrdom against the West in general, and against the United States and Israel in particular.” He said preparing the next generation to hate the West is a part of “fulfilling the Islamic world revolution.”

Today’s Woman March 18 focused on Iran’s parliamentary elections with journalist Fariba Davoudi Mohajer. She said, “The upcoming elected Majlis will allow the Iranian government to sustain self-interest and maintain a dictatorship. There might be a struggle for power within the Majlis, but that power will never be given to the people.” According to the Iranian Interior Ministry, conservatives won 166 of the 223 seats in the Majlis, reformists won 32 seats and independents 25 seats. Official voter turnout statistics given by the Iranian government are under major scrutiny because many conservatives believe the numbers are fabricated. Ms. Mohajer said, “The past year has been hard for the women’s movement in Iran, but hopefully the next year will be more successful.” She said because the requests of women are not accommodated and implemented through the Majlis, there is a lack of motivation for women to vote. “The first thing the seventh Majlis did was prohibit any bills that included the language ‘gender discrimination,’ implying that such a thing does not exist,” Ms. Mohajer added.

Late Edition March 19 reported on the growing relationship between Iran and Bolivia. Over the next five years, Iran will be investing over $1 billion in Bolivia, financing everything from milk processing plants to hydrocarbon exploration and new farming equipment. Iran’s state-run television also will be installing several television channels in Bolivia; the channels will interface with Venezuela’s international television service, Telesur, which is beamed via satellite throughout Latin America. The Iranian investments make a big difference in Bolivia whose GDP barely reaches $9 billion annually. Late Edition examined the strain placed on US-Bolivian relations by the improved relationship between La Paz and Tehran.

Late Edition March 21 focused on latest developments in the US presidential campaign, from the controversy over remarks made by Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Trinity Unity Church of Christ in Chicago, the church attended by the Obama family for years. Incendiary remarks made by Rev. Wright from the pulpit put Senator Obama on the defensive, and led to his making a speech on race, widely praised as one that addressed a sensitive issue in an unprecedented way. Late Edition covered the concerns expressed by Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate-in-waiting, about Iran’s increasing influence in the Middle East. He said Iran is hindering progress in Iraq. At a news conference in Amman, Senator McCain said Iran was allowing al-Qaeda fighters into the country to be trained and return to Iraq. Senator Joe Lieberman, who was traveling with Senator McCain, stepped forward to correct his colleague’s remarks. Senator McCain then went on to say that Iran is supporting extremist militants in Iraq – not al-Qaeda.

News and Views March 20 interviewed Nicholas Schmidle, a freelance writer who is currently a fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs, about the political scene in Pakistan following the election of the country’s first female speaker of parliament. Mr. Schmidle said that the Pakistani Islamists may not be pleased with a woman speaker, he doubts they would actively oppose her. But he predicted that Pakistan faces a period of political uncertainty, at least in the short-term. "The important point about the Pakistani election has been that the people of Pakistan were able to impose their will on President Musharraf and his dictatorial government. And this has been done with relative peacefulness," he said. Mr. Schmidle concluded by saying that US aid to Pakistan will have strings attached given the critics of President Musharraf in the US Congress. "President Musharraf has to continue working on the political development of his country in order for US assistance to continue uninterrupted."

News and Views March 21 reported that the US has taken a number of steps over the past week to put Tehran on notice that the international community will not allow the Iranian government to misuse the international financial system or global transportation network to further its aspirations to obtain nuclear weapons capability, impr